The process of change is detailed in Ephesians 4:22-24, and then even more vividly displayed in verse 28. A common question that is asked in counseling training is, “When is a thief no longer a thief?” Having studied the passage carefully, a careful observer will notice it is not just when the thief stops stealing, but when he works with his hands in order to have something to give.These passages serve as some of the core influences in the sanctification methodology as well as the end goal of counseling. We start by putting off the old man: its wants, its desires, its actions. Then, we renew the mind with the truth of God’s word. We memorize passages, study new concepts, we learn to think on what is true (Phil. 4:8). Then, the passage tells us to put on the new man which is like Christ.It is right at this point, when we are told to put on the new man, that so much of the homework in the counseling world begins to fall short. Counselees are assigned scriptures to read, passages to memorize, journaling assignments to complete, and books to learn from. However, in all of these homework assignments, the focus on the cognitive aspects of the person dominates the homework.This dynamic of more cognitive-based homework is especially true in western society and for those who have received higher education. So much of our lives is spent in the realms of thinking, and rightly so. Christianity is a thinking person’s religion, and the church will only be served by Christians being more and more thoughtful, not less.However, when it comes to the process of change, being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ, we must also engage the volitional aspects of personhood. Or, to say it a bit simpler: we need to make sure our counselee has to get off the couch in order to do their homework. If they can complete all the assignments that you have given them as part of their growth and change process from the comfort of their lazy boy recliner, then we have not addressed all the requisite aspects of change that will be necessary.There must be a delicate balance that is achieved between homework that is focused on doing and homework that is focused on renewing the hearts of our counselees. Each case with each person will look different. However, there must be evidence of growth across all areas of our counselee, and not just in the arena of the mind. Consider these examples of how you might sharpen your homework writing skills to better serve your counselees:
Let’s make sure that we are helping our counselees be doers of the word and not just hearers (Jas. 1:22). Let’s make sure that we are following the Bible in its process of change and not just parking on renewing our mind. Let’s ask ourselves when we are done writing homework for a session, does my counselee need to get off the couch to do my homework? If the answer to that is “No”, then let’s take another pass at the homework!Photo by Paul Weaver on Unsplash
There are times when a counselor may believe that their counselee is relating to them in a manipulative way, because there is so much going on with each counseling situation that may be hard to determine. However, at times the counselor might conclude that their counselee seems to be trying to control the counseling relationship. Lou Priolo maintains in his booklet “Manipulation” that “manipulation is often an attempt to gain control of another individual or situation by inciting an emotional reaction rather than a biblical response from that individual.” Often that is accomplished through intimidation and involves selfishly attempting to coerce someone to or inhibiting someone from a course of action by making him sense some sort of threat.
The scripture most frequently uses one of two terms to describe manipulative situations. “Fraud/deceit” describe the ways manipulators often conceal important information from the person they are trying to control. Instead of just coming out and asking for what they want or need, a manipulator often moves inside of relationships in furtive ways to try to get the other person to give them what they want. Motivating others to do something without clearly stating what you need or want does not allow the other person to evaluate what they believe is wise or loving in that case with that need. Additionally, Scripture uses the term “oppressor” to indicate abuses of authority, power, or influence to trample, burden, or crush those lower in station than them.
I have found several reasons counselees may be willing to manipulate within counseling situations. Often a counselee is willing to manipulate because they are greedy, jealous/envious, or discontent about something within the counseling relationship. The counselee may want more of my attention or time. The counseling progression may not be going their way or focusing on what they want to be the problem. Other times I have found that laziness or self-love is the motivation behind manipulation.In any situation, manipulation is one of those issues that is hard to understand, because the manipulator’s motives and actions are not clear or transparent, and actions are not always overt. The manipulated person is often left feeling confused or guilty but not entirely sure why. That is one of the reasons that I encourage an advocate or co-counselor to be involved in counseling cases that involve habitual manipulation or are especially confusing or unclear. Having a second person making observations or helping to sort through data helps clarify. I have also found it helpful to be able to talk through cases involving manipulation with a supervisor or counseling team.
Generally, manipulation involves influencing or deceiving people to serve you or give you what you think you need, expecting others to sacrifice themselves for you, or forcing others to meet your needs or desires. Manipulative people use their mouths to plead or beg, misquote you to others, or lie. They play on emotions by crying/sulking/withdrawing, using guilt trips, or making empty promises. They bully or threaten by calling people names and attacking others with constant criticism.
Remembering that sin is the enemy in manipulative situations helps you know how to respond when your counselee is relating to you that way. Proverbs 12:15 and 10:23 help us understand that fools think their own way is right, and that doing wrong is fun. Scripture helps us understand that manipulation is a foolish way to function within relationships. Because of that, it’s important to refuse to answer a person who is being foolish with a foolish response. You’ll need to respond, but don’t respond in kind, or you will be just like him (Proverbs 26:4). Instead answer the foolish arguments as they deserve, so the manipulator does not think his unbiblical means of relating are wise (Proverbs 26:5). Because it is not wise or loving to allow a manipulative person to continue communicating manipulatively, we need to be willing to cautiously and lovingly speak into those difficult situations, not with accusations but with questions about their decisions and the motives behind them. It helps to remember that the ultimate goal in relationships is to honor and glorify God by loving and obeying him. With that motivation, when you are being manipulated it’s important to appeal to the conscience of the manipulative person and remind them to fulfill specific, personal, biblical, responsibilities, using the Bible as the standard of truth by which they will be judged (Manipulation, Priolo).
As with all other counseling issues, asking good questions and listening carefully will be important as you begin to sort through motives and actions. It will also be important to truly love the counselee who is manipulating by addressing sin when it comes up even if you are the person being sinned against and continuing to love and serve biblically even when the counselee is doing unloving things to you. When a counselee lies or misleads, you’ll need to lovingly draw attention to that. If they misquote you to others you should correct with the truth because truth matters but not simply to protect your reputation. If a counselee begs or pleads, you can teach them to make a request and allow you the time to evaluate whether meeting the request would be wise and loving. Learning to forsake selfishly motivated interpersonal habits will take time and effort, but the safety of the counseling relationship and setting allows counselees the opportunity to learn to address heart issues within relationships and participate in producing lasting biblical change for the glory of God.For a more in-depth conversation on this topic check out Lou Priolo’s booklet “Manipulation,” or Jocelyn’s teaching in this 2023 BCTC session or Joyful Journey Podcast Episode.Photo by SHVETS production: https://www.pexels.com/photo/crop-psychologist-supporting-patient-during-counseling-indoors-7176325/
Have you ever stopped to think about why you sin the way you do? Maybe that’s an odd question. But let me ask it this way: Why do some people get hooked on video games while others get hooked on working and making money? Or why is it that some people always love to give their opinion—even when not asked...like me—versus a person that is afraid to give his opinion even when someone else wants it? Or why do some people get stuck in yelling, domineering anger while others are stuck in people pleasing and never standing up for themselves?I think for the most part everyone understands that sin is selfish and proud, but I think it’s still an important question to consider why I sin the way I do while others sin in other ways that I haven’t done and have zero desire to do.Before we consider the question of why I struggle with my specific sin like being a worrier vs. being really depressed we need to answer generally: why do I sin?
