John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
A word that has
been increasingly familiar in our American vocabulary is the word,
counselor. We are all
acquainted with counselors and counseling. The position of counselor
is a very familiar occupation in our society.
In the yellow page of a telephone book, you can find marriage
counselors, wedding counselors, guidance counselors, drug
counselors, sex counselors, vocational counselors, rehabilitation
counselors, and school
counselors. In the
newspaper the other day, I saw an ad for a car counselor.
Here in this part
of the world, counseling has become very much a part of our lives.
That is, one in ten people are said to be currently seeing a
preparing to enter the ministry, are required to take courses in
counseling and therapy. Counseling is lost the social stigma that it had merely two
decades ago. Back in
the late sixties, when I graduated from the seminary, a pastor tried
to hide the fact that he was going in for counseling; nowadays, a
pastor telephones the bishop and gets referrals for a good counselor
and the bishop has a professional counselor at his fingertips,
available for the pastor who needs one.
Counseling is becoming a normal, acceptable part of American
life. In fact, in many
circles, it is becoming downright fashionable to be seeing a
prominently in a local psychology unit of a hospital is a bulletin
board with all the famous people who at one time were declared
unstable or having mental problems, and there are pictures of
Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and even Martin Luther himself.
In addition to
professional counseling, all of us receive counsel from family,
friends and work associates. Any intelligent person realizes the value of other peoples’
insights. No person is
an island of information; we need information from others, and so we
ask our friends and associates about engineering problems,
accounting challenges, cars, boats, campers, and everything else.
We are constantly looking for better information to make
intelligent decisions, and so we always consult others for help.
We also listen to
radio talk shows that feature a famous counselor giving out free
advice. You can listene
to the lawyer, Bruce Williams, to counsel you about law, or you can
listen to Dr. Laura for all kinds of personal advice. Radio talk show counselors are enormously popular in America.
Many people come to
us your pastors for counseling.
Both Pastor O’Neal and I have been trained as counselors.
Years ago, I received four quarters of CPE, clinical pastoral
education, and was given a CPE certificate.
Normally, we pastors often handle crisis conversations that
are exploding in peoples’ lives and we then refer such individuals
or families to an appropriate professional counselor for more
Here at Grace
Lutheran, we often refer people to Dr. and Mrs. Joan Anderson,
members of our parish, professional counselors, who counsel out of
our pastoral offices every Monday.
The Andersons are part of our staff here at Grace;
if you need personal or family counseling, we have you talk
with one of them. The
fees are modest, and whatever you can’t afford to pay, our
congregation picks up the bill. In other words, counseling is part
of our congregational life, with no embarrassment but pride that we
have such great resources available.
In preparation for
the sermon for today, I talked with Dr. Douglas Anderson.
As you may know, Dr. Anderson is the chief administrator of
Presbyterian Counseling Services, the largest counseling
organization here in the Northwest; and he supervises some thirty to
forty professional counselors; therefore Dr. Anderson knows as much
as anyone about what makes for a good counselor. So I asked him, “Doug, what are the characteristics of a
A good counselor? First,
a good counselor has a personal concern for others; the counselor is
personally concerned and compassionate for the needs of others.
He or she is not a detached individual who listens for fifty
minutes and then asks you to pay the fee. Rather, the mark of a good
counselor is that they are truly concerned about your welfare.
Second, a mark of a good counselor is empathy; he or she has an
intuitive understanding and feeling of the person before them. Just
as an electrician has an intuitive grasp of the problem before him;
as does someone in electronics, mechanics or accounting, so a good
counselor has an intuitive understanding of the dynamics of the
person he/she is dealing with.
Third, a good counselor is congruent; that is, basically,
he/she is a healthy person, a wholesome person.
This does not mean that a counselor is problem free, but has
their head and heart pretty well put together.
A fourth and final quality of a good counselor is that they
are a non-judgmental person. When
we go into a counselor, we unload all kinds of personal information
and feelings about stuff we would share with no other; and it is
important that the counselor does not condemn us for our feelings or
and judgment inhibit communication of further feelings.
So I asked Doug,
“What is the purpose of a good counselor?”
He answered: A
counselor tries to facilitate growth.
He/she tries to enable a person to grow.
We all have blocks in our paths to maturity.
We all have blocks to growth such as painful, early childhood
trauma with parents or persistent personality problems or addictions
or embarrassing personal habits that prevent us from growing into
God’s fullness for us. A counselor helps remove those blocks.
Like when a person has a blood clot in the leg, medication
may be given to dissolve that block.
So a counselor works with the client to help dissolved those
blocks that prevent them from growing.
… A counselor
does not solve problems for people, but helps them grow stronger so
they can solve their own problems.
A counselor does not make hard decisions for people but helps
them become strong so they can make their own choices.
So I asked a final
question of Doug, “Does a counselor have an ideal image, a goal
that he/she is working towards?”
