Sound counseling can guide you but it might not give you exactly what you want. To help guard your heart against false assumptions these six things will help you make the most out of counseling.
This article and podcast would be a great resource to share with any person who is thinking about receiving counseling.
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Most people come to counseling because they want something to change in their lives or relationships. Perhaps their marriage is in trouble. Maybe a parent is struggling with a child. Sometimes life can take unexpected turns.
All of us have found ourselves in those places. When trouble comes people look for answers. They are looking for help and Christian discipleship is a solid option for some of our most perplexing challenges.
The LORD has been merciful to His church by giving us better ways and means to respond to the problems in our lives. This is what biblical counseling offers and it is why many people in the church are accessing this means of grace.
As with all things, there are limits, and biblical counseling is no exception. This method of bringing help to people is not always satisfying in the sense that it will give you exactly what you want the way you want it when you want it. Every time.
Without a clear understanding of what Christian discipleship can do, you can become disappointed with the process, as well as the results you hope to enjoy.
Counseling may give you what you want. Counseling may guide you. But it cannot change you or resolve your situational challenges. Thinking counseling will give you what you hope for is one of the most common misunderstandings about the process of counseling.
If you are thinking about receiving counseling, then I want to give you six things to consider before you enter into a counseling season. Without knowing these essential elements, you may be disappointed about your experience and possibly miss what the LORD could be writing into your life (Genesis 50:20).
Count the cost
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? – Luke 14:28 (ESV)
Before Jesus said these words to the crowd that was following Him, He told them if they did not die, they could not be His disciples (Luke 14:27). Before He said that, He told them they must hate their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and even hate their own lives if they wanted to be a follower (Luke 14:26). Nothing has changed since then.
The game is still played by those rules. Are you ready to die? Are you ready to die to all your dreams, hopes, and aspirations? This is not my idea. Those are the words of Jesus.
He did not come to earth to find and enjoy the best marriage, the greatest children, or acquire the most money. Quite the contrary. He came to die, and the only way you can find what you are really looking for–peace with God, yourself, and others–is through the same death portal.
Assess yourself: Are you ready to die to yourself? Do you know what that means?
Change is not the only option
So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. – 2 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)
Too often people come to counseling for the wrong reasons. Most of the time the reason is simple: “I want my situation to change.” They do not count the cost and/or they are not aware of the costs.
It was the will of the LORD to kill His Son (Isaiah 53:10) and it was the will of the LORD to give Paul a depressing thorn in his flesh, one that would never be removed. Paul asked God to remove his thorn. The LORD thought about it but decided to give him something else.
I shared some of these ideas with a nominal Christian lady a few years ago and she said, “I don’t really care about the suffering you are talking about. I just want my husband to be nice to me.” She never changed her position and neither did her marriage.
Sometimes the way the LORD brings change into our lives is not how we want it, but if you want God to work in your life, then you must be open to all of the options, not just the options you prefer. It is possible you will not get what you want the way you want it.
Assess yourself: Are you okay praying, “Not my will but your will be done?”
Focus on yourself
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
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. – Matthew 7:3-5 (ESV)
The easiest trap for a person to fall into during a counseling session is to talk about what is wrong with the other person, whether it is a spouse, child, parent, or friend. Will you embrace the following as your own?
I will not say anything critical about anyone else while I am in counseling. I will focus on myself and what I need to change, rather than what someone else needs to change.
If I have something negative to say about someone else, I will frame it in the most positive light while expecting myself to adapt, rather than demanding they are the ones who must change in order for me to be happy.
Counseling can be effective if you will own what you just read. You do not go to a fitness center because the other person is obese. You go to change you. If you do not see your problems as opportunities for you to change, then counseling will not work for you.
Make this your truth: What I have done to Christ is far worse than what any person has done to me.
This God-centered and Gospel-motivated idea must stabilize your heart while focusing your mind during your counseling. To miss this point is to miss the advantage of having the LORD working in your life.
Assess yourself: Do you understand how the log that Jesus talked about is more important for you to address than the speck in the other person’s eye?
