Here’s the second installment in our “five minutes with David Powlison” series (you can access the first one here
I asked David to elaborate on this quote:
I have yet to meet a couple locked in hostility (and the accompanying fear, self-pity, hurt, self-righteousness) who really understood and reckoned with their motives. James 4:1–3 teaches that cravings underlie conflicts. Why do you fight? It’s not “because of my wife/husband…”—it’s because of something about you. Couples who see what rules them—cravings for affection, attention, power, vindication, control, comfort, a hassle-free life—can repent and find God’s grace made real to them, and then learn how to make peace.
—Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 151.
To hear David expand on this quote, download the 7-minute audio recording here
(5.9 MB) or listen online:
Welcome to the second part of my interview with biblical counselor and author Dr. David Powlison (part one here).
David, apart from Scripture, what book do you most frequently re-read and why?
Two books are nearly as marked up as my Bible: Valley of Vision and Luther’s Prayers. I don’t read them straight through, but I frequently return to them, dipping in here and there, returning to favorite places. Why? They freshly express how faith lives, thinks, feels, talks. They struggle, they delight, they need God, they see God.
I extensively annotate, add, reword, update, personalize VoV prayers to make them my own. For example, simply turning “thee/thou” into “You” makes a prayer sing more pointedly and personally. I find that I often add two strands to VoV prayers:
 a brighter note of joy, gratitude and meditation on the mercies of Christ (so the prayers don’t turn introspective regarding a sense of sinfulness);
 a more candid awareness of and expression of our experience of sufferings (so the prayers don’t turn stoic, as if spirituality rises “above” our life situation). To my ears, the Puritans can have a slight drift towards sin-centricity and stoicism, somewhat slipping from the grace-centricity and humanity of Scripture. But that said, these prayers are a gold mine of living wisdom.
Luther’s way of engaging God and Scripture has deeply shaped me. He takes Scripture (and the Creeds) and puts it to work in a “four-stranded wreath”:
 as a textbook, revealing God and His will, wisdom and work;
 as a hymnbook, giving reasons that call forth gratitude and joy;
 as a book of confession, teaching me where to repent, where I need forgiveness, mercy, and awakening;
 as a prayerbook, guiding intercession into rich paths, rather than the “list” mentality that can make prayer so dull and man-centered.
When you finish a book, what system have you developed in order to remember and reference that book in the future?
For many years I used the EndNote bibliography program to track what I read. I’d make summaries, take notes, and write out key quotations. I’ve not been as diligent with it in recent years, as I’ve tended to re-read choice books more often than read new books. I mark up books extensively with highlighting and marginal notes, and I write notes in the front pages that direct me to the page numbers of significant quotes and discussions.
If you could study under any theologian in church history (excluding those men in Scripture), who would it be and why?
I can’t decide on only one! But I can settle on two: Augustine and Calvin. These men lived, breathed, prayed, thought, felt, and communicated so very well all that they understood of Jesus Christ and the Word of God. Both men were mastered by the Psalms, and so their humanity and their ministries flourished in the ways of God.
What single piece of counsel (or constructive criticism) has most improved your preaching?
Live your message for a day, a week, a month, a lifetime. Then aim low, and you’re sure to hit something.
What books on preaching, or examples of it, have you found most influential in your own preaching?
I don’t preach very often, but THE influence has been the model of how Scripture brings truth to bear. The Lord and His prophets and apostles always speak TO human beings and what they were facing, and they always speak personally, rather than speaking ABOUT topics and speaking impersonally. Jay Adams calls such I-you directness and relevance in communicating God’s truth “the preacher’s stance.” The Bible is not just “normative” truth about God, but enters into the “situational” realities and “existential” choices of the people to whom God speaks. (That way of putting it comes from John Frame.) Ministry must do the same, afresh, entering people’s experience of troubles (external) and struggles (internal).
Please join me next time for part three of my interview with David.
