The Instructions: Appreciate Psalm 119 Principles
The human author of Psalm 119 was a self-counselor. And he used nothing more than Scripture. Before training any teen to self-counsel, read through Psalm 119 with the purposes of The Self-Counseling Project in mind. Study it with a good commentary. Note these and other key verses related to self-counseling:
- Verse 9: A young man must guard his way according to God’s Word.
- Verse 24: God’s Word is this author’s counselor.
- Verse 30: The author chose to follow God’s Word personally.
- Verses 99-100: Meditation on God’s Word produces unrivaled wisdom.
- Verse 112: Inclining one’s heart to obey God’s Word should be a lifelong skill.
Step 1: Present the Gospel
The Self-Counseling Project is for believing teens. So, like all biblical counseling, it begins with a gospel presentation. The gospel presentation must be thorough, and it must be clear. Do not sacrifice one for the other. Think ahead to the questions this teen may ask. Move forward with The Self-Counseling Project only if the teen agrees with the gospel and professes saving faith in Christ.1For teens who reject the gospel, continue listening for entry gates and share gospel concepts in the context of their lives.
Resources for Step 1:
- The Gospel for Children by John B. Leuzarder
- “The Gospel in Context (Simple)” by Gracie Nelson2found at: https://oneeightyministries.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Gospel-in-Context-PDF-for-Teens.pdf
Step 2: Teach About the Heart and Biblical Change
Use a simple version of “The Three Trees Diagram” or “The Y-Diagram” to teach about the human heart—about her heart. Discuss heat, root vs. fruit, thoughts and desires, actions, the gospel, repentance, faith, consequences of actions, and habits. This is best taught in dialogue. Anticipate and welcome questions.
These diagrams’ visual nature is helpful for grasping abstract concepts like desires or habits. Use the diagram to clarify points of confusion throughout the project. For example, a teen too focused on the actions of her jealousy can revisit the root/fruit dynamic, reminding her that heart change (from “underground”) is what produces godly fruit (Proverbs 4:23; Luke 6:45). Or a teen who tries to control outside circumstances must see circumstances as “heat,” outside of her control. Her concern is to respond in a way that honors God.
Clearly define the biblical change process of putting off sin, repenting, renewing one’s mind, and putting on the godly alternative (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:1-17). Use the same diagram to address a common sin habit, such as pride or anger. This provides a traceable path to follow the different aspects of this diagram. Do not personalize it to her yet, because she needs to grasp the concepts and process of the diagram at this point. Personalization will come later.
It is important to understand biblical change as a process that will take time. This teen will face discouragement at her own struggle to rid herself of the sin habit. It is wise and compassionate to stress the “put on” portion (biblical replacement), as it gives hope. The teen will likely be least familiar with this portion of biblical change.
Resources for Step 2:
- The Three Trees Diagram by Ashley Evans Boone is a hand-drawn version.3It is found here: https://ashleyevansboone.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/developing-character-the-model.jpg
- Grace Fellowship Church’s example of both the Three Trees Diagram and the Y-Diagram:
- Three Trees Diagram4found at https://graceky.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Three-Trees.pdf
- Y-Diagram (filled out)5found at https://graceky.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Y-Diagram.pdf
- Y-Diagram (with blanks)6found at https://graceky.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Y-Diagram-Blanks.pdf
Step 3: Choose a Sin Habit Through Self-Examination
Biblical self-examination will help the teen choose a sin habit to address in The Self-Counseling Project. Teach from James 4:1-10 which speaks to heart worship being the root of all dissension, and points to God’s love of humility. Provide resources for self-examination. This step can lead to further clarification on the meaning of sanctification.7Teaching the progressive nature of sanctification can benefit the teen greatly, but it is beyond the scope of this article to provide such instruction. Rejoice with a teen you know is taking the project seriously by her willingness to address a sin she truly struggles with. Do not lose heart if a teen enters this halfheartedly. Remember that this teen can go nowhere better for the issues of her soul. God may yet change her.
Resources for Step 3:
- The Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling by John G. Kruis
- The “Child Training Bible,” created by Mindy Dunn to train her own children.8You can get everything needed to create your own (which will help every step of The Self-Counseling Project) at: http://www.childtrainingbible.com/
Step 4: Apply Biblical Change to the Sin Habit
She must now ask questions to determine the root issue beneath the sin habit.9Use good data-gathering questions for this portion. Have her study one passage related to this topic, focusing on the root of what needs to be put off (e.g., jealousy rooted in discontentment) and what needs to be put on (e.g., contentment). The purpose of having her study one passage is it keeps things simple for her and allows for training in focused and correct biblical interpretation.10Teaching teens correct (grammatical-historical) hermeneutics is beyond the scope of this article, but it will only benefit The Self-Counseling Project. I hope to write on this topic in the future! Personalize the Three Trees Diagram or Y-Diagram to her chosen sin habit. Teach what to put off, what repentance is (and is not), renewal with the Word (involving memorizing and meditating on Scripture) and putting on the godly alternative in more detail.
Resources for Step 4:
- Step 3’s resources are helpful, providing Scriptures related to specific sin issues.
- “Drawing Out the Purposes of the Heart” Questionnaire11Similar versions exist on other biblical counseling websites. One can be found at: https://graceky.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Drawing-out-the-Heart.pdf
- “Put Off/Put On” Diagram from Canyon Hills Counseling website12at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/586c240e725e250e1dc73403/t/603419f501f42432e27f6673/1614027254217/Put+Off+Put+On+diagram+blank.pdf
- A Study Bibleand uninterrupted time. Truly, a self-counseling teen must learn to immerse herself in the Word and study a verse in its context. This will take time, but it is time well-spent.
Step 5: Create and Follow a Long-Term Battle Plan
Two points become unmistakably clear at Step 5. First, this project is not easy because teens are in a spiritual battle for their attention. Second, I have more to learn to improve this project. Teaching patience and perseverance to youth is a challenge. This task is not for the faith-of-heart. In my teaching, it came as no surprise that the daily grind of practicing biblical disciplines for change was where the wheels fell off for many teens. Teens struggle with daily biblical disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, memorization, and meditation) mostly due to lack of direction or motivation. The Self-Counseling Project provides both, and this gives me hope for the future, even if my implementation of this step was lacking.
Create a plan together for eradicating this sin, focusing on small and achievable goals. Long term practice leads to the formation of new habits. Find creative ways to help teens develop discipline.13I created bracelets with the phrases “Put off, Repent, Renew, Put On” to help remind them as they went about their day. Use a calendar template to create a daily sanctification plan together, focusing on the spiritual disciplines. If teens believe change should be immediate, they will lose hope.
Resources for Step 5:
- Killing Sin Habits by Dr. Stuart Scott
- The Lifeline Mini-Book Series has many topics that relate directly to heart issues and provide “Personal Application Projects.”14They can be found at: https://www.shepherdpress.com/store/lifeline/
- Using your knowledge as a biblical counselor, guide the teen by collaboratively creating homework assignments.
Step 6: Encourage and Provide Accountability
Teens do not typically like accountability, but they need it. Proverbs, written to youth, exhorts them to “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (19:20). Making accountability attractive to a teen is challenging but not impossible. Talk about the purpose of accountability. Speak of the accountability measures you have in your own life. We all need accountability, and when the teen sees it as a safety net as opposed to an electric fence, the more inclined her heart will be toward it.
Teaching concepts is beneficial, but teaching skills is a gamechanger. Self-counseling teaches a transferrable skill. If teens learn how to self-counsel with Scripture on one sin, they can apply that skill to any sin they face in the future. What a worthy use of time, and what an investment!