I have a miserable marriage and my spouse does not want to work to make things better. My church sent me to you because they said I needed a professional. I’m discouraged and I’m not sure I want to continue in my marriage, though I know I do not have biblical grounds for divorce.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to a typical conversation in my life. The preceding paragraph is not an exact transcript, though it is a common introduction I hear from despairing people who come to me for counseling.
By the time they get to me, their marriage has been on the rocks for several years. Their church has not made a dent into their problems for various reasons. Typically, they have received counseling from several other sources.
Eight complicating factors
There are always complicating factors in their lives that pushes them farther from the hope found in Jesus. Here are eight of the most common complicating factors I experience from the folks I counsel.
- Their problems have gone on for so long that the couple is bitter, angry, and unforgiving toward each other.
- One of the spouses does not want to work on the marriage.
- The church has not been as effective as it should be. (This is not a criticism of the church. Perhaps the couple is in a good church, but they have not accessed all the church could provide for them.)
- They are listening to many different voices, e.g., weak sermons, poor friends, popular books, subjective impressions, and secular counseling.
- They have isolated themselves from biblical community–the people who could help them.
- They are not willing to do the hard work necessary to change.
- They expect counseling to cure, in a short period of time, what they spent years destroying.
- They are in a spiritual warfare against the enemies of the spirit world who have set up strongholds to keep them in bondage.
They come to me for two hours out of their week, which is my standard counseling time. If they come back at all, it would be two weeks later, if not longer. Most of the time it is much longer. This gives me two hours to change them (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Upon leaving the counseling session they re-enter their chaotic world. Here’s the math: there are 168 hours in a week. We meet for two hours and then if I’m lucky I will meet them two weeks later. Two hours of counseling up against three to four-hundred more hours of what they have been doing.
What I have described to you is a normal counseling scenario for a couple looking for help for their complicated marriage problems that have been spinning in dysfunction for years, if not decades.
You could read this article and think I’m a lousy salesman because I’m talking you out of receiving counseling. My hope is not to talk you out of counseling, but to give you a better vision for how change happens.
Traditional biblical counseling does not work if a counseling session, here and there, is all you’re going to commit to. It places the burden of change on counseling and the counselor rather than on the person who needs the counseling.
Removing bad companions
The typical counselee comes to me with varying forms of chaos in his life. While he is meeting with me, he usually says the counseling makes sense and he is encouraged by our time together.
He then leaves my office and re-enters his world. In most cases it is a world of disorder, confusion, and frustration. It is the re-entry into his chaotic life that can dismantle all the good accomplished during his time in counseling.
Knowing this, I try to create counseling contexts (companions) that he can add to his counseling so order can be maintained and the good momentum that began in the counseling office can continue throughout his week. This is an essential step for successful counseling.
A wise counselee perceives how the odds for longterm and successful change are stacked against him. This motivates him to commit to and cooperate with the counselor’s plan of attack. Because he wants to change, he begins to see how the bad companions in his life have corrupted his life and relationships.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV)
Before counseling he had surrounded himself with people and things that led him to a place of personal and relational ruination. He is now looking at life with a new lens. He addresses these poor environment choices by making comprehensive and radical changes.
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. – Matthew 5:30 (ESV)
What was initiated in the counseling office continues away from the counseling office. He examines everything in his life that hinders his relationship with God. He coins a new mantra:
If it hinders my walk with Christ, I will cut it out.
He has become sick and tired of being sick and tired. He’s desperate for change and convinces the counselor he will do anything to change. He follows through with his new determination to be transformed by the means of grace the LORD provides.
There is favor from God for his new attitude. Any person who is willing to do whatever it takes to change his life has set himself up to receive empowering favor from God (James 4:6).
- Name three things you need to commit to in order to change?
- Tell someone what these three things are and ask them to hold you accountable.
Enjoying new companions
He asks the counselor how he can surround himself with good companions–things that will have a transformative influence on his life. A person who is serious about change will seek out ways to surround himself with good companions that can build a new kind of morality. In this way, our spiritual lives are similar to our physical lives.
