Our culture is awash in materialism. Though many people give lip service to religion, and books about spirituality (whatever that is) soar to the top of bestseller lists, their day to day behaviors reveal a functional materialism. Rather than addressing a prevailing consumerist mindset, let’s consider how to help people who are stuck in knowledge that comes only from their physical senses.
When you’re counseling them, people with limited spiritual vision seek solutions judged primarily on their impact in this world. Of course, we want to help them function well in this world, but can they see beyond that? Do they care about anything beyond that? Can they see the invisible? Or is that a stretch too far in a culture enamored with the trinkets and baubles of Vanity Fair?
After all, we know how tempting those things can be. What catches your eye: A big screen TV to watch the game? Hiring Chip and Joanna to install some shiplap? Upgrading to that “needed” new cell phone? With life full of these seemingly compelling offerings, how are we going to shift our counselees’ sight onto the crucial but invisible aspects of living?
When I finished my undergraduate degree, I went straight into teaching biology. The scientific method reigned supreme and fit nicely with my agnosticism. It took quite a metamorphosis to become a Christian and to give up leaning on my own understanding. But, even as a Christian, I’ve struggled at times to live life with a view to the immaterial. Yes, I can see the effects and the evidence of the unseen, but it took a fair amount of coaching myself and seeking the Holy Spirit’s power and insight to get to the place where the invisible God is my greatest reality.
Seeing Is Believing?
I’ve noticed that often when a counselee needs to grab hold of the reality of invisible beings and powers at work in the world, they exhibit similar difficulties. They are gripped by the notion that seeing is believing—physical sight is the functional ground of truth.
This dependence on what we see as the paramount reality is fostered in many churches. Instead of appealing primarily to the mind, some churches depend on sight and sound to reach their “partners” as they are now called (“members” for those of us outside the target). Sunday morning worship reveals no hymnbooks, no Bibles. All eyes are up front on the skinny jeans garage band and the giant screens that substitute for hymnals and the Scriptures. The music is so loud that the voices of the people are drowned out so they merely stand and watch. The point of this description is to show that the appeal is primarily to the emotions. I don’t need to contemplate anything in my mind. It is all done for me up front. My mind is left to snooze while I’m led along someone else’s notion of how to meet with the Lord in that worship service—or celebration.
From this sort of Sunday morning experience, your counselees enter your office. You want them to think through their problems on the basis of scriptural knowledge, but they can’t see it in their minds. Now, using diagrams, photos, paintings, and so on is often helpful in a counseling session. But those materials are used to get them to think not primarily to appeal to their senses. In order to think biblically, a counselee needs to be able to see the unseen. But if they are accustomed to someone thinking for them, it will be a struggle to do that. Though it is right and good to have an emotional response as part of worship, for faith to be strong and deep our beliefs need to be solidly based on scriptural truth. However, with the materialism of the culture and the entertainment style of many church services, your work may be cut out for you as try to apply truth to lives.
How do you impact this lack of keen spiritual sight? How do you get people into the Word of God who hardly ever read anything? How do you stimulate the growth of spiritual insight when they’re tethered to visual input without deep biblical knowledge? Here’s how I try to help them. At first, rather than using an actual Bible in the session, I will use a handout that has a couple of verses and some sort of visual depiction to connect to practical application. While using their presenting problem, I attempt to show them that we can start with some pieces from this very large book that will shed some practical wisdom. I guess in a way it’s like systematic desensitization. A large book with gold edges might scare them off. But by starting slowly with some portions of Scripture, we can demonstrate the wonderful riches in the Word of God that lead to a deep appreciation and love for Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We also want them to see in our lives a belief in and love for the Lord who is unseen. We have a rich relationship with Someone whom we can’t see with our physical eyes.
This is in reality a warm and personal relationship; it’s not a mechanical process. It’s lively and more real than anything else—even the things they can see with their physical eyes. We teach this from Scripture in small portions and model it for them in a way that we hope they will imitate. The where-did-it-come-from and why-is-it-here questions can lead to strengthening their faith in the unseen things. Once we see glimmers of that understanding in their thinking, we can move on to applying that knowledge to the issues they face in their lives. We can show them that the unseen things are the really real things and the seen things are temporary.
Join the Conversation
How have you sought to break through to counselees who struggle with unseen, spiritual realities?