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Sunday, August 30, 2015

2 Needs You Have of Your Counselling Pastor

COUNSELLING pastors are in the privileged position of caring for the needs of the particularly vulnerable. That mix of caring for the secret needs of people who are compromised is fraught with danger. Think about it; when do people go to see their pastor or counsellor? When life is turned upside down and they don’t know which end is up or how to move forward.
I’m talking pastoral care when life goes wrong; it’s when the pastor comes into their own — they’re there to help. Pastors are particularly helpful when help is required.
Counselling pastors will journey with people dealing with life issues as well as refer them on to other helping professionals. I liken this journeying along with people as ‘travelling with’ them — to be there as and when needed. This carries the risk of empowering an unhealthy neediness that is there already or that may emerge. That clearly is not taking the relationship in a helpful direction.
Most people don’t want to be a burden on a pastor, and the pastor should certainly help as much as possible equip a person they’re helping to act independently. The pastor’s primary task is to help people grow as disciples of Jesus.
Two Things Are Needed In Unison
Counselling theory taught me the necessity of depowering the power dynamics in helping relationships, because the counsellor (and pastor) are in power roles whether they like it or not.
The counsellor/pastor does well to attune to the knowledge they have power that is unhelpful mostly. Power can be easily abused and vulnerable people are inherently susceptible. Power says that trust is implicit. When a counsellor/pastor is trusted they may easily abuse that trust — many unfortunately have. Their integrity is crucial in making the relationship work as a helpful one.
But there is a vitally important aspect to a pastor’s power that they must tap into; that is, they are solely responsible for the relationship. The carry the relationship. They bear the relationship. This is a weighty responsibility. This is where being a pastor has the weight of heaven under it and over it. God himself oversees the minister’s work. That can be a terrible thought. But it is also an honour to do God’s work.
The twofold obligation on a pastor in helping a vulnerable person is to 1) depower the power dynamic, whilst 2) ensuring they hold and contain the person.
In other words, pastors must depower power dynamics whilst bearing responsibility for the pastoral relationship.
Pastors must be trustworthy and be able to earn and keep a person’s trust.
These two things prove your pastor trustworthy: they care for your thoughts and wishes, and they take responsibility for the caring relationship.
To recap, you need your pastor to:
1.     Depower (and not exploit) the power dynamic resident in the helping relationship with you.
2.     Bear sole responsibility for the relationship, because if anything goes wrong, in terms of abuse, it will be the pastor’s fault.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Love One Another – Rising to Meet Jesus’ Delightful Standard

RIGHTEOUSNESS is, most unfortunately, a much misinterpreted word in our day and age. Simply understood as “doing what is right,” we can understand there is a vast difference between doing what is acceptable in the eyes of the world and doing what is pleasing in the eyes of the Lord.
Doing what is right depends on what standard we apply, but don’t forget whose term “righteousness” is; it’s not the world’s term — it’s God’s. Like the term “salvation,” God has the market cornered in the term, “righteousness.” Doing what is right is God’s business, and his followers follow in accord to that standard.
Doing what is right is no conundrum or abstraction.
If we know the Holy Spirit that resides within, we will have no problem at all discerning the standard we are to meet. We might wrestle on how to do it, but there is no doubt in us that the other person must benefit if we are to do what is right.
Doing what is right is not about us getting blessed. It’s about the other person getting blessed because of what we can do.
Let me recapitulate the above rendering…
For 2,000 years, the challenge for “today’s” Christian has been not to meet the law, but to exceed it. Jesus’ challenge is to meet the standards of grace, compassion, and kindness. The true Christian and especially the true Christian leader reflects purposefully on the Sermon on the Mount, and asks, “What would Jesus have me do.”
To meet the law by exceeding it is no new standard, yet it seems so comparatively rare. But it’s not just another person’s challenge; it’s our own. It’s not just about the grace, compassion, and kindness we didn’t receive.
It’s about the grace, compassion, and kindness we can give, today, and the grace, compassion, and kindness we did not give yesterday. It’s about the grace, compassion, and kindness we must give tomorrow.
Grace, compassion, and kindness.
Joy exudes from within us when we overcome our pride in Jesus’ name.
How will we overcome? By thinking in terms of grace, compassion, and kindness toward those who have wronged us! If we expect God to be the miracle-maker he is, then we will expect him to move from within us. And he will.
God moves into the space of our grace, compassion, and kindness; he will bless our friends and enemies alike, and utter strangers, through us, when we bow to him.
“Love one another as I have loved you,” said Jesus. “Love one another so love abounds, and by this, everyone will know you belong to me.”
One thing sets Christians apart from also-rans-of-the-faith:
Love others above self.
Love is always right, and we cannot be right unless we love.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Forgiveness, If You Don’t Already Know, Is a Process

