Christianity came into the world at a time when philosophy and reason reigned supreme. The religions of the Greeks and Romans were little more than a hotbed of controversy. The universal argument even in the marketplace was love and peace, but there was little love and less peace. It was in many ways a restless, loveless world. Comfort was something almost unknown except for the wealthy, who alone could afford the conveniences that made comfort possible.
Then one day a man named Jesus stepped into this jungle of ideas and debate. He challenged every concept of mere human wisdom. He dwelt among men as the greatest teacher the world has ever known. But he did more than teach; He lived His message. He did not argue with the philosophers; He just loved them. He also loved the poor and the outcasts.
He was God in the flesh. Men either hated Him violently or loved Him passionately. Some called Him an imposter, a blasphemer, a devil-possessed madman, but others knew that He was the Son of the Living God. To those who hung upon His words He said "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:28, 29).
It was soul rest He came to give. Those who heeded His counsel and were later baptized by His Spirit turned the world upside down. He gave life a new dimension. And just before He left to go back to His father--the great God of the universe--He said, "I go unto my Father" (John 16:10), yet "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" (John 14:18). And again, "The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:26, 27).
His teaching, full of comfort and compassion, set in motion the influences that built the Christian church. It brought a new understanding between men and nations, and wherever His gospel has gone the results are overwhelming. Love and peace, which the pre-Christian world discussed philosophically, became a tremendous reality in the lives of all who accepted the teachings of our Lord.
In this tension torn world of today we, too, need a ministry of comfort. Our world is full of fear, and many are tortured and tormented by a nameless dread. They are unable to analyze their problems. Conquered by an inner tyranny, they have no security. They long for someone to uncover their hidden complexes and set them free. They need wise and under standing counselors, people who know the inner meaning of comfort.
One of the prophetic titles of Christ is "Wonderful, Counselor." How gloriously He fulfilled that prediction! True, He was the "mighty God," whose word controlled the winds and the waves, and in whose hands the bread was multiplied to feed the hungry thousands, but He was more often the Counselor, calmly talking to a single soul, unraveling the tangled skein of life and setting him free. A wonderful Counselor indeed! He had compassion on the ignorant and on them that were out of the way. And compassion is the basis of all true morality.
People suffer from all kinds of complexes. Unable to understand themselves, many otherwise good people are often spiritually abnormal and maladjusted. They need someone to extricate them from the contradiction of their own natures. And when they find someone who can understand them, they are drawn to him as to a magnet. That is why the people flocked to Jesus. He understood them. He took time to study their needs. He was a Friend to the friendless. He had a simple but wonderful technique for helping the afflicted and oppressed.
Jesus set men free
"The afflicted ones who came to Him felt that He linked His interest with theirs as a faithful and tender friend, and they desired to know more of the truths He taught. Heaven was brought near. They longed to abide in His presence, that the comfort of His love might be with them continually."—The Desire of Ages, pp. 254, 255. It was His friendly sympathy that won their hearts and lifted their spirits. "In leading souls to Jesus, there must be a knowledge of human nature and a study of the human mind," says Ellen White.— Review and Herald, October 10, 1882.
This knowledge of human nature, together with the knowledge of God, is the greatest knowledge known to man. Much more training and infinitely more ability is required to understand a mind than to read a balance sheet. Of the Master it was said, "He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man" (John 2:24, 25). Moffatt's translation reads, "He knew all men, and required no evidence from anyone about human nature; well did He know what was in human nature."*
Jesus came as a fresh revelation of incomparable moral power. He came to recreate men mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly," He said (John 10:10). In His ministry life touched life, flame kindled flame. Yet He was not a personality that overpowered people. "His word was with power," but His power was that which lifted man. It raised them from the dust of discouragement, disillusionment, disease, and even death. When He moved among the multitude, He was "full of grace and truth." He spoke words of grace and knew how to speak them graciously. "All . . . wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth" (Luke 4:22).
Grace is more than a duty done. It is a way of doing duty. Gracefulness can be cultivated. But graciousness is the unrestrained expression of a self-forgetful soul. Jesus was not cloistered in some inaccessible place; He moved among the people; all kinds of people—churchmen and outcasts alike. "Friend of publicans and sinners," they styled Him. And that was true, for He was their Friend.
He came to set men free from their narrow, restricted ways of thinking. And as His ambassadors, we are to follow in His steps. The Pharisees were a very particular group. Forms and ceremonies, traditions and codes, what they ate and how they washed, constituted a large part of their religion. How revolutionary it must have sounded when Jesus said, "There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man" (Mark 7:15). He was not, however, giving men a license to eat and drink anything and everything. He Him self refused a palliative drug when dying on the cross. But He was emphasizing that a man is defiled more by what he thinks and says than by what he eats and drinks.
