Biblical Counseling is Risky Business
I get to help people with their problems, I get to help them find relief, I get to show them the error of their ways and give them helpful advice.
This is how I thought about counseling a few years ago before I dove into what biblical counseling really means. I had worked in the world of counseling as a TCM (teacher, counselor, mentor), a remedial treatment counselor, and as a Family and Individual Counselor while working in juvenile rehabilitation. In college, I learned many helpful techniques to ask good questions and listen well to a person who was in a counseling situation. I really enjoyed talking with people, I saw it as no small thing when someone would share with me what they were struggling with and asked me to share with them what I thought about it. My heart was genuinely concerned for another person when I became aware of struggles and or hardships going on in their lives. It was very clear to me that there was something wrong and I wanted to help that person fix their problem and make the situation right. I enjoyed the feeling of doing a good and right thing after the person walked away from our conversations.
A few years ago I started participating in the world of Biblical counseling by taking some of the ACBC training courses, reading through some wonderful books regarding Biblical counseling, and sitting in on sessions. I sat in as an advocate a few times and was in awe of the counsel that was being shared. It was good, it was full of help, it was FROM THE BIBLE! I wanted to be that person in that counseling chair that was sharing Biblical truth straight from the source, that was helping change someone’s life for the better!
I was nervous when I was asked to take my first counseling case. But with reluctance, I accepted and that's when the Lord rang my prideful bell and brought me to a place I never thought I would be as a counselor.
When we sit down and listen to another person’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) we can picture a man staggering beneath a heavy load of grain. He must somehow get this grain home to his family, but he is about to crumble beneath its weight. A brother sees his distress and rushes to his aid, lifting a part of the burden and thereby easing the weight of it. Although the supportive one does not assume the whole load, his help allows the struggling one to carry on to his destination.* When you think of counseling this way you can see that this is no longer something that has no effect on you as a counselor but carries risk on your part by being involved.
Did you know that biblical counseling is risky? I had been looking at counseling as a way to make myself feel good and to look good for others. But working through sinful behaviors, thoughts, feelings, etc with another sinful person can be painful. The flesh wants what it wants and sometimes it wants to blame everyone else for its poor choices. You may take the brunt of that, you might be told you are the problem, that you’re the reason your counselee is hurting the way they are. This can cause you to feel the weight of the session in your heart and soul and make you wonder if you should be doing this.
Scripture calls us to love people and help people, see John 15:12 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”, and people are messy. They come with baggage and burdens, they come with sin. Sometimes the person in front of you doesn’t know they are a sinful person, that their problems that seem to come from nowhere are a result of living in a sinful world and being a sinful individual running as far away from their Savior as they can. You as their counselor get the joy of helping them see that and, Lord willing, understand it and seek repentance. We get the joy of seeing God save people and turn from sin and work through practical Biblical principles to allow the Spirit of God to change their hearts to be more like Christ.
It is in situations like this where God does a mighty work. It was with me that in a session I was facilitating that God showed me quite clearly that I was going to walk through this heavy and sinful season of life with this person and it was going to be painful but, it had nothing… to … do … with … me…
I had fooled myself into believing that I was this great person who had all this knowledge that could solve people’s problems. That I could swoop in share wisdom and walk out of a session feeling like a million bucks because I did the right thing, I said the right words, and now that person needs to do the work and get better! But that line of thinking and counseling takes the only thing out that can truly solve the problem… the Lord and His Spirit at work. I realized this after a session where I had shared all the right things, pointed the person to Christ, opened the Bible, asked the questions, listened well, etc. By the end of the session, I found myself heartbroken by the rebellion I was experiencing firsthand from the counselee. I felt like a failure, I felt defeated, I felt crushed. And on my drive home from that session, the Spirit of God reminded me that a change in the heart of the counselee has nothing to do with me. I can be obedient to the Word and share it and show love to someone, but unless God moves them to change and they obey, nothing changes. This seems so straightforward and simple but it was something I had not considered and the Lord was making that abundantly clear. This changed the way I meet with people either in a formal counseling session or a more informal one. I rely on the Lord to do the work, I do my best to listen well, speak well regarding Scripture, and purposefully find joy in bearing those burdens with others.
The Bible tells us that we should expect to be an active and feeling part of our counseling, not a cold clinical problem solver. 1 John 4:20-21 “ Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” James 3:17-18 “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
Biblical counseling is risky, but that is the way God designed it. We are called to make God the focus, not ourselves.