During my own “hitting bottom” experience, I (Henry) went to dinner with a Christian friend. I told him how depressed I had been and how much I felt God had let me down. I had asked God to help me, and I wasn’t feeling any better. I had thought that if you prayed, God would make you feel better. I still felt lousy. I had concluded God was not doing much.
My friend listened supportively and said he really didn’t know a lot about that, but knew someone who did. He gave me Bill’s phone number. It was good to talk to my friend, but I was bummed out that the only Christian I knew very well didn’t know how to get God to make me feel better. I wondered, Does God really make people feel better?
I called the number my friend gave me. It turned out that Bill was a student at a seminary. He and his wife, Julie, had a lot of experience ministering to college students.
I went to meet them, and we hit it off. It felt different to be around them. They talked to me about God. They wanted to know all about me and my newfound “faith.” I told them all about my hand injury, my struggles with trying to play golf in pain for two years, and my decision to give it all up. Then I talked to them about how I had looked around for what I wanted to do and really hadn’t gotten anywhere.
“I just don’t think I should be feeling this way,” I said. “Something feels wrong.”
To tell you all that happened would be a long story. The short version is that this couple literally took me in. They decided they wanted to “disciple” me—a concept I had never heard of. They thought I needed to learn more about God, and since I had nothing else on the horizon, I thought, Why not? I decided to take a semester off from school, think about life, live with Bill and Julie, and “get discipled.”
I learned a lot about God. Bill was a great teacher. He gave me access to all of his books and took me to his classes. He showed me where the seminary library was, and I fell in love with studying theology. He taught me about doctrine and how to interpret the Bible, and he tried to answer whatever questions I had.
As time went on, I could feel something changing in me. I don’t know how to put it into words, but it was as if God was coming into view. A structure for understanding God began to take shape as I studied the Bible. An experience of God took shape as I learned about spending time in prayer (sometimes hours) both by myself and with Bill and Julie. At times I could actually feel God in the room.
While Bill taught me about God, Julie talked to me about my life. As I opened up, I found there was a lot inside of me I had never ever thought about. The emptiness I had been feeling was not emptiness at all, but sadness and hurt. I knew I was sad about the loss of my dream to play professional golf, but I got in touch with other losses and hurts as well. Julie had been going through counseling materials that walked one through an “inventory” of the soul, and we worked through those materials together. As we did, I learned I had a lot to work through. I found I had not only hurts, but forgiveness issues, both for myself and for others I held things against. Great loads were lifted off my shoulders as I went through this process.
At the same time, Bill and Julie encouraged me to join a small group that examined my life. I learned things about myself and how I related to people. The members of this group taught me that I was “emotionally detached” and did not let people get close to me. They showed me I knew very little about love and most of my life had been based on performance and accomplishment, not “abiding intimacy.” They challenged all of my relational patterns.
When I was wrong, they confronted me. At first I felt bad and guilt-ridden when confronted, but later I learned the freedom that comes with being confronted in love. I found out people could discipline me and at the same time be for me and not against me.
Another thing happened in this same community. Bill and Julie and others saw something in me I had not seen. They said I had a particular gift for understanding the Bible as it relates to counseling issues and I had the gift of insight into those matters. For my part, I was feeling an increasing desire to study the Bible and counseling. These two paths, the external one and the internal one, merged, and before long I knew God was calling me to go into the field of Christian counseling.
GOD USES PEOPLE TOO
ONE DAY, SOMETIME LATER and after going into counseling myself, I realized my depression and my feelings of emptiness were gone. I actually felt good about life and about me. As I examined my feelings, I discovered I was both happy and disappointed. God had changed my life. My life had taken a 180-degree turn. But God had not healed me when I had sought healing. He had not supernaturally “zapped” me. God’s supernatural zapping seemed like Plan A to me. As I talked about this disappointment, people told me the same thing over and over again: “But God uses people too.”
I hated hearing that phrase. I had wanted God to touch my depression instantaneously and heal me. Instead, he used people to help me. I came to call this God’s Plan B. I thought that when God supernaturally intervened and healed, it was Plan A. And this was true spiritual healing. When God used people to heal, it was the “inferior,” although effective, Plan B. I accepted that I was one of those people who got Plan B. So there I was, grateful and somewhat disappointed at my grade B healing. It was good, but felt more like sitting in the bleachers than in the box seats.
Then, one day I made a discovery in Scripture that changed my way of viewing Plan B: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16).
I could not believe it. I read the verse again. Not only was it true that “God uses people too,” but this was not Plan B or second rate at all! In fact, people helping people was Plan A! The Bible said so. Not only that, but it was not just people doing it. It was God himself! God was working directly through people when they were helping me. So Plan B was the original Plan A after all.
I had wanted God to heal me, but thought I had to “settle” for his getting people to do it. But it was God doing it, in and through people. This might seem like a nuance, but for me the idea was life-changing. It helped me realize that God was not far off and uninvolved, just delegating things to people. God did not delegate the process to people at all. He wore people as his uniforms. He came to live inside people and then lived out his wishes and will through them in a mystery called the Body of Christ. Jesus was with me all along by being in all of those who were helping me. God was using people as his Plan A:
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:10–11, italics added).
I was waiting for God to give me his grace through supernatural zap-ping; he was giving it to me through his people. I was waiting for him to speak to me directly; he was speaking to me through his people. I was waiting for him to give me direction in life; he was the strength behind the direction people were giving me. I was waiting for him to heal my depression; he sent special people to comfort me.
I could see that God himself was healing my depression through my friends Bill and Julie and others. I no longer felt as if I had gotten Plan B. I had received God himself and the healing he had always planned to give me through his people. I learned what Paul had experienced in his own depression when he said, “But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus”(2 Cor. 7:6 NASB, italics added).
When I went to graduate school and studied theology, I discovered that this is the doctrine of the church. This doctrine holds that the church, with its indwelling Spirit, is the real physical presence of Christ on earth today. It is true that where two or more are gathered together, he is present (Matt. 18:20). It is true that he is inside each believer. It is true that the Body is the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). In the Old Testament, God lived in the temple and in the Holy of Holies. Today he lives in temples of human flesh. He lives in us, and wherever we are, he is. What an incredible reality!
This discovery at that point in my life was intensely personal. It led to great thanksgiving and a real feeling of God’s looking out for me and being active in my life. But I had no idea of the significance it would play later in my professional life.
Henry Cloud and John Townsend, How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).