Some readers of this blog have been counseling a long time; others are new to helping others. No matter how much experience we’ve had, it is good to think back to our beginning counseling classes where we learned the importance of the helper’s character. She should be gracious while dealing with suffering and confused counselees. Jesus is our example of a gentle and humble shepherd (Matthew 11:28-30). We read Paul’s description of gently caring for those he loved (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).
The counselee who invites us into her life is entrusting to us a precious and fragile package of emotions and thoughts which we should handle with grace. The following three points are a starting place for the counselor’s self-examination: a gracious counselor is Spirit-filled, humble, and caring. Each of these qualities is evident in our Savior.
- A Gracious Counselor is Spirit-filled.
The gracious counselor and friend isn’t able to share truth from the Scriptures without the help of the Holy Spirit. We may have training and years of experience, but we are nothing without the Holy Spirit working in and through us (John 15:5). Even if we have read books and blogs, listened to podcasts and lectures, been mentored by the best and the brightest, we are dependent on the third person of the Trinity. Ephesians 5:18 commands us to be filled with the Spirit. He leads us into truth (John 16:13). The counselor who is in step with the Spirit will speak grace-filled words and set an example for her counselee. The Spirit-filled counselor forsakes sin and pursues godliness (Romans 8:13). Our counselees are drawn to the work of God they see in us.
Jesus is our model of One who is Spirit-filled in all He said and did. In following Paul’s example, we can ask our counselees to imitate us as we imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16-17, 11:1). May the Holy Spirit be evident in the biblical counselor.
- A Gracious Counselor is Humble.
The counselor who listens well demonstrates humility. She cares more about the other person than herself, attentive to what is being said, seeking the deeper causes and motivations behind the words spoken (James 1:19). The humble counselor is less concerned about coming across as wise and likeable than seeking to truly comprehend the speaker. “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). I heard a counselee describe a previous ineffective counseling session (before meeting with a biblical counselor). The former counselor talked mostly about himself, monopolizing the appointment. The counselee didn’t feel heard. Instead, we are to “outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Philippians 2:3-4 teaches us to “count others more significant than [ourselves]” and to “look not only to [our] interests but also to the interests of others.” We are called to humbly serve our counselees.
Jesus is our example of humility. We are to look to Christ who humbly became a willing sacrifice for His people. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Let us humbly serve the needy who come for help.
- A Gracious Counselor is Caring.
In the context of the character of a counselor, genuine care is the quality needed to stay with a counselee during both hard times and good times. It can be difficult to continue meeting during the weeks that a woman needs to talk through the aftermath of a broken relationship. Love takes the time needed to build trust with someone who has been mistreated by authority figures. A caring heart motivates us to grieve alongside a mother who has lost a child…for as long as it takes. Each meeting drains us when we weep with our counselee (Romans 12:15). The image of burden-bearing is apt because we feel the heaviness that she bears (Galatians 6:2). We are also called to share the joy and success our counselee experiences. Sharing true happiness with another person is part of belonging to one another. We are exhorted to “let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9). Authentic love is demonstrated by truly joining our loved one in both elation and sorrow.
Jesus was loyal despite the desertion of His followers and pursues His people when we stray. He loves His people “with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). Jesus knew that the sheep would be scattered in His hour of greatest need, and yet He persisted in praying for them (John 17:9). Ask the Lord for the strength to endure in love.
Even those who have been counseling for years need these reminders to be Spirit-filled, humble, and caring. Counselees need to see how much we depend on the Holy Spirit. There are some counselees who are so trying that we cry out for the Holy Spirit’s illumination. Other counselees like to argue and push back against the truth. They bring out our need for humility. Still other counselees need to see that we are loyal friends and helpers. We are genuine in demonstrating our love, rejoicing and weeping as needed.
Jesus is the example we keep before us. He epitomizes saturation with the Spirit, humility, and loyalty. Keep Him before you as you serve Him through serving others (Mark 10:43, John 13:2-17).
When Words Matter Most: Speaking Truth with Grace to Those You Love by Cheryl Marshall and Caroline Newheiser.