Jesus said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." John 10:10. This more abundant life is the life that is rich in the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, et cetera.(Gal. 5:22, 28.) Spiritual health is rich in these fruits, and, conversely, spiritual sickness is de void of these fruits; and in their place come the fruits of the flesh, the old nature found in the thought habits, the reasoning habits, of the subconscious mind. These fleshly fruits are listed in Galatians 5:19-21 as adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, hatred, wrath, envyings, drunkenness, revelings, et cetera. In verse 26 Paul speaks of these fruits as vain. They turn the fruits of the Spirit into sorrow and discouragement. As spiritual physicians, ministers for and of Jesus, we are expected to apply the Word in such a way that spiritual health is brought forth.
To properly understand how and where to apply the Word and counseling treatment, we need to understand the spiritual malady of the individual mind. The subconscious mind is that intricate accumulation of thought and reasoning habits that has been gathering all through the life. Certain stimuli brought to it by the senses cause it to react in a way determined by those impressions of the past that have been harbored there.
Now, many of these reactions in the form of thoughts tossed up to the conscious mind for consideration are not acceptable to the conscious mind. Thoughts of hatred, lust, envy, guilt, are repressed or forced back by the conscious mind. This results in a conflict in the life which can become such a pressure that it will result, not only in a life of discontentment, fear, and guilt, but in mental and physical breakdown. Physicians agree that this type of conflict enters into the etiological factors of physical sickness far more than we realize.
"The relation that exists between the mind and the body is very intimate. When one is affected, the other sympathizes. The condition of the mind affects the health to a far greater degree than many realize. Many of the diseases from which men suffer are the result of mental depression. Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces, and to invite decay and death." Ministry of Healing, p. 241.
We might illustrate this phenomenon by the well-known expression, "So-and-so gives me a pain in the neck." This pain can, and often does, become quite literal as a result of a persistent hatred under the repression of the conscious mind. Guilt feelings under repression are another source of trouble. Many of these pressures can be resolved by the pastoral counselor, and the abundant life can be restored.
The pressure up from the subconscious, or old nature, in the form of fear, temptation, pride, hate, guilt, or what have you, is met by the counterpressure exerted by the conscious mind attempting to keep these feelings re pressed. In order to bring the peace and joy of the more abundant life, one must in some way release these pressures. Herein so often lies the objective of the spiritual counselor.
There are three main ways of releasing these pressures:
1. By taking away the pressure of the conscious mind. This consists in a re-education of the conscious mind, that what it rejects is really all right to do. This, as you can see, is a very dangerous step if the repressed thought is mor ally wrong. In such a case it would only add to the feelings of guilt, and the person would be worse off than before. This method is sometimes resorted to by a worldly counselor who does not have the right moral standards. Does this not drive home to us the lesson that we as Christian pastors should become acquainted, to some degree at least, with the art of Christian counseling, and make ourselves available for this service to needy people? Would it not be one way of preventing some of the discourage ment that causes us to lose so many of our members to the world?
This method, however, is good in cases where the person has false values and wrong ideas. The writer remembers such a case recently where a patient who had been hospitalized for weeks was able to make a quick discovery, the result largely of this type of spiritual therapy.
2. By allowing pressure to be released verbally (catharsis), talking it out, "getting it off the chest," as we so often hear. This is of, great value, but unless insight is gained and something done about that insight, it is often only temporary relief
There is much that could be said about catharsis. Let us think of just one of the opportunities afforded the counselor. As the person speaks of his problems and goes deeper, he reveals his growing edge, * the hurt and tender places in his life; he reveals his mental and spiritual ills. Thus the pastor is shown just the places to insert the Word and is guided in the spiritual treatment he should give. As the per son experiences Christ applied to his own individual need, and the fulfilling of that need applied to his edge of character growth, he will take Christ into that growth.
The good pastoral counselor will listen to the one who has come to him for help, will hear him through without too much interruption, and will watch for those places where he can see that an applicant of Bible therapy is needed, or where some other treatment is necessary. He will find the ill spot, the tender place, the growing edge, and not counsel blindly. How many drastic mistakes have been made by blind counseling, which failed to learn all the details!
3. Releasing pressure by changing the nature.
"Without the transforming process which can come alone through divine power, the original propensities to sin are left in the heart in all their strength, lo forge new chains, to impose a slavery that can never be broken by human power." Evangelism, p. 192.
This is a method unique to the spiritual physician. In this third method we go to the root of the problem by changing the embedded fears to trust, hate to love, temptation to a desire to do God's will. This is salvation, the new birth.
We take religion into our minds in the same way as all other things, by our senses; but how deeply it goes depends upon the impressions we allow it to make. The impression is limited by the extent of the surrender of our wills. Religion, as all other stimuli, first reaches the conscious mind. The sad part of it is that, in so many cases, it goes no deeper. Oh, yes, it does a work, it convinces the conscious mind as to what is right and what is wrong. Thus the conscious mind is able to exert a greater force than ever upon that old nature and keep it under control. To all outward appearances the person lives a perfect Christian life, but down underneath, the old pressures of pride, temptation, fears, et cetera, are still waiting for the opportunity to break forth. This opportunity often comes when a time of sorrow, disappointment, or some other crisis appears. The pressures from outside and the pressures from the subconscious become too much, and once again the will be comes a slave to the old nature. Could this not be one of the causes for backsliding in our ranks?
The remedy for this problem of shallow religion is easily prescribed but not so simply accomplished. I believe it lies in the advice of Christ as given in Matthew 22:37: "Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." We need to love God with all, not just a place in, the conscious mind. Love is a power that permeates clear through the mind. We must give our people a love experience with God.
God created us for this love experience; this is the meaning of Isaiah 43:7: "I created him for my glory." God to glory in us and we to glory in Him is a glorious love relationship. In His Word Christ is spoken of as the bride groom and we the bride.
Let us look at the type of this true love between a man and a woman. A young man meets a young woman, and first they notice the good things about each other. These appeal. As they see more of each other and really begirt to understand each other, love grows and seems to permeate the whole being. Their natures begin to blend, and they begin to think alike and react alike; they become a unit. And after years of married life it seems they even grow to look alike.
If we as spiritual physicians can in our counseling and in our preaching give our people a vision of God's love as shown in the cross of Calvary, if we can make that vision their own, it will kindle a love so great in their hearts that it will permeate to the depths of the heart and mind and will remove the pressure of conflict by slowly but surely changing that nature till it blends with the divine in perfect harmony, bringing through Christ that "more abundant life," bearing the fruits of love, joy, peace, et cetera. May God help each of us to have this love experience and enable us to bring it to others.
[End of Series]
* An article by the same writer dealing with the growing edge and how to find it appeared in THE MINISTRY for De cember, 1950, page 21.