Our subject in this hour is dealing with the spiritually cold and rebellious. Almost all of us have somebody in our circle of relationships that fits this description. For some of us that may be a family member, such as a parent, a child, a brother, or a sister. For others of us, that may someone we were friends with when we were walking together and serving the Lord, but now that relationship has dimmed since that person hardened their heart to the things of the Lord. For some of us, when we think about the spiritually cold or rebellious, we immediately think of a counselee we are currently meeting with. Others of us would think of somebody from our college or seminary days that no longer is loving the things that we do.
5 Helpful Perspectives
1. All of us were spiritually cold and rebellious at one time.
Ephesians 2:1-3 says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and we were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
When we start this discussion about dealing with the spiritually cold and rebellious, it is appropriate for us to begin by saying, “Except for the grace of God, they would be talking about me in this hour.” All of us were like that at one time.
2. Spiritual ministry is a team effort.
This is seen in 1 Corinthians 3:7-10 when Paul says: “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.”
Spiritual ministry is a team effort. I’ll give you an assignment that will make this very clear in each of your lives: spend some time reviewing the number of people that nudged you to consider the claims of Christ, that taught you the Scriptures, that pointed you toward Christ leading up to the time when you prayed to accept Christ.
For me, I was born and raised in a fine Christian home in southeastern Ohio. I’m told that my parents took me to church from the first service after I got home from the hospital, and we attended four services a week faithfully for years and years. I trusted Christ when I was about nine or ten. One time I sat down and started making a list of all of the people that would have nudged me toward Christ. I started with my parents, then godly grandparents, then nursery workers and Sunday School teachers, then a pastor and so forth. I ended up with 25 people that nudged me toward Christ. Consider that number while remembering that I accepted Christ at age nine.
The point of that example is that spiritual ministry is a team effort. When I’m trying to minister to the spiritually cold and rebellious, I have found a great amount of comfort and rest in the fact that I’m just one of a team. I am not the team; I’m just one of the team. My job is to play a part in nudging the person to consider the claims of Christ. I want to be a good team player, but I’m only part of the team.
3. Think in terms of sowing, watering, and reaping rather than in terms of just reaping.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”
As I’ve meditated on this passage and tried to understand it, I’ve come to understand that when the Bible talks about sowing, it is referring to what I would think of as the direct ministry of the Word or giving out of Scripture. In fact, I can’t even talk about it without doing that. It’s where you are witnessing to, preaching to, teaching, or counseling someone biblically—it’s where the Word of God is going out. That’s sowing.
Watering is when you are doing anything that would encourage a person to seriously consider the claims of Jesus Christ. Sowing is when you’re doing direct witnessing, teaching a Sunday School class, or running a neighborhood Bible study for the kids. In contrast to sowing, watering in many ways is when you walk the walk of a Christian and not just talk the talk of the Christian. Walking the walk means that at your place of employment, you’re one of the employees who shows up on time every time, gets back from lunch when you’re supposed to, leaves when you’re supposed to, and gives your employer the appropriate hours that they’re paying you for. Watering means that when your neighbor is involved in a car crash, you go over and say, “We can get by for a couple of days without a car. Why don’t you use our car until you get things squared away?” Or you bake a casserole and take it to your neighbors when they are ill. Watering is when you’re showing love and compassion. Another example is when you offer to mow your neighbor’s yard when they’re on vacation. Being loving and compassionate is what I call walking the walk of a godly Christian. That is watering.
Don’t all of us know somebody whose major excuse for not following Christ is a so-called Christian who did X, Y, and Z, which supposedly turned the person off to the claims of Christ? You all know somebody like that, don’t you? What I’m saying is that watering is the opposite of that. Watering is when we conduct ourselves in such a way that it encourages a person to ask questions such as the following:
- “What is it that gives you such joy in your marriage?”
- “How is it that you can solve problems?”
- “How is it that your kids are so different in their perspectives than mine?”
- “What is it about you that makes you so different in how you handle these trials and heartaches that come in life?”
I encourage you to think in terms of sowing, watering, and reaping rather than just reaping.
We all like to reap. In our culture—at least in the churches that I’ve been affiliated with and in the circles in which I’ve been exposed—there is a distinct reaping mentality. We all like to hear about somebody witnessing or somebody being there when somebody prayed to accept Christ. At times, when we hear a testimony like that, people will applaud and we’re all excited; but how often do you hear a testimony about somebody who sowed the seed and people are encouraged by that? How often do you hear about somebody doing something on purpose to show the love of Christ and somebody applaud for that? We have such a reaping mentality that it’s almost like, “If you can’t tell us about leading somebody to faith in Christ, we don’t want to hear what you have to say.”