Yes, a counselor has a vision of maturity, wholeness and
congruence that he/she is working towards.
As I listened to
Dr. Anderson speak, I was delighted with his words because many of
the same words he used to describe a good counselor are the same
words used in the Bible, John 14-16 to describe the work of the Holy
Spirit. Doug used words
like counselor, guide, strengthen, enable, make stronger, teacher,
truth, and these are all the same words that are used in John 14-16
to describe the work of the Holy Spirit.
14-16, is the high water mark in the Bible about the Holy Spirit. If
you want to find out about the Holy Spirit, you can read the book of
Acts, but an even better place to read about the Spirit is John
14-16. Within these
three chapters, the Spirit is name “counselor.”
The Spirit is called counselor five times in these chapters.
The Counselor is to guide us into truth about ourselves, God
These same chapters
are the high water mark in the Bible in teaching about the Trinity.
If you want to find out about the Trinity, you read these chapters.
In the Gospel lesson for today, we hear that the Spirit is
going to come to us in the future; and then a few verses later, the
“I” am going to come to us; and then a few verses later, the
Father is going to coming to us.
Now, why doesn’t the Bible make up its mind? Who is coming to us? The Spirit? Jesus? The Father?
Which person is coming to us?
Here in these chapters, we discover that God, the Father, the
Son, the Spirit are used interchangeably.
But what stands out
most clearly today is the Spirit is called the Counselor.
God will not leave us desolate or orphans.
The Greek word is, orphani;
we will not be left as orphans in the universe but God’s
Spirit will come to be with us and in us.
Today, I ask you
the question: What does it mean that God is your counselor?
What does it mean for you?
Later in the sermon, I will give you the chance to respond
and answer that question, so be thinking about it.
What does it mean for you that God is your counselor? We will
do the unLutheran thing and talk during the sermon.
The Greek word for
counselor is “paraclete,” which means “called to the side
of.” You call someone to be by your side and give you strength.
For example, when there is a sudden tragedy in your life, the
natural instinct is not to be left alone, but to have someone there
with you, someone by your side, to give you strength.
Or when you face a momentous decision, you often don’t want
to think it through alone. You want input from other people as you
intelligently go about making this decision.
So you will call someone to be by your side, to talk through
the options. That is
what the word, counselor, means: to call someone to be at your side,
to give you strength and help as you sort out your decisions.
outline of Dr. Anderson; when we think of the Spirit of God as
counselor, this means that the Holy Spirit is personally concerned
about us. God, our
counselor, is not a detached listener who listens politely to us for
fifty minutes, asks for payment and then wants us to leave, so the
next customer can get in. If
the mark of a good counselor is that he/she is personally concerned
about our welfare and well being, then God is truly a good
counselor. God is truly
concerned about what is good for us.
God, the Spirit, is
an empathetic counselor. God
intuitively understands the complexity of our inner being. Every
morning I recite my mantra of Psalm 139 that tells of God’s
intuitive love for us: “O
God, you have examined me and know you.
You know all about me. From
far away, you understand all my thoughts.
You see me whether I am working or resting.
Your knowledge of me is too wonderful and I cannot comprehend
instinctively, intuitively, God understand every corner of our
The Spirit is a
non-judgmental counselor. God,
the Spirit, does not judge us for what we say, think or feel.
Can you imagine God hearing every word we ever said;
listening in on our every thought; seeing our every action? It is
embarrassing to think that someone knows that much about us, seeing
and hearing our every thought.
And God still does not condemn us.
Nor does God condone our thoughts and feelings and actions.
But God does not condemn us in our humanness, and therefore
we are free to tell God more.
The purpose of this
Spirit/Counselor is to help us grow towards maturity and wholeness.
The counselor is a facilitator of growth
and maturity within us. We all have these blocks that prevent
growth. Blocks of sin and imperfection. These qualities block us from
becoming what God wants us to be. We have blocks due to the inner
scars of childhood conflicts. Blocks
due to our birth order. Blocks
due to deeply ingrained personality habits. Blocks due to
addictions. Blocks due to bad decisions and choices we have made. We
all have these blocks within us. … What are those blocks in your
inner life? What are those qualities which are preventing you from
growing into maturity and wholeness? … God, the Holy Spirit, helps
us see the truth about ourselves, and our blocks that inhibits
growth. God guides us
into new directions and ways of dealing with our inner blocks.
Some people have
the illusion that God, the Spirit, the Counselor, will solve all our
problems. That is not
true. Like any good
counselor, the Spirit enables us to become stronger. Nor does the Spirit/Counselor make decisions for you.
Sometimes, that is just what we want; we want God to make the
decisions for us, especially difficult decisions.
Rather, God is the “paraclete,” who comes to our side and
gives us the strength and new resources and new insights, so we can
make difficult and painful decisions. But the Spirit/Counselor does
not solve our problems or make decisions for us.
