Today on the podcast, I want us to make sure that we revisit one of the more critical and vital components of what it means to counsel biblically. We get excited about all the techniques and the beauty of the Word when we’re growing and learning about biblical counseling. We even find ourselves, maybe as we get older as biblical counselors, always thinking about passages, thinking things like, “Man, how awesome that would be to utilize this in this type of counseling situation.”
Can I encourage you to back up for a moment? Take a step backward in that when you hear the Word, I want your first instinct to be: “God, what are you teaching me to do? What are you calling me to do personally?”
I want to talk today about this very important, critical, vital subject of personal holiness as a counselor. There are several reasons why. I mean, you can imagine just hearing that as to why it’s important, but there are several really critical and important points that I just want to bring up—and there are more, this is not an exhaustive list. I want you to consider this, as hopefully I can encourage you to never neglect your pursuit of personal holiness, especially as a counselor, especially as one who stands or sits in front of people and gives them counsel from God’s Word. Don’t ever fall into the trap of simply knowing things that you can tell someone else—that’s pharisaism. Make sure that it’s not just knowledge that you have, but experience as you walk with the Lord that breeds in you confidence of the Word.
That’s the first thing I want you to consider: Personal holiness really builds the confidence in the Word to change us. Think about when you see the Word of God taught to you, and you grow in faith by hearing the Word, and you see the your own sinful tendencies and the desires of the flesh crucified, and you see joy despite what’s going on in the circumstances around you in your own life. You walk into the counseling room differently.
The way that you see that person in their situation, no matter how desperate, you bear a confidence in the Word of God because you’ve seen it change you. Listen, you know the truth—that if the Word can change you, it can change anybody. If the Word has the power and the ability to reach into the depths of your wicked heart, and to change you, to give you joy, to give you peace, to give you hope in desperate situations, my goodness the power of the Word to change people! You walk into the counseling room with a different confidence.
The second thing it does is it builds a character in you that’s to be mimicked. If you think about character building, you being conformed to the image of Christ builds a character within you that’s desirable, that people want to imitate. People want a drink of whatever it is that you’re having because they see the character of Christ that’s in you and they want that. That doesn’t happen by chance. That happens by pursuing disciplines on a daily basis. It happens by being intentional to hear the Word and not just be hearer, but to be a doer of the Word. It happens by intentionally seeking the Lord in prayer. It happens intentionally by you pursuing the good of others. It happens in you by putting to death the desires of the flesh, by walking intentionally according to the Spirit to see the fruit that the Spirit would bear in your life. It builds a character that’s to be mimicked.
Maybe a third thing that I want us to consider is that pursuing personal holiness really keeps us humble. It keeps us humble because we recognize the ability for someone to change is not in my words—in my eloquent words that I might speak or in any earthly wisdom that I have—the beauty of the work of Christ through His Word and by the power of the Spirit in the lives of others is the only thing that can change the hearts of people. You know that because that’s the only thing that can change your own heart.
It keeps us humble in not thinking pridefully that we’re the ones who are creating change. It prevents us from thinking, “I sure have gotten really good at counseling lately. I’ve been doing this for several years and I’m just a super skilled person. I know more about, intellectually, the Word of God.” It helps to keep us humble when we pursue personal holiness because as we pursue personal holiness, we begin to see that we don’t have anything that we did not receive from the Lord. As we walk faithfully with the Lord, we see that the depths of our own heart and the wickedness that resides. There’s nothing good that dwells in us that the Lord didn’t do in us, for us, or through us. It keeps us humble.
It also helps to remember that in our humility, I’m not trying to conform my counselee to me or to my ideals. Both the people sitting in the room, naturally or physically speaking, need to be conformed to something else. I’m not the personal standard; Christ is the standard. Personal holiness helps us to keep that in mind. What we’re aiming at is not them conforming to what I think is best or my opinions about what I think should happen in life. The aim is that both of us in the room are attempting to grow to the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ. That means to grow up as we measure ourselves against Him. We’re both conforming, desperately needy, to the image of Christ. It keeps us humble.
