A Child’s Prayer

The Inquirer’s Responsibility

August 29 – The Inquirer’s Responsibility

God is sovereign and He will faithfully keep His Word, and do all He said he would do. We must assume responsibility for all our beliefs, attitudes and actions. In ministry we also have to differentiate the role relationship between the inquirer and the encourager. If I want to be effective in ministry I cannot believe for the inquirer, or repent for them. I can share the truth in love, and show others how to repent, but I cannot believe or repent for them. So let’s consider first the role and responsibility of the inquirer.

There is one definitive passage in Scripture that instructs the suffering what to do and that is James 5:13-16. In preparation for a Doctor of Ministry class that I have taught, I required the students to exegete that passage and write a five – paper on the subject before our first meeting. The students were all serving in ministry and had already completed a Masters of Divinity Degree. Most of the papers had the same predictable tone. They looked at the passage from their pastoral perspective, and it is not hard to understand why. If people in your church asked the elders to anoint them with oil and pray for them and you were one of the elders, what would you do?

You would probably seek to understand what it means to anoint with oil (vs. 14), and wonder what kind of oil should you use. You may also wonder if your credibility is at stake since the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (vs. 16). You would like to assume that you are a righteous person, but is that assumption being tested if your prayer isn’t working? What often gets overlooked is the responsibility of the inquirer and if that person doesn’t assume their responsibility, your prayer will not be very effective no matter how righteous you are.

Notice how the passage begins: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (vs. 13). Why is the responsibility to pray first put upon the inquirer? Because we cannot do another person’s praying for them. Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I believe in intercessory prayer, but that was never intended by God to replace an individual’s responsibility to pray. Learning how to help the inquirer petition God themselves was my biggest paradigm shift in methodology. My ministry was transformed almost overnight.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

It Was Worth the Trip

August 28 – It Was Worth the Trip

I was conducting a Discipleship Counseling conference in Mexico. After explaining who is responsible for what, I was invited to have lunch with two professional counselors who were husband and wife. He gave me his business card that advertised his specialty, which was hypnotherapy. He wanted to know what I thought of his approach. I asked him to explain his methodology, because such approaches can be just relaxation techniques, allowing the “client” to feel more relaxed and potentially be more open to share.

After explaining what I he did, I asked, What is God’s role in that process? There was an awkward silence, and then his wife said, I have a different problem. I have been working as a sex therapist for ten years. I have been working mostly with victims and also with the government on sex crimes. I had to quit, because I couldn’t cope any more with all the sexual exploitations that I had to hear again and again. I have no mental peace myself after being subjected to one mental assault story after another.

I told them that they are only half way through the conference, and encouraged them to complete the training by going through the Steps To Freedom in Christ at the end of the conference. Sunday morning I spoke in the host church. After the service they both approached me with big smiles on their faces. He handed me his business card again, but this one had “hypnotherapy” scratched off. She said, My mind is free. Last night I slept peacefully for the first time in years. Isn’t God good?

If I had to listen to people’s stories and never see any resolution to their personal and spiritual conflicts, I would have to change ministries myself. I have listened to some of the worst cases of abuse imaginable, but I have the privilege to see God set those captives free, and that is what stays with me. What is even more important, God grants them repentance that leads to life without regret (2 Cor. 7:9,10).

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Flat Liners

August 27 – Flat Liners

I believe that God is always present when I attempt to help another, and there is a role that only He can play. He came to set captives free and heal the wounds of the broken-hearted. I can’t do that in another individual, so I need to be dependent upon God who is always faithful. That notion is what separates Discipleship Counseling from all the secular models that exist today. Their models have only two players.

If you were in an emergency room and the monitor showed a flat line, the patient is dead. Secular counselors and their clients represent a flat line, because they have failed to acknowledge the presence of God. I don’t say that arrogantly or judgmentally. I share it out of a deep concern, because they have excluded the only One who can forgive them, give them new life and set them free. These people are dead in their trespasses and sins and desperately need the Lord. The counselors have no relationship with God, and they have no intention of helping their clients repent and believe in God.

