Your friend comes to you for help. She says she is depressed and has no motivation and is very anxious. You know she has a commitment to Christ and she expresses a desire to follow Him. As you listen to the challenges she faces in her relationships with her family and some of the recent losses she has faced, you realize that she has much to be anxious about. What do you do?
As Christians we struggle with many things. Sometimes it is an overt temptation to sin and rebel against God. Sometimes it is with needing wisdom to make a correct decision. Often it is with overwhelming life challenges and changes that can lead to significant discouragement.
Whatever the struggle, it is often the case that our priorities have either blatantly or subtly shifted. The sin or the temptation or even the desire to make the right decision frequently becomes the focus of our life. The first step in counseling someone is to encourage them to get the foundation of his life in line with the teachings of Christ.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your 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 commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Mt. 22:36-40)
After prayerfully listening to your friend and expressing your compassion to her you can tell her that the Bible has answers to what she is struggling with. (One of the greatest things about counseling with Scripture is that God and His Word provide true hope. See Romans 15:4 and use it as a springboard to study more about biblical hope.) You can tell her that the first step toward accessing those answers is to make sure the foundation of her life is solid. Ask her about her relationship with the Lord. Is she spending time reading and studying God’s Word? If so, what is she reading? Is she praying? Does she have a prayer journal? Is she praying for other concerns and people besides herself and her struggle? Is she active in church and worship?
Biblical Counseling focuses on the heart. It is possible to do the right things with the wrong heart attitude. For example, if the reason she is doing the above things is to get God to help her, the motivation needs to be addressed. The Great Commandment calls us to be in relationship with God, to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. Help her to see that Bible reading, prayer, worship, and ministry should not be a series of tasks but are part of a loving relationship we have with our Lord and God.
Another foundational issue that needs to be addressed with many who seek counsel is the issue of obedience. Is he obeying God? Many times when I ask people who come for counseling what they have done about their problem, they say, “I have prayed about it.” When I ask what else they have done they say, “Nothing, but I have prayed.” For some Christians the idea is “I pray and wait for God to fix it.” The Christian faith is an active faith. God expects our obedience. In John 14:21 Jesus says, “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.” Remember also Jesus’ contrast between the one who built his house on the rock with the one who built on the sand. The difference between the two is obedience: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Mt. 7:24)
There is a biblical command that applies to your friend: “Be anxious for nothing . . . “ (Ph. 4:6). Like most biblical commands it is very restrictive. It’s not “only be anxious about important issues,” but “Be anxious for nothing.” The verse does not stop with this command but provides the answer as to what should be done instead of being anxious. The Bible is not a collection of “don’ts” or restrictive commands, but rather it provides God’s wisdom for how we can be set free from bondage to sin (John 8:31-32) and how we can truly change. The biblical process of change involves putting off sin, being renewed in the Spirit of our mind, and putting on that which honors God (Eph. 4:22-24). Looking at the command to not be anxious in context we see this clearly.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Phil. 4:4-8)
We are to put off anxiety and put on prayerful dependence on God and thanksgiving. As you focus on God—who is the only one who can do anything about what we are anxious about anyway—and are thankful, your spirit is renewed. Before Paul gets to verse 6 he challenges us to rejoice in the Lord and be good witnesses with gentle spirits. He also reminds us that the Lord is near. After verse 6 we see the result of obeying the verse—the peace of God—and a challenge in verse 8 to focus our minds on thoughts that honor God.
Between the Matthew 22 and Philippians passages presented above there is much you can glean to help your friend get her life in order and stop being anxious. As you begin to minister Scripture to others, you will see that these passages are just a starting point for counseling someone struggling with anxiety. The Bible is a treasure of insight, teaching, and encouragement. (See also Psalm 119.)
As you counsel there are several important things to keep in mind. First, the most important person in the counseling process is the Holy Spirit. He will guide and direct you in regard to how to counsel in a particular situation. Another is that the primary focus of counseling is to minister God’s living and active Word in a loving relationship with someone who is created by God. Scripture is not a weapon or “magic pills” to be dispensed but rather the Truth of God that will help one live a life that honors Him (1 Cor. 10:31). Finally, there is no magic strategy or 12-step program that contains the solution to every problem. When you counsel others with God’s Word, you must be dependent on the One Who inspired it.