Mind's influence over body
The mind has a greater influence on the body than many realize. Not only right combinations of food, but right combinations of thought, are part of true health reform. You Are What You Eat is the title of a book on the subject of diet, and that is right as far as it goes. But the Scripture says, "As he [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he." (Prov. 23:7). People do the things they do because they think the things they think.
Millions today belong to a generation that has virtually turned its back to God. Many are in the grip of fear, tortured and tormented by their own thoughts. Having either lost God out of their lives or not knowing Him, they now know not where to turn for security.
One writer puts the case very clearly when he says: "Only the 'initiated' can understand the nameless fears, the ghosts, and goblins that look into the windows of minds so distressed. They may be imaginary and we may laugh at them later, but they are real enough while they last." Then he illustrates the point by the story of an old man who, suddenly discovering himself in a cemetery one night and making a headlong exit, fell over tomb stones and scratched himself badly among the briers and bushes. Next day, someone hearing his story, smiled and said, "Don't you know ghosts can't hurt you?"
"I know that, but they can make you hurt yourself."
All need guidance
It is not the real problem, but the apparent problem, that most frequently distresses these unfortunate souls. To scold people, or even worse, to ridicule them for their imaginary fears, does not solve the problem. What they need is some kind, sympathetic soul wise enough and kind enough to help them analyze their problem, one who is patient enough to help them lay a new foundation on which to erect a temple of peace. Such a counselor and comforter must be spiritually healthy, intellectually sound, physically fit, and socially faultless.
But the nerve-racked and the physically broken are not the only qrieving who need such counsel. Our youth also need guidance. The three most important decisions in a young person's life are to decide for or against God, to decide his vocation, and to decide who is to be his life companion. These discoveries are not easy. And the last is not the least important. We set them in this order because they usually follow this sequence. Youthful navigators are not always aware of the treacherous seas through which they are sailing. They need a pilot, someone to guide them, some kind soul who can help them make these adjustments in life. Every church needs a clinic for vocational and social counsel. And such counsel should be accessible, capable, reliable, and reasonable. The pastor may not be qualified to meet all these requirements, but he should be sufficiently acquainted with the problems to know where to secure the help his people need.
Then there are the aged who need guidance. With technological changes occurring so rapidly, it is hard for older people to keep abreast of new developments. Then, too, many have not had the educational advantages of the younger generation. Another cause for maladjustment is the rapid transition from an agrarian to an industrialized society. Many people, older ones in particular, began life in a rural area. But today they find themselves in an urban area, an environment quite different from that of their former training and experience. At the very time when science has made it possible for more people to grow old, changes in the basic patterns of our culture are bringing greater hardship to the aged.
Many lonely souls have lost their life companions. Now the future holds little interest for them. They listen for the voices now silent, and in the stillness of the night their prayers ascend to God for help and comfort.
As His ambassadors, we should deal kindly with the aged, the lonely, and the sad. These defeated personalities, tormented by tensions and conflicts, need to know the abiding presence of God. They need our special care. But often those who are in most need of love and sympathy receive the least. Maybe it is because the neediest are frequently so situated that they can contribute the least. So the natural outcome is that they are neglected. But the privilege of the pastor is to help these unfortunate souls to become a part of the fellowship of service.
Ten suggestions for counselors
1. Never appear impatient. Jesus was busy, but never too busy to talk to a troubled soul. Although it is wise to budget your time, souls are more precious than time. It is better to save a life than to save a minute. How many sensitive souls have been crushed by the fussy and fidgety attitude of the one to whom they have come for counsel! To be looking at your watch every minute or two while talking to a troubled soul is unpardonable. The Master, who could stay all day with a needy soul and all night with a ruler of the synagogue, was the one who said, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? The Scripture says, "He that believeth shall not make haste."
2. Be sympathetic. Troubled souls need sympathy—sympathetic ears as well as sympathetic speech. And sometimes all that is needed is a sympathetic audience. "You will never know how much you have helped me," said an afflicted soul at the close of a three-hour interview. Yet all I did was to listen sympathetically. I scarcely uttered a word, but it was evident the yoke had been made easy and the burden light. It was the Saviour's sympathy that gave Him access to hearts. In Testimonies, Volume 9, p. 30, we read, "The true heart expression of Christlike sympathy, given in simplicity, has power to open the door of hearts that need the simple, delicate touch of the spirit of Christ."
Deep sorrow came to a Christian home one night—a little girl less than two years old passed away. Next morning, the older sister, then about six, ran to her Sabbath school teacher, who lived not far away, and through her tears she said, "Oh, teacher, something dreadful happened last night—little sister died. And I came here so you could cry with me." She knew where to go for real comfort and sympathy. It is a wonderful gift to be able to weep with those who weep.
3. Be a good listener. Listening is an art every counselor must cultivate. It seems easier for some pastors to preach than to listen because preaching is preacher-centered whereas listening is parishioner-centered. Patience, courage, and confidence are required to be a good listener. "One of the greatest values of a counselor is that he knows enough to keep silence," so wrote a friend the other day. And he is right. A counselor needs to be at home with silence.