If you want to lose weight you must do more than one good thing. You need a lifestyle change. If you want to mature spiritually, you must think comprehensively: if it hinders your walk with the LORD, then it must go. Out with the old and in with the new. (cf. Ephesians 4:22-24).
Here are ten counseling companions I have used over the years. All of these won’t work for every person, but there are enough ideas here that can be implemented into your life to bring about effective change.
- Homework is standard practice, which most counselors employ. As I tell my counselees, “I want you to take me home with you.” My goal is to extend the counseling session beyond the two hours we meet. If they do homework every day, they will be able to partake in counseling every day.
- Micro sessions are the articles on my website. Each article is approximately 2000 words. Everything I have ever thought about counseling is eventually put into a counseling article. This is inexpensive and extensive counseling at your finger tips.
- Our membership site is a place where the counselee can create community, as well as have full access to all of my articles and webinars. They could spend an hour per day for the next two years reading articles, watching archived webinars, and asking questions on the forum and still not exhaust all the resources. Learn more by clicking Member Site.
- Bringing a friend to a counseling session is an awesome idea that any counselee could do. Imagine having your friend sitting in on your counseling session, hearing what you’re hearing and learning how to bring the Bible to bear on your problems. Your friend then becomes an extension of the counselor because he can see you throughout your week.
- Small Group life in your local church is a potentially vibrant dynamic where you can bring the larger community of your local church into the change process with you. They can pray for you, ask you loving questions, and spur you on to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).
- Local Church meetings are amazing contexts to worship God with your friends. You will also be able to hear the preached Word. This weekly venue gives you another opportunity to hear from and respond to the Spirit of God as He illuminates you toward change.
- Serving others is the opposite of the self-centered lifestyle. Esteeming others more than yourself will have a powerful effect on your life (Philippians 2:3-4). Typically we counselees are selfish. What better way to repent of selfishness than to give your life to others (John 15:13).
- Prayer and Bible study are two assumed essentials for any person who wants to grow and change. You must be talking to God on a daily basis. That is prayer. You must permit God to speak to you on a daily basis. That is reading His Word.
- Sharing with others what God is doing in your life will give you further opportunity to walk in humility, while permitting others to speak into your life. Sin has an isolating effect, which motivates a person to drift from community. What better remedy than to tell others how God is working in your life.
- Making a disciple is the end of counseling for any Christian. Some Christians come to counseling thinking the end of counseling is when they become better. That is merely the halfway point. Complete success is when you go out and make disciples.
The Gospel is about pursuing others for redemptive purposes. If a person does not have this vision, there is a good chance they will drift back into old practices once the counseling ceases.
The counselee needs to learn and practice the art of discipleship–the complete opposite of what they have been doing. The LORD does not clean us up to look pretty. He cleans us up so we can go out and cooperate with Him in the cleaning up of others.
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. – 2 Timothy 2:2 (ESV)
The wise counselee will begin strategizing early in the counseling process how he can take the things he is learning and implement them into the lives of others. This also has a wonderful effect on the counselee.
The teacher learns more than the student and if the counselee becomes a teacher of the good things he has learned, then he will own them. Those good things will become part of who he is as a Christian.
Let’s make a plan
Take each one of the ten counseling companion contexts above and write out a game plan for how you can practically implement those concepts into your life. If you become stumped on any of them, then ask a friend. This will make a solid homework assignment for any person who wants to change.
Begin developing your community early in the counseling process. Bring others into what God is doing in your life. Think practically and longterm. What would you like to be doing one year from now? Ten years from now?
Ask God to give you a vision for the kind of person you believe He wants you to be. Then begin praying about becoming that person. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking counseling is going to solve all your problems. It won’t.
You are a work in progress. When this counseling season is over, you will continue to struggle. Life is not cooperative enough to stop messing with you because you’ve gone to counseling.
The ideal situation is for you to continue doing all ten of the things I’ve listed. The only one that would change is number four. Instead of you bringing a friend to counseling, you could come alongside a friend who is in need.
I guarantee if you surround yourself with these good companions and become fierce about keeping them in your life, the changes you long for will come and stay.
If you are counseling or discipling someone, send them this article. Give them this roadmap to a changed life. Appeal to them to consider the cost of change and then help them to carve out a plan for change.
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)