The only relationship that secular counselors consider is the one they have with their clients, and most Christian counselors have been trained to follow their example. There are some things we can learn from them, even though only one relationship is acknowledged. They have learned from experience how to set boundaries and how not to be enablers, co-dependents, and rescuers. They have also learned pastoral skills like accurate empathy, congruence, genuineness, and concreteness, which are helpful when we relate to enquirers. But there is a completely different dynamic between professional therapists and their clients, and that which exists between God-dependent encouragers and Christian enquirers.

The fact that they charge a lot of money and we don’t charge anything is one obvious difference, but the real issue is the presence of God and that changes everything. Suffering Christians are not our clients that we are working with, they are God’s children, and He came to set them free. We have superficial knowledge of inquirers, but God knows everything about them, which is considerably more than what they know about themselves. In the spiritual realm, God wants to set them free, but the god of this world wants to accuse, tempt, and deceive them. Our role is to help the inquirer sort that out and choose the truth that will set them free.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Who is Responsible for What?

August 26 – Who Is Responsible For What?

When the opportunity presents itself to help another Christian, I continuously remind myself that God is omnipresent. I personally acknowledge God’s presence and declare my dependency upon Him. My approach to ministry is misdirected from the beginning if I believe that the only players present are myself and the other person. God is always present and there is a role that only He can play in my life and the one I am trying to help.

Think of a triangle with God at the top. The two bottom corners represent the encourager and the inquirer. Each side of the triangle represents a relationship. The most important relationship is the one we have with God, but there is also a very important relationship between the encourager and the inquirer. Now ask two critical questions. First, what are we actually trying to accomplish? Since God has given us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18), the goal is to help the inquirer become fully reconciled to God. To accomplish that, we need to help them remove the barriers to their intimacy with their heavenly Father through genuine repentance and faith in God. The whole world and all human inhabitants are dysfunctional because of the fall and God has only one answer and that is restore us back to a righteous relationship with Himself.

Second, keeping in mind the triangle and the three players, who is responsible for what? Have you ever tried to play the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of your spouse? Did that work? How effective do you think we will be in ministry if we unwittingly usurp God’s role in another person’s life? Have you ever tried to assume the responsibility of another person? Did that work? How well are you doing if you haven’t assumed your own responsibility?

We can solve a lot of problems in our families, churches, and communities if we properly answer the question: Who is responsible for what? Nobody’s triangle is perfectly equilateral, because we are all slightly out of balance. If you expect too much from others, you will be disappointed. If you try to assume the responsibility of another, you will become a rescuer, or enabler or a co-dependent. If you leave God out, you may help someone cope for a short duration, but apart from Christ you can do nothing that will last for eternity (Jn. 15:5). God is the only player in Discipleship Counseling that perfectly assumes His responsibility. We need to learn ours and help others assume their responsibilities.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Unanswered Prayer

August 23 – Unanswered Prayer

Knowing what God and only God can do, and what is clearly our responsibility should be intuitively obvious, but for many it is very confusing. Some will pray, asking God to do for them what He has told them to do, and they are disappointed when He doesn’t answer their prayer. This is especially evident when it comes to spiritual conflicts, because the Church has so poorly prepared our people for such attacks.

Suppose teenagers experience some demonic manifestation in their room at night (our research revealed that over 50% have had such an experience). They cry out to God: “Lord, do something,” and pull the covers over their heads. Nothing happens! So they wonder; Why not God? Why won’t you help me? Well, maybe I’m not a Christian and that is why he won’t help me. That is the mental and emotional state of nearly every person I have been asked to help. They are questioning God’s presence, questioning God’s love for them, and questioning their salvation.

