What does the end of counseling look like? When will I know I’m done with counseling? What are you looking for? What are your expectations for me?
These are some of the more common questions that I get when a person first meets with me for counseling. These questions are excellent and need to be answered in a definitive, but practical way. The good news is that the Bible does not leave us in a lurch, but gives us real answers that satisfy.
To help us think about what the “end” looks like, I’ve developed a Mind Map, which is part of a training exercise I provide for the folks on our Membership Site. These concepts are not just good ideas that apply to counselees, but they are concepts that apply to every Christian. If you are a Christian, then you should read this, assess yourself, and make whatever changes you need, in order to continue the process of maturing in Christ.
Counselees are not the only people who need help. All Christians need help. Honestly, I kinda despise the word counselee. Personally, I do not use the term unless I’m writing to a broader audience, like this article.
Our organization is called The Counseling Solutions Group, but that is more of a marketing perspective than anything else. If I called our organization “Discipleship Solutions,” it would not resonate with the current cultural mindset, those who are looking for help through counseling.
I never refer to my “counselees” as counselees. They are my friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, who come to me for help (John 15:15). And what do I do for them? I disciple them by teaching them what the Bible says about being like Christ, the goal of all counseling and discipleship.
They may come through the door as counselees, but my goal is to send them out as Christlike disciple-makers. That’s my calling. It is yours too. The following Mind Map will help you unpack the process to Christian maturity, while also envisioning you on how to sustain a life of Christian maturity.
Before you begin, may I appeal to you to pray, asking God to help you to see where you need to change, grow, and serve like Jesus. Perhaps it would be better to read this article with your spouse or close friend, asking them to speak into your life according to what is written here. Will you do that? Will you ask your spouse or close friend?
Breaking down the map
The Gospel – All counseling or discipleship, whatever you want to call it, must begin with the Gospel. Remember, I’m coming from a Christian worldview, speaking to Christians, about how to best glorify God as Christians.
Therefore, there is only one starting point and that is the Gospel. The Gospel or good news is Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah from the Old Testament, who came to live among the Jewish nation 2000 years ago.
Eventually Christ died, according to the divine purposes of God, on a cross in order to pay the debt for sin. He became a ransom for sin. No person has the ability to live out a sustained life of Christian maturity without coming to terms with the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The only proper way to come to terms with Him is by being regenerated by Him. This is what we call being born from above or being born again. Have you been born again?
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ – The Savior, John 3:7 (ESV)
Spirit cooperation – If you are born again, then the Holy Spirit has come to you and is living in you, in order to guide and sustain you throughout your life. The Spirit will do many things for you, such as illuminate your mind to the Word of God so that you can understand it and grow thereby. (See John 17:17; 1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 Peter 2:2-3)
You can choose to quench or grieve the Holy Spirit by living in sin (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30). However, you have the option to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and if you do, you will grow in grace and in knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that you can imitate Him by your life (2 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 11:1).
Means of grace – A means of grace is analogous to a vehicle, a means that takes you from one place to another place. God provides several gracious means or contexts that we can participate in so that we can grow into Christian maturity. Most local churches provide these various means of grace.
In the Mind Map I have listed nine means of grace, which you can find on the lower, left hand side of the Map:
- Various meetings of the church
- Reading and studying your Bible
- Praying to God and with others
- Friends who speak into your life and you speak into their lives
- Memorization of Scripture so you can know who God is and how to respond to Him
- Discipling others, which is sharing what God is doing in you and for you
- Evangelism is how we let others know about Christ
- Serving is the default response for all Christians
- Singing is another default for the person who has been set free by Jesus
It is important to note that these contexts are not passive contexts. They are contexts in which you engage God and others, while being engaged by God and others. It won’t do just to show up on Sunday morning at your local church and expect that you are going to mature in Christ. You will not. It does not work that way.
Christianity is not a passive experience. It is full-on engagement with God and with others.
I have never counseled a person on an on-going basis who is actively participating in these contexts of grace. If they are cooperating with the Spirit of God at this level, they have the means they need to change (2 Peter 1:3).
You’ll note that I call these contexts “acts of worship.” They represent nine ways in which we can actively worship God by pursuing Him and others (Matthew 25:40).
- Are you cooperating with the Holy Spirit by actively participating in these means of grace?
- Write a short paragraph about how you are engaging each one of these contexts.
- What areas are you not engaging God and others in these contexts? Why not?
- What does it mean to you to engage God and others through these contexts?
- How are you encouraging your friends to help you engage God and others through these contexts?
- Do you regularly invite your friends to speak into your life in a way that will change you?
Don’t be fooled. To play church is to be stunted in your relationship with Christ and others. Playing church is to invite dysfunction. If you are not actively pursuing God and others through these various means of grace, then I appeal to you to repent. Let God rule your life. Jump in and cooperate with God.
If you will do this, then you will change and your relationships will change.
Humility or pride
The tension that is in all our souls is whether or not we will submit to God or exercise our own will over the various situations in our lives. Did you know that when you refuse to walk in humility, the greatest deterrent in your life is God Almighty?
James 4:6 is clear: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Which will it be? Are there areas of pride in your life? Are you still holding on to things that you do not want to let go?
Many times the relational conflicts that we experience between ourselves and others is not because of others, but because God is the One resisting us. We can be duped into thinking that my opponent is my spouse or some other human, when it is really God who is resisting me because I am being proud.