JESUS — our Saviour, Lord and King — is also our Exemplar of everything of this Christian life. To say we live biblically is to say we are committed and remain committed to what the Bible commends us to do, as lived through the life, teaching and death of Jesus.
One of Jesus’ exemplary behaviours was his attitude to forgiveness.
Jesus’ attitude toward forgiveness was reflected in his life, in how he continually forgave the legalists who plotted persistently against him. Jesus’ attitude on forgiveness was reflected in his teaching, for good instance, on the Sermon on the Mount (“love your enemies”). And Jesus’ attitude on forgiveness climaxed in his death on the cross.
This last exemplification of Jesus’ commitment to forgiveness is marked in its application for every single one of us.
Jesus said, famously, in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
But Jesus didn’t say it just once. Jesus kept saying it. The Greek word elegon in Luke’s gospel indicates that Jesus said it a number of times. He repeated it. The form of the word lego (say) indicates an action in the past that was repeated continuously.
Jesus shows us, even though he had the capacity for perfection, that he had to work at forgiveness, continuously. It wasn’t a once-and-all-done thing. As he was spat upon he had to utter those words, “Father, forgive them,” and as those nails were hammered into his flesh he had to bellow those words, “Father, forgive them,” and as he was hoisted vertically he had to scream those words, “Father, forgive them.”
How could Jesus forgive them? He could forgive them because “they [didn’t] know what they [were] doing.”
They didn’t understand. They should have, but they didn’t.
Jesus understands that, as we seek to forgive, we suffer many, many reminders of the injustices they have done to us. We have to repeatedly use our will to surrender our will for God’s. God understands intimately, because Jesus had to do it.
Those that transgress us don’t understand the impact it’s had on us. They don’t understand it like we do, just like we don’t understand it from their side.
They can’t be expected to understand, as we do. Our task of forgiveness is to understand that they don’t, and to accept they may never understand. But we need to re-imagine this time and time and time again.
Forgiveness sounds simple, but it never is. Forgiveness is as much a process of committing to forgive, time and again, as it is anything else.
What means so much can never be trivial. Forgiveness is hard because it meant so much.
Forgiveness is a process. Healing will come in its own time. Just commit in faith.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, August 24, 2015

What You Can Only Learn By Being Invisible

EAVES dropping is fun for some, and depending on the motive, it can be productive. This article is not about eaves dropping, but it is about overhearing public conversations, and observing life that is in full view, as it augments our acquisition of perspective.
We can only survive in life, let alone thrive, if we reclaim our God-blessed perspective. This is God’s truth that he would have us know. Through only our eyes, our heart, and our filter can we come to know what God has set aside for us to know.
Knowing comes from observation, and observation comes from experience, and experience comes from exposure. Knowledge doesn’t just come intellectually, but also relationally, contemplatively, and charismatically as well. Knowledge we can claim in the realm of invisibility is of the latter three; knowledge through experience.
The point of becoming invisible has various advantages:
1.     We get to pretend what life will be like when we are no longer around; when life will have to happen without us around, thank-you-very-much! This introduces us to the concept that, notwithstanding our intrinsic value to God, we are no more important than the next person. It makes us humble to be invisible. It helps us to know that we are not the centre of the universe.
2.     When we take away the distraction it is to be present in others’ lives, we can deploy our focus in the reflective space. We get to focus on aspects of life we would ordinarily have no idea about. And as we observe how life works (or doesn’t work) for others, God communicates to us via how we are living. God uses what we hear as stimuli for what we are already facing, and what we see and hear is merely one of God’s filters through which we may see.
3.     The above two points help us to restore perspective. We think in ways that we ordinarily wouldn’t have. We step apart from our lives sufficiently to see what we might not otherwise.
It pays to be invisible every now and then,
To remove ourselves for the sight of all women and men.
It pays to be invisible whether by day or night,
It pays to be invisible and thereby see by God’s sight.
Only when we set ourselves apart for God’s use alone do we gain important glimpses into our world and to our true inner heart.
God uses people to speak powerfully into our lives, whether we are there with them or not.
Yes, God speaks powerfully through people, especially as we see ourselves in them.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

