We have seen that the duty to counsel is given by God to His people, especially to our pastors. Because helping people is making them better disciples, that duty to counsel comes with the authority to counsel. The Great Commission which Jesus gives His Church authorizes the church to make disciples of people, helping them to observe all that Jesus has taught us in whatever topic or life problem that we face in our counseling.
When a counseling conversation begins, where do we start? We want to be good listeners. This is how we show love to our neighbor. Let them share their concerns and do not decide in advance what their real problem is and what the solution is. The counselor must be humble and ready to adjust his view of the situation while he is learning more and also seeing how the counselee reacts to his questions, prayers, and Bible reading.
This basic approach of listening to a fellow human then moves to helping that person to see what God has to say about his or her situation. Indeed, the heart needs to be re-trained so that along with describing our own feelings or life experience, we then ask the question, “Where is God in all this? What is His will for me? Why might He be bringing this situation to pass? How have I learned more of His presence through the pain I am facing?”
In other words, all true counseling is going to be theological. When you need help, start with God. Perhaps most important for both the counselee AND the counselor is to remember that when we are talking about theology we are not forgetting about humanity. As John Calvin so wisely put it in the opening of his great Institutes of the Christian Religion, the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man are intricately connected. In fact, “every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find Him.”
The Biblical counselor must lead people by the hand to find God. This starts by leading people to see that thinking about God is not an equation but an encounter. For example, one could open a scientific textbook and define an ocean wave with all sorts of mathematical formulas. Or you could describe your encounter with that wave, what you see hear as the waves crash into the rocks and what you feel when in a boat while the waves heave to and fro. Humans do not interact with God merely by reciting a “God equation,” that is, a dictionary definition of His omniscience or omnipresence. They do, however, encounter that same Almighty God when they are told He knows the thoughts of our heart and He is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death.
Thus, Bible doctrines such as the attributes of God are absolutely important for counseling, but they must be used in a correct way, a pastoral way that feeds the sheep. We see examples of this in the Bible. Ephesians demonstrates that thinking about God includes thinking about our faith (see Ephesians 1:13-16). Do not remove humanity from your counseling just because you are trying to remove sinful human ideas from the conversation. Hope-filled counsel will teach people to pray intelligently and personally, because of the bigness of God and in faith awaiting the blessing of that big God. The counselor will also talk about predestination when talking with a person that is unsure of their salvation because of the problems they created that led to counseling. That person can be reminded that the eternal doctrine of predestination is not for memorization or church creeds alone. Rather, it is a comfort and a hope for just such a time as this, reminding us again that we have only been saved by that sovereign grace of God, not because we have cooperated or ‘stayed in grace’ by a life of Christian good works.
Change is an important theme in counseling. God has everything to do with the hope and expectation a person has as they come to a counselor looking for change. The book of Ephesians presents change in the God-encounter method rather than the God-equation method. When Ephesians 4:29-32 reveals the repentant life as one that is full of wholesome speech and that puts away bitterness and wrath, these morals are grounded in the forgiving heart of God, Who first forgave us in Christ. Indeed, all the moral commands in that section come because of who Christ is and His divine presence in us, renewing our mind (Eph. 4:20-24). In other words, when a person encounters God then he or she is able to change for the better in relationships with other people.