There are a few answers to this question. All of them being quite important.A very important answer to this question is, I sin because I’m a sinner and have been born into sin (cf. Rom 5:17–19). But beyond just being born a sinner scripture makes it clear that as a sinner I love to sin. That might seem like a strange concept, but I think it’s a critical concept to helping people hate their sin and grow in righteousness. Here’s a couple of verses that support the truth that as sinners we love to sin:Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.”
John 3:19–20 says, “19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
A failure to help your counselees understand that they love their sin and that’s why they keep doing it will leave them frustrated and stuck wondering how they can change.
Once we’ve grasped that we sin because we love it, we are prepared to answer the question more specifically of why do I love the sin that I do (i.e. why do I sin the way that I do)?Let me give this illustration that most people can relate to because they’ve done it. Did you ever put your hand on the stove as a child? Many people have done that as a child even though they were warned by parents not to (myself included). But apparently something about the orange glow from the stove top was just far too welcoming that we couldn’t be reasoned with, we just had to touch it to see what we were missing. Almost instantly though, we learned that all we were missing was a significant amount of pain! As a result, the number of people that put their hand on the stove the next day, or the day after that on purpose is infinitesimally small compared to the number that put their hand on the stove at least once. The question is, why? Hopefully the answer is quite obvious. There was NOTHING beneficial that came from putting their hand on the stove!Unlike the stove, when it comes to sin and rebellion that we repeat and repeat and repeat, there is some sort of benefit that we are receiving. In other words, we are getting something we want which cultivates a deeper and deeper love for that sin which is why we continue doing it over and over. And as Romans 6:16 teaches, if you present yourselves as an obedient slave to sin you will enslaved by sin.Now, if you think back to the opening question why, do you sin the way you do? The stove illustration should begin to illuminate the answer. The answer is because the manifestations of sin that you chose and pursued are the ones that you believe benefited you the most. And conversely, the manifestations of sin that you chose not to do where not things that you saw as worthwhile or giving enough benefit to try.For example, there are many people who smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol but they did it only once and never again. Why? Because they didn’t like it! It tasted bad, made them sick, made them fearful of legal trouble or parental disappointment, etc. But for others, the bad taste (at first), the sickness (at first), and the potential legal trouble or disappointment from parents wasn’t enough to deter them from the benefit they were getting from smoking or drinking (benefits might be fitting in/peer pressure, desire to be in control and rebel against authority, escape and forget pain/problems, etc.). In that case they will smoke and drink again and as long as the benefit outweighs the cost, or the perceived benefit outweighs the cost they will keep going.
Addiction is a great test case for why cultivating hatred for sin is so important. Cultivating is a key word here, because the implication is that you must work diligently to produce a true hatred for sin. That doesn’t just happen naturally.That’s why addiction is a great test case. If we sin because we love it, then we will never truly kill and give up sin until we truly hate it. In the addiction world, this is what confuses people so much about why people keep going down the path of addiction when all that it brings (eventually) is relational pain, financial trouble, health issues, career woes, legal problems, and more. By the time people are considering giving up drugs or alcohol or sexual addictions, etc. the consequences of their addictions are usually quite severe. They can recognize that they are having problems because of the addiction and the problems that have come from the addiction they genuinely dislike. However, their dislike for the consequences is much different than a dislike and hatred of the addiction and sin itself.Addicts will often say things like, “I hate it,” and “I don’t want anything to do with it anymore,” but then curiously, they end up doing it again...and again...and again. Love for sin is what explains going back again and again. As long as they still love the sin and see there being benefit there, they will keep going back. It’s not until they are convinced that there is nothing good in it, that they will truly give it up for good. And that has to be cultivated! As long as they keep going back, they are not convinced that “the wages of sin is death” (cf. Rom. 6:23). They still believe that there is blessing, good and life to be found there.As counselors, if you’re going to help your counselees become more like Christ, you must help them learn to cultivate a genuine hatred of their sin not let them be fooled thinking their hatred of consequences is the same as hating sin itself.Romans 6:20–21 is great passage to have your counselees meditate on to really understand how to hate their sin.Romans 6:20–2120 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.Notice how in v.21 Paul asks what “fruit” they were getting. Counselees should spend time mediating and thinking about all the terrible things that came from their sin. They do not need to move past their sin too quickly. If they forget the consequences of their sin, they will be tempted to “remember” the benefit and good that they sought from the sin in the first place and go back.V.21 goes further and encourages them to remember what they are now “ashamed.” How unnatural is that!? We hate to think about things that we are ashamed of, and yet that’s exactly what Paul wants us to think about! Thinking about how much shame came from our sin is one of the ways that we reinforce that there truly is nothing worthwhile in sin, period!And then finally, v.21 tells us where that sin goes. We got horrible fruit from it, we are ashamed of it, and the ultimate end of our sin is death.The point: sin is a lose, lose, lose!Most counselees can give intellectual assent to that. But when the rubber meets the road often a love of sin is revealed that causes them to go back to the same sin again and again.If you want to help your counselees overcome sin and learn how to grow and change, then you need to make sure that your counselees have a robust understanding of sin and a robust understanding of how to cultivate a genuine hatred of sin, not just a hatred of consequences. Cultivating a hatred of sin is not the only element needed to help your counselees grow, but it is a crucial element that is often overlooked or treated superficially. So I’d encourage you to consider, how does your counseling help your counselee truly hate their sin the way that God does?
