A cursory glance through the news headlines, as well as simple observation of the world in which we live, will quickly support the idea that biblical counseling is a significant need in our society. Individuals in local churches may be dealing with depression and thoughts of self-harm. Teenagers in our communities reportedly face daily struggles related to family, bullying, depression and abuse. Families often struggle with financial pressures, marital conflicts, rebellious children, unfaithful spouses, job loss and many other daily challenges. The need is great, changes are possible, but certain steps and beliefs are essential for seeing true change in one’s life. Four central issues come to mind when considering the need for change in one’s life.
Respected biblical counseling textbooks and prominent Christian counselors seem to point to a common theme: The expectation for biblical counseling is heart change, and a foundational necessity is a desire for that change on the part of the individual(s) involved. Identifying the fact that something needs to change is an obvious starting point. In their book entitled “How People Change,” Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp warn against improper perspectives about this desire to change. If a person only desires to change their circumstances, their outward behaviors, their way of thinking, or their self-perception, they have missed the focus on true change, which occurs at the heart level. Behaviors, attitudes, and words manifest themselves from the condition of the heart (James 3:13-17, Matthew 15:18, Luke 6:45). A heart changed through biblical confrontation will result in changed circumstances, behaviors, thinking and self-perception.
A second issue involves the goal of biblical counseling. In the midst of a painful life experience, an individual may tend to see the end goal as alleviating the circumstances or changing from a sad emotion to simply being happy. On countless occasions, when I’ve asked teenagers and adults about their goal in a counseling opportunity, they respond, “I just want to be happy.” It is important that we bring clarity to the fact that the goal of biblical counseling is so much deeper than simple emotional happiness. The real goal is spiritual wholeness, not emotional happiness. Whether counseling is an informal occasion in which one believer offers support and guidance to another, or if it involves formal counseling in which a believer is benefiting from the support and guidance of a professional Christian counselor, proper perspective about the end goal is imperative.
A third issue involves the understanding that the need is real, and finding acceptance and help in the Christian community should be normative. A tragic reality is that too many people are reluctant to ask for or accept help. For those needing change, it is important to begin by laying aside pride and self-sufficiency. In our human depravity, we often need heart change, and it’s often through God’s Word, taught in the context of Christian community, that God mediates change. For those in the Christian community, willingness to participate in helping others without inappropriate judgment is a necessity. By design, God equips us for community and uses believers in the lives of one another to bring hope, encouragement, healing and love. With an emphasis on the value of the Christian community, Paul Tripp writes, in “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands,” that “God’s plan is that through the faithful ministry of every part, the whole body will grow to full maturity in Christ.” He goes on to say that “when God calls you to himself, he also calls you to be a servant, an instrument in His redeeming hands.” Seeking help from a fellow believer, whether informally or in a formal biblical counseling setting, is not shameful, but often necessary in order for us to achieve and maintain spiritual health and wholeness.
A final issue for effective counseling is that the counseling interactions must be firmly rooted in God’s Word and based on a strong biblical worldview. Wisdom from God’s Word brings encouragement and instruction, leading God’s people along a path toward spiritual health. The Bible brings people to a point of proper perspective on some of life’s greatest challenges. When we are stressed, anxious, in a troubled relationship, or facing what seem to be insurmountable problems, the Holy Spirit will often use a caring believer in a formal or informal counseling relationship to bring hope and encouragement through God’s Word. Trusting a counselor who doesn’t stand firmly on God’s Word and a biblical worldview could potentially lead to greater confusion and problems. When one seeks physical care from a doctor, a wise practice is to evaluate the credentials and values of the care provider. In the same way, believers who are seeking counsel would be wise to evaluate the worldview, educational background and the commitment to faithful biblical counseling of the person from whom they are seeking help.
Biblical counseling should be achieved in the context of the Christian community, with believers investing in the lives of others. In all cases, accurate understanding and application of God’s Word from a consistent biblical worldview is imperative. When these criteria are included in the biblical counseling process, individuals can be confident in their journey toward spiritual, emotional and mental health and maturity.
— Bobby Howard is assistant professor of Christian studies and student ministry at Charleston Southern University.