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Teaching Counselees to Pray Biblically

Truth In Love 395

One of the most crucial elements of our counseling is prayer. How can we model, teach, and pray for our counselees?

Jan 2, 2023

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I have with me one of my dear friends, Bryan Gaines, he was one of my pastors when I lived in Texas, and he served at Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, Texas for 19 years as pastor of leadership and discipleship. In 2008, he started Grace Biblical Counseling, and he’s a regular speaker and contributor to He’s married to his wonderful wife, Lara now for 23 years; they have four children ages 4 to 17. When not engaged in ministry, he enjoys music, hunting, and mountain biking with his family. Bryan, listen, I’m so grateful that you’re here, talking about this really important subject of teaching our counselees how to pray. So, thank you for being here with us. 

Bryan Gaines: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Dale Johnson: Now, as we get started talking about this issue of helping our counselees learn to pray in a certain way. Learn to pray biblically. Help our listeners understand—you did a workshop recently at our annual conference on the subject. Help our listeners understand how this workshop teaching counselees to pray biblically relates directly to being biblical in the way that we counsel. 

Bryan Gaines: Yeah. I think John Bunyan may summarize that pretty well for us. He said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” So, as we’re working with others, prayer is just absolutely essential. It’s vital; it needs to start off what we do depending upon the Lord as well as to the process of counseling and following up with the counseling. Prayer certainly needs to be throughout that whole process and to be biblical in counseling; we see in the Bible various places that connect the Word and prayer. Jesus Himself in the high priestly prayer John 17:17 said, “Sanctify them in the truth, your Word is truth.” And so, as He is praying for those of the Lord would give to Him, He’s praying that they’ll be set apart, that they would be conformed to His image, that they would come to delight in Him, and He’s praying that they would do that, ultimately, through the Word. And of course, before Jesus would ascend, He mentioned that the counselor, capital C counselor, He would send, and the counselor convicts the world of sin, and guides believers into truth. And so, we see the importance of prayer in the Word dependent upon the Holy Spirit to grant illumination and understanding.

You know, some of those key passages and key life issues. So many people struggle with anxiety, right? And so, we’ll take him to Philippians 4:6, do not be anxious about anything, a common struggle; Jesus in Matthew 6, 3 times says, do not be anxious, and yet, as we see not only the command not to be anxious. How do we seek not to be anxious? Philippians 4:6, do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, present your requests to the Lord. And so, it’s through prayer as we understand the word of the Lord, the will of God, we humbly, dependently go before him trusting in Him to grant us, to lead us what is needed in order to not be anxious. And one of the passages that we covered in that breakout workshop there at ACBC was Colossians 1:9. And Paul, it’s so wonderful. He tells them what God would have them to do, and he reminds them of who God is, but as he opened some of those pastoral letters, he starts out by praying for them, and in Colossians 1:9-14, he records one of those prayers for them to encourage them, and in that prayer, he starts out praying that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will with all spiritual wisdom and understanding, and that’s what we want for those we help that they would be filled to the point of overflowing, controlled by God’s Word and so, certainly prayer and the Word always go hand in hand. If we have the Word apart from prayer, we can have somebody who becomes a Pharisee, and so, very important that the Word is coupled with prayer that keeps us humbly dependent upon the Lord. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I love that. Now throughout Scripture, we see, maybe model prayers, we would call it. We hear the call for us to pray. Jesus even is asked by his disciples to teach them to pray. Jesus models what that prayer looks like. So, we see these prayers; we see the call to prayer, we even see the call to pray without ceasing. Help us understand what it looks like to pray without ceasing and how we help our counselees with that. 

Bryan Gaines: Yeah, and that’s so important that can immediately be discouraging for so many people. If you have a guy who comes to you, and he’s working 60 hours a week, and you open up a text, pray without ceasing. How am I going to do that? Last week, my wife was interacting with the lady. She has four kids ages four and under. How is their time to pray without ceasing and so part of that is understanding what that actually looks like. You know, if you have four kids, if you’re working 60 or plus hours a week, that’s actually a reason to pray without ceasing, right? because we need to look to the Lord for His strength. We need to look to the Lord for the wisdom, grace, the patience to do those things that He’s called us to do.