But why didn’t God do something? He did! “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him” (Col. 2:15). He forgave our sins, made us new creations in Christ, made us joint heirs with Jesus who is seated at the right hand of the Father, He has seated us with Christ in the heavenlies (the spiritual realm), and conferred onto us the authority and power to do His will. But whose responsibility is it to submit to God and resist the devil (James 4:7)? Whose responsibility is it to put on the armor of God? To take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ? To crucify the flesh? To stand firm and resist? And what if we don’t?

God has to stay true to His word, and will not change who He is, or His ways to accommodate us. He would no longer be God if He did. His changeless character and ways are what give us stability in life. We can always count on God being present and being faithful to His word. For instance, it is not our role to convict anyone for their sin. That is God’s role. “He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:8). Knowing who is responsible for what is a core principle behind Discipleship Counseling.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Sovereignty and Free Will

August 22 – Sovereignty and Free Will

I believe God has drawn a real line that greatly impacts how we relate to Him, how we live, and how we help others. On one side of the line is what God and only God can do. We can be creative by stacking the bricks and smearing the paint, but we can’t speak and bring something out of nothing. We can’t even save ourselves. God had to take the initiative and provide the means by which we can be forgiven and have new life in Christ. We can’t do anything about the sovereignty of God other than to rest in the finished work of Christ, and be grateful for His providential care.

On the other side of the line is our responsibility. For us the line is fuzzy, and you will draw the line differently depending upon whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian. Both groups, however, believe that God’s sovereignty and personal responsibility are taught in Scripture. The line will shift to the left or right depending upon how much emphasis we place on God’s role. We water and plant, but God causes the increase (1 Cor. 3:6). If we don’t water and plant, nothing grows, and we can bear no fruit of lasting consequence apart from Christ. Sanctification is God’s will for our lives (1 Thess. 4;3). God is the sanctifier, but we will not grow unless we repent and believe, and that is our responsibility.

Can we ask God to do for us what He has clearly told us to do? If you are behind in your studies, can you ask God to study for you? Will He think for us, or believe for us, or is that our responsibility? He is the Truth and revealed Himself to the world, but He will not make our choices for us either. We have the capacity to choose, because we are created in His image. In other words, we have a will and God expects us to exercise our will according to His word.

The key to successful living is to know God and His ways and assume responsibility for our own attitudes and actions. “Thus says the Lord: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord” (Jer. 9:23,24).

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Complete Answer

August 21 – Complete Answer

Is my problem spiritual or is it psychological? Asking that question exposes a false dichotomy that plagues the western world. There is always a spiritual dimension to our struggles. God is always present, and “He upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). God is the ultimate reality, and mental health begins by being in touch with reality. The whole world struggles as a result of the fall. The basic problem is that we are spiritually dead, i.e. separated from God. When we come to Christ, we are new creations in Christ. We can’t fix our past, but we can be free from it through genuine repentance and faith in God. Even if that is accomplished, our journey toward Christ-likeness requires us to be dependent upon God, for apart from Christ we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).

Our struggle is also spiritual because, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Besides, the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19), who has deceived the whole world (Rev. 12:9). There is no time when it is safe to take off the armor of God. The possibility of being tempted, accused, and deceived is just part of living in this fallen world.

On the other hand, our problems are always psychological. Our soul is always a participant in the struggle to overcome. If we believe that, we will stop polarizing into psychotherapeutic ministries that ignore the reality of the spiritual world, or a one-dimensional deliverance ministry that overlooks the personal responsibility of the inquirer. We have a whole God, who relates to a whole person, who takes into account all reality, all the time.

