Love, Care, Help
I recently attended the annual conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). This was my first time at an ACBC conference so I was pretty excited to go, and I was not disappointed. I learned so much there, and left feeling recharged for ministry. Not that I had arrived with a completely empty tank, but I must confess I’d grown somewhat weary in my role as counselor, having dealt with some very tough cases. Sin is so stubborn.
I want to share with you today the most valuable things I took away from the conference. There were no new techniques, brilliant homework plans or big revelations. But throughout the conference, from every speaker, there was a consistent message: The Scriptures are sufficient; the Holy Spirit’s role is central; and prayer is indispensable. As I listened to these wise, experienced counselors, a picture formed in my mind, and I made a commitment to change the way I approach counseling.
I became interested in Biblical Counseling because I have a heart for broken people. I witnessed the devastating effects of secular methodologies on several family members as I grew up, and I always knew that there had to be something better than that. When I discovered biblical counseling, I knew that was it. Though I had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, I tossed it all out when I began training to become a biblical counselor. I dove into the Scriptures and NANC (at the time) training and never looked back.
Somewhere along the way, though, I got the idea that it was up to me to fix these broken people who came to see me. I scoured the counseling books, found just the right homework assignments, and planned my counseling sessions carefully, with a goal of restoration in six to 12 weeks. After a while, I became less rigid and academic in my counseling, but still, there was something making it harder than it should be. That something was me.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
In my eager effort to help people, I had whizzed right past the Holy Spirit. Oh, I prayed earnestly before and between sessions, but other than that, I’d been relying on my own efforts. This, I believe, is what had brought me to the conference with such weariness. As I listened to the presenters, I noticed that the heaviness in my shoulders began to lift. Each speaker had something to say about the Holy Spirit’s role in counseling, and my heart was both pierced and lifted by the realization that I had been trying to do His work!
I earnestly desire change in the hearts of my counselees, but I am not the one who can change them. He is. This was not new information, but it was like hitting the “refresh” button on my heart. The big picture of what Biblical counseling should be became clearer and sharper in my mind. My toughest cases already seemed more hopeful as I mentally handed off that responsibility to the One who can handle it.
The Sufficiency of Scripture
This world is a mess. Everywhere we look, sin and evil seem to have prevailed. At the same time, the world’s solutions shift and change constantly. Every day there is some “new” answer to our problems, some new therapy or positive affirmation that will make the world a better place. But the world does not become better, and people become more disheartened and dysfunctional.
The world does not have answers for suffering, but the Bible does! God’s Word does not change with the shifting tides and sentiments of this world. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Scriptures contain everything we need for life and godliness, and as I listened to the presenters at the conference, my confidence in this truth was bolstered.
Sometimes, when we look at the problems of the world, we can become discouraged and begin to wonder if the Bible really can change lives. As biblical counselors, we see firsthand the effects of sin and a fallen world on our counselees and their families. At times, we can get overwhelmed with the heaviness of it all, and begin to feel inadequate to meet the needs of the people who come to us. The truth is, we are inadequate, but the Holy Word of God is not!
The speakers at ACBC 2016 reminded me that it is not I who will bring these people out of the pit of despair. The Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, is what will divide their soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and will discern the thoughts and intents of their hearts (and mine). What a relief to be reminded that the work of counseling is borne on the shoulders of the Wonderful Counselor and that it’s not up to me to figure out what’s going on in their heart. Again, though I knew these things, I needed to be reminded and encouraged in that direction.
The Importance of Prayer Partners
Being a people helper can be hard. Counseling is often draining and difficult, and we simply cannot persevere without people praying for us. One of the speakers mentioned an analogy about “holding the rope.” As he taught about looking for people who will pray for us on a regular basis, he described the counseling process as “going deep.”
Counselees bring their deepest, darkest pain into the counseling room, and they need us to walk through that pain with them. We go deep into their hearts and lives, shining a light on sin, pointing them from despair to Christ, and teaching them how to walk out of that pain into a victorious Christian life. To do this, we need power. That power comes only from the Holy Spirit, through prayer.
As our prayer partners hold the rope, we can go as deep as necessary into the life of the counselee, knowing not only that He is empowering us, but also that He will not allow us to fall into the depths of despair with them. Once we’ve entered into the fear, sadness, or grief of our counselees, we can be certain that we will not lose sight of the exit, because that same rope will lead us back out, as we lead our counselees. Prayer partners are as necessary to counseling as good ropes are to spelunking!
This was a great conference, and I think I came away more encouraged than I ever have from any other conference or training. As I thought about why this was, it occurred to me that it did not seem like training. It seemed like a call to love, to care, and to help. Woven throughout that call was the reminder that we can do none of these things without the only source of true power—the Spirit of God—accessed through prayer and the Word of God. What a call! What a blessing!