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Most people look for counseling because they want something to change in their lives or relationships. Perhaps their marriage is in trouble, a parent is struggling with a child, or life takes an unexpected turn. All of us have found ourselves in those places.
When trouble comes into our lives, people look for answers. They are looking for help, and a Christian perspective on how to change is a reliable option for some of our most difficult challenges.
The Lord has been merciful to His church by giving us better ways and means to respond to the problems in our lives. A better approach is what counseling offers. As with all things, there are limits, and biblical counseling is no exception. The method of bringing help to people does not always satisfy in the sense that it will give you precisely what you want the way you want it, every time.
Without a clear understanding of what you’re about to do, you may be disappointed with the process, as well as the results you hope to enjoy. Counseling may be a refreshing drink of water. It may guide you, but it won’t change you.
Thinking any counseling can do that is shortsighted. It is one of the most common misunderstandings about biblical counseling, which makes one wonder why it’s so popular. (Similar to good books; we read them like chain-smoking, but they do not change us.)
If your heart’s desire is to change, I want to give you six things to consider before you embark on what I hope is a transformative journey. Without knowing these essential elements about life change, you may be disappointed about your experience and possibly miss what the Lord could be writing into your life (Genesis 50:20).
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
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 lives if they wanted to follow Him (Luke 14:26). Nothing has changed since that time.
We continue to play the game by His rules. Are you ready to die? Are you willing to die to all your dreams, hopes, and aspirations? Death to self is not my idea. Those are the words of Jesus. He did not come to earth to find and enjoy the best marriage, the most exceptional children, or the most money.
Quite the contrary. Jesus came to die, and the only way you can find what you are looking for, which is 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?
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
Too often, people go to counseling for the wrong reasons. Most of the time, the aim is simple: “I want my situation to change.” They do not count the cost, and they are not aware of them. 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 He never removed from the great apostle even though Paul wanted it removed. The Lord pondered his request and decided to give him something else.
I shared some of these ideas with a nominal Christian a few years ago, and she said, “I don’t care about that kind of suffering. I want my husband to be kind to me.” She never changed her position, and neither did her marriage change.
Sometimes the way the Lord brings change into our lives is not how we want it, but if you hope counseling to work for you, 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 please do Your will in my life?”
Tips Before You Receive Counseling
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
The most natural trap for a person to fall into during relational conflict 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. I will focus on myself and what I need to change, rather than on what someone else needs to change. If I have something negative to say about someone else, I will frame it in the most favorable light while expecting myself to adapt, rather than demanding that they are the ones who must change for me to be happy.
Counseling can be useful if you will own what you just read. You do not go to a fitness center because someone else is obese. You go to change you. If you do not see your problems as opportunities for you to change, 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, gospel-motivated idea must stabilize your heart while focusing your mind during this season of your life. To miss this point is to lose the advantage of having the Lord working in your life.
Assess yourself: Do you understand how it’s essential for you to address the log in your eye first instead of the speck in the other person’s eye?
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
Are you the caught person or the restorer in Paul’s verse? It is a trick question because you are both, as we’re all trapped by some sin. We have several things that have been historically and habitually wrong in our lives. And we should be restorers. We should be actively engaging our friends and family, trying to help them change. If you are coming to this point in your life because you hope the other person will change, that is fine, but there are requirements for you to help restore them.
You must assist them as you change through a spirit of gentleness. You must keep watch on yourself, or you will sin mightily against them. Are you a gentle restorer of 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, you are interfering with and circumventing what the Lord could be doing in their lives. Sinning, in response to sin, is never the right answer.
Guard your heart. If you want biblical counseling because of a broken relationship, 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?
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
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 transform. That is your thought for them. It is your idea; it is your hope. It is not a wrong aim, 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 ours (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 not to bring the change you hope?
Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. – John 11:14-15
I have lost one wife and two children through an adulterous affair, two brothers through murder, and 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 the Bible brands in 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 worst 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.
If you are looking for counseling, one of the best things you can do is answer the assessment questions I inserted above, and after you finish them, 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, 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 transforming? 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 improving your situation? Will you receive the possibility that He may never change your issue? How did you answer these two questions, and why did you respond the way you did?
6 – Expect to be surprised – The death of Christ was hard news for the disciples to receive. 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 yours? Are you ready?