The next thing is we remember in our personal holiness that our heart needs just as much shepherding as the person who sitting across the table from us. We know in the pursuit of personal holiness that it’s not a simple thing. It’s not: Put your money in the vending machine, press the little button of the thing that you want, and out comes exactly what you want. That’s not the way personal holiness works. Personal holiness is discipline, it’s work. It takes effective, critical, focused care to take care of the the unwieldiness in your own heart. When you recognize that you need just as much shepherding from the body, from the preached Word, to not just hear the Word but to do the Word, it encourages you to maintain a posture of shepherding toward the other person—a posture of care.
The next thing I think personal holiness does in us as we pursue it diligently is it helps us to see the needs of others clearly. What do I mean by that? I’m thinking here of Matthew 7, where conflict ensues and the person is called first to self-examination—to look at the log in their own eye. We have to think about this as counselors. I know for me, I use the log list often. Do you use that homework? Maybe you do. I use the log list often in homework, but do I use it on myself as the counselor? I think it’s important that when we walk into the room knowing that we’re going to deal with problems, specs in the eyes of another individual for example, that we pause for a minute and say, “You know what? If I’m going to go deal with the speck in someone else’s eye, I should be pursuing taking the log out of my own eye.” Why? Because for me it helps change the way that I see that person. I’m not looking around the difficulties and darknesses of my own heart, the logs jading my view if you will, it helps me to see with clear vision for the good of the individual to the glory of Christ. It helps me to see their problem differently. And I can see the speck a lot more clearly when I’ve walked with the Lord and when I’ve allowed Him to clean up the things in my own life. It really helps us to see the person a little bit more clearly as well.
I would encourage you to pursue the log list, not just giving it out as homework, but this ought to be something that we’re doing on a weekly basis as we prepare to walk into the counseling room. We’re pursuing personal holiness because it allows us to see the person and their situation and the hurt that they’re experiencing at a deeper level, and a more clear level.
The last thing that I want to mention—and again, this is not an exhaustive list—is when we grow in personal holiness, we continue to grow in the tenderness of Christ. What do you mean by that? What I mean by that is I have people who ask me all the time about empathy and sympathy, and how we think about growing in our empathy. There’s nothing wrong with our desire to want to be empathetic at all with people—we should. We should never be pharisaical where we’re hardened to the hurts and problems of others. That’s not what I’m saying. But we also have to recognize that there’s a way in which we pursue these things, and it’s not just through putting on outward skills of empathy. This happens in our inner man, in the way we see a person. As we grow in holiness and conform to the image of Christ, guess what naturally happens? Our hearts transform to be more like Christ. What starts to happen in our hearts, is it changes the way we see other people to where the same way Christ saw other people through the lens of compassion and kindness, we begin to see people through the lens of compassion and kindness. It changes the way we think in compassion toward other people.
Listen to what the Word says in Colossians 3, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another.” What Paul’s gone through great lengths to tell us in the previous verses here is we’re called to think about things that are above, we’re called to crucify the flesh, and in process we put on Christ, so that what happens? We begin to have compassionate hearts. What are the symptoms of that compassionate heart? Kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and bearing with one another. Have you examined your counseling lately? Do you examine your posture toward individuals in the counseling room? Do you see yourself struggling with compassion? Maybe you’re getting bitter and angry and frustrated. Maybe you’re finding yourself being impatient. Maybe you’re not very kind at all.
I think we need to pursue personal holiness as a means to grow and foster a compassionate heart that has the same characteristics as Christ and has the same desires for other people as Christ. When we see them struggling, our hearts well with compassion within, not because some of some sort of outward skill that we’ve learned, but because our hearts have been changed and conformed to the image of Christ and now, what flows out of it is kindness. Now, what flows out of it is patience. Now, what flows out of it is compassion. Now, we desire—when someone’s carrying a burden—we want to go help them with that burden.
I encourage you to pursue personal holiness. I think this is a portion that gets neglected often. Do training—we love training, but if you pursue training and don’t pursue personal holiness you’re going to struggle in the counseling room. Pursuing personal holiness is a prerequisite for those who will engage in biblical counsel, because your heart has to be changed before you can engage in changing the hearts of others with the Word by the power of the Spirit.
Can I encourage you today? Don’t neglect that area of your life. Don’t get so busy with so many counseling sessions that you forget your role in pursuing personal holiness because that’s the primary thing that prepares you well and enhances any skill that you gain when you engage the broken in the counseling room. Pursue personal holiness, and if you’ve neglected that, repent. Turn from that and engage that this week.