Summary: In part three of series Jesus, Post-Resurrection, Dave looks closely at Colossians 2:1-10. We learn how to identify an empty belief system, and how to avoid spiritual emptiness.
In 1996 I was a graduate student at Oakland University. I was doing an internship at a counseling center in Flint to finish up my Master’s degree in Counseling. I was new and very inexperienced, and was working in my office one day when the phone rang. All the “real” therapists were busy, so I took the call. On the other end of the phone was a desperate-sounding man. He said he had a gun to his head and that he was going to pull the trigger unless I could give him some reason to live in the next ten minutes. It was not this guy’s lucky day. Here he decides to do this desperate thing, and he get a gun and calls a counseling center, and he gets an intern on the phone. That was probably just a step above an automated operator. “If you are suicidal and want to issue a life or death ultimatum to a therapist, press 1.”
Anyway, this is the call that every therapist dreads. I prayed that the owner, Diane, would come into the office just by chance. She did, and I tried to get her to take the call, but the man protested and would not be handed to anyone else. Diane told me to handle it. That’s what internships are for: to sink or swim – to realize we really can do what we have been trained to do. Diane stood there as I sat down and summoned everything I had learned in graduate school up to that point. I had to remember that I was only human, that whatever he chose to do was not my fault, that hopefully he was bluffing, and that I probably didn’t want to approach the situation with that assumption.
What I had to do was keep first things first. What mattered most was not making this man happy. It was not even finding out about his problem. The only thing that mattered was doing whatever I could do to keep him from blowing his brains out in the next couple of minutes and getting him into the clinic as quickly as possible where he could get treatment.
So that’s what I did. I kept him on the phone and did the necessary things to keep him talking and focused on something other than his intention to kill himself. After ten or fifteen minutes I was able to get him to come into the clinic and meet with one of our psychologists who took care of him. That may have been the longest 15 minutes of my life.
I had to keep first things first. That required that I know what was most important, and direct all of my training, all of my efforts, all of my skills to that one thing – making sure that this guy didn’t kill himself. Had he pulled the trigger that afternoon, I’d have been a brand new counseling intern feeling responsible for the death of a client just two weeks into my internship. There was a lot at stake – for him and for me.
At key times in our lives, we have to place first things first. We have to direct all of our energy, all of our attention, all of our skills and efforts, to the one thing that matters most. In those times we know that if we fail, we will carry a heavy load of responsibility for a very long time, that we CAN’T fail because there’s too much at stake. In the church at Colosse, there was a threat – this Gnostic teaching that was creeping into the church. That threat was potentially devastating to the church and the people in it, so when Paul heard about it, he sat down and wrote a letter. And in that letter, Paul demonstrated his understanding that the proper response to a threat is to do whatever needs to be done to preserve life or to minimize damage, because there’s too much at stake to just sit back and hope for the best. This is not a letter that says, “Hey, how’s it going? Having a great time, wish you were here.” It’s a letter that says, “You are drifting from the MAIN thing – the most important thing – the FIRST thing – you are on a collision course with spiritual disaster, and you don’t even know it. Jesus is first. Jesus is number one. Jesus must be the focus of your lives. You don’t understand what’s at stake.” Paul writes with all the conviction of a spiritual father who has taken responsibility for this young church and the people in it.
Sometimes it is up to people with more knowledge and experience than us to help us place first things first. The guy on the phone that day wanted me to solve his problems. Because of my training I quickly knew that I could not solve his problems. But to me his biggest problem was that weapon (supposedly) pressed to his temple, and I was pretty sure I could help with that.