If you are a biblical counselor, you know the pressure and demands of serving your counselees — being “poured out” (Philippians 2:17) is an apt image. You fall asleep praying and planning for counseling; you wake up strategizing; you spend hours reading, studying, and preparing and more hours reflecting on completed sessions and seeking counsel from others about your case.
After preparing to serve your counselee, how do you prepare your own heart and feed your own soul? What do you do to equip yourself for ministering, making sure you are well prepared to serve those who the Lord has entrusted to you for their spiritual care?
One Passage to Guide the Spiritual Life of All Biblical Counselors (Romans 15:14)
Having spent almost four chapters unfolding the responsibilities of the Roman church in caring for one another (Romans 12-15), Paul ends his exhortation by telling them that they already are equipped to care for each other (Romans 15:14). In his encouragement, he identifies three areas in which they have demonstrated ability: they are “full of goodness,” “filled with all knowledge,” and “able also to admonish one another.”
Those three phrases provide a framework for a philosophy of biblical counseling, which Jay Adams articulated so well a generation ago in his landmark work, Competent to Counsel. Those phrases also inform the counselor what his personal life and character should be like:
- The counselor’s ministry should overflow from his spiritual growth and maturity.
- The counselor’s guidance should derive from his knowledge of the Scriptures.
Before he counsels, the counselor should be filled with knowledge of the Scriptures and filled (empowered) by the Holy Spirit. Just as Scripture guides our counseling, it also provides many exhortations that are helpful to the counselor’s own heart.
Discipline Yourself Spiritually (1 Timothy 4:16)
Paul exhorts the young pastor of the Ephesian church, Timothy, to “pay close attention to yourself and your teaching” (1 Timothy 4:16). Both Timothy’s beliefs and actions were to be biblically healthy — his teaching is marked by orthodoxy, and his life is marked by orthopraxy.
To that end, a counselor does well to ask himself at least three questions:
- What is the character of my life (actions)? Am I both teaching and demonstrating how to live biblically?
- What consumes my mind and thoughts (Luke 6:45)? What does my life reflect about what is going on in my mind?
- What is the condition of my heart (desires)? James 4:1ff is not just a passage to exhort our counselees; it is a passage to examine our own hearts and motives.
Feed Your Heart on Scripture and Prayer
The Word and prayer were foundational tasks of the apostles in the early church (Acts 6:4), and they are also foundational disciplines for every godly believer. It is impossible to conceive of a spiritually mature believer who ignores the Bible and prayer.
Word and prayer are essential for the counselor because the Bible is not only what we counsel, but it is what counsels and directs our own hearts; and prayer demonstrates our inadequacy and our dependence on God to accomplish our ministry tasks.
So, we might ask ourselves, “What is my pattern of Bible intake” (reading, meditation, memory, and study; cf. 1 Timothy 4:6-7, 9)? And “What is my pattern of prayerful fellowship with God? Do the frequency, length, and depth of my prayers reveal my overt dependence on Him?”
Do What You Are Learning in Scripture (Ezra 7:10)
Before you minister the Word to others, let it minister to you. Ezra set the pattern for us (7:10). Notice that there was a distinct order to Ezra’s practice—he studied (to know), he practiced (to do), and he taught (to share/multiply). He did not teach until he had learned what Scripture said and learned how to work out what that looked like in his life.
There is a biblical term for those who do not do what they exhort others to do: Pharisees. We don’t want our ministry to become synonymous with hypocrisy (or any other sin). So, as we take in the Scriptures, we should be in the process of regularly (habitually) letting it evaluate our own hearts for the purpose of transformation. We might wisely ask ourselves, “What needs to change in my life?” and “What am I doing to change?” and “Am I reading and studying Scripture and theology to minister to my own heart, or have I fallen into the trap of only studying to help others?”
Engage in Corporate Worship and Biblical Fellowship
Hebrews 10:24-25 is applicable for counselors as well as counselees. We need corporate worship as a testimony to others that they are not alone in following Christ. We need corporate worship as a part of the corporate expression of delight in God. We need corporate worship to be reminded of the truth of the Word and to experience the encouragement, exhortation, and guidance that comes from others administering the Word to us.
While we are counselors, we also need the ministry of the Word of God to our own hearts. We are dependent on the regular interaction (fellowship) and unity of the body (cf. Hebrews 13:16; Philemon 6, 17; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Ephesians 4:1ff).
If a counselor isn’t available to worship then he also isn’t available to counsel. Good counsel comes from a heart that is invigorated by godly corporate worship.
Practice Relational Reconciliation
We can’t worship in a God-honoring way when we are sinning against others through broken fellowship. We cannot assert we are in fellowship with God if we are willfully not in fellowship with some of God’s people (1 Jn. 3:13ff).
We understand that sometimes God-honoring efforts at reconciliation have been attempted repeatedly and that some might refuse to be reconciled (Romans 12:18). But we do need to ask if those efforts have been genuinely made. So, some questions we might ask are:
- Am I regularly practicing the biblical patterns of repentance and forgiveness (2 Corinthians 7:11; Luke 17:3)?
- Do I have any relationships that are unreconciled because of my sin?
- Do I have any unreconciled relationships that I have something remaining to do to reconcile?
Train Your Body (1 Timothy 4:3-5, 8)
We don’t have to be ascetics with our food. Food is a gift from God to be enjoyed with gratitude (and self-control). But food can also become an idol and control us (and demonstrate our lack of self-discipline). Does my regular consumption of food demonstrate that I am eating with grateful self-control and not with gorging self-indulgence?
Similarly, while bodily discipline does not have ultimate (eternal) benefit, Paul does say that it has some benefit. We cannot extend our lives by diet and exercise, but we can act sinfully in the treatment of our bodies and shorten our days and make our days less effective. So we might ask:
- Am I exercising in a way that strengthens my body and maintains my health?
- Am I getting enough sleep to be well prepared to serve people the next day?
- Am I taking care of known physical weaknesses so that my ability to serve in the body of Christ is enhanced?
While God uses the counselor to shape and direct the lives of others, he must also be attentive to his own life (both the inward and outward parts of his life). That attention will largely be accomplished through the ordinary means of grace, the spiritual disciplines.
This blog was originally posted at Center for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship. View the original post here.