Counseling is altogether a theological matter. Always, whether or not a given counselor recognizes that fact. All counselors deal with the same human problems to which the Bible speaks. By implication, they are either faithful or false. I am speaking in principle, of course. Because of sin and the varieties of grace, counselors and systems are more or less faithful, more or less false. Often common grace brightens up secular models and practitioners (though sometimes they are utterly false and wicked). Inevitably remnant sin dims biblical models and practitioners (though by the grace of God his children sometimes shine very brightly). Only Jesus was and is utterly faithful, rich and simple. You should aim to become a counselor who is more faithful and less false, who is full of riches and less impoverished, who is simpler and not simplistic or complicated. Aim to learn and to offer counsel that expresses Christ’s gaze and intentions, rather than any other framework for making sense of life.
Every counselor brings a “message”: an interpretation of problems, a theory that weighs causalities and context, a proposal for cure, a goal that defines thriving humanness. How does the message of biblical counseling compare with their messages? Simply consider what our culture’s other counselors do not say.
• They never mention the God who has a name: YHWH, Father, Jesus, Spirit, Almighty, Savior, Comforter.
• They never mention that God searches every heart, that every human being will bow to give final account for each thought, word, deed, choice, emotion, belief and attitude.
• They never mention sinfulness and sin, that humankind obsessively and compulsively transgress against God.
• They never mention that suffering is meaningful within God’s purposes of mercy and judgment.
• They never mention Jesus Christ. He is a standing insult to self-esteem and self-confidence, to self-reliance, to self-salvation schemes, to self-righteousness, to believing in myself.
• They never mention that God really does forgive sins.
• They never mention that the Lord is our refuge, that it is possible to walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.
• They never mention that biological factors and personal history experiences exist within the providence and purposes of the living God, that nature and nurture locate moral responsibility but do not trump responsible intentionality.
• They never mention our propensity to return evil for evil, how hardships tempt us to worry, despair, bitterness, inferiority, grumbling and escapism.
• They never mention our propensity to return evil for good, how felicities tempt us to self-trust, ingratitude, self-confidence, entitlement, presumption, superiority and greed.
• They never mention that human beings are meant to become conscious worshipers, bowing down in deep sense of personal need, lifting up hands to receive the gifts of the body and blood of Christ, lifting voices in heartfelt song.
• They never mention that human beings are meant to obey God’s will, not our own wishes.
• They never mention that human beings are meant to live missionally, using God-given gifts to further God’s kingdom and glory.
• They never mention that the power to change does not lie within us.
In other words, other messengers always counsel true to their core convictions. They counsel the same message that they live.
Christians can’t help but mention these things, and long to live within these realities. Even more, a Christian is never content merely to mention such realities to another, as if a troubled person simply needs the bare bones of didactic instruction. Like a skilled musician, you develop a trained ear. In every detail of every person’s story, you learn to hear the music of these often unmentioned realities. You help others hear what is actually playing. A relevant, honest pastoral conversation teaches another person how to listen, and then how to join the song. Need I say more? No one else is listening to what you hear. No one else is saying what you have to say. No one else is singing what you believe. No one else is giving to others what you have been given that you might freely give. Every person who “needs counseling” actually needs Christ’s unique message.
May God make all our words (and the thoughts within our silences) ring true to our convictions. Do get training that helps your convictions come to life. Whether you are a pastor or a mom, a friend or a teacher, a small group leader or someone with “counselor” in your job title, CCEF training can help you. CCEF exists to come alongside you in hands-on ministry, to equip you to help people through the struggles of life.
Read Part 1 of “Counsel True to Your Convictions” here.