Traditional biblical counseling does not work well if a counseling session, sprinkled here and there, is all you have. That strategy places the burden of change on the counselor rather than on the individual who needs a new kind of habituated lifestyle. Consider these ten habits.
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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.
Dear friends, let me introduce you to a typical conversation that I have each week. It’s not an exact transcript, though it is a paraphrase of what I hear from despairing men and women who come to our ministry for help.
By the time they get to us, their marriage has been on the rocks for several years. Their church has not made a dent in their problems for various reasons. And most of the time, the struggling spouse has received counseling from several other sources.
Eight Complicating Factors
There are always complicating factors in their lives that push them farther from the hope that Christians find in Jesus. Here are eight of the most common complicating factors.
- One of the spouses does not want to work on the marriage.
- Their problems have gone on for so long that the spouses become bitter, angry, unforgiving, and hopeless.
- The church has not been as proactive as it could be. (This is not a criticism of the church. Perhaps the couple is in a good church, but they have not accessed all that the church provides.)
- They are listening to different voices, e.g., weak sermons, unhelpful friends, popularized books, subjective impressions, and secular counseling.
- They have isolated themselves from a 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–what they spent years dismantling.
- They are in spiritual warfare against the enemies who have set up strongholds to keep them in bondage.
They come to me for two hours, which is my standard counseling time. If they come back at all, it is two weeks later, if not longer. This brief interaction makes it nearly impossible to help them (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Upon leaving the counseling session, they re-enter their chaotic world. Here’s the math: 168 hours in a week and two hours of counseling. Or 120 non-chaotic minutes that competes with three to four-hundred hours of marital conflict, frenetic schedules, and unending distractions.
This scenario is standard for a couple looking for help for their complicated marriage problems that have been spinning in dysfunction for years, if not decades. It sounds like I’m a lousy “counseling salesman,” though that’s not true. My greater hope is to provide you a better vision for how change happens.
Remove Bad Companions
The typical counselee has diverse forms of chaos in their lives. While he is meeting with me, the counselee usually says the counseling makes sense, and he is encouraged by our time together. Then he 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 the counseling.
Knowing this, I try to create counseling contexts (companions) that he can add to our time together so he can maintain good habits throughout his week. This perspective is an essential step for successful counseling.
A wise counselee perceives how the odds for long-term and successful change are not in his favor, which should motivate him to do more than periodic meetings. He must commit to and cooperate with the counselor’s plan to address the issues in the short- and long-term. Presumably, he will see how his “bad companions” in his life have not been to his benefit.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33
Before he came to counseling, he had surrounded himself with relationships, contexts, and things that led to a place of personal and relational ruination. After counseling, he begins to see life with a new lens, and he addresses those poor 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
He examines everything in his life that hinders his relationship with God and his spouse and coins a new mantra: “If it blocks my walk with Christ or my spouse, I will cut it out of my life.”
He has become sick and tired of being sick and tired. He’s desperate for change and convinces the counselor that he will do anything to transform. He follows through with his new determination by availing himself to all the means of grace that the Lord provides.
There is “favor from God” for this new attitude. Any person who is willing to do whatever it takes to change has set himself up to receive “empowering grace” from God (James 4:6). And you can begin that process today by working through these two questions.
- Name three things you need to do to change?
- Tell someone what these three things are and ask them to hold you accountable.
Enjoy 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 ways to surround himself with good friends and disciplines that will 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’re going to mature spiritually, you must think comprehensively: if it hinders your walk with the Lord, it must go. Out with the old and in with the new. (Cf. Ephesians 4:22-24).
Though there are many companions that you could implement in your life, I’m going to suggest ten that I’ve shared with counselees for years. All of these won’t work for every person, but you can adapt and add to these strategies to create your lifestyle.
Customized Homework is a standard practice that 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 that we meet. If they do homework every day, they will benefit from my counseling while not meeting with me.
Micro Sessions are the articles on my website. Most of my writings are 2000+ words. I put everything that I have ever thought about counseling into articles. It’s inexpensive and extensive counseling at your fingertips.
Our Membership Site is a place where the counselee can create community, as well as have full access to all of our resources, including our equipping webinars and a private forum where they can talk directly to our team. You could spend an hour a day for the next two years reading articles, watching webinars, and asking questions on our forums and still not exhaust all the resources. Learn more by clicking Member Site.
Bringing a Friend to a counseling session is an excellent plan that any counselee could do. Imagine having your friend sitting in your counseling sessions, hearing what you’re learning about how to bring the Bible to bear on your problems. Your friend 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 broader community 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 superb 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. If you esteem others more than yourself, it will have a powerful effect on your life (Philippians 2:3-4). Typically, we 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 regular 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 the community. What better remedy than to tell others how God is working in your life.
Make a Disciple is the “end of counseling” for all Christians. Some believers come to counseling thinking the end is when they become better. That is merely the halfway point. Complete “counseling 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
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 process has a transformative effect on the counselee because the teacher learns more than the student, and if the counselee becomes a teacher of the good things he has learned, he will own them. Those good things will become part of who he is as he disciples others.
Let’s Make a Plan
Take each one of the ten “counseling companion contexts” 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, ask a friend. This project will make a tremendous first homework assignment for any person who wants to change.
Also, start developing your community early in the counseling process. Bring others into what God is doing in your life. Think practically and long-term. 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 your 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 these things. 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 that 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. Your marriage might not change, but you will. You are not responsible for changing others, but you must cooperate with God in improving yourself.
If you are discipling someone, send them this article. Give your friend this roadmap to a changed life. Appeal to them to consider the cost of change and help them to carve out a plan for transformation.
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
Also published on Medium.