We can never forget the Gospel when someone comes seeking us out for advice. What we offer them and what they are willing to accept tells us much about the desires of our hearts. If we are professing Christians our counsel ought to be grounded in the Gospel, and in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, this is where Paul David Tripp begins in talking about personal ministry.
As sinners, we have a natural bent to turn away from the Creator to serve the creation. We turn away from hope in a Person to hope in systems, ideas, people, or possessions. Real Hope stares us in the face, but we do not see him.
The first six chapters serve to define the relationship we have with God as his creation, how our sinful nature affects our relationship with him, and how God has restored us.
We need God’s perspective to interpret the facts of our existence. We were created to be worshipers.
In our sinfulness we have replaced God’s perspective with all other faulty substitutes, and it has left us blind and unable to find rest. Offering advice for coping or changing circumstances will not last, because it never addresses the real problem of our sin. Without an understanding of what our sin is, and ultimately why we need redemption through Christ, the changes we hope to see in our lives will not come. But there is hope in knowing Christ and repenting of sin. Tripp tells us that we are in need of heart change that comes through the Holy Spirit, shaping us in Christ’s image so we can act in submission to God.
We can read this book with the intent of helping people, but we would be missing the point if we do not first acknowledge that we are far from perfect and are constantly in need of God providing us with his wisdom. It would be easy to skim through the book and hit the charts and appendices for the practical, but this book is more than just about identifying the needs of others. This is about seeing the same needs in ourselves. The extended title of this book is Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in the Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change, not only reminding us that our pursuit of sanctification is ongoing, but that God chooses to use us, as imperfect as we are, to be part of the heart changing process in the lives of others. In every chapter we are both counselor and counselee. If we are to help anyone we are to first humble ourselves before God and ask for his help.
Tripp also has anecdotes and illustrations that characterize God’s commandment as less of a business and more of a service, but what I appreciate is Tripp utilizing Scripture to spur us towards the high calling of loving our neighbors. Chapter after chapter, Tripp connects the themes of Scripture showing how to embrace God’s purpose for us as Christ’s bride. This book will not replace our need for the written Word, yet this supplement can aid us in better understanding each other and meeting our needs. When reading through Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, I noted in Tripp’s counseling anecdotes he refrains from giving happily-ever-after conclusions. He will tell you that we never “arrive” at spiritual maturity here on Earth. Sanctification is a continual and daily process, and until the Lord calls us home perfection is still a future we should run towards.
Personal ministry is not a business of fixing people nor can we aspire to cure ourselves of sin without God, but what we are called to do is nurture the relationships God has given to us and lovingly direct each other and ourselves to the Cross. For however long God deems for us to share in a season with another believer, God gives us the privilege to watch and bear witness to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit through our relationships by the Word. There is a hope and a call for us to work out our salvation today; and we need to be striving for it; we need to be helping others strive for it. Though we are only empowered to help others in their walk, never walking for them nor causing the heart change that conforms them to the image of our Redeemer, we get the see God make his awesome name known, declaring himself as faithful through the acts of his sovereign hands.
I was quite eager to put this book into use after I finished. It was just that as I saw the opportunity to nurture the relationships God has given me and tried to apply the data-gathering Tripp prescribed, I realized my experiences were unlike those that Tripp shared in this book. Though he talks about how counseling is not always done in a formal capacity, saying that most is done informally, his personal excerpts could only come from a pastor counseling his flock. We won’t always have unambiguous relationships. Sometimes what will be most obvious is that nobody wants to be counseled. It is not easy to have an eternal kingdom perspective for ourselves and for others, but there is so much more than the temporal trappings of this world.
It would be worth your time to read this book.
The bottom line is that you cannot have a relationship without being a person of influence. You give and receive counsel every day. It is not a task confined to paid professionals; it is woven into the fabric of human relationships. The problem is that we don’t often recognize the powerful impact of those everyday encounters.
So the question is, are you directing them towards God?