With this lecture we begin to talk about Biblical Counseling proper. Everything that has gone before has been framework on which we begin. We’ve talked about what we are doing as opposed to non-Christian psychology. We’ve talked about what we are doing with respect to the use of the Bible in counseling. We have talked about who should be doing counseling and what that is in the context of the church at large. And we have talked about some theological bases on which we base Biblical Counseling. This lecture will be about how to create a loving atmosphere in which to help others come to a more mature relationship with Christ than they have right now.
Another Quick Caveat
Most Biblical Counselors make a distinction between counseling Christians and non-Christians. I do not. It is true that a non-Christian cannot be obedient, or walk with God and in a sense cannot become more mature than they are right now. However, a non-Christian can and should be confronted with his inability to do what God requires and this is a perfect place to face that reality. When the counselor assigns homework the Christian will be able to do the homework and should get great reward out of doing it. But the non-Christian can read the assignment, but cannot be obedient to the Word of God. This should frustrate him to no end. And if the counselor is doing his job, he can point out that if the person wants his problematic life to get better, he has to give his life over the Jesus Christ in repentance and submission. In this way, the counselor is really doing evangelism, not counseling. He is giving the counselee good news, not good advice. It is not until the counselee comes to the end of his rope that the Good News turns into good advice.
In Reforming MarriageDoug Wilson mentioned that what you want in your home is a wonderful aroma. You want to have love be in the air, the context of all you do as a Christian; with trust, faithfulness, hope and deep joy following close behind. This is also what you want the air to be made out of in the counseling process. You want to be walking with God yourself, and to invite others to share in that walk with you. You do that largely by the tone, attitude, and feeling that you bring to the table. Sometimes you can create this atmosphere in a synthetic way by the setting or surroundings of the place you meet people, but what you really want is for people to catch your attitude toward them as you meet with them for the first time and then in all subsequent visits.
You Need to Love the Counselee
From the beginning, the people you counsel need to know two things: first, they need to know that God loves them and wants something better for them. Second, they need to know that you love them and agree with God about wanting something better for them. You can do this by telling them, and you can do this by loving them yourself. Much of this comes from you in the way that you interact with people. You need to care more for them than you do for yourself. You do this by starting with the way you think about the person sitting in front of you. You need to remember that but for the Grace of God, I might be sitting in his/her chair. You need to keep in mind that things wouldn’t be all that different for you had you been through the same things as the person you are trying to help.
Another way for you to love people is to think about them the way God thinks about them. God loves them, but he also acknowledges their sin. He will not let their sin slide, but he is always holding out his hand in a gracious way to bring them to himself and into a joyous relationship with Christ and with his people. God is for people, not against them. He sent Jesus to die for sinners.
Begin to Love by Listening
One way you can express God’s love for the counseling will come about in the way you listen to their story. You need to be a very intentional and attentive listener. Listen to their story; don’t interject yours, except in such a way as to encourage the person to continue to share. You should take notes on what they say. If you are afraid that the counselee will think you are being distracted, let them know that you are taking notes because you don’t want to miss anything.
People tell stories when they tell about their lives. Listen to the stories. When you take notes, take them in terms of stories. Notice the characters in the stories. Pay attention to the specific events and actions that make up the stories. Notice the emotion in the stories and the emotions the stories elicit in the telling. List the motives, goals, desires, gods, idols, and actions that the counselee contributed to the story. See if you can tell, through the telling of the story, what the counselee wanted out of what they did, thought, felt in the story. Notice if they received what they were after. Pay attention to any God talk and to its accuracy. Do they understand the Gospel and does it show at all in the story? What do they understand about God and how God works in their world and in the world around them? Ask a lot of questions beginning with the word ‘what.’
Listen with a Godly Agenda
You need to always remember that we are not Rogerians. We do not believe that just “talking it out” will solve a person’s problems, or change anything. Only bringing a person to the throne of God, in confession of sin and repentance of heart, will change a person. Only God changes people. With that in mind, our conversations with people will always have a trajectory. We will always have a redemptive motive in our discussions. We have an agenda, which is often very different than our counselee’s agenda. God has a higher goal for us than we have. We want happiness, God wants holiness. With this in mind, our counseling will always have as its goal to bring people to Christ in order to help them to become more mature in Christ.
