When life is good

When it comes to biblical counselling, we tend to assume it’s a discipline for dealing with what’s hard. The suffering of illness – the injustice of abuse – the lingering pain of grief – the snares of anger, anxiety or addiction – are the typical topics about which people want to talk. And that makes sense. When life is deeply painful, we are bound to need a helping hand. Along with the writer of Psalm 40, we know that when we are in the pit of despair, we need God – and we need his people to remind us of that fact.

But what about when life is good? What’s the role of biblical counselling then?

It feels a little counterintuitive to need counsel when life is easy and going well. Maybe it even feels a little selfish or introspective to take someone’s time to talk about our heart then, when so many others are going through much, much worse. But there’s rich fodder for growth and transformation in times of ease, too.

Ease that illuminates
That promotion at work might tell us much about where we find our significance and security. That exam passed can teach us a great deal about where we think our identity lies. The first flush of a new relationship can reveal volumes about what we really want from life. The incredible gift of a new child – or even something as practical as a financial gift – might speak deeply into what we think we have a right to expect God to provide.

The things that ease reveals might be beautiful. Life going well might be the context in which we see our heart over-flowing with thankfulness and a deep humility that shows we know all such privileges and pleasures are a gift from God. We might see in ourselves a perspective that knows that none of those things – precious though they are – even begin to compare with the delight that stems from a relationship with the Lord. Praise God for glimpses of such wonder and grace!

Of course, they might reveal something a little more bleak. Ease is also the time when ungodliness can come to the fore: be that a stubborn independence that assumes, because life is good, we don’t need to depend on God that much; or a sense of entitlement that assumes that lovely things are ours by right or earned by our labours; or an inappropriate jealousy that forgets the one who gives, also has the right to take away. The good times can easily become the prayerless times as we go it alone. Or the empathy-less times as we assume others could have lives as good as ours if they simply just tried. Or the self-centred times as we rejoice in what we have with blinkers on and forget the needs around.

So, how can we help each other navigate blessing well? And do so in ways that don’t dampen a right enjoyment of what God has chosen to gift!

Ease that reorientates
As Romans reminds, rejoicing with those who rejoice is an entirely faithful thing to do. So maybe a good place to begin is to take deep pleasure in the wonderful things that the people around us have. We can thank and praise, congratulate and enjoy the many generous outworkings of our Heavenly Father’s heart.

But we can listen closely to the narrative that our brothers and sisters tell too. As they recount the good times does their story have “I” in the centre or “Christ”? Is the weight of the tale “what I’ve got” or “what I’ve been given”? Is there a leaning towards “what I’ve done” or “what God has enabled me to do”? We do that listening with humility – all of us fail to give glory to God sometimes. We do that listening with encouragement – it’s often entirely appropriate to respond with, “you worked so hard for that – you did so well”. We also do that listening with a deep desire for them not only to have what is good but to have their hearts set on Who is good. And so, we don’t just listen, we speak too.

There are many ways we can help people lift their eyes. Questions like “What are you thankful for?” or “How has this blessing strengthened your relationship with God and others?” can be easy ways in. We can go on and help people see their good things as a context for continued growth as we pose questions like, “how is this kindness from God going to spur you on in your walk with him?” Or “what are you learning about God – and yourself – in the light of these good times?” Our aim is not to detract from the good by focusing on the hard but to take the good and make it better by focusing on the potential for growth it contains.

Along the way, though, many people will articulate something hard. Anyone with a good sense of what is going on in their heart will spot the same traits that have been present in every human heart since Genesis 3 – a dissatisfaction with God’s abundant blessings and a sneaking suspicion that the gifts are better than the giver. Here it is a privilege to call our friends back to seeing their lives through a biblical lens. Here there is the chance to seek the ultimate blessing that comes from a right fear of the Lord not achievements or possessions or even family and friends.

In terms of weight of time, we’ll always want to spend more time with those who are hurting than those living in ease. Someone reeling from abuse will need considerably more time than someone whose heart is struggling amid material and relational gifts. But there is risk in ease. There is need in abundance. And there is privilege is helping people see Jesus more clearly and know that he is still the King who is calling them to follow him.