Patience, Biblical Counselors

Today, I’d like to talk with my friends who are in a formal biblical counseling role. While all of us are competent to counsel, and should be intentionally discipling others, the biblical counselor who serves her church and community vocationally is who I’d like to chat with today. I’ve been doing some thinking lately about how I’m handling this role, and thought I might share with you some questions to ask yourself as you reflect on what you’re doing.

Circumstances in my life recently have caused me to prayerfully consider how I am handling my role as a counselor, and whether I need to make any changes. We all should examine ourselves from time to time really, and make sure we are on track. For me though, this rarely happens unless something stops me for a time, and I am providentially given some time to reflect.

Recently, an illness brought this opportunity for me to think about what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and why I’m doing it. At first, I thought I’d gotten sick because I’m working too much or am too busy. But then, as I looked at my calendar and my responsibilities, I concluded that it’s not the quantity of work I have to do, but my thinking about it that may be causing me to become worn out. I had to ask myself why I’m so stressed out and exhausted. I’ll share the answers I came up with, then I’ll ask you some questions to help you think this through for yourselves.

First let me say, I love my job. Nothing brings me greater joy than ministering the Word of God to the people of God. I love the Bible so much, and the precious truths it holds have transformed my life. I want this same transformation for those who come to see me. But sometimes, I think I want it too much. I see the desperate condition of some of my counselees, and I can often see so clearly the solution to their heart problems. I know that I have just the right tool they need to solve their problem, but I can’t get their white-knuckled fist open long enough to take it from me! This leads me, way too often, to begin to try to convince them in my own strength.

When I do this, I’m forgetting a couple of important things. One is that the Bible is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It is fully capable of piercing the heart of my counselee, without any help from me. My problem is the timing. I want to help them now! I don’t want this hurting person to suffer one more day with a problem to which I have the solution right now, this very moment! “Look,” I want to say to her. “The answer to your problem is right here! Just do what it says! The Spirit of God will help you!” But, as you know if you’ve been doing this for any length of time, it’s not that simple.

The other thing I tend to forget is that God’s timing is perfect. I have only to review my own testimony to see that this is true. I struggled for years with self-pity, anger, and depression before God finally opened my eyes to see the application of the Truth I’d been reading and hearing all along. But, from this side of it, I see that I needed to go through that suffering—physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering—in order to come out on the other side with the tools and knowledge I have now. I’m not saying that my sanctification is complete, by any stretch. But, in retrospect, it is clear that God’s timing was perfect.

Does any of what I’ve said ring true for you? If so, what’s the reason for our impatience when it comes to God’s timing in the growth of our counselees? Here are some possible reasons, and some encouragement for us as we renew our own minds in this area.

  1. My compassion is strong for this person, and my heart aches as I see her struggle and suffer, because I know it doesn’t have to be this way.

This is a valid and honorable reason we would want to see change quickly. After all, compassion and love for others played a big part in our desire to become biblical counselors in the first place. Why wouldn’t it motivate us to do desire speedy healing, and to do all we can to effect change in our counselees? But “doing all we can” has to stop exactly there: With what we can do. We must remember that only God sees the heart, and he has knowledge about our counselee to which we are not privy. He also has infinitely more compassion for this suffering soul in front of us than we could ever have. We can trust that His love for her will produce His changes in His timing.

  1. I have done everything in my power to develop a rapport with this person, but she still does not seem to trust me. How will I ever be able to disciple her if I continue to sense that she’s holding something back?

Again, this is a sovereignty of God issue. Our counselees share with us whatever God has prompted them to share, whenever He prompts them to share it. As long as we are listening well, asking good questions, and speaking the truth in love, the trust will come. We do need to examine ourselves in this area though, if the counselee continues to hold back. Have we come off as judgmental of her somehow? Have we given her the impression that we aren’t sinners, or that we’ve overcome/are somehow way ahead of her? Do we seem too professional? Have we over/under shared our own journey of sin and repentance? After a time of prayer and self-examination, if we find we’re doing everything according to our training and the Scriptures, then we must simply believe that the God who is the Author of trust knows how to build it, and wait on Him.

  1. Finally, and this is the hardest one for me to admit, the length of time it is taking to help this person is a reflection on my skills as a counselor.

It is very hard, as fallen humans, not to take very slow growth in a counselee personally. When many weeks go by with little or no change, we may begin to wonder what we’re doing wrong, and rightly so. (See point number 2.) But there is a fine line between critiquing our process and nursing bruised pride. When we begin to berate ourselves—“She should be further along by now. Maybe I’m not such a good counselor,” and things like this, it is time to consider that this may be our pride talking. When this kind of self-talk comes up, we are indulging in what AW Tozer calls the self-sins. Self-sufficiency, self-focus, and self-criticism all come under this category, and they are all rooted in self-focus. Ironically, as we intend to point our counselee’s heart to Christ, if she doesn’t respond as quickly as we’d like, we may end up pointing our own hearts to self!

If you know that you’ve done all you can, and you are trusting in the sovereignty of God, but you are still bothered by the amount of time it’s taking, then you may need counseling yourself! This is a good time to get with another counselor or discipler whom you know will be honest with you, and run it by her. You don’t have to share details about the other person. Remember this may be more of a counselor problem than a counselee problem. Don’t be afraid to be honest, and share your heart—even the areas of pride. Remember that the best counselor is a good counselee, and embrace the wisdom and experience of a colleague. You may find, as I have, that the best thing that can come from slow growth in a counselee is new growth in the counselor!