If you are proud, then your main problem is with God, not with someone else. He is the Resistance for the proud person. But if you will humble yourself before God Almighty, then something radical will begin to happen: He will give you empowering grace. Only at that point can you change.
Through these contexts or means of grace, God begins to affect you at the level of your heart. You begin to change. The Gospel is now actively alive in you and humility begins to replace your pride. Humility becomes the primary condition of your heart, which allows you to mature–He gives grace to the humble.
Three components of change
The stage of your heart is now set. You are pursuing humility, while resisting pride and God is working for you and not resisting you. The conditions are right for you to mature in Christ. As you see on the Mind Map, there are three elements in the process of Christian maturity:
- I want to change
- I want to grow
- I want to serve
I want to change – This order is significant. You cannot grow until you change. Therefore, the first order of business is to change, which is what the Bible calls repentance. Do you want to change? Repent. Simple. That is how it works. There is no other way.
To repent simply means to change from one way of thinking and behaving to another way of thinking or behaving. If you choose to change (repent), then you will grow.
Does this make sense to you?
It has been said that the Christian life is a life of repentance and on-going repenting. This should be good news for the believer. We can change. The unbeliever cannot do what we can do. We can change because we have the Gospel. We have the power of Christ working in us. Repentance is not a discouraging concept for the believer. It is the door through which we walk in order to grow in Christ.
Sometimes the word repentance has gotten a bad rap. That should never be. It is the Christian’s primary weapon when it comes to changing.
I want to grow – Are you repenting daily to God and to others? If so, guess what? You’re going to grow–mature in Christ. You have no other option. The repenting Christian is a changing, growing, maturing Christian.
And what do we mature into?
There is only one option, one goal, one person to become: you become like Christ. If you are daily living out repentance in your life, then Jesus Christ will begin to take shape in you. If you continue to walk out repentance, He will not only take shape in you, but you will begin to act like Him.
You will become Christlike.
Though there are many ways of describing what it means to be Christlike from the Scriptures, I like Galatians 5:22-23. The fruit of the Spirit begins to take root in the heart of the repenting Christian. And the more you repent, the more the old ways and habits will be turned aside and new ways and habits will begin to control your heart.
In time, it will become how you are characterized. The fruit of the Spirit becomes character qualities of the heart, before they become behaviors in our life (Luke 6:45).
The fruit test
Here are the fruit that the Spirit gives to us. Scroll through this list and ask yourself at each element how that particular manifestation is working out in your life. How are you doing? Write out your answers to these questions:
- Love – are you characterized as a loving person? Ask a close friend.
- Joy – would you consider yourself as joy-filled. What comes out of you most of the time?
- Peace – when the disappointments come, are you steadied by the peace of God?
- Gentleness – are your speech patterns gentle and your manner characterized as gentle?
- Faithfulness – are you a dependable person, keeping your word to God and others?
- Kindness – do you regularly give kindness because of the kindness that was given to you by God?
- Goodness – are you good? The Spirit is good and that is the kind of fruit He produces in us.
- Self-control – does the Spirit easily control your tongue and your actions?
- Patience – do others see the patience of Christ in you?
How did you do? Is Christ being formed in you? If so, you’re well on your way to Christian maturity. If not, then you may be immature and need to go back to the “I want to change” step and figure out what is wrong. Are there some things in your life that need repentance?
Perhaps you may need to enlist the help of others, though it has been my experience that most Christians know what they are doing or not doing. Nevertheless, whatever the problem is, you need to make the appropriate changes so Christ (fruit of the Spirit) can be formed in you.
I want to serve – You know you are Christlike when the primary default of your heart is to serve others (Mark 10:45). There was a unique quality about Jesus: He was not about Himself. He was all about others, particularly His Father and us (Romans 5:8).
He could not have made this more clear when He said,
“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 first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)
This was Jesus’ job description while He was on earth. It is the litmus test that reveals if there is a true understanding and application of the Gospel (Christ) in a person’s life. This is the absolute height of Christian maturity. If you’re living for God and others more than anything else, then you’ve hit the Jesus gear and the grace of God is empowering you for the glory of God and the benefit of others.
If your desire is still more about you rather than God and others, then you need to go back to the Gospel and see what it is that you do not understand and/or are unwilling to apply to your life. If you are stuck as to what that is, then I appeal to you to get some help.
God has provided us with everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). I do believe that if you are actively pursuing God and others in the various means of grace that are available for you, as noted on the lower left hand side of the Map, and you are actively living out repentance before God and others, lower right hand side of the Map, then there is nothing that should hinder you from being a mature Christian.
Go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
A practical homework assignment to apply what you have learned
- Pray, asking the Spirit to assist you in reflectively thinking through this assignment.
- Print this article off and then highlight every question that is asked throughout the article.
- Write a short paragraph with at least five to six sentences, answering each question you highlighted.
- Print off the Mind Map and circle weak areas of your understanding and practice, areas where you need to change.
- Work through the article, highlighting each Bible verse referenced.
- Look up each verse.
- In two or three sentences, write out what that verse means. (Be sure to read it in context.)
- In two or three sentences, write out a practical response to each one of the verses. Practically apply the verse to your life.
- Share with your spouse or a close friend some of the things you learned from this exercise.
- Pray to God, asking Him to enable you to implement a plan for change.
- Go and implement for the glory of God and the benefit of others. Put Christ on display by your life.
If you are regularly helping people who want to change, use this article and assignment in your training, counseling, or discipling. Make copies and use often.
Also published on Medium.