All by itself

Counselling is a mysterious business. Whether over coffee in church, a small group prayer time, or in the formal setting of a counselling room, a number of things are happening:

We’re listening – to words, and what this person means by those words at this time. We’re observing other ways they communicate – posture, tone, face, body language, mood, dress – trying to find out something meaningful about them, and what troubles them… Getting to know and understand, ideally to the point they can see we “get” them.

Then we’re saying something. Something from the Bible that will connect, make sense of life, put in a rivet to fix the sliding plates of Christ’s riches and life’s realities so they begin to be anchored to each other.

And gradually, we see people grow.

But what is actually going on when we do that? Are we, by our words, bringing about this growth?

Not really, according to Jesus! In Mark 4:26-29, the Kingdom of God is like this. A farmer scatters seed on the ground, and that’s his bit done. That seed grows, and the farmer, who can go to bed and get on with his life, has no clue at all how that happens: “he does not know how” (v27).

It truly is mysterious. “All by itself” the soil produces fruit from that seed – in slow, patient stages: first stalk, then ear and then the full grain. Once ripe, the harvest is brought in.

Counselling is about sowing. All that listening we do to love and care for others shows us significant places in their world-view, their thinking, their emotional life where the gospel has still to reach in all its power, love and glory. Aware we have similar spaces ourselves, we sow the word there, explaining with whatever warm clarity and loving precision we can manage. And then we go to bed.

And all by itself, God’s word does God’s work, and the fruit slowly grows, from invisible to a head full of grain, in a process unfinished until harvest at death or Christ’s return.

So we sow. We keep sowing God’s word. We won’t have a clue how it happens, and most of it happens when you aren’t even thinking about it – but with the seed in it, just as the soil eventually yields corn, the soul eventually yields Christ.

All by itself.

Which means our task is to listen as well as we can, to sow the word in the spaces we can see, and then (prayerfully) go to sleep…