I think that is an obstacle in our ministry to the spiritually cold and rebellious. It’ll be helpful if you start thinking in terms of sowing, watering, and reaping and thinking about, “What does this situation call for? Do I need to sow? Do I need to water? Have we come to a place where I need to call for them to repent and trust Christ?”
4. Pray for wisdom, especially in your words.
When you’re dealing with the spiritually cold and rebellious, the way we speak is very important. One of my favorite verses in the Old Testament that I have prayed many times before a counseling session—especially with the spiritually cold and rebellious—is Proverbs 15:2, which says, “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable.”
There are ways you can say something to somebody and turn them off, and the same truth can be presented in a winsome way that the person will receive and then interact with you. The question and challenge for us as counselors is: “How do I say what needs to be said to this person at this time in a way that they will receive it?” I want to urge you to cry out to God for wisdom. I’ve prayed so many times, “God help me to say what needs to be said in a way that they will receive it and not use what I’ve said and how I’ve said it as an excuse for not doing what you want them to do.” I urge you to pray for wisdom, especially in your words.
5. Remember that it is the Holy Spirit who convicts; it is not your job to produce change.
In John 16, Christ is in His last formal teaching time with His disciples before He is betrayed and then crucified, and He says this to the disciples:
“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”
The Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come. He convicts of sin (what is not right), of righteousness (what is right), and of judgment to come (what is going to happen if you don’t get right with God). We need to remember that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to do that, not ours. I think we need to resist our manipulative human efforts to crank out a decision.
Although I had plenty to learn as I went to Bible College and Seminary, the church that I grew up in taught me the Bible accurately. Our church was in a very rural area; our town was the county seat and it had a population of 2000. Our church ran in attendance probably from 75 to 125 people, depending on when the last revival service was. I remember one of my most memorable times in the church. When I was probably 12 or 13 years old and already headed towards vocational Christian ministry, we had a revival service and had all been encouraged to invite people to the service. On the closing night, after the man preached, he gave an invitation to walk forward. After maybe two people came forward, the invitation got broader and broader and broader. As it broadened, at one point I was one of several others that went forward as an act of spiritual commitment. The invitation kept getting broader and broader until everybody in the church was standing at the front except the unsaved band teacher from our high school that had been invited to church; he was in the back row. I remember standing up front, looking at him, and thinking, “That is the bravest man I know.” That was a major turning point for me that made me think, “I do not want to be that kind of a preacher.” I give invitations, but I don’t give invitations like that.
I want to say to you that when you’re working with the spiritually cold and rebellious, there is value in remembering that it’s the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. Our responsibility is to be faithful in giving the Word and lovingly and accurately representing the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have found the above perspectives helpful to me as I go into a meeting with a spiritually cold or rebellious person.
Christ’s Example with Peter
Here is the background on what I’m going to speak to you about in these moments:
Years ago, when I was a pastor, I experienced the lowest point in my own life and ministry. At that time, very hurtful things were being said about me and I was being charged with preaching a social gospel. I was charged with spiritual infanticide (killing spiritual babies), which I thought was theologically impossible. One of my resigning leaders charged me with being a heretic. A part-time associate pastor was leading an effort among the congregation in which he was calling on our leaders to announce or determine that I was disqualified for vocational Christian ministry, to revoke my ordination, and to dismiss me as the pastor of the church. Those were rough days. That situation ultimately led to “the trial” where we invited three Christian leaders to hear the charges against me, and those leaders determined that I am not a heretic.
I consider the circumstances that led up to that time period and the time immediately following to be the hardest point in my own life and ministry. For a period of time I had a pain in my gut that would not go away. Rest wouldn’t touch it; aspirin wouldn’t touch it; exercise wouldn’t touch it. There was this aching in my soul about all that was going on. The pain of that period drove me to the Scriptures. I concluded that I wanted to keep serving Christ, but I knew that I had to change and grow in my style of leadership. I set out to study the life of Christ.
