How Do You Help Hurting People?

David Powlison:

Unlike Proverbs, do you moralize, unhinging advice from deeper insight and deeper reasons? “Read your Bible... Just get accountable... Have your quiet time... Get involved in a ministry.” But proverbs point to the fruits of grace, not the means of grace. They never moralize. They press us with deep questions about what we most trust or fear.They present the God who actively gives wisdom to those who ask, and who continually intervenes in the consequences of our choices. They attune us to notice what voices persuasively bid to mislead us. Wise, moral behavior is thus located amid the heart’s motivations, the workings of God, and the significant influences around us. The counsel has more ‘texture’ than we might imagine. Life-or-death moral decisions populate the proverbs. Unlike Psalms, are you pietistic? “Just pray and give it all to Jesus. Pray this warfare prayer and claim back your inheritance from Satan. Learn mindfulness and listen for the voice of God in your inner silence.”But the psalms are neither pietistic, superstitious nor mystical. They teach us to speak a full-orbed honesty— putting our actual afflictions, sins and blessings into words; expressing the unfolding dance of actual experience and emotions; maintaining intent awareness of what God is like and what he says. The qualities of true humanness populate the psalms. Unlike Jesus, do you speak in theological abstractions and generalities, putting a premium on cognitive ability? “Remember the Sovereignty of God... Rehearse your justification and adoption by grace through faith... Hold in view the synergy between God’s active initiative and man’s active response in the sanctification process...” Shorthand jargon is helpful sometimes, but abstraction holds truths at arm’s length. Ministry talks with people. Jesus talks the way people talk. “Notice how God feeds the crows. The Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many. No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Ministry takes truth personally, and makes the implications up close and interpersonal. Unlike Paul—no two letters and no two sermons ever the same!—do you offer the predictable boilerplate of a pat answer and pet truth? Are you a Johnny-one-note, reiterating one promise or principle as the panacea for every kind of problem and person? The apostle is nimble, continually adapting what he says to the contingencies and exigencies of each situation. Unlike the Bible, does your counsel comfortably restate the current assumptions and advice of our surrounding culture? Do you sound like a self-help book, perhaps with a sprinkling of Jesus and God? Do you label people with whatever explanatory labels happen to be this decade’s hot properties? Flannery O’Connor caught how thoughtful Christian faith is always wild and unexpected:

Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.