I learned about 2 Peter 1:3-4 in the first few days of counseling training – “his divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” It was a reminder that through Christ we can live a godly life. It only got better as we learned that every believer at salvation experienced the “true knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence.” Wow! Through his promises we become partakers of the divine nature and we escape from the corruption of the world.Biblical counseling planted a stake in the ground on the truths of these verses. Salvation brought the possibility of a godly life. A life free from the world’s corruption and built on God’s amazing promises. Freedom! Paul says the same basic thing using different words -- “we are dead to sin and alive to God” (Rom 6:11). This passage gives hope and encouragement to the counselee and courage to the counselor.In this brief article, I encourage you to keep going in the passage. Camp here for another few weeks. Show your counselee that while the Lord called you to freedom (Gal 5:13), it is not freedom itself that is most important. Freedom gives choice and opportunity. Peter charges us…
That sounds an awful lot like work. The Lord set us free and given us what we need for life and godliness, but it still requires effort to pursue it. Paul says in Rom 6:12-19 that we must present ourselves as slaves of righteousness. We have pursuits. Some pursue fitness, others learning, others entertainment, and still others a hobby. Peter says to apply all diligence.
Death is a part of life. Unless the Lord returns first, I will die. I have no delusions that people will remember me or that I will create a legacy. Instead, close friends and family will briefly mourn before the pressures of normal life force them to look ahead. I suppose someone will read something I have written, but most will not make a personal connection. The Bible encourages us to live a useful and fruitful life while we have the chance. I do not want to squander my opportunity and I suspect you do not either.We have a significant set of truths – because I am free, I can apply all diligence. When I apply all diligence to the correct things, then my life will be useful and fruitful.
Peter tells us that the key to a useful and fruitful life involves investing in seven areas. Here is a brief explanation of each of them:Moral Excellence: This is the willingness to think about and do those things that satisfy God’s moral code. Some things are legal, but not all things are morally excellent. It is not difficult to imagine implications across a wide range of subjects: from education to Christian liberty to relationships at church or inside a home to conflict resolution.Knowledge: wisdom rather than “facts” might be more appropriate here. We must know how to take knowledge and apply it to our lives. One might know that we should be honest, but applying honesty is not always easy – especially if honesty costs us something.Self-Control: willingness to live a principle directed life. Those who exercise self-control are not captives of their own feelings. They live according to truth. I am writing this in February. From Thanksgiving through early January there have been various food treats available – cookies, candies, pies, cakes, and candy. Far more than a few food choices, self-control often involves saying “no” when we want to say yes.Perseverance: holding true to our faith even when it is hard. Life is not always easy. Staying true to our faith is not always easy. However, perseverance is a key Christian quality. Our faith is not convenient; it is a conviction between right and wrong. We must keep at it, even when something hurts or is difficult.Godliness: At its core is the idea that we always live before the face of God (Coram deo). We are actively aware that God is with us all the time. God’s presence constrains our thoughts and behaviors. Every moment I live, I live in the presence of God.Brotherly Kindness: We treat believers as family. The Christian community in the Bible provides many illustrations of what this looks like. At times, it was sacrificial giving, defending one another, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, or being willing to repent, forgive, and reconcile.Love: First Corinthians 13 explains that love is patient, kind, not jealous; not arrogant, rude, or easily provoked, but rejoices with the truth and is capable of bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things.These pursuits are life-long. We can pursue them because Jesus set us free from the world’s corruption. He gave us his promises and works in us using his divine power. What more could we ask for. As these characteristics because our normal way of functioning, we will be useful and profitable.I hope this passage encourages you and that you share it with your counselees.Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
A gunshot victim is rushed to the hospital, having sustained a single direct hit to the chest. The EMT’s were able to stabilize the patient, but he’s in need of immediate medical attention. He’s received by an oncologist who quickly subjects the man to a battery of lab tests and scans to determine whether he has cancer. Finding what the doctor believes to be a spot on his lungs, the patient is immediately prepped for surgery to excise the cancer.He dies on the table from the gunshot wound.Given the same startling scenario, the gunshot victim is instead received by an ER doctor who rushes the man into surgery to address the chest wound. Fixated on the task-at-hand, the surgeon misses the presence of lung cancer and discharges the patient once he has recovered from surgery.He dies eight months later from the undetected cancer.As hyperbolic as these scenarios may seem, they paint an illustration of what can happen in the counseling room. Stemming from a desire to help men and women in their struggles, we can often overlook their immediate or extended need. One example may be a married couple who comes to you shortly after an instance of a husband’s adultery. What are the extremes to avoid?
As a biblical counselor, the heart is always the target. “What did you do,” necessarily leads to “why did you do it?” This takes quite a bit of labor; after all, “The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5, ESV). But the battery of questions and time-involved labor to draw out the heart may not be the most appropriate activity at first—especially if you’re dealing with a “gunshot victim.”For the fractured married couple, it’s necessary to concentrate your primary attention on the volatility at-hand. One member of the couple has just committed a dire sin against God and his spouse through his adultery (c.f., Hebrews 13:4)—the “why” can wait. The immediate need of the moment is for you to come alongside the offended party, offering up comfort and counsel as she would require. Additionally, he will need to be addressed according to his disposition. Both will need to know what the path towards restoration looks like, tailored specifically to their need.The “oncologist” counselor may not have the necessary focus on the couple’s immediate need. A quick way to lose them would be to sidestep the occasion and aftermath of adultery in order to address on all the underlying issues that may have led to a broken marriage. Like the cancerous gunshot victim, they may succumb to the injuries of the immediate crisis during your medley of examinations.
That’s not to say we ought to lose the forest for the trees. As counselors, we can get so fixated on the need of the moment that we neglect root causes or important matters that are unrelated to their presenting problems. Like the ER surgeon in our illustration, you can be looking for cancer while mending the gunshot wound. Or, to carry the illustration even further, if your counselees are coming in every week with a different bullet hole, it may be a good indicator that you haven’t been looking for the shooter…A good “surgeon” counselor will address the need of the married couple as it pertains to the instance of adultery. He’ll care for the wife in her grief, he’ll address the husband in his sin, and he’ll seek to bring the couple towards reconciliation and healing. But he may then graduate the couple, unaware of her intense bitterness and his enslavement to pornography that will lead them to divorce a short eight months down the road.
God created each of us differently. If you disciple or formally counsel long enough, you’ll see your area of “specialization” or giftedness. Some counselors are oncologists, able to ask all the right questions to get at root causes. Others are surgeons, gifted in patching up wounds and addressing the need of the moment. And while I recognize the simplicity and absurdity of the medical illustration—each of us are called to be multidisciplinary disciplers.Looking to Paul’s theology, he expected Timothy to utilize God’s Word to serve the full spectrum of those he would have the privilege to shepherd (2 Timothy 4:1-2). He commanded the Christians at Thessalonica to address one another according to the objective disposition of the hearer rather than the subjective gifting of the speaker (2 Thessalonians 5:14). Paul himself sought to be “all things” to all men that he might win some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).Each of us must joyfully practice the area of gifting given by the Lord—but always with a keen awareness of our weaknesses. When the “gunshot victim” is rushed into our office, we must be the surgeon that mends the wound and the oncologist that roots out the cancer, all the while serving under the Great Physician (Mark 2:17).Photo by Natanael Melchor on Unsplash
Recently Psychology Today published an article entitled: The Myth of Mental Health Diagnosis:Disagreement between clinicians is the norm, not the exception. Just let that title sink in for a moment. But not just the title, consider that article is being published. Psychology today styles itself as, “The world’s largest mental health and behavioral science destination online.” And claims to be, “the world’s largest portal to psychotherapy; it includes free access to hundreds of thousands of professionals.” From the title and the opening sentences, Biblical Counselors can take three important things to encourage us in our convictions.