My thinking at that point was this: Jesus Christ was the greatest leader who ever lived—even non-believers will acknowledge that—and if I could figure out how Jesus did ministry and I could become more like Him in how I do ministry to the degree to which I would become more like Him, then I would become a better leader and become more effective in Christian ministry. I set out on an extended study of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), paying attention not particularly to what Christ taught, but to how He did ministry and how He interacted with people. All four gospels were very helpful with that. The Gospel of Luke was particularly helpful because the Gospel of Luke has more physical details about Christ dealing with people than any of the other three gospels. Luke was a physician and so his gospel includes an attention to physical details that is not present in the other gospels.
Out of that extended study came a very distinct change in my philosophy of ministry that I don’t have time to talk about now. However, part of what I did in that study was I thought about how Christ dealt with people that wiped out and how He dealt with failures. In my mind, the greatest failure in the gospels is Peter denying Christ. Some would say Judas was a bigger failure, but in my mind Judas was a non-believer. Therefore, of the people that I considered believers, I would say that Peter was the biggest failure. So I studied intently how Christ dealt with Peter.
1. Christ warned him about the direction of his life.
We see this in Luke 22:31 and 21:34 where Christ said to him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat…And He said, ‘I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.'”
Put simply, Christ announced to Peter, “You are headed toward trouble.”
2. Jesus expressed spiritual concern filled with hope.
We see this in Luke 22:32 where He says, “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
I was working on this particularly after what I referred to previously as “the trial.” At the instruction of the three leaders who came to help us, we had a vote of confidence at the church and I received a 75% affirmative vote, which I thought was pretty good under the circumstances. I got up and announced that I was going to stay as the pastor of the church. When I announced that, 25% of my church got up, walked out, and never came back. I lost my entire music department, half the youth department, and a chunk of our budget. It was really, really tough.
In the weeks and months after that, while we were trying to rebuild the ministry, there was a couple in the church that had stayed through this situation and who I counseled. It was one of those couples where the counseling process seems to take three steps forward and three steps back, then three steps forward and two steps back, then two steps forward and three steps back. It felt as if we were muddling along. I’m used to seeing quantum steps of progress, but with this couple we were just muddling along. He would drop out of counseling and wouldn’t do the homework.
To maintain his anonymity, I’ll call the husband Roger. Roger was a hard-charging businessman, bigger than I am, somewhat dominating, and who in many ways may have been intimidating to me. During this time period, it was almost as if the Spirit of God was convicting me and made me think, “What about Roger? Randy, you say that you want to be like Jesus in how you lead and how you minister. What about Roger?” It was as if the Spirit of God was challenging me, “You say you want to be like Jesus. Really? Well, Jesus warned people when they were headed toward trouble and expressed spiritual concern.”
I thought, “Okay, I need to go talk to Roger.” I made an appointment to have breakfast with him. The night before our appointment, I struggled with diarrhea and a splitting headache. I didn’t sleep much and then woke up the next morning to pop some more aspirin and head off to the restaurant to meet with him while my stomach felt in a knot. We ordered our food and as the waitress was walking away, I turned to him and said:
“Roger, let me tell you the main reason that I want to talk to you. I think that you’re going to lose your wife and kids if you don’t change. Your wife hasn’t smiled for six weeks. We didn’t see any progress in counseling largely because you didn’t show up or didn’t do the homework. If you don’t change, you’re going to lose your family. I’m concerned about you enough that I want to tell you that. I’m willing to start counseling again. You’re not the only guy in the world who is a Christian and who has ever started a business. I’m willing to help form a committee of some other businessmen that I know from our church and from another church to help advise you on some of the challenges that you’re facing, but you’ve got to change. Have I been clear?”
He said, “Yeah.” Then I said, “Would you then tell me what I just told you?” That opened the door to the discussion.
For me, that was a major step forward as a Christian leader. It was simply out of an attempt to be like Jesus, who when He saw people headed toward trouble, He told them, but then offered spiritual counsel and spiritual concern filled with hope.
3. Christ confronted Peter after the failure.
Notice that Luke tells us that after Peter had denied Christ the third time, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Can you imagine that look? It goes on to say, “And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, ‘Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:61-62)
As I meditated on that passage, part of what spoke to me was that part of what brought about Peter’s repentance was Christ’s look. I got to thinking about that. As a pastor and as a Christian worker and leader, for many we represent the faith. I’ve seen that in hospital emergency rooms. As a college student it was a turning point in my life when I saw my pastor—a man who I did not respect at that time—walk into the emergency room after the husband of a family in our church had been killed and his wife was barely hanging on to life. That day I saw the attitude in the emergency room change when that pastor walked into the room because he represented the faith; he was the walking embodiment of what we hold dear.
