I flopped down on the couch, flip flops tossed to the side, and grabbed a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie. Rachel, my community group leader, sat beside me. “So, tell me about this situation,” she began. In between bites of the cookie (and a few more), I began explaining some frustrating circumstances in my life. Rachel listened, asked questions, helped me to process, and I always left feeling encouraged.
This scene was repeated many times—it wasn’t always in Rachel’s comfortable apartment. Some days it was early morning coffee dates. Other times it was in the cafeteria for lunch, or in her office in between classes. Rachel was a faculty member who, with love and passion for discipleship, poured into my life. As a result of her encouragement, I am not the same person I was when I began college.
Discipleship is a beautiful and valuable tool, as I have seen from several older friends and women who were willing to pour into my life. However, as I’ve had the opportunity to step into those roles myself lately, I’ve found that it is not as exciting as I was expecting it to be. There’s sin involved. There are hardened hearts. There’s deceit. And of course, there’s the age-old question: How in the world can you expect to counsel someone else when you can barely keep your own life together?
“Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands” by Paul David Tripp is a leadership book that walks the Christian through personal ministry and counseling others. As an RA (resident assistant) in school, and as a person planning to go into full-time ministry, this is exactly the kind of resource that I need to prepare me for discipleship and equip me in current discipleship situations. The emphasis on this book on personal ministry and how to do it with love, grace, compassion, mercy, and truth helped me see how I could better counsel and minister to the people that God has placed into my life.
I did not get this book for pleasure reading—it was actually the required reading for a discipleship program I was in. Viewing it as a textbook, I expected the practical advice and discipleship “tips” to begin right away. However, I learned that the book is not about changing people—rather, it explores God’s grace on a deeper level. Tripp writes to help Christians understand the Gospel and how God’s grace allows Christians to have effective discipleship and personal ministry. God’s grace saturates every page of this book and is the foundation for how Tripp does personal ministry.
Sin is a tricky subject to deal with in discipleship. How do you tactfully address someone else’s sin, especially considering you are a sinner yourself? Tripp begins with an honest look at sin and getting at a person’s heart. He wrote on page 100, “our problem is not just wrong behavior and its results, but the thoughts that produced it…The only thing that can change a person’s heart is God’s Word.” A few pages later, Tripp encourages believers to be ambassadors who communicate the truth of the Bible to others. He focuses on the Word of God as the foundation for personal ministry. The Bible changes people—you don’t.
Next, Tripp talks about how to build better and more meaningful relationships as well as relate to someone who is suffering. He covers how to identify sin patterns and where growth needs to happen, and how to effectively and lovingly communicate these things. Tripp’s book helps you to come alongside someone who is processing trials by asking questions, coming to Biblical conclusions, and integrating them into daily life. Finally, he covers how to equip another believer and hold them accountable.
Overall, I appreciated Tripp’s focus on grace and humility. “Instruments” was a humbling book to read; it reminded me that I was as much in need of grace as those whom I disciple. This was a book written for “beggars bringing other beggars bread”. We are all sinners in need of grace.
If you are in a ministry where you are able to disciple others or have a leadership role, this is an excellent resource of encouragement and conviction. If you are preparing for such a role, this book will help equip and prepare you. As you seek to minister lovingly to those around you, I think Tripp would encourage you not to let this book replace God’s Word. In fact, his very premise is that God’s Word does the work, not you. Allow this book to help you become more effective in your ministry, and let it push you to seek out the truth of God’s Word above all else.