19 Things Not to Do or Say If You’re Saying Sorry

APOLOGIES, genuine ones, have the power to redeem what was lost. To redeem what was lost is to get something worthwhile back. When we have said or done something bad the ability to ‘make it right’ through an aptly convincing apology gives both parties the chance of another opportunity. But here is a list of things to avoid:
1.     Say one thing and mean another: words and tone that are mixed incongruently with body language only get us into trouble. It’s no good saying sorry if we have a smirk to go with it or we cannot commit to any eye contact.
2.     Delay the apology: dragging out the inevitable does us no favours. Get it over and done with.
3.     Take the apology back: nothing wrecks credibility more than when we prove we never truly meant the apology when we take it back shortly after we give it.
4.     Using an apology to get back: is there any wonder people get angry at us when we’ve abused the use of apology to accuse them of their ‘wrongdoing’?
5.     Beat around the bush: in the process of actually saying sorry we have too much pride to actually say the words. In other words, we don’t have the humility needed.
6.     Use the apology to make excuses for our behaviour: we don’t gain credibility by excusing our behaviour, we lose it. Apology is not the time for standing up for ourselves.
7.     Ignore the need to apologise: this is the worst. Pretending that no apology is required, by saying “I have nothing to apologise for,” is pure contempt.
8.     Go and do the wrong thing again straight away: and prove we’ve learned nothing.
9.     Have nothing to back up our sorry: when we say sorry we need to be ready to answer the challenge, “If you truly understand you’ll prove genuine when I probe.” Having apologised, we can expect to be challenged to prove that we meant it.
10. Not seeking forgiveness: what use is the apology if we don’t care enough about the relationship to seek their forgiveness? Seeking forgiveness says, “I don’t take for granted that everything is suddenly better just because I said sorry.”
11. Expecting to be forgiven: as has been mentioned immediately above, we ooze pride if we expect that everything is automatically okay having said sorry.
12. Having no intent to do better next time: sorry says I’ll do better next time. If we don’t intend that or don’t do the work to repent properly our apology will reveal us a fool.
13. Speaking about the issue with others: any time after we have apologised we are best either saying nothing or saying only exactly what we said. If we introduce different information later we blur the lines of our apology.
14. Stew about their reaction: one thing we have no control over is their response. They who we have apologised to have every right to respond any way they like. Our apology needs to be so genuine that we have no condition on the other person.
15. Doubt their sincerity: if, in us having apologised, they commit to some form of action and they don’t carry through, we need to exercise grace, and pray they will be self-aware enough to apologise. We cannot doubt their sincerity.
16. Play games with people using apology: this is just the worst. This is the best and quickest way to destroy our credibility.
17. Entertain second thoughts: a good apology is made sincerely and then we move on without entering into secondary correspondence with ourselves.
18. Be cheap on words and flat on action: apologies fall flat if they cost nothing of the person saying sorry.
19. Pretend that it never happened: when an apology is given it is part of history; it happened.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

God’s Help When Helping Gets You Down

EVERYTHING to everyone we cannot be, but it doesn’t stop us from trying.
At times we can be nobody to no one and if we have the propensity and purpose to help we may regale with the feeling that we’re just no good. It’s a very fine line between not caring enough in ministry and caring too much. It’s no surprise that those drawn to the caring professions are also most susceptible to compassion fatigue.
It takes a special formation in a person who can help with gallant fortitude yet they are also impervious to feeling vulnerable. We may tend to exemplify such a formation for a season, but if we push the envelope too much we are likely to become ineffective, which also renders our confidence (to help) as shot.
It is fair to say that anyone who has a role to care will occasionally feel completely inadequate. Not that we always are when we feel such a thing. Confidence is such a huge thing. Our perception of ourselves can be very important.
When we feel especially vulnerable it’s best that we respond in truth, in prayer, in contact with trusted and wise others, and finally, in the assurance of God’s Presence via the reminder — “I am with you, always, and don’t forget, I have called you.”
In truth we see that we did our best. Our focus may have wavered, our listening may have been inattentive, our advice may have been unbalanced, and our tact may have been askew, but the fact is we did our best with the energy, mind, time, and other resources we had available to us at the time. We did the best we could with what we had.
He who has called us into this at times thankless ministry has done so because he equipped us to do divine work. We accepted that call because we loved the privilege of doing God’s eternal work with very little, for very little — but with a slice of eternity as a reward. Don’t you think God will reward you for the present sacrifices?
We must occasionally remind ourselves of the promises of God, including that of almsgiving and prayer in early Matthew 6. We don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing as far as work for God is concerned. We know that our labour of love is seeing us through to the day of Christ.
When helping gets us down and helping won’t lift us up then it’s to the Holy Spirit we go. Meditating on how pleased God is with just who we are, including our efforts, we imagine our worth in Christ’s eyes. Our identity is in him, not on those who seem not to value our work.
Helping others is often a privilege, but it involves risks. Helping others is best undergirded by the ability to be helped by God.
If we cannot receive God’s help when we need it we’re ill-equipped to help others.
Likewise, if we cannot receive other people’s help we’re ill-equipped to help other people.
Put positively, those who are able to receive help from others are often able to help others to receive what they need.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Why It’s Better to Surrender to Sadness Than Accede to Anger