No one has taught me more about biblical counseling, progressive sanctification, and how to evaluate my heart in the shadow of the cross than Dr. David Powlison. If you are not familiar with David, you can get to know him well in this candid and colorful interview with Mark Dever. Download the 70-minute interview audio here or listen here:
Life and Counseling with David Powlison
If you are looking for more from David, I highly recommend two of his books: Speaking Truth in Love: Counsel in Community (New Growth Press, 2005) and Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition through the Lens of Scripture (P&R, 2003). Though I recommend the entirety of each book, readers new to David will get an excellent intro to his teaching by starting with two chapters of Seeing with New Eyes: chapter 8 (“I Am Motivated When I Feel Desire”) and chapter 13 (“What Do You Feel?”). Enjoy!
February 26, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Biblical counseling | Fear
As a supplement to Scripture in my personal devotion time, I’m reading and benefiting from Edward T. Welch’s book Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest
(Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2007).
You don’t need to read deep into this in order to come across good stuff for your soul. The good stuff presents itself on the first page of the preface, where Welch writes,
Like most writing projects, this book is aimed squarely at myself. Although I can be angry or melancholy, I am a fear specialist. In this I have found that I am not alone. Not everyone is a fear specialist, but there is no doubt that every single person who ever lived is personally familiar with fear. It is an inescapable feature of earthly life. To deny it is…well…to deny it. (p. 9)
Raise your hand if you can relate! My hand is raised.
Here is a sampling of quotes to create an appetite in your soul for this book.
The Atmosphere of Fear
As we possess more things, care about more people, accumulate more bad experiences, and watch Fear Factor and the evening news, it is as if we absorb fear. If they are not obvious in your own life, perhaps it’s because you have been living in a war zone your entire life. At first you noticed every gunshot. After a while the mayhem blends in with the rustle of the trees, the TV, and the children playing in the other room. Fear gradually became the background noise of everyday life. (p. 21)
Illogic of Fear
If you are afraid to fly because you keep thinking the plane will crash, you can replace that thought with another. I’ve flown many times before and nothing has happened. It’s the safest way to travel. This might help, but it rests on the premise that fear submits to logic, which is a dubious assumption. In reality, fears are rarely logical. (p. 23)
Logic in Fear
There is no dawdling in the face of fear. When we perceive it creeping up on us we want to keep moving. To slow down and listen to what it might be saying is counterintuitive. But fear is speaking, and we should listen. One useful life skill is to know when to listen to our feelings and when to ignore them. As a general rule, the first step is to listen. There is a logic—a language—to fear and anxiety, just as there is to most emotions. (p. 37)
Listening to Fears
So why do we listen to the logic of the often-illogical fears? Welch explains,
There are times when fear says that something is just plain dangerous and I should be afraid. But my goal in listening to my fears is to learn how to decipher what else they are saying. When I pause and listen, I might find that fear says a lot and it speaks clearly. What it says can provide me with immensely helpful direction.…Review some of your fears and ask: What do these fears say I trust in? What do my fears say I love? (pp. 47–48)
Fears reveal lies and lusts. Fears reveal idols. Fears reveal functional gods. When we submit to fear we submit to a false god rather than serving the God of Scripture, the God we seek to serve.
This process of examination is helpful
because I can accurately discern what is motivating me. Hopeful
because through the gospel I can turn from worshiping a false god, submitting to a functional god of my own creation, and instead flee to the Savior for forgiveness of sin and power to weaken my tendency to fear. In the Savior I find both pardon and power.
For pastors, this book can serve you big-time in biblical counseling. After you read the book, benefit from the book, and familiarize yourself with the book, you can assign the entire book to someone you are counseling or strategically assign certain chapters from the book. Those you are counseling can read in preparation for your next meeting with them, and at least part of your time can involve discussion and application of the content to their soul.
All “fear specialists” will find help and hope in this book
as we evaluate this common temptation through Scripture and fight this temptation with the gospel.