“Plagiarism is a refusal to give thanks and give credit and is, therefore, a form of theft . . . Cosmic ingratitude is living in the illusion that you are spiritually self-sufficient. It is taking credit for something that was a gift. It is the belief that you know best how to live, that you have the power and ability to keep your life on the right path and protect yourself from danger. That is a delusion, and a dangerous one” (Tim Keller, Prayer pg. 196).
Consider this quote in light of the counseling and discipleship process. The delusion that we as counselors have the ability to change anyone is a form of theft; a stealing of God’s glory. Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” Or consider Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other.” These verses, and many others, make clear that we should never seek to steal God’s glory when lives are changed through interactions with us. We should recognize we are dependent on the Holy Spirit for our work as counselors to be effective.
Foundation #7 – We are dependent on the Holy Spirit
When I was first hired at Twelve Stones back in 2007 I was a well-trained but inexperienced counselor. I did not have nearly enough hours of counseling to be ready to handle the level of difficulty of the cases we regularly faced. In the months I spent observing and asking questions to gain greater competence, one of the things that became obvious to me was that I desperately needed God’s help. To encourage me when I was tempted to be overwhelmed I displayed 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 on my desk, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant.”
As I counseled more and more I started to “get the hang of it.” It was exciting to see lives transformed before my eyes, and I was gaining confidence in my ability to help people. But those same verses from 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 were still on my desk and one day it hit me: I am just as needy today as I was when I put those verses on my desk in desperation. I was rebuked and warned by the Spirit of God that I needed to stay humble and dependent and never think I could become such a skilled counselor that I didn’t need God’s help.
Regardless of counseling experience, what are some reminders from the Scriptures to help us stay humble and recognize our dependence on the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit empowers change
When I look back on my days as an inexperienced counselor, one of my mistakes was that I spent hours and hours preparing for a counseling case and very little time praying. It could have been described as much effort and little prayer. While there is an important place to spend time preparing to meet with someone, it cannot replace time spent in prayer asking God to move in the heart of the person I am counseling. It is also not just praying before counseling, but being sensitive to moments when a person is stuck or not able to understand or receive what is being shared.
While there is an important place to spend time preparing to meet with someone, it cannot replace time spent in prayer asking God to move in the heart of the person I am counseling.
Regularly pausing in the middle of counseling to speak to God on behalf of the one you are counseling is a good indicator of your dependence on God or lack thereof.
This pattern of prayer acknowledges the reality that the Holy Spirit is the change agent in the process of counseling, not me or all my preparations. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
To further elaborate on the importance of the Holy Spirit’s role in the change process we must recognize that He provides those we counsel with the power to change. Ephesians 3:20 says, “Not to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” The Apostle Paul clearly understood his dependence and the Spirit’s power in his ministry when he wrote, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (2 Corinthians 2:3-5). So as we seek to participate in change in the lives of those we counsel, may we remember our weakness and the Spirit’s power in transforming lives for the glory of God.
The Holy Spirit brings conviction
In addition to recognizing the Holy Spirit empowers believers to change, we must also remember that the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin. A vital component in the change process involves repentance which begins with conviction of sin. John 16:8 says, “And when he [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” As a result, we need to use Spirit-inspired words of Scripture to bring about conviction.
If I am counseling parents, I want to provide biblical instruction on how to discipline and instruct without exasperation (Ephesians 6:1-4), discipline (Proverbs 22:15), and the importance of kindness verses anger in their parenting (James 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Romans 2:4). After teaching through whatever topic is appropriate, I can then ask them to evaluate themselves against God’s standard found in His Word. I don’t have to accuse them or berate them. Rather, I can let the Bible speak, ask questions, and leave room for the Holy Spirit to bring conviction. There are times a more direct rebuke is needed, but that would come after attempting to help them see it for themselves first.
The Holy Spirit gives understanding
While the Holy Spirit gives power and conviction, He also provides understanding. In counseling at Twelve Stones we always involve advocates. An advocate is a friend from back home who comes and sits through the counseling process and then returns home with the counselee to remind and encourage them with the truths shared at Twelve Stones. While advocates have a number of important roles, the most important is that we ask the advocates to be praying throughout the counseling process. Prayer is a vital part a counselee gaining understanding of his own heart as well as how the Word of God applies to their situation. So having someone wrestling in prayer for their friend is a key component to the changed lives we see at Twelve Stones.
Prayer is a vital part a counselee gaining understanding of his own heart as well as how the Word of God applies to their situation.
We know that we need the Spirit of God to provide this understanding if anything is to be accomplished in our counseling (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).
Speaking of 1 Corinthians 2, John Piper says this, “When the Spirit of God is at work in your life, then you will appraise things the way God does. You will not regard the Word of God as folly but as the most precious word imaginable. The first and most fundamental work of God’s Spirit in the life of the natural man is to shatter pride. The Spirit enables us to see on the one hand our desperate helplessness and on the other hand the all-sufficiency and beauty of Christ crucified. We begin to see and appraise things with the eyes of Christ (https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-the-spirit-helps-us-understand).”
While most biblical counselors have a spoken theology that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit, it is important that we evaluable our practice and see if we live like it. I have sought to help us examine if the way we counsel demonstrates we are actually dependent on the Holy Spirit. Some of the evidences we have looked at include a lack of confidence in ourselves but rather in God (2 Cor. 3:5-6); consistent prayer before, during, and after counseling; asking questions and using Scripture to bring conviction; and finally trusting in the Word of God so we and our counselees appraise things with the eyes of Christ.
Next week we will examine the vital role of community in the counseling process. In the meantime, here are a couple of questions for you to ponder this week.
Questions for Reflection
- How consistently are you praying before, during, and after counseling? What changes, if any, need to be made in this area of your ministry?
- In what ways do you struggle with self-sufficiency in your counseling ministry? Ask the Holy Spirit to bring conviction, and invite a colleague or mentor to guide you through this conversation.