DIFFERENTIATING anger from sadness is a venerable wisdom.
Majestic is the place of being for the separating of those two. Anger is a folly where sadness is a wisdom, yet who can separate these in order that sadness might be no longer be suppressed by anger?
It’s only done by surrender. And surrender is only done by humility.
It’s only done when a person stops looking outwardly and begins to look inwardly. Not inwardly at the ‘sorry me’, but inwardly at the vast crevices of brokenness that remain when the entire world — and all the world’s fault — is stripped away. To God we thence simply come, with no embellishments, in our brokenness. He can only heal us if we have had our falsehood stripped right away. And anger is a falsehood.
Every time we look externally, to what others should be doing, we get angry at the injustices that have occurred. Yes, these are veritable injustices, for sure and certain. God can understand why we are livid. But it can’t end there if we hope to heal.
Every time we look internally, to what we ourselves can do, we approach the truth of our sadness, first and foremost. God won’t let us go into the truth of our healing until we have traversed all the way through the truth of our sadness — the sadness without the anger!
Not until we go into sadness — without the anger (can’t stress that enough) — are we ready to take the step into depression, and then from depression into acceptance; from the penultimate step of grief into the ultimate step of grief.
The penultimate step in recovering from grief is depression; the ultimate step is acceptance. We cannot achieve the ultimate without the penultimate. And that can seem like such a lot of hard work, but, be encouraged, only a wonderful reality awaits at the end: an assurance of God.
Be encouraged, you who are depressed in grief; your healing is the next step!
The only way we can go into sadness, without the anger, is to stop looking at anything other than us, ourselves, and God; the difference between us, ourselves, and the Divine.
It took 37 chapters of Job’s complaining before the Lord spoke up out of the storm:
“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?”
Woe. The most important thing we ever beckoned to learn stands, now, to be learned… if only we are open.
It is only when we are stood up in our tracks, when we fully acknowledge the offence we are to God, clothed in our filthy rags, that we stop accusing God and find our place — with the rest of humanity. We are no better by nature than anyone else. Our indignation is a grand pride that seems so justified, but when we can only look outwardly, and refuse to see the truth in and of ourselves, we are an abomination. We no longer confess — in these moments — that Jesus is our Lord.
Tough words, but true to every biblical respect in the realm of anger and sadness and injustice and grief.
Trust these words. They will not let you down.
Sadness is the truth. Anger is the lie. Anger does have a role, in grace, but it’s not where we can remain. Remain in anger and we get stuck.
Sadness is so very important. Once we subjugate our anger, and let sadness expound from the deepest reaches of our delicate soul, doing so with God, the Spirit pours forth healing.
Sadness is so very important. It’s a condition God places on our healing.
Sadness ventured into is the worship of truth. Anger ventured into is the worship of a lie. God can only heal us as we venture into truth.
Move from anger into sadness, which is a move into truth, and move into healing.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What Depression Teaches About Compassion

VULNERABLE and weak, without the energy to make what would normally be a normal effort, a person in their depression has little drive to help another person. But they do receive one thing as a product for their suffering; empathy for the mentally ill.
Depression, among all mental, emotional and spiritual illnesses, delivers a person to an acute understanding: compassion.
What is stored up during the time of depression is a dream; to make a difference. The depressed person hopes that one day they will be on the other side to help. They somehow know it’s better by far to help than be helped, but they know they cannot help as yet. The best help they can be presently is to simply get better, one day at a time.
Once they are better they carry about with them the wisdom that another depression could befall them. They are blessed with humility. They are blessed with a roundedness of character akin to brokenness. But enough of talking in the third person. Let’s go back to the second person.
We have suffered this scourge of the inner being, this gross challenge to our existence, this thing that asks the rudest questions of us; that gets us doubting to our core.
If we haven’t suffered (for I know I have!) perhaps it’s been a family member or a friend. We have watched them or ourselves fold into a ball on the floor and inconsolable — unreachable. We have seen it and we have experienced it. We don’t wish it on an enemy let alone usher it to come alongside. We have such fearful respect of it once we have recovered that we know it best not to be too prideful anymore. It may return. It’s not so much fear, but wisdom. We know how important it is now to maintain our mental, emotional and spiritual health, day by day. What we have learned most of all is an uncommon empathy for another person’s weakness.
Depression is a teacher. It teaches resilience, humility and wisdom. But most importantly it teaches compassion.
Anyone softened by the brutish lout that is depression is made malleable for others. Their softness combines with a cautious strength that advocates for the weak.
There is an objective in overcoming or managing depression: to have capacity to be strong enough for others. We cannot do it when we are in the midst of the depression, but everyone can hope for managing it.
Managing our depression is reaching a calm place of acceptance where the simple joys can be celebrated and the harder times endured.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Reminisces of Past Faith Power Present Faith Into the Future

