When most of us hear the word counselor we think of someone who has an advanced degree and who sits in an office providing a mysterious concoction of listening and help. Most Christians do not perceive themselves to be counselors. If you are a pastor you likely have been taught that if someone comes to you for counseling you should defer to the professional and refer to the professional. If you are a layperson and someone seeks your counsel you are likely somewhat intimidated and hesitant to help due to a perceived lack of training or competence.
My background includes graduate-level training and degrees that qualify me to be a professional counselor. But after about 10 years in ministry, during which I attempted to integrate my professional training with my ministry, God began to show me the sufficiency of His Word for the counseling task. In the midst of my journey of ministry, God confronted me with a challenge. The challenge that God used to introduce me to the sufficiency of Scripture involved the application of Scripture to my ministry. Even though I was a seminary graduate, the thought of applying Scripture was a relatively foreign concept. I have since realized that most of us have been enculturated into seeing the Bible primarily as a book to be studied.
While it is appropriate and necessary to study God’s Word, the application of Scripture is vital as well. In John 14:21, Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, is the one who loves Me; And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose myself to him.” The wise man that built his house on the rock applied or did the words of Jesus, while the foolish man did not. Christians need to be encouraged and challenged to do and obey the Word of God and biblical counseling provides the opportunity for a Christian to minister and counsel God’s Word both informally and formally. (Click here to see a previous post that defined biblical counseling)
YOU ARE A COUNSELOR
If you are a parent, you are a teacher. Sometimes I watch the behavior of one of my children and wonder, “Where in the world did he learn to do or say that?” As I consider this question, I am in certain cases reminded of my behavior and example and realize they learned it from me. I was a teacher even though I did not want to be and even though I taught something negative. In a similar way, we are all counselors, whether or not we recognize it or want to be. People come to us for counsel, and we provide it even though we might not consider it to be counseling. Our natural response to someone who comes seeking informal counsel is to share common sense advice or advice based on our experience. When we do this, we miss an opportunity to share God’s Word.
JESUS IS OUR EXAMPLE
In prophesying the coming of Jesus, Isaiah said, “His name will be called Wonderful Counselor …” (Is. 9:6). Jesus indeed was and is the ultimate counselor. Scripture teaches that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ (Col. 2:3) and that He was uneducated from the world’s perspective. In fact the Jews were astonished and asked of Jesus, “ How has this man become learned having never been educated?” (John 7:15) When Satan tempted Jesus, Jesus responded to each temptation with Scripture (Matt. 4:1-11).
THE WORD IS OUR FOCUS
In a later post we will consider several different passages that speak of the treasure we have in God’s Word, but for now, I urge your consideration of Hebrews 4:12, “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God’s Word is our focus in counseling because it is God’s Word! It is living and active and it is able to deal with the ultimate issues of the heart. Whether in a formal or informal context, when we minister God’s living and active Word, the Holy Spirit can use it to encourage and bring conviction to someone long after our “counseling session” is over.
HOW DO I START?
When Daniel was first in captivity in Babylon, he “purposed in his heart” not to defile himself with the King’s food, and he had to put feet to his commitment by making two different appeals (Dan. 1:8-16). The first step of biblical counseling is to make a commitment to minister Scripture. I challenge you to purpose in your heart that as you have opportunity you will minister God’s Word and then to prayerfully begin to learn passages that will apply to common struggles and challenges that people face today.
Another foundational aspect of providing biblical counseling is that it starts with self-confrontation. In Matthew 7:5, Jesus says, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
A starting point for self-confrontation for the biblical counselor (as well as the starting point for those you may counsel) is found in Matthew 22:37-40. After being asked which of the commands was greatest, Jesus replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commands depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
As you prepare to minister God’s Word to others, prayerfully consider your own life. Is God in first place? Or is your life out of order? Do you love your neighbor? How about your closest neighbors—your husband or wife, parents, child(ren), other close family members, or roommate?
My experience was that after I purposed in my heart to minister Scripture and began to prepare to do so, I had many opportunities to share God’s Word. I pray the same is true for you.
Next month, part two will present specific ways to counsel with God’s Word.