Nor does any good counselor. I like that passage from
Philippians where God says that the love in us is to grow and grow
and grow so that we will make the best choices.
I like that; the focus is on love growing inside, whereby we
can make the best choices.
So where do you
find this counselor? I
know where to find Dr. Anderson.
I look in the phone book for Presbyterian Counseling Services
and call him there. But
where do I find this Spirit/Counselor? There are many places to find this Counselor but John 14-16
indicates that a good reliable place to find the Spirit is in the
Spirit filled community, the church in whom the Spirit lives. You see, the church is a counseling community.
The church is filled with people who are willing and able to
give good counsel. Let
me explain. My wife and
I have been parenting for more than twenty-two years now and we
still have another ten years of parenting in front of us, before our
youngest son becomes a responsible young adult.
That means, for twenty two years now, we have been
telephoning our friends in church, asking them for advice as to how
to handle situations. We
call for advice, guidance, therapy, direction, support, a shoulder
to lean on and the other shoulder to cry on. We could telephone the
parents of the friends of our children; these are good people, but
they don’t belong to the church.
Somehow, we have come to trust the values of our Christian
church friends who are parents.
We consult with them all the time.
We consult with them many times about discipline, hours,
allowances, jobs, marriage, independence, and the list goes on and
on. The point is, the
church itself is a counseling community, and God the Spirit counsels
through the church.
What are the
Spirit’s office hours? I
know when to telephone the counseling offices at Presbyterian
Counseling Services. Between
8:30 and 4:30. But why
is it that my personal needs and emergencies are persistently after
hours? Often, these
needs and emergencies are between ten at night and three in the
morning, and no professional offices are open.
God, the Spirit/Counselor’s office hours are not from nine
to five. Nor does God have any answering machine, saying he will get
back to me later. Nor do I find a busy signal. God, the
Spirit/Counselor lives inside of me and is available to listen
anytime of day or night. Anytime.
But I come back to
an earlier question. What
does it mean for you that is the Spirit, your counselor?
What does that mean for you personally, in your real life?
I will give you five seconds more to think about that
question. I have shared with you some of my thinking about God, the
Spirit/Counselor, and now we would like to hear from you, the
church, the counseling community.
I will come down between the front pews and we will do a very
unLutheran thing; that is, we will have you talk in church as part
of the sermon. Would you please stand, talk loudly so all can hear?
I will repeat the essence of your thought through the microphone.
(Five to ten people will get up, one at a time, and briefly
say what it means that God is a counselor to them.
I will offer a brief, positive commentary, an expansion of
what the person in the pew just said.)
Yes, I agree with that and more importantly, the Bible agrees
with that. God is always there to
hear us, immediately, instantly.
God is present. There are no busy signals, no answering machines.
“God is there for
me in the big things, the tough moments, and tough decisions.”
Yes, there is no problem too big for God, or too complicated for
God. God helps us deal
with tough decisions and complicated problems.
“There is no
problem too small for God.” How
true. It is not only
the big issues of life but the million little issues that are
important to us. In fact, you would never telephone Dr. Anderson or
some other PHD in counseling to talk over such little things that we
talk over with God. Nothing is too insignificant for God.
“God often sends
me to the right people and to the right counselors who seem to give
me good advice.” I
like that. God knows
your need and knows with whom you need to talk. So God sends you to
the right people, or the right people happen to show up at the right
time, and you didn’t even call them.
God often speaks through them.
“It is important
that I not only talk during the counseling session but listen.”
How true. We can
talk, talk, talk, talk our hearts out, but somewhere in the
conversation, we need to be quiet and listen.
Patiently listening for God’s direction and guidance is
“God can handle
it when I get off on a rage towards God or someone else, when I blow
my stack, blow off my steam of anger at God
and tell him he is doing a rotten job or managing the world
and my life.” Absolutely,
God understands our need to honestly ventilate our feelings, to get
it off our chest, to release the venom and black poison that we feel
in our guts. God can
handle that. In the Bible, these confessions are called laments.
Jeremiah especially really lets God have it.
“I can hear
God’s still small voice inside of me.
Maybe it is my conscience, telling me right and wrong, but I
do hear that one small voice inside of me, although the voice is not
audible.” So true.
The text for today is clear:
God, the Spirit/Counselor is going to come and live inside of
us. God’s Spirit
actually lives inside of us, and we hear the voice of the Spirit,
counseling and guiding us in the way of truth.
Thank your for your
sharing. The church is the counseling community, counseling us in the
ways of God and the way of love.
It was the evening
of Holy Thursday and
the disciples were gathered together for the last supper.
This was Jesus’ last meal with his disciples
and he soon was to be leaving them to die.
And he said, “When I go, I will not leave you deserted. I
will not leave you orphans. But
I will send my Spirit, the Counselor, who will live in you and guide
you. I and my Father will come to live in you and we will guide you
in the truth. We will
be your Counselor. Amen.