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Doxological Counseling

Truth in Love 453

How does our counseling change when we view it as an act of praise and worship to God?

Feb 19, 2024

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I have with me Omri Miles. He’s a pastor of Grace Bible Church in Tempe, Arizona. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Biblical Counseling from the Master’s University and a Master of Divinity degree from the Expositor’s Seminary. He currently serves as a director of one of our certified training centers, Biblical Counseling of the East Valley, and he lives in Phoenix with his wife Emily and their five children. It is so good to have you here, you’ve been a frequent breakout speaker for us. So grateful to now finally have you on the podcast.

I’m going to need a little bit of an explanation on where we’re going here for the doxological counseling and so I think for everyone else, I understand what doxology means, I understand what counseling means and I can’t wait to hear how you’re going to describe what that means when we put it together. What do you mean by this term “doxological counseling?”

Omri Miles: Doxological, that word really just means “having to do with worship or praise.” I like to think about that actually happening in counseling, that is what counseling is about. Doxological counseling is really instructing worshippers to the praise and glory of God. That’s a little bit of a double meaning. The way I like to think of it is that the counselor in counseling is doing that very thing. His very act of counseling is an act of worship. When we’re instructing others, we’re intending all of our instruction to be to the praise and glory of God. We want God to be known, we want to put His great character on display in our counseling. We enter into the counseling process as worshippers ourselves, but then the end of counseling, what we actually want to help our counselees do in counseling and what they take away from counseling is: be better worshipers of God. They live as a result of our counseling, we hope, is people who more effectively display the glory of God. This is why we exist and so counseling should be in keeping with that singular purpose.

Dale Johnson: I think that really places biblical counseling in its proper context because I think sometimes we start asking questions about what all we need to include and what we’re open to, relative to counseling and that sort of thing from outside of the Scriptures and all of that language. But at base, your starting point is to say, “Let’s ask God what the purpose of humanity is.” We were created by God and for God, to live through Him and to Him and if that’s the case, then it makes sense, everything that’s broken about us. We don’t fear Him, we don’t honor Him, we don’t worship Him in the ways in which we live. That’s why we talk about the aim of counseling being sanctification. That’s a fancy way of saying that we grow in our worship to God, we grow in our reflection of the character and the nature of God, we worship God better. We give Him proper honor and due with our life.

I love setting counseling in a soteriological framework. I really don’t think we can understand biblical counseling outside of a framework of soteriology, salvation, and how we think about what God is redeeming in us. I know I started thinking about this quite a while ago, maybe I don’t talk about worship the way that you just described it as much and maybe I should. When did you start thinking about this whole process, Omri, thinking about the idea of counseling and it being rooted in worship?

Omri Miles: Well, I started my program at the Master’s University in 2009 and around the same time, I moved out to Arizona after I graduated college and this was my first time as a believer in a sound church and under expositional preaching: really just learning what the church is about. I was learning to read my Bible properly as a believer for the first time. Realizing several things: one, my pursuit of God through His Word was not intended primarily for other people. It’s actually intended for me to change, for me to worship God and be more effective at displaying who He is in my day-to-day life. That’s why we come to the Word of God to get the God of the Word. I’m learning that.

Around that same time, a book was put in my hands, “The Attributes of God” by Arthur Pink. Around the same time, I’m starting my studies in biblical counseling and at some point early on in my studies, I was getting great instruction about how to think about people, how to think about their problems, how to help them and yet some of the literature that I was reading on the counseling side didn’t possess the gravity and great view of God that I was getting from the pulpit here, from books like Arthur Pink’s “Attributes of God”, and I thought, “Man, something’s missing, I’m seeing my own life change from this view of God, and I’m getting this practical help from the counseling side.” I thought that these things have to be married in a more seamless way. I think the Puritans do that better than any other group of authors. Anything you read from the Puritans is heavily theological but also incredibly practical. That was really when I started thinking about counseling, including this majestic, lofty view of God and that actually being practical help as well.