As I think about this look, I think about a man that was in our church at that time. I’ll call him Ray. Ray was a man that I had evangelized. He and his wife years ago spent time in their house doing Bible studies. What a happy night it was when they prayed to accept Christ. Later I got to baptize them. They grew and were loved in our church. He later became one of our deacons. He in many ways is a pride and joy of my ministry in how God had blessed that family and turned them around.
Then Ray started drifting, dropped out of leadership, and started to not come to services regularly. I reached out to him to try to get something going, but he was increasingly becoming spiritually cold and rebellious. Then I heard from his wife that she had reason to believe that he was in an illicit relationship, and I finally got him to come into a session. I remember sitting in my office one night as he told me about what a witch his wife was and that he wasn’t going to put up with her admonishing him anymore. He had become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. I remember saying to him, “Ray, when you go public with your sin, we are going public with discipline.” We were already in step two of discipline with him when his divorce petition hit the paper and we dismissed him from our church membership at the next service.
I tried to make some appointments with him after that to try to see if I could get something going with him again. He wouldn’t show up to appointments and wouldn’t return my phone calls. One day, I was thinking about how Christ dealt with Peter and how He looked at him, and I thought, “I’ve got too much time and energy invested with Ray to let him just walk away from this without seeing me one more time.”
Personally, I was irritated with what was happening with him. Then I called his wife to find out what shift he was working at the factory, and I went to the factory, talked my way past the security guard at the parking lot, and walked up and down that parking lot until I found his truck. When he got off work, when he hit the front bumper, I was standing at the back bumper. We had a short conversation where I appealed to him to repent. I was thinking, “There is no way that you’re getting out of here without facing me one more time.” Why? Because Christ’s facing Peter—turning and looking at him—aided Peter’s repentance.
I suggest to you that some people that you’re trying to minister to and who have hardened their heart will not be making appointments with you. You have to chase them. They won’t show up when they’re supposed to and won’t return phone calls or texts, but I encourage you to be like Christ and confront after the failure.
That is not the end of the story. We all know that afterwards Christ challenged Peter to serve again. John 21:15-17 says, “So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?'” Some would say that Jesus is referring to the other disciples; others say that he is referring to fishing to indicate that Peter had left vocational ministry and had gone back to the work that he used to do.
It goes on to say:
“He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; You know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my lambs.’ He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, You know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.'”
I’m aware that in that passage, there are some changes in the terminology for love and even in the commission that Christ gave to him. The point I want to make to you is this: Even after the colossal wipe out of denying Christ three times, Peter was challenged to serve again, and he became one of the key leaders in the New Testament church. The point is that we serve the God of second chances and failure as a Christian is not fatal from the standpoint of serving. Even people who have wiped out big-time need to be called to repent and challenged to serve again. They may not be able to serve in the ways that they used to, but they can still serve. The point is: Peter, even after this colossal failure, was challenged to serve again.
These are in a very general order in which I would use them. I want to make it clear, do not say that Randy Patten said, “Do X first, and then do Y.” You need to evaluate this. I’m only telling you that this order reflects how these situations tend to go based on my experience.
1. Evaluate the person and the ministry need in light of 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” What this verse is teaching at a minimum is that we do not treat everybody the same way. You want to think about the individual person. It says “admonish the unruly.” “Admonish” is the word noutheo; we nouthetically confront the unruly. The word “unruly” was a military term that referred to soldiers who were out of step. An unruly Christian is somebody who is out of step with biblical Christianity. We admonish those individuals, but we encourage the fainthearted. Sometimes people are just weak in their faith, and there’s just not much wind in their spiritual sail. For those individuals, we’re going to come along and try to help them. Next, we help the weak. Those are people whose load in life is so heavy that they can’t seem to carry it themselves. We’re going to come along and help lift up part of the load. Then, we’re patient with everybody. Sometimes when you’re dealing with the spiritually cold and rebellious, that “everybody” word is a hard one. It’s hard sometimes to be patient with people. The point is: consider the ministry need. What would be the wisest way to minister to this person? What does this person need the most right now?