That is not from the mouth of a counselor using the Bible, that is from a Psy.D. writing from Psychology Today. For anyone who considers themselves a Biblical Counselor, very little stock is placed in a diagnosis by the mental health community. Those affixing the labels that many counselees come in with may have coined terminology that is helpful for many in society to use, but when it comes to treatment, causes, and solutions, those are often completely lacking. Simply put, an article like this reassures us that much of the modern method of caring for the souls of people is built on sand.The author is William Hwang, Psy.D. He cites several studies in his article and opens with this question and then statement,“You would think it would be fairly obvious if someone is depressed, right? Wrong. Highly trained psychiatrists who independently evaluated an individual could only agree that the person had depression between 4 and 15 percent of the time.”Why this article is so revealing is because it boldly states that no stock can be put into a diagnosis. Why? Because the majority of the times the diagnosis you receive from one practitioner will be different if you visit another practitioner.Psychology is built on the ground that the DSM is objective, and will guide it’s users to produce a standard diagnosis that can be used for treatment. While Biblical Counselors could see that the entire discipline was built on such subjective changing interpretations of the world, they are coming to terms with it in their own research.
The entire premise of the DSM is built on standards. Those standards are meant to ensure conformity; they do not. What Dr. Hwang is arguing is that the diagnosis should not be seen as a rigid criterion like it would be if you want to an oncologist, but rather something else.“This does not mean that diagnoses are completely useless, but it does mean we should treat them less literally and understand that two clinicians may be looking at the same symptoms but seeing and naming them differently based on different contexts, which can include the clinician's own biases, differences in training, and what the client chooses to report.”Notice he acknowledges that two people, seeing “the same symptoms” will come to different conclusions. This also shows us how subjective the experience is for a person practicing any form of modern psychology. It is so subjective because it is based on the counselor’s own interpretation and a number of factors. Again, Hwang understands this, while at the same time attempting to not throw out the DSM.Notice what Dr. Hwang is admitting yet advocating for. He agrees that this is very subjective, but his remedy to this is not to take a diagnosis literally. He is essentially arguing that when a person comes in and has been labeled a particular way, everyone understanding that label should not take it literally.He would conclude,“All of this is to say that perhaps we should take mental health diagnoses with a grain of salt. You may get one diagnosis from one clinician and find that if you go to another one, you may get a different one—or a few extra ones. Some clinicians can tend to diagnose people more often with depression, while other clinicians can diagnose people with anxiety.”Just notice the breathtakingly honest assessment of the subjectivity of the diagnosis process. Psychology has attempted to style itself like a hard discipline like medicine. However, when you visit a medical doctor at a hospital because you believe that you have broken your ankle, an X-Ray is ordered and then a doctor interprets the X-Ray. Any doctor who is competent will come to the same conclusion.For Biblical Counselors who focus on the heart and not diagnosis of symptoms, we should be reassured in our convictions of the sufficiency of scripture and the methodology that we believe in that flows from our study of God’s word.
While Dr. Hwang should be commended for his brutal honesty, very little will likely change. Psychology and all the various disciplines attached to it need to have a diagnosis for two reasons: (1) they need to be able to bill and (2) they need a diagnosis for a treatment plan. While there may be massive problems with the field, no one is advocating for the abolishment of the DSM. Rather, instead Dr. Hwang argues that diagnoses should be seen through a post-modern worldview. “Let's realize that our perceptions are subjective and that there can be multiple truths.” While we all have a level of subjectivity in our lives, to argue that the only solution here is to assume that everyone is right, will only lead to further chaos and harm done for those under the care of a psychologist.Let us as Biblical Counselors redouble our efforts to think clearly about how people are being cared for in this world. When a counselee shows up with a diagnosis, remember that even in the lips of their own, that diagnosis holds very little weight. Let us be a people that seeks to get it right, knowing that there is an objective standard of truth: God’s word. And by using that standard, we can provide the best care to the person sitting across the table from us.Photo by Nik Shuliahin 💛💙 on Unsplash
If you’ve been counseling others for a long time, then certainly you’ve experienced this at least once: after giving counselees counsel, advice, or pointing them to the truth of Scripture and how that should help them think, act, speak, and feel differently they say, “I know.”If you haven’t seen it in counseling, then certainly you’ve seen it if you’re a parent. It might be in reminding your child of where their shoes go for the 10,000th time or to put dirty laundry in the hamper or that they need to tuck their sheets in when they make their bed to which they say, “I know.” As a biblical counselor, it should be concerning to us how many people “KNOW” so much and yet they do not operate on what they “KNOW”. The title of the blog and also the quotation marks around KNOW are certainly tipping my hand. But think about one of the most important passages to the foundation of biblical counseling. It’s the passage that people reference all the time to say that Scripture is sufficient for all of life and godliness. It’s 2 Peter 1:3–43 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
The verse specifically says that Jesus’ power has given us everything that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him...that knowledge being the knowledge of Jesus Christ. And then v.4 makes the connection that by the knowledge (the antecedent for ‘which’ is ‘knowledge of him’) of Jesus he has granted to us his precious and very great promises. There is much more we could say about these verses, but the point is that KNOWLEDGE and KNOWING is crucial for life and godliness. Without knowledge we cannot have what we need for godliness. And the end of v.5 makes it clear that this KNOWLEDGE of Jesus is how we escape from the corruption that is in the world.If KNOWLEDGE of Jesus is so important for godliness and living differently, then it should be quite concerning that someone could “KNOW” and yet not seemingly have everything that pertains to life and godliness. What I am suggesting, and what I believe Scripture teaches, is that there is a “knowing” and a KNOWING. There is a deep KNOWING that is so ingrained in my heart that I operate on that truth. And then there is a “knowing” in the sense of I’ve heard that before and can give intellectual ascent to what you are saying.For example, recently I had the opportunity to hang outside lights up for a new building at our men’s residential addiction ministry (Restoration). A couple of the lights were very high up—25-35’ high. Much higher than a ladder was going to get me, so I borrowed a friend’s bucket truck. There is the “knowing” that the bucket truck can lift me and hold me and return to me to the ground safely. And then there is the KNOWING, that will actually lead me to get in the bucket and without fear do the job.Or another example from being on a scissor lift hanging lights inside the building. I had multiple people over the course of weeks on a scissor lift with me. And a handful of people were noticeably uncomfortable that high in the air and two separate people said, “I really don’t want tip over in this.” My comfortability on the scissor came for KNOWING that they can support the weight and that even though they wiggle and sway 19 foot up in the air, they are not going to tip. Their “knowing” led them to be quite uncomfortable.