I think John MacArthur really summarized this well, what it means to pray without ceasing. Twofold, we need to have a God consciousness as well as a people consciousness. And so, we know a favorite verse in counseling, 1 Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And if we’re going to be able to do that, we have to look to Him. We need to have the awareness that one, He is worthy. Two, He enables us with his Spirit to do that which He’s called us to do, and then apart from Him we can do nothing, and yet in him, Philippians 4:13, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. And so, a God-awareness. Also, pray without ceasing involves a people-awareness if we’re going to glorify God in all things, that means we are to love others as God has called us. And so, we need to know where the people are at, what they’re struggling with, and how to pray for them. Colossians 4:2 says to devote yourselves to prayer; further in Colossians in verse 12, we see Epaphras, and he’s struggling in prayer for those there that they would know God and do God’s will. Yeah, I forget who said this, Dale, but years ago, I heard somebody say this, “If you love someone, you will pray for them, and the more you pray for them, the more you will love them.” And I think that is so true. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I love that in the way you’re turning us toward God-consciousness. That idea is in everything we do and everything we say. It’s making a statement about God, what we’re thinking about God, and the ways in which we act, how we respond to people, and that is a constant God awareness. We might call it a Godward orientation; you’re teaching your counselees to have that type of Godward orientation and then to know where their help comes from in the matters in which they do it within daily life. So, I think that’s really critical to give them that posture. Now, as we talk a little bit more about some practical ways, what are some practical ways that you try and help others to learn how to pray biblically in the counseling?

Bryan Gaines: 1 John 5:14 and 15, “If we ask anything according to his will, we know that he hears us, and if he hears us, we know that we have what we asked of him.” And so we want to teach our counselees to pray, as Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” And His will, His prescribed will, as one of the seminary professors laid forth very well is written down in His Word, and so, God gives us His Word that we may know Him, that we may know how to relate to Him. And His Word is to be the content of our prayers, to direct our prayers, and so it’s just praying the Word. And so, as we’re meeting with somebody certainly the teaching to pray biblically, we want to model that, right? We want to start of our counseling times together, praying for the capital c. Counselor, the Holy Spirit to guide us into the Word, to convict us of sin, to show us the truth, to give us the enabling grace to live accordingly. And so, we pray, and we ask for His blessing, and then we certainly go to the Word. We seek to understand the Word prayerfully, and then we seek to apply the Word prayerfully that we would be granted the humility to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. And so, all these things require prayer.

I think in counseling over the years of doing counseling when I see things are perhaps not going as well as I think they should, it’s a reminder to me to pray. I would love just to be able to change people. But I know I don’t have the power; only God can. And so, again, it’s a constant reminder to pray. Lord, would you be so merciful? Would you pour out your grace? And so, we pray for others in that way. And often times even in formal counseling, it may be in a session, and there may be some sins that need to confess, and it may be appropriate even right in right now just to stop. Okay? You’ve acknowledged that these things before God. You’ve acknowledged these things before me. Could we take time just to confess these before the Lord and seek his forgiveness or somebody’s struggling. Can we just take time, and can I pray with you right now? It’s tempting just to give them. Okay, here’s your homework. Go do this, but we need to give them the homework and do this prayerfully. And can I pray for you as you go? and to pray for them, to pray with them, and to encourage them to remain in prayer.

You know, Dale, one thing that a beloved brother of ours, Dan Kirk, shared with us at a family retreat years ago was a prayer journal, and we talked about it, unceasing prayer there in Colossians 1:9. This prayer journal was super helpful in that he had acts, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, and with each of those, just Scripture passages that were related to that, and he would pray through those, and that would guide his time there. But when it came to supplication, you know how many people have asked us to pray for them, and we said, yes, I’ll pray for you. The reality of it is we get busy, and we forgot we had good intentions, but we actually didn’t pray for and so prayer journal, you can write down people’s names. You can write down what they ask you to pray, and in doing so, think through what is God’s will for this person in light of that. What has God said about this particular situation? What are the promise of God? Who is God in the midst of their struggle? And we can write down those passages and pray for them in light of those things. And then when we have the opportunity to dialogue with them again, we have prayed for them, we’ve prayed the will of God for them, and we can encourage them with what we prayed for them. We can even pray those passages with them, and in so doing, we’re modeling what it means to pray biblically.

Dale Johnson: And we’re teaching them how to be dependent. Bryan, listen, as you’re talking, I’m just thinking about how easy it is for us to drift from the core of who we are and what we do, and what we believe to be the power that God has given us to change and it’s not ourselves, and prayer is just a constant demonstration and listen, it’s no wonder that integrationist and secularists think that the power of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit is inadequate to do this job of changing or needs to be more relevant and modern and that sort of thing. We need to get back to these basics that God has given and trust, put ourselves in a disposition of trust upon, as you said, the big C counselor, the work of the Holy Spirit as we call out to Him in prayer. This is a means, the method by which he calls us to, and Lord, I pray that we do not forget that as biblical counselors. We cannot abandon this as a primary part of who we are and the work we’ve been called to do in teaching our counselees how to call out to the Lord because He is our help, very present help in time of need.

Brother, thank you for this great reminder walking us through very practical ways and how to get our mindset back in the things of the Lord. Thank you, brother.

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