2. Ask questions: An accusation hardens the will, a question pricks the conscience.
For example, you may be dealing with a man who has three kids, has been a leader in your church for a while, maybe has been teaching one of the teen Sunday School classes, and now you find out that he is in an illicit relationship with a co-worker and is thinking about leaving his wife. Let’s say his name is Bill. You could say, “Bill, you are being a lousy example of a Christian to your kids right now and you’re discouraging them in following Jesus.” That may be accurate, but rather than saying that, take that thought, turn it around, and put it in the form of a question. You can say something like, “Bill, you love your kids, don’t you? Do you want them to have the attitude toward the Scriptures that you’re manifesting right now? You know, kind produces kind. Do you want your kids following your example, rationalizing and disobeying the Scriptures?”
An accusation hardens the will; a question pricks the conscience. Oftentimes as counselors, in our attempt to stand for truth, we’re too quick to make a pronouncement when it would be more powerful if we turned that pronouncement around and put it in the form of a question. In fact, Jesus Christ was a master at asking questions. Do you realize that anytime Christ asked a question, it was not because He was looking for information? When He asked a question, it was always for the benefit of the person whom He was addressing. When you read the gospel, you start looking at this over and over and over again. Jesus Christ is asking questions.
- He said to Nicodemus, “Art thou a ruler in Israel and understandeth not these things?”
- To the disciples one time, He said, “Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am?”
- We already saw earlier the question he asked to Peter, “Lovest thou me?”
In fact, if you think about that and go back and read the Old Testament, you’ll discover that one of the common denominators among the prophets of the Old Testament was that they were asking questions. The greatest illustration of that, of course, is Malachi. The book of Malachi is only four chapters long, but it’s filled with dozens of questions. It’s almost as if God is speaking to the nation of Israel through Malachi and He’s asking all these questions. He’s drilling them with questions to make them aware of their sin. It’s almost like when He’s done, He says, “Think about that for 400 years and I’ll get back to you.” The sign-off from the Old Testament is a book that is filled with dozens of questions.
I would encourage you to ask questions. If you want some help with that, there’s a very helpful chapter in the book called Seeing with New Eyes by David Powlison. Some of you have it. The whole book is tremendous, but there is one chapter that I draw your attention to called “X-ray Questions.” That chapter is tremendous on learning how to ask questions that go beyond the obvious and probe the intents of people’s hearts.
3. Use the Y illustration.
Let’s just pretend that I’m at a luncheon with a guy named Jerry. He’s a 23-year-old guy, just out of college, who is getting a job. While he has been away at college, he has drifted from the Lord and is now not attending church. His parents are faithful members. He was raised in our church, but now he doesn’t seem to have much interest in spiritual things. I’ve been able to get a lunch with him. Before the lunch, I’m thinking, “What am I going to do?”
This is a diagram that I call the Y diagram. I have drawn this diagram hundreds of times in the counseling room on the whiteboard or blackboard. I’ve drawn it dozens of times at restaurants and I’ve drawn it a few times at the kitchen table at my house with my kids to illustrate some spiritual truth. Back home where I live there’s a restaurant chain called Bob Evans Restaurants. I schedule a lot of appointments there because they give you these big paper placemats, and it’s really easy to lift up your food, pull out the placemat, turn it upside down, and use the placemat as a whiteboard.
Here’s an example of how to use the Y diagram from my pretend luncheon with Jerry:
Jerry, I’m glad that we’ve had lunch today. Let me describe where I think you are right now. I’d say you’re at the Y in the road. You’re at a point where you’re going to have to make some basic decisions about how you’re going to live the rest of your life. College is behind you now, and you’ve got this job and your new car. You’re going to be making some decisions. You can keep going the way you are, and you’re either going to have to choose between loving yourself and doing what you want or loving God and obeying His word.
Right now, I can understand—from what you’ve told me and what your parents have told me—that you’re living by your feelings and doing what you want to do. You come to church when you want to. You’re following biblical standards of morality when you want to and not following them when you don’t want to. You’re living the way you want. I understand when you say to me that coming back and pursuing God, and hungering and thirsting for righteousness, right now at the Y on the road seems hard to you. I understand that. I want to convey that to you.
But what I want you to think about is this: Once you keep heading down the path toward loving yourself, doing what you want to do, and being a god unto yourself, what seems so easy right now is going to get hard. Believe me. It’s going to get hard. Don’t believe it because I said it, but believe it because God said it. Here’s what God says in Proverbs 13:15, “The way of transgressors is hard.” Jerry, say that with me, “The way of transgressors is hard.” I want you to remember that. You know why? Because the way of transgressors is hard.
