(chapter 2 of His Name is WONDERFUL)
Times have changed. In the days of my grandparents and parents, counseling was an obscure profession and one predominantly was relegated to state run institutions. As late as the 1970’s it was rare to find a Christian counselor in many smaller communities. One normally had to drive to a “big city” to find someone to help. Even then, counseling was pastoral and limited in scope.
In recent years, we have seen an enormous rise in professional counseling, Counseling Centers, Support Groups and self help books. The psychology section in the secular and Christian bookstore has exploded. In many lives psychology now takes precedent in many lives over theology.
When people read Isaiah 9, their minds are automatically drawn to the Christmas season. We tend to link certain Scriptures and certain songs of the faith to seasons and events, like Christmas and Easter. This is an unfortunate outgrowth of our limited concept of God and His plan for man.
Any observant person of modern culture will note that Christmas is one of the most depressing times of the year. Researchers have determined that more people suffer depression during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas than any other time of the year. Why?
One obvious reason is that everyone thinks the holiday season means happiness. We are expected to “Ho! Ho! Ho!” our way through the yuletide season. Truthfully, some folks feel more like a “Woe! Woe! Woe!” Many will fake their joy, but that in itself produces guilt which can lead to further depression.
Christmas is traditionally considered a family time in America. Even beer commercials picture the family “home for the holidays.” The pictures of laughter, the fireplace and snow on the ground are very familiar. The Norman Rockwell, all-American family, sitting around the fire, sipping hot chocolate while the kids roast chestnuts on the open fire, is on our cards and in our mind. However, for many people, Christmas is one of the loneliest times of the year.
There’s always the first Christmas after the death of a loved one. The first Christmas after the painful divorce. The first Christmas with joint custody, and it’s your turn to be alone. The circle is broken. . .and so is your heart.
One of the guys I grew up with has suffered through this in recent years. He and his family were visiting their grandmother a few years ago. Tragically, the oldest son hung himself in the garage on Christmas Eve and was discovered by his grandmother. There will never be another Christmas for that family without that painful memory.
There is also the reality of a family gathering for the holidays but experiencing no Christmas cheer. Tension in the air is thicker than the toys under the tree. There is obvious strain that outshines the tinsel. An overwhelming sense of bitterness, anger, hurt, and cynicism fills the room. The family framework is there, but the family isn’t functioning on all cylinders.
The hectic times in which we live add to the stress. Our overloaded calendars take a computer, a day timer and an alarm watch to keep us on track. We run on fumes and live on empty. The sense of obligation to show up, make an appearance and do the right thing in the eyes of men overrides common sense. Rather than enjoying the season, we allow animosity and anxiety to add their weight to our already overwrought bodies. The result is fatigue, depression and exhaustion.
In times like this, we probably don’t need a shrink. However, it would be nice if we had someone who could just listen. Someone who knows our hurts, senses our pain, wipes our tears and feels our pain. We need someone who knows more than we do and is willing to help (without pointing a finger and giving us a thirty minute lecture).
Jehovah has provided such a person. He is a “Wonderful Counselor.” If I need wisdom, He can give it. After all, if He can run the whole cosmos, he can counsel me in my little world. With this counselor, I don’t have to make an appointment or check my insurance to see if I’m covered. Nor do I have to wonder when my time is up.
This counselor can guide me on my journey and lead me in the everlasting path. His advice makes my path straight, my way peaceful and my home secure. I can absorb His Words, lean on His arms, walk in His steps and find comfort in His bosom. A counselor is one who gives advice and direction. The counselor God has provided has given us His presence, plus 66 books containing His Word and His will for us. We can trust His Word and stand on His promises.
The Hebrew word for counselor is ‘ya ats.’ It is a primitive root and means, “to advise; reflexively, to deliberate or resolve. ” In the King James, the word is translated, “to take advice, consult, give or take counsel, or guide. The verb form, ‘ya as’ means to advise or consult. It is used in the Hebrew as a verb approximately 80 times in the Old Testament. The first appearance of ‘ya ‘ is found in Exodus 18 where Jethro says to Moses, “I will give you counsel, and God shall be with you.” The Jerusalem Bible translates the word in Numbers 24:14 as, “I will let you know.” In the majority of cases, the word is used to describe the giving of good advice or wise counsel.
The most familiar usage of the noun form is in Isaiah nine. “In the basis of syntax involved, it is probably better to translate the familiar ‘Wonderful Counselor’ (NASB, TEV) as Wonder-Counselor (JB, NAB) or ‘Wonder of a Counselor.’ The NEB renders it ‘in purpose wonderful.’ Another possibility is that of separating the terms: ‘Wonderful, Counselor’ (KJV).” (From Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers).
Examples of the usage of this word, when referring to the Lord include:
Sin entered this world because Eve took bad counsel from the Serpent. Satan advised Eve with deceit and a lie. He questioned and challenged the Word of God. He advised Eve to disobey the Lord and violate God’s clear command.
Satan still has his counselors. Some are free, others are expensive. Many people offer mankind ungodly advice. Some even dare to offer us their counsel even when we don’t seek it. One of the modern forms of counsel comes from the media and advertising industry. For instance:
The list can go on ad nauseam. The point is. . .a good and godly counselor will not hand out advice in nice, neat packages. There are no easy answers, cheap solutions, or “take two capsules before bedtime” resolutions. A good counselor will listen, size up the situation, weigh all the evidence, and tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
That’s why Jesus is a wonderful counselor. He can see straight through our facades. He knows both sides of the story. He can put His finger on the real problem as opposed to the apparent symptoms. He knows the complexities of the human spirit. He also knows how to meet us at the point of our need. While He hates sin, He loves sinners. His love and mercy are enduring. His grace is overwhelming. His counsel is always to heal, never to harm.
