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Teaching Counselees to Meditate

Truth In Love 386

How do we meditate on Scripture and teach others to practice this spiritual discipline?

Oct 24, 2022

Dale Johnson: Today on the podcast, I have with me, Dr. Howard Eyrich. He’s the Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Birmingham Theological Seminary, he also serves as a chair of their biblical counseling department for their Masters of Biblical Counseling as well. He’s married to Pam, they’ve been married for 59 years. Most of you haven’t even been alive that long, but he’s been married to Pam faithfully for fifty-nine years. What an amazing thing, Dr. Eyrich. Two kids, eight grandkids, and two great-grandchildren. One of the greatest things that we were able to do at our conference this past year was to induct Dr. Eyrich into our academy, the highest level of membership that we have in ACBC. So, needless to say, he’s been a member of NANC/ACBC for quite some time since the very, very early days. He’s been a faithful brother, serving, and counseling faithfully, but also mentoring and supervising many of you who have been inducted into ACBC membership. And so, brother, I’m so grateful that you’re here. So grateful to talk about this subject on teaching counselees to meditate. So, thank you for joining us. 

Howard Eyrich: You’re welcome. It’s good to be here. 

Dale Johnson: Now, as we talk about this issue of meditation, man, folks get this idea about meditation sort of way out of whack. You know. They miss the idea of well, should we do this whole meditation that sounds like Eastern mysticism, or well, we think we want to involve ourselves in meditation that seems to be the new fad and they start doing this sort of Eastern, mystical type thing. That’s not what we’re talking about at all. You’re trying to teach counselees how to meditate on the Scriptures because that is a healthy thing, a biblical thing and you’ve done this in a couple of different ways, but you do this through Psalm 119. So, why did you choose Psalm 119 as a place to start teaching counselors how to teach counselees how to meditate?

Howard Eyrich: Well, in terms of why did I choose that Psalm for this particular presentation is one of the most beautiful passages in all of the Bible. Number two, I knew it would garner attention simply because it is Psalm 119, and number three, our church, some years ago took that Psalm and took one stance a week from August till Thanksgiving and we encourage the whole church to meditate on it. We used it in worship, and so, I started doing and I went through the whole Psalm in a meditating technique, I’ll call it that, and wrote up my notes from an actually published little book on Psalm 119 to try to teach that book while I was teaching in the seminar.

Dale Johnson: Very good. So, I love when things like this happen where the Lord uses a passage in your life, even through the life of the church, and then the Lord begins to work in your own personal heart, and you see this as something that’s valuable, as you’re working with lots of counselors, you’re training them in the supervision phase of ACBC certification, and you begin to then implement that technique with them. And I love how that process happens.

So you have chosen Psalm 19, you’re right, it is an amazing book that just exalts the beauty of the Word of God, but we need to talk about this whole idea of meditation, right? So, what is the definition at least in your mind of meditation? And does it differ from what we would typically encourage relative to memorization of Scripture? 

Howard Eyrich: Well, I think if you go through and look up the word in Hebrew is translated “meditate,” you’ll find out it’s an interesting word because it means things like groan, moan, muse, and I think I have a list of about eight different ways it can be translated, and I summarize that by saying talk one’s self through, and I think that’s the good description of what the word “meditate” the Hebrew word would convey for us. 

Dale Johnson: That’s very good. Now I want you to talk a little bit about the technique so as you meditate on the Scripture or as you muse through the Scripture, just walk me through how you do that or how you train a counselor to do that. 