Here's the point: As biblical counselors, we need to help our counselees KNOW the truth such that the godliness of 2 Peter 1:3 and the escaping corruption of v.4 are happening in their lives. In order to do this, we need to help our counselees discern the difference between what they “know” and what they KNOW.Years ago, a veteran counselor at our church in frustration told me, “I don’t ever want to counsel another pastor ever again.” And his reason for his frustration was because “they know everything.” Over the years a number of pastors had come to receive counseling—usually, because of some failure where their church had sent them to get counseling. Well, the counselor “couldn’t” teach them anything because, “they knew.” When I hear people telling me “I know” a lot in counseling the following verse from Proverbs comes to mind quickly.Proverbs 26:12 Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.Yikes...there isn’t much hope for a fool. So how much hope is there for the person that “knows?”
About a year ago, a man shared with me a phrase that his dad told him growing up. And it’s a phrase that I use fairly frequently now. The phrase is, “To know and not to do is not to know.” You may need to read that phrase a few times. Chew on it. Make sure you understand what it says. It’s a simple but profound statement that if you really grasp that can really start to help you make significant changes in your life, and also in your counselee’s life.This applies to so many things but here’s just one example. A counselee struggling with anxiety, might retort to you pointing him to God’s sovereignty and him working everything together for your good (cf. Rom. 8:28-29) with an “I KNOW.” But if he truly KNEW that God was sovereign and good, then how could he worry? You need to help your counselee understand what he KNOWS—or perhaps better stated, what he thinks he knows—that is leading him to worry. At the functional level of his heart, it’s not God’s sovereignty and goodness that is driving his thinking, acting and feeling. Until he understands that, and gets to the bottom of that, he’ll live in the “I KNOW” world, which will leave him unchanged. He’ll be living in Proverbs 26:12.I hope that the truth of KNOWING helps you in real genuine repentance and change in your own life, and that it will overflow into you genuinely helping counselees make real changes in their life as well. All for his glory!Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
First generation leaders in the biblical counseling movement often spoke about the synergistic relationship between preaching/teaching and counseling. They suggested that a person who regularly preaches or teaches God’s Word will be better prepared to counsel with sound theology and a person who regularly counsels will be better prepared to preach or teach God’s Word with practical applications for everyday life.Yesterday that principle came alive for me in ways that made me thank the Lord yet again for the wisdom of the women and men whom He used to launch the BC movement. It was a Monday morning, and I had a couple of hours to work on the following Sunday’s Christmas sermon from Matthew 1:23 about Jesus being our Immanuel. I began chasing that theme around the Scripture and soon, as is often the case, had enough material for a mini-series and I wasn’t even done with the introduction yet.
I thought about how the role of God’s presence played out both positively and negatively in the Garden of Eden. Then came statements about people like Enoch and Noah whom God’s Word reports actually “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24, 6:9). Soon I was in the book of Exodus and being reminded about the design of the ark of the covenant where the Lord would meet His people from the seat of mercy (Exodus 25:21-22). That led to imagining what it would be like for God to lead the children of Israel in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).There were negative examples too, like the haunting day after the ark had been captured by the Philistines that a young mother chose to name her newborn son Ichabod, “because the glory of God has departed” (1 Samuel 4:21). Or God’s warning to King Solomon that if he and the people forsook the covenant, that He would cast them out of His sight (2 Chronicles 7:19-20).That context makes Matthew’s explanation of how Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled in the virgin conception of Jesus especially impactful. The Messiah would be “God with us.” As the new covenant continues to unfold, we learn that because of the power of the gospel, Christ now is in us (Colossians 1:27) and that relationship is sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30). It is on that basis that we can find joy and contentment regardless of our circumstances because God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6).
As I finished the study session and prepared to transition to my counseling responsibilities that evening, I started anticipating the privilege of delivering such a hope-filled message to our church family in six days. However, in the providence of God He wanted the sermon delivered sooner than that, just to me. As I listened to my counselees recount a period of extreme suffering they and their children had endured, I quickly felt inadequate for the task at hand. I sincerely wanted to be a blessing to these dear people, but struggled to know the best way to proceed.Thankfully it was a very short walk from my human weaknesses to the Christmas reminder that God was with me. Jesus’ shed blood and imputed righteousness made it possible for me to have hope and confidence in the One who had promised to never leave me or forsake me. The most important Person in the counseling room was the One who was unseen, my Immanuel.
If you are currently engaged in biblical counseling but are not actively involved in preaching and teaching God’s Word, I would encourage you to look for opportunities to do so. On the other hand, if the Lord has called you to regularly minister God’s Word publicly, consider finding ways to counsel small groups (Acts 20:20) or individuals (Acts 20:31) from that same source of truth. It is likely that you will find both disciplines to be wonderfully synergistic.And in whatever ministry setting you find yourself at the time, be encouraged because Jesus is our Immanuel. I was reminded of that just last evening in counseling. I can hardly wait to herald that truth to a larger group six days from now.Photo by Sam Schooler on Unsplash
Recently I was teaching at a Biblical Counseling Training Conference on the basics of marriage, and I shared a Homework assignment that I really like to give married couples and those going through pre-marriage counseling.It has something fun and challenging. It revolves around a Bible verse, promotes working together in a one-flesh way, and includes prayer both in thanksgiving and humble dependence asking for God’s help. It also helps provide structure for starting counseling and progressing in a focused way by identifying concrete areas that can be addressed. It can also lead to more homework assignments that can produce fruit of lasting change.Here is the passage:Colossians 1:17–18 –17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.This passage is all about Christ, how He is the one who is above all, and how He is the one who holds all things together. So many couples need strengthening in their marriage and need to grow closer to each other in trust, communication, and intimacy. The only way for marriages to have strength for a lifetime and to endure significant trials is with Christ at the center. When you put Christ above your spouse, you put yourself in the best position to love your spouse well and with endurance and with the love of Christ that is controlling you and amplifying your love for others because of Christ’s great love for you.The first part of the Homework is fun and a bit silly. It may need some buy in and you might need to practice. I call it memory tennis.