Dale Johnson: I love that, and I do think it is quite practical. Sometimes we think about worship as being esoteric, something that’s out there. We don’t often think about our lives in the ways in which we live. We’re walking through Ephesians at our church and one of the the primary phrases that Paul uses in Ephesians and elsewhere is to walk worthy of a manner for which you’ve been called. He’s just saying live life in a way that’s worshipful to God and that’s what we’ve been called to do. It impacts who we believe God to be, what we believe to be true about ourselves and the world around us; it’s intended to be responded to in praise and glory of the name of Christ. I want you to talk a little bit about the practicality because some people hear worship, and they disconnect that from something that’s practical. What practical impact does doxological counseling have on counseling?

Omri Miles: There’s a couple passages that I love to go to in counseling to describe this very thing. Those passages include Exodus 34:5-8, as well as Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. Exodus 34, you’ve got that scene where Israel has received the Law from Moses. Moses has come down from the mountain, recited what he heard, wrote down what he heard, read back to them what he heard and then they all affirmed whatever God says we’re going to do, but then a few chapters later in Exodus 32, they’re building the golden calf. So Moses goes and he intercedes for them, but we have this Christophany, this appearance of God, of Christ in the Old Testament in Exodus 34, when he says, “The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, a forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

It’s just God Himself, in bodily form, proclaiming His own glorious character. What this was for Moses was assurance that He would not destroy the people as He brought them safely into the land. He’s pleading with God to go with them, so God reveals His character and Moses asked to see His glory and as he gets this glimpse of His glory, he hears the character of God proclaimed and Moses responds—If you think of the counseling process as helping people understand who God is and what He requires better in counseling, then Moses actually displays the perfect response of the counselee in verse 8, when it says, “And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.” Moses is just compelled by the glimpse of God’s glory, the declaration of His name to get on his face and worship. What an adequate response to who God is. What else would you want to see in counseling when people’s problems even become an opportunity, or in one sense, take a backseat to the view that they have of God? So that in counseling, they’re distracted most by who God is and then everything else is put in its proper place: themselves, others, the trials and circumstances of my life. I’m just captivated by who God is and then that view really determines everything else that I do from there.

Ecclesiastes 12 is similar when it says, “

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” There you have the summation of all of life. All of man’s duty is put into one phrase: fear God and keep His commandments. In counseling, that’s what we’re after. We can’t always change the suffering, the circumstances that people are in the midst of, but what we can do is point them to Christ and help them to see opportunities that they had been providentially given by God, to fear Him and obey Him.

Dale Johnson: Because that is the end of the matter. I think that’s so well said. Now, bring this into the counseling room. We’ve talked about this in sort of a paradigm form and you’re getting just a little bit more specific as you talk about the revelation of God, who He is. We have to understand that the reason that God reveals Himself is the expectation for us to know Him, but then to respond appropriately. That response ought to be fear, honor, worship, glory as we give ourselves fully completely to Him. We are made in His image to reflect His character, His nature, His glory.

Coincidentally, this week, we learned from Ephesians 5:1 in our church, which is “Be imitators of God, to reflect the character, the nature of God.” We have to know what bar we are after from a human perspective. What are we reaching toward? What is our purpose? One of the things I wrote down in my notes that I’m reminded of as you talk, Omri, is when we think about our primary role, it gives us value, meaning and purpose to understand to know God, to know who He is. It sets our life in an appropriate place where we see the value of it, as it relates to God and and what we live for. We have mission, we have purpose, we have meaning. All the things that we’re grasping for consistently in our culture are found in God and who He created us to be.

I want you to take the things that you’ve talked about and bring that down now into the counseling room. Describe the effect that this paradigm, this focus has in the counseling room. When you’ve articulated this to some people, what are some of the basic principles that you described in the counseling room?

Omri Miles: One of the things that Ernie Baker was really good at talking about in my training just making sure that you have a counselee. Early on in counseling, just helping ensure that you’re constantly on the same page with your approach and that they’re ready to be taught what you’re going to teach. I think that this is a really easy way to do that. Usually when people come in for counseling, they’re looking to have their problems dealt with. If it’s a married couple, it’s my spouse who’s the issue. We need to put before them the singular goal, which is God’s agenda in counseling, it really helps determine how counseling is going to go.

