Today’s guest blogger is Suzanne Holland. Suzanne is a grateful follower of Jesus Christ, wife to John, and mom to two grown up boys. She is also a student at Reigning Grace Counseling Center and is in the prcticum phase to become a Certified Biblical Counselor, offering the hope of the Scriptures to those who are hurting.

 I recently attended my very first Biblical Counseling
conference. I was excited about this event, as several of the authors whose
books I have studied were scheduled to speak there. The topics were very
relevant to our culture, and I learned a great deal. It was truly a blessing
for me, and I believe it has changed the direction of my thinking regarding
this ministry for which I am being trained and prepared. This is what I want to
share with you today, but first, let me give you a little background.
I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Before I was
saved, I was completely sold on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, talk therapy and
the like. I believed that these things were the solutions to people’s problems,
and I studied hard to apply what I was learning. When I became a Christian,
however, my view changed radically. I began to see that without heart change,
there could be no real life change (Mark 7:20-23). Through a series of
providential events, I came last year to study biblical counseling at Reigning
Grace Counseling Center. Here, this idea of “Heart Change for Life Change”
began to be fleshed out in my mind, and I began to ponder the idea of “one
another ministry.” What does this really mean, and who exactly is qualified to
do it? As I have pursued my certification, this question has continued to
present itself.
Now, back to the conference. Several of the speakers over
the weekend used a phrase with which I was unfamiliar: Hug, Pray, Refer. What they meant by this was that in the past,
faith-based counselors have referred the really tough cases to “professionals.”
We considered ourselves competent to handle such things as sadness, mild
anxiety, and communication issues in marriage. Maybe even a little pre-marital
counseling was comfortable for us. But if someone came in with panic attacks or
clinical depression, we would give them a hug, pray with them and then refer
them to a professional psychologist or counselor. The point the speakers were
making, that we should be able to
help these individuals, was a challenge to us as Biblical Counselors to
consider our belief that the Bible is sufficient, and that we are qualified to help even the most troubled
of our brothers and sisters. I fully and wholeheartedly agree, and I honestly
cannot wait to be the one to help these counselees to see the goodness of God
in their circumstances.
This did get me thinking, though, about another kind of Hug, Pray Refer situation that is
similar and equally challenging. More than once since I’ve begun this training,
friends at church have said to me, “A friend came to me and told me how she is
struggling with ___________. I listened, but I just had no clue how to help
her. I just gave her a hug, prayed with her and gave her the number for the
Counseling Center at church. I know they can help her! I’m so glad we have that
counseling center. What a blessing!”
Hug, Pray, Refer.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I fully agree that it is a blessing
to have a counseling center in our church, and I know that not every believer
has the temperament and personality to counsel the so-called “tough cases.” But
we are commanded to comfort one
another with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4). Jay Adams’ Christian Counselor’s New Testament interprets
Romans 15:14 this way: “…you…are filled with all knowledge, and competent to
counsel one another.” So why are so many of us ill-equipped to do that? I
believe that there are three primary reasons.
The first, and most important, is simply a neglect of daily
meditation on the Word of God. We are busy people, and becoming busier all the
time. Bible reading, meditation and prayer tend to take a low place among
family, work, home and church obligations. If we do not intentionally and purposefully
make time to be in the Word each day, it simply will not happen. If you are not
reading and meditating on the Word of God each day, how will you be able to
minister that Word to your hurting brothers and sisters? You don’t need a
Biblical Counseling certification to be able to share scripture and help your
friend apply it to her situation. You need a close and solid walk with the
Lord, nourished by daily reading, meditation and prayer.
Another reason I believe we pass off hurting people to the
“professionals” is that counseling and helping hurting people can be hard work.
It requires patience and time. If we’re honest, many of us believe that we
don’t have the time or energy to follow up with that person, so we refer them
to the Counseling Center. But did you know that there is often a long wait to
see one of those counselors? That person standing before you, tearfully sharing
her trial, may have to wait as long as six weeks to see a counselor. A fellow
believer could bridge the gap between today and that first appointment. Your
friend may not even need that appointment by the time it rolls around, if you commit
the time and energy to help her.
Finally, we may refer hurting people to the Counseling Center
because helping them ourselves leaves us vulnerable. If I listen to this person
share her life, I might have to share mine, and that makes me uncomfortable. Many
of us are putting up a cheerful façade of when we come to church. Our guard is
up, and we don’t want to share anything painful or private. Broken people are
vulnerable, and they need vulnerable, broken people to come into their pain and
help them heal. If we insist on hiding our own pain and troubles, we will lose
the opportunity to be instruments in the hand of God to help someone who is not
so good at the “church face.”
Do any of these reasons to hug, pray, and refer hurting
people to the Counseling Center resonate with you? Think about the last time
you felt ill-equipped to help a hurting friend? What did you need that you
didn’t have? What can you do today to begin to prepare yourself to be ready to
come alongside the next brother or sister in need? If God brings a friend in
need to you, He will use you in whatever way He deems best. Remember, this is
not about giving the right advice or saying exactly the right thing. God will use
His word (Isaiah 55:11); you are merely the conduit. Even if your words are not
perfect, His Word is, and it will never return void.