One of these days, as you go down this path, you’re going to remember that I told you this and I reminded you of this. You’re going to say, “The book of Proverbs is right. The way of transgressors is hard.” The Psalms put it this way, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked.” Romans 2:9-10 says, “There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek.” I’m telling you that what seems so easy now is going to get hard as you start living.
What I want you to do is to repent and turn toward loving God and obeying His Word. Yes, that’s hard right now. You’re going to have to confess sin, break some relationships, and establish some new disciplines. But here’s what I want you to understand: As you go down that path, you will discover your life getting easier. It doesn’t get easy, but it gets easier. The way of the godly is easier than the way of the transgressor. Here’s the way the Bible talks about it. Jesus said in John 13:17 that happy are those who do the things that He has taught them. The book of James says that if we are not forgetful hearers of the Word, but we do what the Bible says, we will be blessed in the doing of it. Romans 2:10 says that there will be glory and honor and peace for every soul of man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.
You’ve heard me talk about these things before, but you need to apply them because you’re at the Y in the road and you have to make a decision. There is no alternative. You will be making a decision one way or the other. In fact, let me explain to you why I think you’re in this situation. Here’s how I would explain why we even need to have this conversation. Hebrews 3:12-13 says this, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The Jerry that I see interacting with me today has been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. I hope you’ll repent but if you don’t you’ll know what’s coming.
I just started drawing this and I could almost see like the shutters come down. A lot of times I’ll fold it up and tell the person to take it with them. That is the Y illustration.
Now another way of communicating these truths in a somewhat different and yet similar fashion is the next strategy.
4. Use the “Do right, do wrong” chart.
I like to use this when I have a little more time. Two things that I point out to people when I use this are: 1) that people come to see me as a counselor because they feel bad; and 2) they feel bad because they’ve been doing what is wrong. I like to point out to people that they can do what’s wrong in two ways: 1) sins of omission where they don’t do what they should do; and 2) sins of commission where they’re doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. Then I talk to people about the importance of doing what’s right, and I talk about the fact that doing what’s right does not just involve actions, but also includes their thinking. God is concerned about our motives; not just our actions. That’s the point in the Sermon on the Mount where Christ says to not give like the Pharisees do, but instead to not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. That means not to make a show of it when you fast—fasting is a good thing—but don’t make a show of it. It’s all about motives. I quote some of the same Scriptures as I quoted earlier for the Y diagram.
5. Quote a strategic verse or phrase often enough to make it memorable.
Sometimes when I’m dealing with people that I would describe as spiritually cold and rebellious, I find myself thinking, “This may be or probably will be my last session with them. I won’t get another appointment with them.” When I find myself thinking that, I am motivated. I want to do something to hook some spiritual truth. When I talk about quoting a strategic verse, here’s what I mean by that. For example, I quote the verse that I mentioned earlier, “The way of transgressors is hard,” and ask the person to repeat it back to me. If I have a 30-minute appointment with somebody and I think that will be the last appointment, I will probably quote that verse 20 times in the session. They can be trying not to memorize it, but they’ll walk out of there thinking, “The way of transgressors is hard.” That’s the goal.
Here are some other memorable verses that you can use and that will hook some people:
- “…be sure your sin will find you out.” (Numbers 32:23)
- “Many are the sorrows of the wicked…” (Psalm 32:10)
Here are some examples of phrases:
- Just two options on the shelf: pleasing God or pleasing self.
- Choices have consequences.
- You can choose what to do, but you can’t choose the consequences.
Recently, I taught this seminar somewhere else and a man told me that he liked to tell teenagers, “You can choose your kicks, but you can’t choose the kickbacks” (similar to the last phrase “You can choose what to do, but you can’t choose the consequences”). You can see the idea of capturing biblical truth in some way that we hope will be memorable. The goal is to hook the truth in their thinking so that when they’re laying awake at night because they can’t sleep and they’re reviewing their life, that this Scripture or this phrase that captures Scripture will come to mind.