Howard Eyrich: Well, if I’m training a counselor to do it, I’m going to have him read the passage, and then I’m going to say to him, “Now, I’m going to put a mirror up between us. I can’t see you, you can’t see me. So, I want you to observe what I’m doing and I go through the process of meditating through a sentence.” I usually, honestly use Psalm 23 the first line to do that. And I’ll say, “Now the Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” The Lord, who is he? don’t tell me it’s God. I know it’s God. The Lord, all of His attributes. It’s a whole knowledge of God. The Lord is, what kind of verb is that? That’s a transitive verb, and it’s in the present. So, the Lord is, it’s happening all the time. He’s always there. The Lord is, oh my goodness, this is very personal. The Lord is my shepherd, and he’s my shepherd, and if you read some of what a shepherd does, and most of us don’t know because we don’t live in that kind of cultural environment, but the shepherd protects, leads, the shepherd guides, the shepherd makes sure they’re secure to get rest. He takes them to green pastures the passage later says, and by still waters. He really looks after me in every aspect of life, the Lord is my shepherd, and that leads to a promise, actually, I shall not want.

I’ll look at the counselee, and I said to the counselor or counselee, either one, and I say, “Now, you understand, see everything that’s happening. I was going through all the different words parsing out everything that’s there. My hands were moving the whole time. Sometimes my notebook’s happening, I’m using context, setting, and imagery, I’m using who, what, when, where, and why, and exploring the depth of what’s there. And then I can say, okay, here are some application principles, but I’m not satisfied with that. I want to know how does that application gets implemented in a practical way. So, the Word of God goes from being on the page into my heart and out into my life. 

Dale Johnson: And I just think about if we’re using that type of technique and we’re slowing our life down, and listen, can we just be honest, that’s a difficult thing for many of us to do. But you think about the value of this, slowing your life down in a day’s time and you meditate on the Word like this on a consistent basis. Even as you talk about Psalm 23 or Psalm 119, you’re going to begin to memorize that Word it’s not just going to be in your head where you have regurgitation of recall, but it’s going to be in your heart, in the way in which you live the promises of God that have been entrusted to you and you’re going to begin to walk that way. Man, I appreciate that. I think that’s helpful.

You talked a little bit about even before we started recording how in your counseling training as you’re working with supervisees, you’ve worked with them a lot and you’ve seen some things in a lot of different supervisees. I want you to talk a little bit about that because I think this is important for us, even Fellows who are listening with ACBC or those who are coming through our training, some of the things that you see in some of our supervisees that are really good. I think helpful tips to encourage our counselors on how to meditate and how to help their counselees meditate as they engage in the counseling process.

Howard Eyrich: One of the things I do is I use Zoom and I have my counseling trainees send me a Zoom recording of a session, and I had one gal, I mentioned it in the workshop I did who really does a good job overall but she’s been a teacher her entire life. So, she gathers just enough information to identify an obvious presentation problem, maybe a behavioral or performance problem, and then boy she’s off and running and she’s giving a good lecture. So the first one she sent me, I listen to probably about 10 minutes of it, I buttoned it up and I emailed her back. I said before I listen to this, I want you to listen to it and I want you to tell me what you discovered. She wrote back and said, “I need to listen.” I will also say to my counselors, and I’ve used the word “coach” a lot of times, coach your counselee through the passage, so that they see from the passage what it is you want to tell them, and then you reinforce it, maybe help them flush it out but get them to see it from the passage. It’s going to stay with them, it’s going to have much more effect in their lives. It’s going to be sweeter for them in the long run. So, you have to take the time to coach them into the Word. 

Dale Johnson: You’re so right about that. I think some of us we want to give counsel so quickly and so readily. We’re afraid sometimes of that, you know, awkward silence or the questions that we asked but we need to hear well and then I love the way that you’re describing this about the Scripture as helping the person see what you’re seeing in them, helping the person see what the Scripture is trying to communicate to them, and even as you pause and help them to learn to meditate as you were describing a little bit earlier.

Now, as you are working through this understanding of meditation and then seeing the value of you doing it personally but then also with your counselees, what were some of the particular counseling methodological issues that you are attempting to address through this whole practice of meditation?

Howard Eyrich: Well obviously, from what we just said the first one was learning to listen. I think you have to learn to listen with your eyes, with your ears, not physically in the sense of touch, but physically in a sense of really identifying with what the person is saying, if you don’t listen, the rest of it’s not going to make a whole lot of difference. So, you got to listen first, and then after you’ve listened, you have to help the counselee connect the dots, so you’re not just addressing an issue, but you’re addressing the whole person in their attempt to deal with whatever is going on in their lives.

I find too often with trainees and I think part of it is, they’re nervous, they tend not to listen, and they tend not to connect the dots. They just see the dot and bang, they’re on it. Rather than helping the person connect the dots and teach them to be, take their time, and listen. I give them a little illustration quite often of what I do, I’ll look at a counselee maybe the first session, maybe five or six sessions where we get there. Now I’ll say, listen, my friend, let me tell you what I think I see and then you tell me whether or not you think I’m right. And then I’ll pull the dots together with the person and 90% of the time, Yeah, yeah, you’re right. Once in a while, they say no, that’s not what it is at all. Well, sometimes it is, they’re just not owning up to it. It may come out later, but I find sometimes that allows me to get there quicker by doing it that way. Sometimes it doesn’t, you know as well as I do that this is an art as much as anything else. I tell my students I can train anybody in this class who’s a Christian to counsel but some of you God’s gifted in such a way that this just becomes almost second nature after a while. It doesn’t mean you don’t need to depend on the Spirit, but it means the Spirit has already done some work to advance you in that direction. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah that’s right. Man, this is so helpful, and I’m even thinking personally about ways to meditate on the Scripture, and what you’ve said I’ve done that in the past and it’s just the Word begins to naturally flow out in the beauty of what the Lord has taught you, even in the counseling room. Howard, I want to ask you one more question that I think would be helpful. And this sort of has to do with you becoming an Academy Member, which is the highest level of membership in ACBC. I would love to hear maybe a memory or two that you have from the early days, you were directly discipled by Jay, and just give us maybe a memory or two of your moments. You do a lot of counseling supervision. Now, that baton has been passed to you, but there were days when you were being supervised. So, give us some insight on some of those early days. 

Howard Eyrich: Yeah, I had Jay supervising and I had John Babler supervising me.

Dale Johnson: Oh man, you talk about our counselors being nervous, that would make a lot of people really nervous. 

Howard Eyrich: But you know, it’s interesting I love telling this story because it’s a true story and I’m always amazed at it. The first time I went through the training program with Jay about halfway through he was doing a marriage case and the people were late, we were just sitting there chatting and I turned to Jay. You know, he was in the middle. I was here, there was another observer over here, and I said Jay if I came back and took this class again would you let me sit in the counselor seat and you sit over here and coach me? Don’t ask me where I got the nerve to do it. I always marvel at that. And he agreed. So, I came back and took the class again and I counseled two cases with Jay sitting on my shoulder and an observer over here. One of those with the marriage case. I’ll never forget this, I can’t give you the details, but I’ll never forget the event. Somewhere, maybe four or five sessions in Jay one day said Howard, “Would be all right if I said something?” And I said, yes, Sir. And he just went over there where I was back the whole thing up here, turned it and put it down in this direction and turned it back to me. Never said a word, he just turned it back to me, and I thought, okay, I need to go in that direction. But I’ve always said I used to defend Jay a lot of times because he gets a lot of criticism and I got to place I’d say you know what, I don’t have to defend this guy. He’s a big guy, but let me tell you an example of this man. So, what a master teacher, and a master encourager. When I was doing my doctoral program, I asked him about something one day and he let me, “Howard, you got to go do that. I’m not doing it for you.” 

Dale Johnson: I love it. You get thrown in the deep end, right? Learn how to swim. These things are great. I remember hearing very similar stories from another brother who was with Jay early on. He’s now with Jay in the presence of the Lord. Dr. George Scipione, these are some of the greatest stories I love to hear, brother, I’m so thankful that you have a testimony of faithfulness that you’ve been a minister of the Gospel. You’ve been one of those deep encourages, and you continue to be that. It’s so fun for me as I am a fly on the wall at our national conferences and watch all the people who you’ve supervised through the years and their appreciation for you, we had a wonderful time honoring you and your faithfulness.

So, thank you, brother. You’re definitely some of the strong shoulders that we stand on as we move forward in ACBC. So, thank you!