He has been that way since the beginning. If you look behind the veil of recorded history and into eternity past you can see His counsel. He is there, before Genesis 1:1. Before the world was formed, before the first creature was created, the Counselor was with the Father. Notice, the Word enlightens us, “Let US make man in our image.” Not, “I will make man.” The Father, Son and Spirit were all in agreement. Christ was with God when the blueprints of the universe were drafted.
For further proof (if you want to seek someone else on this issue), let me direct your attention to the Words of the Counselor recorded in His Book of Life. This is the counsel of wisdom. Proverbs eight, beginning in verse twelve, “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all who judge rightly. I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even pure gold, and my yield than choicest silver.”
“I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, To endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries. The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. From everlasting I was established, from the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills I was brought forth; While He had not yet made the earth and the fields, nor the first dust of the world. When He established the heavens, I was there, when He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep, When He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed, When He set for the sea its boundary, so that the water should not transgress His command, when He marked out the foundations of the earth; Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him…”
These words contained in Proverbs reveal that Christ was co-creator with God the Father. John affirms this truth in the first chapter of his gospel. “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” If He didn’t do it, it didn’t get done. The writer of Hebrews joins the witness of John and reveals, “Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Thy hands.” Together the divine Trinity stood on nothing, and caused everything to come into being.
William S. Plumer wrote, “Everything above us speaks of the greatness of God, not of man.” Tozer said, “Creation is the setting forth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Sovereign.” Truly, all creatures are of our God and King.
Not only was Jesus present in the past and in creation. He is present now with His counsel. When the world was created, the Lord God did not become a “distant deity” as some have erroneously imagined. He remains at the wheel. . .guiding, directing, controlling His creation. He will be at the helm from beginning to end. He was there on the first day of creation. He will be present when the new heaven and earth are formed.
His laws govern this world. All the laws of science are His. We do not break His laws; we break ourselves on His laws. The man who jumps from a tall building does not break the law of gravity; the law of gravity breaks him! This world is not, as it sometimes appears to our finite eye, running out of control. The Psalmist complained that the Lord was letting evil men get away with murder. As he sought the counsel of the Lord, he discovered how quickly the lifestyle of the rich and famous can come to an end. Only when you get the counsel of God can you view life from an eternal perspective.
We need His counsel because we don’t know it all. Unfortunately, people want easy answers to complicated questions. We want the quick fix–the cure-all at a discount price. We want our advisors to agree with our assessment of the problem. We demand explanations and God’s Word only gives promises. We aren’t very comfortable when God’s counsel goes something like this, “You’re going to have to trust me on this one.” Even when we get answers, there is no guarantee we’ll like them. That’s why, when answers aren’t enough, there is Jesus.
Most people seem to think pastors have all the answers. I don’t even know all the questions. I took one psychology course in college and was totally confused. My gift is prophet, not mercy. I’m into “Thus saith the Lord” not “If I hear what you are saying, I think what you need is…” (Hey, at least I’m up front about it.) Some ministers think they are good counselors because they quote a Bible verse for every problem. Too many take those verses out of context. The truth is, much to the surprise of some, the Bible doesn’t speak to every specific situation.
There’s nothing in the Bible about which car to buy, or even if you should buy a car. My opinion is, it’s no longer a new car after the first payment. Once you get beyond ‘upside down’ in your payment book, any car with a good rebate is a possibility. Nor is there anything in the Word about how to determine if someone is “Mr. Right.” There are character traits to look for, but no “Etch-a-Sketch” of the perfect spouse. Sorry.
You won’t find specifics of what town to live in, what church to go to, what house to buy, rather to rent or buy, or what school to put your kids in. When we were making a decision about moving from a pastorate in Oklahoma to Georgia, I didn’t get a message in the sky. My wife and I had a few discussions along the “pro’s and con’s” line, but that wasn’t the determining factor. Most of us are shrewd enough to stack the list the way we want it to go. As a friend says, “It looks so good, it must be the will of God.”
Our heavenly counselor doesn’t give pat answers. Through the years, people have come to me dumping thirty years of problems and expecting an answer in three minutes. I’ve tried to warn people about my lack of counseling skills. I tell them the last three people who came to me for help jumped out my window or ran out the door before our time was up. I am not a good counselor. My name doesn’t appear on any list of counselors I’m aware of.
As you read the Scriptures you find people coming to Christ and asking, “What shall we do?” That’s the million-dollar question. Here are some of the answers from the Word. “Pray always. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. Watch and pray. Love one another. Forgive one another. Pray for your enemies. Do good to all men. Pray for those in authority. Forgive as God has forgiven you. Repent of your sins.”
Do you need a counselor today? Are you panicked, thumbing through the phone book, looking for a hotline to call? Let me make a suggestion, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Do you need salvation? Come to Christ. Do you need wisdom? “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.” Do you need comfort? “I will not leave you comfortless.” For all this and more, there is a remedy–come to Christ. Those who seek Christ as their counselor will find Him to be their comforter.
©1998 Michael C. Catt. All rights reserved.
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.