This is where a couple memorizes God’s word together from the same translation of the Bible and they take turns saying each word of the Bible verse. So, one person says “Colossians”, the other says “1”, and the other says “17-18”, and they continue going back and forth saying, “He” – “is” – “before” – “all” – “things” and so on and so forth.The idea is it will be awkward, cumbersome, and maybe even a little silly right away. It is good to get outside of your comfort zone, not think about yourself, but it also paints a picture that it takes some time and practice to weave two lives together, to be one flesh practically. And you have to think about the whole passage and consider your part and what is to come next so you get into a flow, where you are anticipating and listening to the other person and then responding with your part. There is some interesting imagery when two people take the time to learn to go back and forth in a controlled and flexible way with the word of God being what they are both focused on. Just like communication, intimacy, and problem solving, the idea is they will get better and better at this little exercise if they don’t give up. They will learn to be patient with each other and focus on helping each other in a way where the person and work of Christ is exalted. Not just in a verse being recited well, but by two lives functioning as one with the common goal of putting Christ above everything, even each other and especially oneself.Now, you could simply have each couple memorize and mediate on the passage, but there is something fun and also relational in going back and forth together.Now, that is just the beginning. So much of the Christian life starts with knowing what God says, remembering what God says, and then actually remembering what God says when it matters. Not just remembering it, but actually applying it in a real-life situation…and then seeking to do that again and again with endurance and with joy in the process of worshipping Christ.So, the next step is to talk about real life. Real areas of your life. The next part of the Homework is to work together to create a list. That list is to be entitled, “How is Christ first in your marriage?”
You can assign all of this in one homework assignment, but there is also value of breaking it into separate pieces. This could be the second homework assignment after they memorize the verse together.They are to focus on some positive ways they are applying that verse in their lives. Creating a list of ways they are putting Christ first is something to celebrate and be thankful for. Perhaps they are faithfully attending Church, tithing, reading the Bible together as a family before bed, caring for some needs of family members, or just being a blessing to neighbors. Those are all things to be thankful for and celebrate. They should each add things to one list and talk about areas they are pleasing the Lord, how thankful they are for God working in and through them, and how they are helping each other put Christ first.
Then they should pray and thank God for each of the things on that list and confess that it is only by His grace working in and through them that they are able to honor Him in these areas. They should ask God to help them excel all the more and not neglect these areas. I think it is important each should pray, which is also promoting togetherness, going back and forth praying, thanking God for each area, and humbly asking Him to continue to bless their efforts in these areas.This is an encouraging way to start, but we also need to talk about difficult things and areas that they need to grow and change. So, the next homework would be to make a list entitled, “How is Christ not first in your marriage?”
We want to celebrate the good, but that is not how we are going to spend the majority of our time in counseling. We have things we need to work on and address. We will be constantly motivated by the goodness of God shown in the person and work of Jesus Christ, but there are areas in our lives and marriages where He is not first, He is not worshipped or honored. In order to repent and change we need to identify those areas; take responsibility for the ways we have fallen short and take ownership of the growth and change process.So perhaps they do not serve in church on a regular basis. Maybe they are really busy with too many extracurricular activities and they don’t have time to really talk with their kids about their relationship with the Lord. Perhaps when there is conflict, they do not resolve it in a Christ-centered way that is humble and marked with repentance and forgiveness. There could be times they complain and gossip about family or co-workers. Perhaps some entertainment choices that do not honor the Lord, or maybe there are just some everyday things around the house that they have not put God first by working together and being a good steward. The next step is prayer together.
It is good for the couple to again pray for each item and specifically admit they have not honored God in these areas. In each area, thank the Lord for His grace and mercy shown in Christ. Ask for help with growth and change through the study of the word, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and the community of the body. Ask for God’s grace and mercy to put Christ first in these areas.The next step would be to prioritize this list.
You can prioritize the list in various ways. You could arrange it in terms of what is the easiest thing you can address to put Christ first. Maybe it is read the Bible as a family and pray before bed, or plan to get to Church 10 minutes early instead of 10 minutes late. Or look to meet someone new every Sunday and talk at lunch about the new folks you welcomed and thank God for the opportunity to grow in building others up in the body of Christ. All of these are pretty low hanging fruit and they can lead to addressing harder things.You could also arrange the list in terms of what areas are hindering your relationship with God and each other the most and address that area first. Perhaps you do not have a budget and your spending is out of control, and you eat out all the time and you argue about finances a lot. That may be the first thing that needs to be addressed as it is coming up in conflict on a regular basis. If there are a lot of items to address you might want to take the easiest first approach to make progress. If there are fewer items, and there is an item that is an issue every day or at least regularly through the week, it may be best to address that as you really will not be able to set that aside for very long before it needs to be addressed.
After you prioritize the list, you can then create a list of steps they can take for the first area to focus on. For example, if it is put God first in the way we handle our money. Step one could be to list out your monthly bills, income, and current assets and begin to construct a budget. Step two could be to start reading a chapter a week of a Christ-centered financial stewardship resource. Step 3 could be to report each week on ways you honored God in spending money and examples when you did not honor God with money decisions. Once you grew in that area with tangible examples you move on to the next.
This will take work, effort, and discipline, but Christ is worth it. He deserves to have first place in everything. So, we must be honest about all the areas in our lives and marriages that are not centered around Him and then we must work together to put Him first. The reality is, that approach is what is going to hold our marriages together. Not just for survival, but in a way that is marked with strength and joy, all to the praise of the name that is above every other name. Jesus the Christ, the one who is holding all things together, the one who is worthy of all praise.Colossians 1:17–18 –17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Have you ever gotten advice from someone who had virtually no experience in the area they were criticizing? Like bowling pointers from the guy who’s never bowled a frame (and is confused by the concept of “renting shoes”), or parenting insight from the gal in middle school?How about marriage wisdom from the single guy? Yet that’s precisely what we get with the Apostle Paul in several of his epistles. Whether or not Paul was married at some point in his life is an area of contention, but his marital status when penning his letters was “single.” That didn’t preclude him from speaking authoritatively on the topic of marriage, however…In a previous post, I wrote about the woes that would result If Samson Was Your Marriage Counselor. Far from an aimless wandering that characterizes a marriage motivated by conflicting desires, Paul presents us with a clear calling that serves to glorify Christ and lead couples effectively.