PROBLEMS in the present are helped by faithful reliance of past. Past faithfulness to endure the stuff of life ought to be the ideal encouragement to endure this thing before us right now.
It doesn’t matter if this is a new thing. Soon we will be able to thank that younger version of us that took pleasure in opting to obey the Lord.
When life swarms with difficulty — where pain contends for our attention — and where mental and emotional capacities are pushed beyond the limit — amongst a plethora of dis-ease — life seems impossible. But we have no memory of how hard a thing it was that we endured last month or last year or five years ago. We only have memory for the moment’s existential pain — whether by frustration, doubt, inadequacy, exhaustion or fatigue.
And we can thank God. The Lord got us through all those other times when we patiently resisted torment, so why would he not now? Merely the fact we are here, now, alive and breathing, even with brokenness all about, there is evidence of God’s saving grace woven in and through our entire lives. Yet, we were so busy looking at how hard it was now.
Of course life is hard. It is hard for everyone if everyone is truthful. We all have our good days, but there are far too few of them, given that we would have it all our own way if we could.
The important fact is our reminisces of past faith power our present faith into the future.
We have no reason to doubt we’ll get through, or fear we don’t have the capacity, or cringe for the present embarrassment, or to bellow that life has never been harder.
Life has been as hard and there may be times of future when life will be as hard, if not harder.
The present embarrassment seems so acute, yet in a few days or a week or so this embarrassment will be overtaken by another, equally poignant, problem.
We may worry we don’t have what it takes, but our previous conquests have shown us how capable we are.
The exhaustion we experience shows us just how much we can endure and suffer without giving up.
Our days may be excruciatingly hard, and yet we have endured tough times before.
Let me say it again: our reminisces of past faith, where we did what was needed, power our present faith into the future.
Be thankful for past faithfulness, be grateful for present strength, and be at joy for future’s hope.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Simply Being There

CONSIDERING the expanse of the work ahead of me over the next few months, having spent precious time with someone who needed emotional and spiritual care, I was reminded how unimportant tasks are. Sure, I was feeling overwhelmed at my workload, and sure I was frustrated with my inability to focus on just one thing and get it done. But one thing I was satisfied in was simply being there; being my best for somebody else, even if it didn’t seem very helpful at all.
For me that’s the job of pastor: to be there; simply being there is the role in every important way. What a privilege to fit the role where nothing of ourselves can be brought to it, other than the ability to ‘let go and let God’. Pastor, in a very important way, is nothing about biblical or theological knowledge. Indeed, it may be the negation of all knowledge, but, I guess, it’s only with biblical or theological knowledge — coupled with the experience of pastoral method — that we may know anything of this mystical work that uses us as mere instruments of the divine.
I had spent time with someone who was weak and vulnerable — at the lowest ebb of their lives. Even in a place where nothing made any sense any longer, and where the end was nigh. We talked about it. We ventured where many a person could not go. We discussed, in the open, matters we rarely think about let alone vocalise. And there were long sighing and weeping pauses, even angry ones.
Simply being there is precious. There is no quick fix and no solution that might be ‘given’. Simply being there in the pastoral space is about knowing how important it is. It won’t fix anything, but being there communicates love, acceptance, affirmation, unity and encouragement. Simply being there says to another person, “I value you as you are, even if you don’t value yourself. You matter. Don’t give up. We can do this together. Let me pray with you. Let us sit unhurried by agendas, schedules or life. Let us be. And, you are precious in my sight, and all the more in God’s.”
Simply being there is a momentary delight in the eternal heavens. Being there we do the angel’s work. There, in the midst of someone’s chaotic and abysmal life, we can do something by doing nothing; it may mean everything when nothing can be done.
Yes, it may mean everything to someone just to sit and be there when nothing can be done.
When we encounter “desperate” in another person let the Holy Spirit counsel us to stay, and not run. We have been placed there for a purpose; a most important reason. Holy Spirit, encourage us when you place us with the weak and vulnerable; that we are enough for their need though we may feel hopeless and so ill-equipped. Let us trust God for ears to hear and the right words to say. God will not let us down in our striving to care. On the contrary, God will bless us with what we need to care.
Just by being there we are able to care.

© 2015 Steve Wickham.