Some ways that this has worked out for me. I remember counseling a family that needed help. The presenting problem was their young son not being able to sleep. As we talked about some of the dynamics that were happening, they’re just putting this basic principle in front of him, because his inability to sleep became anxious thoughts that he might not be able to go to sleep and that would just spiral down. It was interesting how this basic principle that sleep exists and you exist in your sleeping, or in your insomnia, for the glory of God. When you’re not able to sleep, what are some other things that would bring God glory that you could do, rather than anxiously worrying about not being able to get to sleep? In God’s providence, this just happened to be what he needed. We talked through some of the things that he could do that would glorify God, things like setting his mind on what’s true, memorizing Scripture, reciting Scripture that he already knew. That actually was the only conversation he needed to be able to get to sleep and as he put those things into practice, he found himself better able to sleep, because he was putting away anxious thoughts in exchange for meditating on the Truth.

Another time in counseling, this basic principle, actually from Ecclesiastes 12, trying to reconcile a husband and wife. This was the first time that I had met with the wife with another counselor who was counseling this woman and just putting this basic principle in front of her and made it very clear, she just said, “I’m unwilling, if glorifying God means that I have to have a hard marriage with this man, then I’m unwilling.” So she opted out of counseling. In one sense, that’s helpful for the counselor because everything that I’m aiming at, that God is aiming at, is increasing this person’s fear of Him. Where there’s an unwillingness to make that the agenda, that actually reveals what the counseling agenda can even be. In those in those situations, it ended up being two very different responses to this basic principle. Are you willing to glorify God with whatever situation that He’s put you in?

Dale Johnson: If we can’t look through that lens, the Scriptures seem to indicate Proverbs 9:10, how are we going to have wisdom about the problems that we have? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” If we don’t begin at that place, how is it that we’re going to see the problems that we have? Nobody’s denying the situations that you gave that those weren’t real problems with sleep and marital issues. Those things are real, but if we’re going to understand them well, if we’re going to know how to walk in them well, we have to start at this place where we learn to fear the Lord and that has to be the goal. That is essentially the primary starting place for biblical counseling.

I think that framework is so important and sometimes in the modern discussion, we distance ourselves from it for some reason and that opens us up to all sorts of pragmatism as we want to adopt different means and ways to approach counseling or different issues and problems, instead of setting those issues in this discussion of worship. The fear of the Lord first. Omri, those basic principles are very helpful. Now, what I want you to do is to describe from your point of view as the counselor, how is this focus change your outlook on counseling and, as the counselor, one who worships, how does this change your specific outlook on counseling itself?

Omri Miles: For me as a counselor this, in one sense, simplifies my role as a counselor. I can’t always change the situation, but for me, to say, “I need to worship God in counseling.” I don’t have any unique tips or tricks necessarily to offer, my job is to just get on God’s agenda as a counselor and help this person do what God intends for all of us. It just puts me on a level playing field with the counselor. We have the same exact goal in this. What you should be doing with your problems and what you should be doing with besetting sins is the same thing that I have to do with problems, besetting sins, even in my counseling. Just as one friend says, “Helping other beggars find bread.” I think the glory of God puts us in that context, it helps us to see ourselves that way that we just share the same purpose with the people that were we’re trying to help.

Dale Johnson: This has been helpful. Some people will say, “Oh man, this is so simplistic.” The reality is when we understand the Scriptures, that this becomes our aim and focus. 2 Peter 1:3 starts to make a lot of sense. He’s given us everything we need for life and godliness. I think what happens is we start asking the wrong questions. You’re helping people to ask the right questions about ourselves and our problems. Not denying the problems, but we have to first set them in their appropriate context, which is why were we made. We were made to worship and to fear God, to know Him and Him alone and to keep his commandments in the context that we find ourselves living in.

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