The most prominent of these treatments is found in Ephesians 5, where Paul takes a moment to speak directly to wives and husbands. The context of these charges is highly significant: he had spent the first three chapters of the letter explaining the Christian’s identity in Christ and how we are to relate to one another as a result. Without a primary understanding of a Christian’s calling, the marriage-specific charges make little sense—in fact, they’re incoherent. Quite often, this misunderstanding is why marriages look as though they’re following the guidance of Samson rather than Paul…Chapter 2 contains the most direct handling of the Christian’s identity:But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus – Ephesians 2:4-6But shortly after this, we’re given the earthbound purpose as to why this was accomplished:For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10There it is: those in Christ were unquestionably saved by His works alone, but for the goal of living a life worthy of this calling (Ephesians 4:1). Set aside marriage for a minute: is the average Christian aware of this calling? A gift as dynamic as eternal salvation devoid of intentionality is a dangerous matter. Aimlessness in the Christian walk can lead to licentiousness (Romans 6:1) and legalism (Galatians 5:4), alike.
How about marriage? Paul eventually gets to the calling of married couples in his letter to the Ephesians. Building off of the foundation of the first four chapters, Paul frontloads his marital directive with a word to the wife:Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. – Ephesians 5:22-24In a similar fashion, he exhorts the husband:Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word... – Ephesians 5:25-26Let’s look at both of these directives from two angles: imperatives and examples…
Imperatives get a bad rap. Some believe they place an inordinate emphasis on the grace-recipient rather than the grace-giver. While I don’t have the space to argue against Keswick theology or any other antinomian adherents, I’ll simply say this: when the Lord Jesus commands that we do something via His Word, those of us who claim to be subject to Him will readily obey.So, looking strictly at the imperatives, or what he is compelling a married couple to do, Paul looks to the wife and calls her to “be subject to” her husband (a nominative verb borrowed from verse 21, if you cared to know). He then looks at the husband and calls him to “love” his wife.Let’s put all of this into the context of marital counseling. Paul, unlike Samson, is fixated on calling over conflicting desires. The implication is simple: as the counselor, he’s not gauging the marriage off of how either of them feel—he’s looking at whether or not they are fulfilling their calling.Far from oppressive, admonishing a couple to fulfill their marital calling is the most loving action a counselor can take as he seeks to point them towards loving Christ with their marriage.
Even with clear imperatives, it can be difficult to know how to live it out in time and space without an example to follow. Paul paints the picture using the most dynamic example possible: Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32).Wives: what does it look like to “be subject to” your own husband? Look no further than how Christ’s bride, the blood-bought church, relates to Jesus. The implications of this are both vast as well as applicable.Husbands: what does it look like to “love” your wife? Look no further than the ultimate display of love, as Christ bleeds and slowly asphyxiates on the cross for the sins of His bride. The gospel-saturated implications for the husband are myriad.
Let’s be real: on its face, which counselor are you gonna go to? The married-ish one who tells you to follow your heart (Samson), or the single guy who says to the wife “submit!” and to the husband, “die!” (Paul)?That’s what makes the examples so stark. Read Judges 13-16 for an example of where “following your heart” leads. Blind, enslaved, and tortuously mocked, Samson dies a miserable death surrounded by his enemies. Full-stop.Then read Revelation 21. While submission and death were/are necessary, the end is beautiful for Christ and His bride:I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…” – Revelation 21:3-4So, take it from Paul, the single guy: a marriage led by calling over desires will not only result in the fulfillment of the marital imperatives, but will end up fulfilling to all who carry it out for Christ’s glory!Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
God places heavy emphasis on our thinking, commanding us to “Love the Lord your God…with all your mind” (Luke 10:27) and to ponder only what is commendable (Phil 4:8). So, it’s especially distressing when wicked intrusive thoughts just pop into your head. What can you do when thoughts intrude?
Often when a counselee brings up intrusive thoughts, they feel full of shame. They are embarrassed to say out loud what was hidden internally, because the thoughts had such wicked content like violating others, hurting a child or animal, or causing destruction. Wicked intrusive thoughts are sometimes startling because they seem so random and unexpected. Actually, we have lots of intrusive thoughts all day long. Most are just benign thoughts that pull our attention away from one thing to another. Only the ones that we evaluate as a certain level of wicked really startle us, and in many cases cause us to have an initial knee-jerk reaction of shame. We are not automatically sinning just because a wicked thought comes into our mind.
However, just because intrusive thoughts are not automatically sinful doesn’t mean we should ignore them. We can’t stop a thought from popping into our head, but we can certainly influence what we allow our next thoughts to be. One initial intrusive thought can lead to a cascade of subsequent thinking that dishonors God and is rooted in self-love or a fascination with wickedness. Without putting effort into evaluating thinking and responding to thoughts biblically, it is possible to allow ungodly intrusive thoughts to develop into unhelpful, damaging habits of vain imagination that consume your life.
Wicked intrusive thoughts should get our attention, but they shouldn’t automatically force us to make assumptions about ourselves. One counselee was particularly reluctant to acknowledge her intrusive thoughts because she was so ashamed that it impeded counseling progress for months. I reminded her that God was aware of every thought she was wrestling with, but her reluctance to admit them was inhibiting her from asking him for the help she needed so much. She acknowledged that she was overwhelmed with how wicked those thoughts made her. We were able to make significant counseling progress once she was able to see that those intrusive thoughts didn’t “make” her super sinful. She already was super sinful, and no one, least of all God, was surprised by that. In fact, she was utterly depraved, and she was actually capable of much worse than she was even imagining. That, in part, is what made God’s love for her so comforting. God already knew the worst thoughts she had entertained, and he loved her anyways…enough to send his son Jesus to cure her of her hopeless sinfulness and create in her new life and a capacity to be trained by his righteousness. Now she needed to learn how to respond to those intrusive thoughts righteously.
2 Corinthians 10:5 teaches us to hold each of our personal conclusions up against all that we know about God and how he wants his world to work. Thoughts that are consistent with Scripture can be entertained, but any lofty opinion that is opposed to the knowledge of God must be destroyed so that we can take every thought captive to obey Christ.Each thought needs to be evaluated and responded to, and any that don’t line up with the way God teaches us to think (Col 3:2, Rom 8:5-6) or are inconsistent with the things God teaches us are right and good (Phil 4:8) must be disciplined from our minds and replaced with righteous thoughts. That will likely take quite a bit of work and might require a plan for training. I have found a lot of help for my counselees from the sermon series Right Thinking, the book In the Arena of the Mind, and the training session Controlling Your Thoughts.