Guard your heart
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:1-2 (ESV)
Are you the caught person or the restorer in Paul’s verse? It is a trick question. Actually, you are both. You, like me, are caught in many sins. We have several things that have been historically and habitually wrong in our lives.
We should also be restorers. We should be actively engaging our friends and family, trying to help them change. If you are coming to counseling because you hope the other person will change, that is fine, but there are requirements on you to help restore them.
You must help them to change through a spirit of gentleness. You must keep watch on yourself or you will sin against them. Are you a gentle restorer to others? Do you sin against them because they are not changing according to your expectations and timetable?
If you fail as a restorer of others, then you are interfering with and circumventing what the LORD could be doing in their lives. Sinning in response to sin is never the right response. Guard your heart. If you are coming to counseling because of a broken relationship, then how you think about and respond to the other person could be the thing that makes counseling a success or a failure.
Assess yourself: Are you a gentle restorer?
You cannot change anyone
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. – 2 Timothy 2:24-25 (ESV)
On your best day, you are a waterer and a planter (1 Corinthians 3:6). You or the counselor cannot change anyone. Only the LORD can bring change and it is not a guarantee that He will do what you want Him to do during the counseling season.
Counseling is the season you chose for change. You may have a spouse or child or friend you want to see change. That is your thought for them. It is your idea; it is your hope. It is not a bad hope, but it is yours.
It might not be the LORD’s will to change them now or at all. You must adjust your heart accordingly. The mind of the LORD on these matters is not ours to understand (Deuteronomy 29:29). His ways are far superior to mine (Isaiah 55:8-9).
The question for you is whether you will be okay if you do not receive the change you hoped for during counseling. There is grace for an unexpected or undesired outcome to your circumstances.
Assess yourself: Will you be okay if the LORD chooses to not bring the change you hope for?
Expect to be surprised
Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. – John 11:14-15 (ESV)
I have lost one wife and two children through an adulterous affair. I lost two brothers through murder. I have lost a dad to drunkenness. I say this to say that you may not get what you want.
But there is one thing I know: the LORD is good. That is not pie-in-the-sky dreaming or bumper sticker theology. It is a truth that is branded on the hearts of all those who have experienced God in the crucible of suffering (John 12:24; Daniel 3:25).
The wisdom of God is wiser than us and His weakness is stronger than us (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). We can sing about our great and powerful God, but the real question is whether you are willing to take the death march to the crucible.
Your suffering may be the perfect thing for you. To change it, though it seems reasonable, might be the worse thing for you. The child who gets everything he wants is not the better for it.
The child who finds peace through the disappointments of life has found the secret to living well in God’s world (Philippians 4:11-13).
Assess yourself: Will you ask the Father to do His will in your life and make you okay with His will even if you do not get what you want through counseling?
The hardest counseling you may receive could be practically embracing the ideas put forth in this article. If you can do this, then your counseling experience can be profitable and the aftermath can be rewarding—regardless of how your circumstances unfold for you.
Call to action
If you are looking for counseling then one of the best things you can do is answer the assessment questions above. After you’re finished, work through these:
1 – Count the cost – What does it mean for you to die to your dreams, hopes, and aspirations? Are you willing to give up all of them, plus your life, in order to follow Christ?
2 – Change is not the only option – What if the LORD does not want to change your situation according to your expectations? How could this kind of thorn be strength in your weakness and a blessing to others?
3 – Focus on yourself – Are you more apt to focus on another person’s need to change or on how you need to change? Are you able to live in the peace that God offers even when others are not changing? Why or why not?
4 – Guard your heart – Are you a gentle restorer of others? Are you tempted to sin when you think about how they are “caught” in something? How do you need to change? Why do you need to change?
5 – You cannot change anyone – Will you accept God’s timing on changing your situation? Will you accept the possibility that He may never change your situation? How did you answer these two questions and why did you answer them the way you did?
6 – Expect to be surprised – The death of Christ was hard news for the disciples to receive. In fact, they left Him; they denied knowing Him. What if the LORD allows something to happen that does not make sense to you? What if His ways were radically different from your ways? Are you ready?