6. Give them an appropriate tract booklet, book, or audio recording.
I’d really encourage you to think about using something like a little booklet. I have found that the spiritually cold and rebellious are not going to read a book. What I like to do is use one of these little mini-books that cost around $3.99. For example, You Can Trust God. If I was meeting with a guy like Jerry, I would go to that meeting with one of those booklets in my briefcase or my jacket. At the end I would say:
“I want to give you something. I want you to make a promise to me. Based on the way you responded today, I don’t think you’re going to read this. But what I want you to promise me is that you’ll take it home and you will put it in the front of your Bible. Promise me that you’ll put this in the front of your Bible. I think there is going to come a day when you’re going to be interested in picking up your Bible again, and when you pick it up, I want you to be reminded of this booklet and I want you to be reminded at that time that you can trust God. He’s worthy of your trust.”
Giving somebody a little booklet like that can be very, very helpful. Give them an appropriate tract, booklet, or something that they can look at maybe in the future when they’re more open.
7. There comes a time when it’s appropriate for you to question the reality of his conversion.
I believe in eternal security, but personally I’ve been greatly influenced by the words of Christ in Matthew 7:21-23 where Christ says that there is coming a day when many are going to stand before Him and say, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we know the language, didn’t we do some pretty amazing religious deeds;” and He’s going to say, “Depart from me, you accursed. I never knew you.”
I think that the biggest surprise when we get to Heaven someday is not going to be who is there that we didn’t think was going to be there. I think the biggest surprise is who is not there that we thought was going to be there. When a person is in blatant, unrepentant sin, after a reasonable period of time it is appropriate for you to question the reality of their conversion.
I remember one person who I was dealing with who was digging in their heels and not responding to the Scriptures in a godly way. It was the kind of person who wanted to tell me about all their religious deeds, such as about how they were witnessing to people at work. I remember telling this guy one day, “Herman, please, I want to make a request of you. Please do not tell anybody that you’re a Christian. You’re making it hard for the rest of us. That’s what the world calls a hypocrite. You’re turning people off to Jesus. Promise me that you won’t tell anybody else that you’re a Christian. I think you ought to quit thinking of yourself as a Christian.”
8. Talk about the potential impact on people he cares about.
If a man is leaving his wife for his lover, what I like to do is say:
“Hey, you know when I got to know you years ago, didn’t you tell me that your parents divorced while you were a kid? Tell me about that again. How old were you? What was that like when your dad left? How did that affect your school? How did that affect your performance on the athletic teams? Were you happy about that?”
I would draw him out on that, and then I’d say, “So that’s what you’re going to do to your kids, right?” Then if I know the family, if we’ve talked about the kids, I would say, “Let’s just talk about your oldest; let’s talk about Aaron. Man, this could be rough on him. Is that really what you’re going to do?”
9. Build the guilt in an effort to aid his repentance.
It’s the Holy Spirit who convicts, as I’ve already pointed out. But there are things that we can do to help a person understand the magnitude of what they’re doing. You may talk about the positions of leadership that the person has had and you may talk about the people he has influenced. You may say to a man, “Listen, you taught the senior high class for five years. Think about the impact on those kids, who are now young adults, when they find out that the man who pointed them toward Jesus for years and years is now bailing out on his wife. What do you think that’s going to do to them?”
10. Describe the purpose and process of church discipline: what’s going to happen next and when.
I remember talking to one man who was resisting and we had people involved with him. I was meeting with him and saying, “Because of your refusal to repent, we’re going to give you 10 days or two weeks,”—whatever the time span was—”and if you don’t repent by then, we are going to dismiss you from our church because the way that you’re living is ungodly and not the way Christ wants you to.”
I remember him just saying in a flippant way, “That’s alright. Just go ahead and take me off the roll. Kick me out. I don’t care.” I remember saying to him, “Oh no, we’re not going to kick you out. We’re going to turn you over to Satan for the destruction of your flesh. That’s what biblical church discipline is.”
11. Pray fervently with him and for him.
By the way, this is one of the times when there’s great benefit in doing team counseling. There was one time at the training center in Lafayette where I thought it would be the last session with a specific man before he was going to drop out of counseling. I told my trainees at that point, “If at the end of the session, I say that all three of us are going to pray, when I ask you to pray, I don’t want some short prayer like you might pray at a restaurant before a meal. I want you to ring the Gates of Heaven for this man and have all three of us pray. I want one of his lasting memories when he walks out of that building to be three people crying out to God for his soul.”
12. Assure him of your ongoing love and concern.
If he doesn’t have your cell number, give it to him. Tell him that he can call you anytime, day or night, and that you’ll go meet him and want to help him. Manifest your love and concern for him.
Those are some strategies on dealing with the spiritually cold and rebellious that I hope will be helpful to you.