The art of real counseling is the ability to ask the right questions at the right time and in the right way. But the only reason for asking questions is to get the answers. The answer may give you the clue to the problem. "I did nothing but listen," replied one who was surprised at the reversal of attitude on the part of the one he was trying to help. Not only was that the best thing to do; it was the only thing to do. Training oneself to listen creatively is vital to success.
To be able to listen passively (in silence), then actively (by wise questioning), then interpretatively (by explaining underlying causes), one is able to give the reassurance so needed in the time of trouble.
4. Be observant. Watch for indications. The clue to the whole problem might be revealed in some little act or attitude. Knowing how to penetrate the heart is a science, but a science worth studying. "Jesus watched with deep earnestness the changing countenance of His hearers"— The Desire of Ages, p. 255. He studied: and could always put His finger on the deter mining factor. Remember, in dealing with people, that the only reliable law in human nature is that there is no reliable law. So be ready for anything.
5. Be big-hearted. Remember that all troubles are big to those concerned. Don't minimize the problem and set it aside as of little consequence. It is right to analyze it and help the troubled soul to see it in the right light, but to exhibit a superior air and give the impression that the whole thing is insignificant is to fail. Had it not been big to him, he would never have brought it to the pastor. An attitude of indifference only wounds and sets up a barrier. And a kind counselor will give the impression that, for the moment at least, it is the most important and critical thing in the world. He will never indicate by act or even a glance that it is beneath his notice. Jesus declared that our heavenly Father is interested even in the funeral of a sparrow.
6. Never appear shocked. No matter how strange and bewildering the situation, never give the impression that it is particularly unusual. Human nature will act in strange ways at times, but a counselor can afford to be blind to some things. Hanging on the wall of my study is a picture drawn by my artist brother before he lost his life serving his country. He pictured a little girl cuddling a broken doll in childish affection. It's a poor wreck of a doll—no hair, only one leg and half of one arm. But it nevertheless holds a big place in her heart. Underneath are the significant words, "Love Is Blind." How true!
7. Show readiness to share the trouble. Remember, unshared troubles sap the soul. David said, "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old" (Ps. 32:3). How often it is that when one begins to explain his difficulties he actually explains them away. Sharing them makes them transparent. Haunting fears vanish when one tries to put them into words. Their very vagueness is their strength. Because they are ill defined, they appear terrible. But they are often destroyed when they are shared.
8. Never break a confidence. Nothing is more distressing than one who cannot keep a confidence. There may be times when information should be shared with others. But never divulge a confidence without first obtaining permission.
"Now, what am I to do with this incriminating information?" I said after one woman finished unburdening her heart.
"Oh, don't say a word," she said.
"But if I keep silence, the problem will never be solved," I replied.
"Oh, please keep my confidence. Don't let anybody know," was the plea of her soul.
"I gave you my word," I said, "and you can hold me to that promise as long as you like. But this information I should share if we ever expect to help the situation." Then I made a suggestion. "We shall pray over the matter now," I said, "and I will leave it with you to tell me when I can release it."
Both of us prayed. Next day she was back and said, "I have been praying over the matter, and I see it all now just as you do. You can use the information where and how you feel you need to."
I did. That information saved a double tragedy. But until I had permission to open up the story, my duty was to guard her confidence. The ability to keep a confidence inspires confidence.
9. See beyond the present problem. The true shepherd-counselor sees a person not in his present state, but as he can be under the grace of God. He sees in the one who comes to him not a downtrodden, discouraged, sin-smitten soul, but rather one that can, under the impact of divine grace, become a saint of God; and as a true physician, he begins to apply the balm of Gilead to the wounded heart. "In every human being, however fallen, He beheld a son of God, one who might be restored to the privilege of his divine relationship.... In every human being He discerned infinite possibilities. He saw men as they might be, transfigured by His grace—in 'the beauty of the Lord our God.' Psalm 90:17. Looking upon them with hope, He inspired hope. Meeting them with confidence, He inspired trust. Revealing in Himself man's true ideal, He awakened, for its attainment, both desire and faith." Education, pp. 79, 80.
10. Recognize the dignity of human personality. While sensing the gravity of the problem or even the apparent hopelessness of a situation, be sure never to imply by word or even the tone of voice that the individual is beyond hope. One of the great secrets of the Saviour's success was His ability to inspire hope in the downcast and the sin-laden. No matter how far sunken one may be in sin and debauchery, the counselor must determine to inspire confidence. Of the Saviour's work we read an amazing and a revealing statement: "In His presence souls despised and fallen realized that they were still men, and they longed to prove themselves worthy of His regard." The Spirit of God can awaken in hearts that seem dead to all holy influences the desire to reach out for a new life. We must study how to inspire confidence in oneself and especially in the living God.
* From The Bible: A New Translation by James Moffatt. Copyright by James Moffatt 1954. Used by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated.