Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I could not be more delighted to have my former pastor, Dr. Stephen Yuille. Dr. Yuille has over twenty years of ministry experience including serving as a missionary to Portugal and Angola. He shepherded a local church which I was a part of for the last ten years in Glen Rose Texas. He now lives in Cambridge, Ontario with his wife Alison and their two daughters where he serves as Vice President of Academics at Heritage College and Seminary. Dr. Yuille also serves as an Associate Professor of Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well. He’s published extensively in a list of journals, articles, and books, especially in the area of the Puritans, which I personally love. Dr. Yuille is also a certified member of ACBC and I’m so excited that he’s going to be presenting for us at our Annual Conference this year on the topic of suicide. Dr. Yuille, welcome to the podcast. We are very delighted that you are here with us today.
Stephen Yuille: Thank you very much, it’s good to be with you.
Dale Johnson: Dr. Yuille has written two books in recent days that focus particularly on the Psalms. I find the Psalms such an intriguing book, especially for the raw realities of life. You’ve written a book called, Longing for Home: A Journey through the Psalms of Ascent. In that book, you talk about the ways in which the Psalms of Ascent teach us how to look to God in every circumstance and to fix our eyes heavenward. In what ways do the Psalms of Ascent help us to keep our eyes fixed upon our eternal home?
Stephen Yuille: The question merits a couple of responses. Firstly, when we read the Psalms of Ascent in particular, it is worth noting that the experiences the psalmist is going through are our experiences. When we read the Psalms, we can immediately relate to and empathize with their circumstances. I don’t think there’s a circumstance in life we can go through that isn’t in some way exemplified in the Psalms and in the Psalms of Ascent. There’s that relational aspect that we can read and latch onto them and understand where they’re at.
The second part of the answer is that in the midst of these circumstances, they continually fix their eyes upon the Lord. “From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord.” There seems to be this continuous celebration of God’s power. There is a meditation upon God’s providence and sovereignty over the creation and all of life. There’s a celebration of God’s wisdom as seen in his works and in many different ways and probably even eclipsing those to a celebration of God’s goodness. In the Psalms of Ascent and the entire book, the psalmist continually dwells on who God is, His nature, these three aspects in particular as revealed in creation and in the psalmist’s own circumstances and experiences. Whatever it is they’re going through at whatever point, they always gravitate to who God is. There is this healthy habit of fixing their eyes and fixing their faith on the Lord, who He is, and what He has done.
Dale Johnson: The intentionality that we see throughout the Psalms, particularly here in the Psalms of Ascent, focus with great intention on what’s to come. Some people in their writings have called this “future hope,” or “gospel hope.” I often use the term “eschatological hope.” You describe this passion of the soul, which is very readily present in the Psalms of Ascent, as “longing for home” or thirsting for what’s to come. This is often a missing element in the counseling room. So much in modern counseling and pastoral counseling, we see a focus on trying to help the person with an immediate remedy of some sort and we’re often satisfied by those immediate remedies. The Psalms really take a step back and help us to focus our hope on that which is to come. Can you talk about how important it is not to lose sight of the Bible’s focus on our hope that is to come as we relate that to practical ministry and personal ministry?
Stephen Yuille: That’s an extremely important observation and it’s one that most of us don’t want to hear. It’s one that I struggle to hear. The reality that, as we read the Psalms and we hear the psalmist express anguish or pain and suffering in light of his circumstances that often are not resolved. There’s no immediate release or resolution. What shifts in the psalmist’s experience is not the rectifying of situations, the solving of problems, or the ending of affliction. What changes and what brings resolution is the psalmist’s renewed perspective and appreciation as to who God is in the midst of that suffering. That’s extremely important today because we are a fix-it society. We are a society given to immediate gratification. We want answers now, we want to fix things, we want to resolve things. I’m not saying that’s completely wrong. There are times where there is resolution and we should be taking reasonable steps and exercising biblical wisdom, looking for answers to problems.
But many times, we live in a fallen world and there are problems and circumstances that will arise in life that we might bear those difficulties our entire lives. There may not be any resolution in the here and now, and this is something the psalmist teaches us. It is an extremely important and invaluable lesson that where the resolution, peace, comfort, and joy comes is not necessarily in the resolution of the circumstance, but it is in the renewed understanding as to who God is. Firstly, who He is in the midst of trying circumstances, a God who draws near and comforts and strengthens and is with us. Not just that, but He’s also a God who has made unbelievable promises concerning the future. Life may not necessarily go well, but it always ends well because our hope is ultimately in the Lord. We are being preserved and guarded for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last day. The psalmist shows us how to live like that. It’s a difficult lesson to learn, but they’re so helpful in this area.
Dale Johnson: That’s such an important tenet of biblical counseling and pastoral ministry. That’s a critical anchor for us to make sure that we’re representing in our ministry the same tone that we see throughout the Scriptures, but primarily in the Psalms. One of the things I’ve heard you say about the book of Psalms is something you’ve borrowed from John Calvin. He describes the book of Psalms as an anatomy of all the parts of the soul. I think that’s an interesting quote and an interesting way that Calvin describes the rawness and the expressions of the book of Psalms. What do the Psalms teach us about the inner workings of the soul of man and how we respond in our raw emotions and behaviors to our experiences and circumstances?
Stephen Yuille: The Psalms in many respects function as a mirror, because as we read them, we see ourselves reflected in them in many different ways. One way is in this whole area of emotion and experience, whether it be at the one end of the spectrum of joy, celebration, and delight to the other end of the spectrum of anguish, pain, and lament. The Psalms really capture humanity, what it is to be a complete being and to experience those emotions. In the midst of those emotions, they don’t deny their relevance or importance or try to turn them into some sort of stoic, but understand how in our emotions we can glorify God in making Him the object of our joy and of our lament. We bring our emotions to Him and seek by the Word, Psalms in particular, to then have those emotions informed by who He is.
This is important in a counseling context because we can run into a couple of errors and extremes pretty quickly. The one extreme is the unbridled emotion. Just let it all hang out. The other extreme is the stifling of the emotion. We see in the Psalms that emotions have a place. We’re to give expression to them, and yet we are ultimately to do so in a way that is honoring to God and that is informed by God’s Word. The great exemplar of this is the Lord Jesus. You can put the Psalms on the lips of the Lord Jesus. As a boy, He would have memorized these psalms. These are the psalms He would have prayed in Gethsemane. These are the psalms He was praying when He went off by Himself alone to pray. These are the psalms He would have prayed before He chose the disciples. He would have lived and breathed the Psalms. These are His emotions, His emotional life obviously in perfection as a perfect Son of God, but we have in Him the great exemplar of what the emotional life ought to look like. We have it there in the book of Psalms, and this is something we’ve lost to a great extent in our day.
Dale Johnson: That’s so true. As I think about emotions, especially in the counseling room, we sometimes fall into the trap to think that life should happen in a snapshot, that the correction or the remedy should be something that happens imminently. Even when we long for biblical ideals or biblical help, sometimes we think that should happen tomorrow or this evening, and the Psalms remind us that this is a part of life lived. Paul even describes this as these were things that he learned in the pattern of life and he grew to learn. Even through suffering, the Bible describes that Jesus learned as well. Describe one or two ways that you find utilizing the Psalms helpful in ministering well to our own hearts and to the hearts of others specifically in the counseling room.
Stephen Yuille: There are a number of ways. One of those ways I’ve already alluded to is that the Psalms do give a voice to the soul in that there’s a Psalm for every circumstance and condition, whether it be from the extreme of joy through to lament, grief, and sorrow. They are so useful in that area in terms of expressing what we at times find so difficult to put into words. That’s the first reason they’re so beneficial in the counseling context, that they help people articulate what many times they find it difficult to express in words.
Not only do they accomplish that, but in the midst of the expression of that emotion, they then point counselor and counselee in the direction they need to go, which is heavenward. No matter the circumstance or the condition, they are God-focused, God-centered, and there is this constant emphasis on looking to God and who He is and who we are.
The third great advantage to the Psalms is that they move people beyond the analytical. That’s why there are so many different genres in Scripture. The analytical has its place. Propositional truth has its place and they are there in the Psalms. But truth is to be experienced, truth is to be part of our lives, and there is something about poetry and the Psalms that makes the conveyance of truth that much more effective in a counseling context. That probably needs a little more unpacking, but I think it’s very intentional. If the goal of Scripture was simply to convey true facts, it would all be epistles, propositional truth statements, but it’s not. You’ve got these large sections of Scripture that are song and poetry whereby truth then resonates with the heart. There’s something to that genre itself, which I think is very helpful in a counseling context.
Dale Johnson: I hope that our listeners will enjoy this discussion as much as I have as we’ve walked through a brief section of content from two of your books: Longing for Home: A Journey through the Psalms of Ascent, and The Path of Life: Blessedness in Seasons of Lament. What that second work does, which is focused on Psalm 119, is it helps us to see that lamenting struggle and difficulty is very normative in life. That doesn’t lessen the reality of suffering and the effects of suffering, but in a fallen cursed world, that’s a part of the reality that we live in. Dr. Yuille, thank you so much for joining us for this podcast and allowing our people to get to know you a little bit.
Stephen Yuille: My pleasure, thank you.