Love by Identifying
When talking with a person who is going through trials and trouble, don’t stop listening to the story by only listening to the facts of the story. Pay attention to what is going on in the heart of the counselee as they are telling the story. It may be that you have never been beat up by your father, but you probably have experienced the terror of being confronted by someone or something much larger than you. You might not be able to share that event, but you can share the feeling. You can identify with the counselee’s struggle.
Without condoning sin, be very careful to be encouraging to a person in the midst of suffering. A person might have committed terrible sin, but may also be suffering under a load of guilt, pain, real physical pain, and heart ache of various kinds. We need to acknowledge the suffering and lead the person to God as the source of ultimate relief. The sin needs to be acknowledged too, and dealt with, but don’t forget that suffering is going on. Sometimes, in fact usually, the sin can be reached through the suffering. In the alleviation of suffering we can bring God into the picture by helping the counselee see that God knows what suffering is about. Then we can bring up the fact that much suffering is a result of our rebellion against God—sin. Sometimes dealing with sin, is all that is needed to deal with suffering.
Suffering and God
- The Bible clearly declares that God is sovereign over all things—even suffering. Many of us mistakenly think that God has nothing to do with the bad things that happen in our world. Yet Scripture takes us in a completely different direction. It roots our hope in the reality that God is not the author of sin, but he is the source of our other suffering. And he is with us in our suffering (Gen. 50:50; Ex. 4:11; 1 Sam. 2:2-7; Dan. 4:34-35; Prov. 16:9; Ps. 60:3; Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:28; Amos 3:6; Acts 4:27-28; Eph. 1:11).
- The Bible clearly says that God is good. It is faulty thinking to say that a truly good God would never allow a person to suffer, or that if God really loved you, he wouldn’t let X happen to you. The Bible declares that an infinitely good God is in the middle, of our painful experiences
(Ps 25:7-8; 34:8-10; 33:5; 100:5; 136; 145:4-9).
- The Bible clearly says that God has a purpose for our suffering. The Bible doesn’t present suffering as a hindrance to our redemption, but as a tool God uses to work his redemptive purpose in us. (Rom, 8:17; 2 Cor, 1:3-6; Phil 2:5-9; James 1:2-8; 5:10-11; 1 Peter).
- Bible explains the ultimate reasons why we suffer
- We suffer because we live in a fallen world plagued by disease, natural disasters, dangerous animals, broken machinery, etc.
- We suffer because of our flesh. Much of our suffering is at our own hands. We make choices that make our own lives painful and difficult.
- We suffer because others sin against us. From subtle prejudice to personal attacks, we all suffer at the hands of others.
- We suffer because of the Devil. There really is an enemy in our world, a trickster and a liar who divides, destroys, and devours. He tempts us with things that promise to give life but actually destroy it.
- We suffer because of God’s good purpose. God calls his children to suffer for his glory and for their redemptive good.
- Bible is clear that God’s sovereignty over suffering never:
- Means the suffering isn’t real (2 Cor. 1:3-9; 4:1-16).
- Excuses the evildoer (Habakkuk; Acts 2:22-24; 3:14-23).
This list came from Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands(p. 143-144) with a slight modification to the first one.
Change by Loving
As we have noted before, real change can only come through a relationship with God. However the beginnings of change can and do come through Christ in you as you interact with the counselee. As you build a godly relationship with her, the love of God will begin to work its way into her heart and change will begin to happen. This is because love is efficacious. It changes things; it changes people.
This change comes as the counselee begins to trust you; that you love her, that you are interested in her and her life, that you are giving yourself to her to help her, and that you will not leave her. It also comes as your conversation about God begins to work its godly magic in her heart and begins drawing her to Christ. This all comes together as you get to know her, as she gets to know you, as she does her homework, and as God works in her heart through her relationship with you and with him. Love changes things.