So how do we help people resolve their personal and spiritual conflicts? Do they just need to be discipled? Do they need counseling? Do they need inner healing? How about deliverance? Many evangelical pastors have never heard of inner healing. Most counselors have never been exposed to any kind of deliverance ministry, and some totally reject its validity. Those who specialize in only one of those four perspectives have one thing in common, they have left God out of the process. Jesus came to set captives free and heal the wounds of the broken-hearted, and only He can do that. He is the Wonderful Counselor and genuine repentance and faith in God brings inner healing.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

It Works

August 20 – It Works

The Evangelical Free Church has a week of training every year for their pastors. Several years ago they asked me to teach four full days. A pastor introduced himself and gave me a card saying “You’ve been His salt in my life. Thanks!” In the card he wrote:

The card is true. God has used you in my life, my marriage, and in my ministry. I do thank the Lord and you for the materials you have created. It is wonderful to use something that works with all sorts of people with all sorts of problems.

I stumbled on to your material a year ago last October and God was using it to prepare us for working with a severely demonized man. In preparation for taking him through the Steps To Freedom in Christ, the elders and I went through the Steps first. I personally had the bondage to sin broken in my own life. As a result, my wife found freedom from her family’s occultic background.

I’m in a new church now. Not much happened the first two months, but without advertising or promoting, God has sent twelve people to me this month to go through the Steps To Freedom. There has been a great work of God in people’s hearts. Two of the Elders resigned to get their lives straightened out. One has been having an affair for the last two years. He told me that his hypocrisy didn’t bother him until I came. It was the Lord! Not me! I’m honored that God has utilized me to touch lives. I’m taking him and his wife through the Steps next week.

I took the other elder and his wife through the Steps last week. He had bondage to pornography, masturbation, and strip joints when he was on business trips. It was wonderful to see both find their freedom, renew, and deepen their relationship. What a joy and privilege to encourage people as they go through the Steps.

One of our Sunday school teachers has been experiencing night time terror, and demonic dreams. Through God’s “chance events,” she told my wife about these difficulties. I took her and her husband through the Steps two weeks ago. When we came to forgiveness I had to teach, exhort, and encourage her for over an hour. I had to physically put the pencil in her hand. It took another 30 minutes to write the first name. But eventually she made a decision and went for it. God is so good! The next Sunday there was so much joy, peace, and freedom on the face of both her, and her husband.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog

Discipleship Counseling

August 19 – Discipleship Counseling

In the Forward to my first book, Victory Over the Darkness, I wrote, The focus of my ministry, both as a pastor and seminary professor, has been the inter-related ministries of discipling and Christian counseling. I have been a discipler and a counselor of countless people. I have also taught discipleship and pastoral counseling at the seminary level and in churches and leadership conferences across the country and around the world . . . I am saddened by how we have separated the ministries of discipleship and counseling in our churches (and seminaries). Christian discipleship too often has become an impersonal program, although good material is being used. Christian counseling has been intensely personal, but often lacks good theology. I believe discipleship and counseling are biblically the same. If you were a good discipler you would be a good counselor and vice versa. Discipleship Counseling is the process where two or more people meet together in the presence of Christ, learn how the truth of God’s Word can set them free and thus enable them to conform to the image of God as they walk by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the second edition of The Bondage Breaker I wrote, In 1982 I left the pastorate to teach at Talbot School of Theology. I went there knowing there were people in our church who had problems I didn’t have adequate answers for. I would teach and preach God’s Word the best I could, but I really didn’t see much change in the lives of the faithful people who attended regularly. I believed with all my heart that Jesus was the answer and that the truth of His Word would set people free, but I really didn’t know how . . . I was searching for a wholistic answer, rooted in God’s Word, centered on Christ, and usable for all Christians everywhere. The tool that resulted is called The Steps to Freedom in Christ, which is now being used all over the world. All this study and research was for my second doctorate from Talbot, and this book “The Bondage Breaker” – was my dissertation.

Those two books have each sold 1.4 million copies in English and have been translated into many languages. I had no idea that I would end up with a global ministry (see www.ficminternational.org). For the next few weeks I will be sharing what Discipleship Counseling (Regal Books) is and how I got there.

Dr. Neil

For Spanish, see http://www.ficmm.org/blog