It’s also a good idea for counselees to investigate influences they’re exposing themselves to from tv/movies, books, magazines, social media, and music to make sure that ungodly intrusive thoughts are not being generated from a mental diet of “junk food.” Many people have never learned to examine their thinking or to track where their thoughts may have come from. It’s a helpful exercise to evaluate those influences to see if any of their messages match the content of the unwanted intrusive unrighteous thoughts.2 Corinthians 10:3-4 reminds us that we don’t wage war simply according to the flesh, but we are waging war against strongholds that can hold us captive. We don’t exactly know all the ways that Satan influences our thinking, but we know that he does (Eph 6:16). Thankfully, Eph 6:14-16 and James 4:6-8 tells us that God gives us all the grace we need to fight against thoughts that reflect Satan’s values and learn to submit to God’s pure standards resulting in us having less double-mindedness.Photo by Rebe Pascual on Unsplash
Perhaps this is an obvious statement, but biblical counseling should be purposeful. Again, maybe that’s obvious, but in my experience of helping other counselors and even as I’ve sought to grow in my own counseling skills, purposeful counseling has been one the most challenging and important skills to grow in.In order to help you understand more fully what I mean by biblical counseling is purposeful, let me begin with a few things that biblical counseling is not.
When I say that Biblical counseling is not a Bible study, I am certainly not implying that the Bible or even studying the Bible is an unimportant part of biblical counseling. However, typically a Bible study has far too broad of a purpose.Take for instance, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). When men or women participate in Bible Study Fellowship, the goal of studying the Bible together is to grow in their understanding of Scripture and then through that understanding to grow and become more like Christ. But Bible Study Fellowship doesn’t tailor their Bible studies to specific issues and problems based on who is attending the study. Rather, the Bible Study and topic is already prepared and regardless of what kind of week you’ve had, or what kind of participants are going to be at the study that week, the topics and discussions have already been determined.That kind of Bible Study isn’t biblical counseling in the narrow definition of biblical counseling, where a counselor is meeting with a counselee for 1–2 hours every week and helping a counselee walk through a specifically difficult season of life by helping them specifically understand and apply God’s Word to their situation.
Preaching is wonderful, and extremely important. But Biblical Counseling isn’t a sermon to a congregation of one. I think we’ve all probably done this before if we’ve counseled for any length of time. Some sessions when we look back on them were exactly this—I had some things to say and so I said them and then assigned homework.Biblical counseling is not a one way street of the counselor communicating truth while the counselee just listens.A small caveat, this doesn’t mean that there are not ever extended periods of teaching in biblical counseling, but if this is your M.O. (modus operando) week after week then I want to lovingly tell you that you’re not doing biblical counseling.
If you are counseling people, then listening is of enormous importance. That cannot be overstated enough. However, there are counselees that will fill the entire counseling hour with speaking if you let them. But in order to provide counseling, and especially biblical counsel there must be purposeful counsel from Scripture given. That can be given by directing the conversation through good questions, leading them to the truth of the Scripture, or it can also come through directly pointing to the truth of Scripture and how that applies to their situation.
Have you ever had a counselee where you’ve met week after week and then had the thought, “Why are you coming?” Not necessarily because they don’t listen or don’t do their homework, but because it seems like they show up every week and look at you to drive the conversation, topics, and what’s most important every week.For example, I had a guy who had been counseled for 8 months at Restoration Men’s Residential Addiction Ministry, and sadly not really any growth had been accomplished. But he asked if I or someone else could continue to counsel with him. My question to him was, “Why do you want counsel? We’ve been counseling for the past 8 months and it hasn’t seemed to help at all.” He responded saying, “Well I’ve been counseling with someone since I was 16 years old.” He was 27 years old when he said that. Counseling, just to counsel isn’t a good reason. Doing biblical counseling because you’ve been in biblical counseling over the past 11 years isn’t a good reason. Counselees shouldn’t be coming just to fill up an hour of their week and check a box, and counselors shouldn’t be doing that either. An open counseling slot isn’t always poor stewardship of time. Sometimes spending another week in a purposeless counseling session is a poor stewardship.If those 4 things do not merit the definition of biblical counseling, then what does? In this post, the main point I’m driving at is that biblical counseling is specifically focused and purposeful as opposed to generally purposeful or worse, purposeless.
1. Where is my counselee currently?2. Where does my counselee need to be?3. What is most important for helping my counselee take the next step forward?These questions always need to be in your head. At the start of counseling, you’ll be doing a lot of data gathering and trying to understand their story so that you can have a robust answer to question #1. If you don’t data gather you will be doing one or a combination of the 4 things biblical counseling isn’t above.Once you have a good picture of where they are currently, then you can answer question number #2. If you don’t answer question number 2, then again, you’ll be doing one or a combination of the 4 things that biblical counseling isn’t above. There are very important general answers to question 2 like, “become more like Christ.” That’s an important answer, but when we are doing biblical counseling with a specific person that when need to be specific in how they need to be more like Christ.After you have answers to question #1 and #2, then you need to make a decision on what to prioritize. Question #3 is an issue of wisdom and discernment. What issue is most important to be dealt with, so that they can take a step forward.Full disclaimer, sometimes question 3 is really, really hard to answer. This is where as a Biblical counselor you get really happy about the role of the Holy Spirit and a Sovereign God. The Holy Spirit and God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean we get to be lazy. But it does mean that we get to rejoice that if—or better yet, when—we prioritize incorrectly, God is still able to use our failure to his glory and even to our counselee’s good. Praise the Lord that God never ever messes up (cf. Rom. 11:33–25).Sometimes, because question 3 is hard to answer, I see biblical counselors give up on trying to answer it and they just go onto a topic that isn’t the most important but is a comfortable/familiar one for them. They may go to their go to passages in Scripture because they are easy to teach and counsel through, or they may assign books and pamphlets because that’s the material you know really well. I’ve been there before. I think we all have.Sometimes, it takes a few weeks to really figure out what the answer to question #3 is. Don’t worry about not having an answer to question #3. Sometimes we need to get comfortable with waiting just the way our counselees do. To wait on the Lord isn’t laziness or inactivity. But as counselors we need to make sure that we are listening, and asking questions and praying seeking to discern what the answer to question #3 really is. And to answer that question well, we need to have a specific answer for each counselee.
Counselors, can I encourage you to pray that God would help you be purposeful in every single counseling session? Don’t just fill an hour of time. Don’t just lead a general bible study. Don’t just listen and not provide clear direction. Don’t just be a teacher or preacher. Our God is the Good Shepherd who knows us by name and calls us specifically by our name (cf. John 10:3). I hope we as counselors specifically address our counselees rather than just generally approaching them like they are all the same.Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash