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Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

Never at Rest, Part 2

Never at Rest Part Two

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part 2 of a two-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on Resting in Jesus. You can read Part 1 here.

Rest in Jesus

Our souls need rest, and they find that rest in Jesus. But we need more than rest for our souls. We need real, regular rest for our bodies—and that rest includes rest in the midst of labor and rest from labor.

Rest in Labor

In Matthew 11:28–30, Christ tenderly says to each of us:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

If you’ve ever watched oxen yoked together, then you know that the yoke is used when there is work to be done, not when the oxen are in their stalls munching on oats. In the same breath that Jesus says He will give rest to all who come to Him, He mentions being harnessed into a yoke. Hmm…God is not like human beings. When God is in charge and you wear His yoke, even work becomes restful.

If you’ve ever had a job you truly loved, then you can understand this. You didn’t have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning because you couldn’t wait to get to your job. And even if your job was challenging, you were invigorated by the opportunities, not drained. If you’ve experienced this, you’ve had a taste of what it’s like to hope in the Lord.

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint. God gives rest in the midst of labor. Running and walking are physical activities, and soul and body are strengthened when your hope is in the Lord.

Rest from Labor

We would not represent God well if we did not also rest from our labor. When God rested on the seventh day, it was His labors from which He rested. So, while it is possible to rest in our labors, God also established a pattern of resting from our labors.

The Old Testament Sabbath was a day set apart to the Lord, a day in which the normal labor required to sustain life was to stop. Fields were not to be planted, crops were not to be harvested, everyone, including the animals, was to rest and be refreshed.

Planting and harvesting are perhaps the two busiest times of the year for farmers. They spend long days in the field and perhaps it seems obvious they would need rest. However, resting during these seasons requires tremendous trust in God. For example, in harvest when crops are ripe, you generally want to get them in as quickly as possible from the field. You don’t want to risk losing them, as fully mature plants start to degrade in quality and are more likely to attract disease and insects. Additionally, a rain at harvest can be expensive, damaging the crop and increasing the harvest costs. As a farmer you want to make hay while the sun shines.

That being the case, resting on a sunny Sabbath no longer makes intuitive sense. It requires deep trust in God and His sovereign control to rest while the sun shines.

Perhaps you don’t rest because you fear others will believe you are lazy. Living in a culture that values achievement and productivity can easily lead us to the point where we feel guilty enjoying any rest. Yet God gives good things to enjoy. So, to snatch moments of rest, as though you were doing something illegal, is to proclaim to God that He made a mistake in making rest holy. We must properly reflect the Giver in both rest and work, in both body and soul.

Accepting the Invitation to Rest

Consider accepting Christ’s invitation to come to Him and find rest. Rest from the clamoring of your soul. Rest from the stresses of modern living. Rest from the burden of sin. Rest from the fatigue of daily cares.

But those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.  (Isaiah 40:31)

Join the Conversation

Where can you rest in your labor this week? Where should you rest from labor?

Topics: Christian Living, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , ,

Never at Rest, Part 1

Never at Rest Part One

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part 1 of a two-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on Resting in Jesus.

Martha’s Misguided Priorities (and Ours)

“Martha, Martha”—what thoughts come to mind when you hear those words?

For many, what comes to mind is Christ’s response to the woman busily trying to show hospitality and get dinner ready for Christ and His disciples while they were in her home (Luke 10:38–42). Hospitality is a good thing. So much so that believers are commanded to practice hospitality several times in the New Testament (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 1:8).

Yet good things can sometimes take on a life of their own. When this happens we will be worried and distracted. We won’t be at rest. Martha had gotten caught in this trap. Christ gently pointed out that her sister Mary had chosen what was better. Mary sat listening at Christ’s feet. She was not worried and distracted. She was at rest.

Mary had been able to separate higher priorities from lower priorities on this occasion. But to Martha, getting dinner on the table was the top priority. As a result, she asked the Lord to intervene and get her some help. She went to the Creator of everything as she was trying to prepare and asked Him to make her sister help her.

It doesn’t make much sense, does it? If you were going to ask the Creator to do something, why not just ask Him to provide the meal so you could sit at His feet and listen?

Good, Better, and Rest for the Soul

It is likely that Martha missed this reality because she had misplaced priorities. It wasn’t as if Martha was doing something bad; the problem was that there was something better to do and Martha wasn’t doing it. Learning to distinguish good from better, and better from best, is a skill that requires wisdom.

For Martha, learning from Jesus should have been a higher priority than her meal prep. Again, big elaborate meals are not wrong; God Himself has plans to prepare a big elaborate meal for His people (Isaiah 25:6). However, we must learn not to sacrifice what is best and settle for only what is good.

If we don’t grow in this skill, we will, like Martha, be distracted and upset and not at rest. If you are not sure how to prioritize your responsibilities and opportunities, seek out wise counsel. Your soul will never be at rest with misplaced priorities.

Rogue Desires

What we desire and want can also sabotage rest for the soul. Desires for the approval of others, for jobs well done, and for a good reputation are spoken of positively in Scripture (Romans 14:18; Colossians 3:23; Proverbs 22:1; 1 Timothy 3:7). They are also all spoken of as having little worth in Scripture (Galatians 1:10; Luke 10:38–42; Philippians 3:3-11).

What distinguishes these desires and makes them either good or cheap? I think we find the determining factor in 1 Corinthians 10:31: whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of the Lord. Whenever this is not the case we are dealing with rogue desires. Desires that have stepped out of their proper bounds and have become objects of worship. When rogue desires take over we look to them for life rather than to God.

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone” (Psalm 62:5). Not in prestige, not in a job well done, not in the approval of others. There is no rest for the soul apart from God and God alone—the self-existent One, the Creator, the Savior, the Giver of every good gift, the Lover of your soul, the One who is worthy, the Lamb slain for you, the One who lavishes you with love, the One who can’t wait to show you the riches of His grace, the One who gives strength to the weary, and the One who makes His creatures lie down in green pastures. “A heart at peace gives life to the body” (Proverbs 14:30).

The Rest of the Story about Rest

Join us in Part 2, as we learn that our souls need rest, and they find that rest in Jesus. But we need more than rest for our souls. We need real, regular rest for our bodies—and that rest includes rest in the midst of labor and rest from labor.

Join the Conversation

Do you have desires that have “gone rogue”? In what ways is Jesus calling you away from the “good” to the “better”?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Christian Living, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , ,

Gospel Grace for the Eating-Disordered Woman, Part 2

Gospel Grace for the Eating-Disordered Woman, Part 2

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part 2 of a two-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on eating disorders by Marie Notcheva. In the first part of this series, we considered the faulty thinking and “idolatry” behind eating disorders. In the second, we will consider some gospel-centered differences in how to counsel anorexic and bulimic women. You can read Part 1 here.

Accepted by Grace

In her book, Good News for Weary Women, Elyse Fitzpatrick draws an interesting parallel between extra-biblical advice Christian women receive on how to be “godly” and the Galatians whom Paul was chiding for adding rules onto faith in Christ. Fitzpatrick correctly points out that trying to live up to our own standards in an attempt to make ourselves “acceptable” to God will lead to guilt, failure, and self-condemnation.

Some of the examples of guilt-inducing, unwritten “rules” for Christian women include the pressure to homeschool, teach Sunday school, and feed the family organic, home-cooked meals regularly. All of these are good practices but are neither biblical commands nor do they gain us “points” with the Lord. The point Fitzpatrick is making is that when we (women) add additional burdens to our “self-improvement” lists, we are putting ourselves back under the “bondage of the Law,” attempting to make ourselves look “okay in our own eyes” and denying our need for grace.

For an anorexic or bulimic woman, the bondage to her self-imposed rules and rituals is exponentially worse. “Allowed” foods become progressively fewer, mandatory exercise regimes become longer and more arduous, and calorie intake drops to starvation levels.

For a bulimic, eating “too much” (even by one bite) causes her to justify an all-out binge: “I’ve already blown it now…I may as well go all in.” This all-or-nothing thinking leaves no room for grace; the woman feels dirty, weak and guilty when she “fails.” Former anorexic, Michelle Myers, wrote of being struck by a friend’s words when she was most stuck in her sin:  “God loves you just as much whether or not you work out.” Being no less “worthy” by skipping a workout or eating carbs is a difficult concept for an eating disordered counselee to grasp and is a very concrete example of where she needs to apply the gospel in her daily life.

Differences in Counseling Anorexic and Bulimic Clients

When discussing the young woman’s “rules” and what she feels may be gained by keeping them, you may encounter many different responses according to how deeply entrenched her eating-disordered behavior is. Also, be aware that anorexics generally are more difficult counseling cases than bulimics for a number of reasons:

  • They are often (but not always) more medically fragile; doing the hard work of biblical change may require more energy than they have.
  • The level of self-deception is greater in anorexia.
  • Fear of food and the idolatry of thinness has become all-consuming. Anorexics often begin counseling with little hope of being transformed.

If you are counseling a young woman who has been clinically diagnosed with anorexia nervosa (meaning she is at least 20% below her ideal body weight), I would strongly suggest you require she be monitored at least weekly by a physician and have labs drawn regularly. Electrolyte imbalances are common among both anorexics and bulimics, but the risk of cardiac or renal failure is greater in severe anorexia.

Secondly, be prepared for pushback from the anorexic counselee when trying to get her to see her behavior as “sin.” This is one of the biggest differences I have noticed in counseling young women with eating disorders: a bulimic counselee already knows her behavior is wrong and self-destructive, and she is typically ashamed of her “loss of control.” An anorexic, by contrast, often feels empowered by restricting. She believes her rigid behavior is the epitome of “healthy,” justifies it as “self-discipline,” and feels revulsion for being a normal weight (which in her eyes is “fat”). When she looks in the mirror, no matter how emaciated she may be, she sees an obese person looking back at her. A bulimic may have an idolatrous view of weight (wanting to be thin so badly she is willing to sin in order to obtain it), but typically her weight is close to normal and self-image is not quite so skewed.

The anorexic takes great pride in her “law-keeping”—it has become her identity. The desire to be thin at all costs takes over—to the point where her fear of food has become irrational. The progressive nature of anorexia nervosa leaves the counselee literally afraid to swallow food.

Besides helping her counter these fears biblically, I require anorexic counselees to see a nutritionist (assuming they are outpatient) and strongly encourage it for bulimics. Meeting with a dietician helps the anorexic gain confidence in consuming what her body needs nutritionally, while countering the lies she has internalized with you, the biblical counselor.

As a rule, I do not ask either anorexic or bulimic counselees to keep food diaries—although a dietician may require it. Writing down everything she eats focuses undue attention on the food itself, rather than on uncovering her heart motivations and renewing her mind.

Giving Hope and Teaching Her to Treasure Christ

However your counselee’s eating disordered behavior manifests, giving hope in the first session is crucial. She likely will have internalized a lot of myths about eating disorders from “pop psychology,” such as “You’re never fully recovered; always in recovery.” Contrast this with 1 Corinthians 6:11 where Paul admonished former gluttons, drunkards, homosexuals, and others “addicted” to their sin that they have been “washed…sanctified…and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Help her to see that she is using food in a way that God did not intend it and that she is harming the body He gave her to serve and honor Him.

A similarity between anorexia and bulimia is that in both disorders the behavior is serving as a “false savior”—they make the sufferer feel better (temporarily) so stopping is hard. When comfort and thinness are her top priorities, her mind is not “set on things above” (as we saw in Part 1), and her heart is drawn to herself (Matthew 6:21). To be transformed, she must learn to renew her mind with God’s Word and turn her heart to Christ (Romans 12:1-3; 2 Corinthians 3:18). As in all life-dominating sin, the believer must learn to see Jesus Christ as more beautiful and desirable than her “idol.” Your task is to help her discern what His immediate will is for her life (a transformed mind, health, restoring food to its proper, life-sustaining place) and to trust God and those He has given her to help her (Proverbs 3:6).

Facing Temptation

Overcoming an eating disorder is not easy, even for a Christian who sincerely desires to follow Christ. Women may often be fearful of revealing their “secret” to anyone when they first come to you, ashamed of their behavior, and desperately wanting to stop but terrified that God’s Word will not be “enough,” and they will not be able to turn from their eating disorder.

Be prepared to re-visit the gospel (the Person and work of Jesus Christ on their behalf) many times and to demonstrate, scripturally, grace for each failure (Luke 17:4 is a powerful verse for addictive sin, as is Romans 7). Teach her to turn to Christ for help and comfort in times of struggle (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Peter 5:6-7; Matthew 11:28-30). Each time she is able to turn to God in her moment of weakness and resist the temptation to restrict or purge, she will gain confidence and come to see herself as waging a spiritual victory.

Healing in Body, Mind, and Spirit

Once the counselee has begun to eat regular, healthy meals and develop new patterns of thinking, the urge to restrict or purge tends to subside within a couple of months. The anorexic has now faced her greatest fear—gaining weight—and sees an improvement in health. The weight gain will usually plateau relatively soon, but insist that she stick to her “maintenance” meal plan as part of her homework assignment. See chapter 13 (“Practical Considerations”) of my book, Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the bondage of Eating Disorders.

A bulimic finds her intense cravings subsiding as her mind is restored, partly because she is retaining the nutrition her body desperately sought. Her energy and concentration dramatically improves, almost as soon as she stops purging, as her blood sugar is no longer spiking wildly every few hours. Emotionally, anorexics and bulimics tend to be on a much more even keel once their eating normalizes, and do not find themselves fixating nearly so often on food.

It is tremendously encouraging, both for the woman overcoming an eating disorder and for the counselor, to see the transformation take place as she learns to fix her eyes on Christ and permanently leave her bondage at the foot of the cross.

Join the Conversation

When addressing struggles with eating disorders, either in your own life or in your counselees, how can you apply the gospel of Christ’s grace?

Topics: Eating Disorders, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , ,

Understanding “The Monster Within”: Eating Disorders, Part 1

Understanding The Monster Within--Eating Disorders Part 1

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part 1 of a two-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on eating disorders by Marie Notcheva. In the first part of this series, we will consider the faulty thinking and “idolatry” behind eating disorders; in the second, we will consider some gospel-centered differences in how to counsel anorexic and bulimic women.

Societal Dynamics and a Biblical Diagnosis

In the early 1980’s, the terms “anorexia nervosa” and “bulimia” became household words in the United States. Soon, behavioral and clinical psychologists rushed to find a “cure” for this new phenomenon—starvation and purging amidst affluence. Cynthia Rowland’s book The Monster Within: Overcoming Bulimia (1985) was one of the first testimonies of its kind published. The 1983 death of pop singer Karen Carpenter was one factor in the surge of media attention given to eating disorders. Another, likely, was the rise in popularity of female athletes in sports like gymnastics and figure skating who came forward with their struggles. Whatever the reason, self-starvation and binge-purge behavior are not recently-developed behaviors; nor are they limited to wealthy Western nations.

It is helpful for any biblical counselor who works with young women to understand the mindset behind eating disorders. Although your counselee may not have been clinically diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder, many young women will open up in the privacy of the counseling room about their insecurities regarding weight, appearance, and erratic eating/exercise habits. It will be helpful to be able to spot unbiblical thinking and counter it with grace and truth before she develops a full-blown eating disorder.

Note that body image issues and insecurities about appearance are not limited to female counselees—young men also struggle; thus the same principles apply to them. However, given the greater emphasis on weight maintenance and the prevalence of eating disorders among women, I refer to the counselee with feminine pronouns.

What Are Anorexia and Bulimia?

The medical definition of anorexia nervosa is:

“An eating disorder characterized by refusal to maintain a normal minimal body weight, fear of gaining weight or becoming obese, disturbance of body image, undue reliance of body weight or shape for self-evaluation, and amenorrhea” (loss of menstrual periods).

Bulimia nervosa is defined as:

“Episodic binge eating usually followed by behavior designed to negate the caloric intake of the ingested food, most commonly purging behaviors such as self-induced vomiting and laxative abuse but sometimes other methods such as excessive exercise or fasting.”

For a more complete explanation of the clinical criteria for anorexia and bulimia, as well as resultant medical complications, please see chapters 2 and 13 of my book, Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders.

In short, anorexia is distorted body image leading to self-starvation (often combined with compulsive exercise—aka anorexia athletica); bulimia is a binge-purge cycle leading to “food addiction” and loss of control. Both behaviors are all-consuming, life-threatening, and while they have many components, at their core they are spiritual in nature—as is all of life.

There are many similarities between the two disorders, and often the behaviors overlap. In the first part of this series, we will consider the faulty thinking and “idolatry” behind both disorders; in the second, we will consider some differences in how to counsel anorexic and bulimic women.

“I’d Rather Be Run Over by a Truck”

In his recent book, Eating Disorders: Hope for Hungering Souls, Dr. Mark Shaw quotes professor Glenn Gaesser as saying, “Over 50% of females surveyed between the ages of 18-25 would prefer to be run over by a truck than be fat, and 75% would rather be mean or stupid.” This one statement speaks volumes about how young women’s priorities have been conditioned. If we consult the Bible, even in Old Testament times we can see the value placed on physical beauty—even from Patriarchal times (think of Leah vs. Rachel, Esther, Daniel, Absalom and others who were noted for their appearance). We also see a God with a completely different set of priorities—and His definition of beauty in verses such as: 1 Samuel 16:7, Isaiah 53:2-3, Proverbs 31:30, and 1 Peter 3:3.

Spending time unpacking the counselee’s position in Christ (1 John is an excellent homework assignment), begins the counselee’s journey toward grasping the truth that she is no longer a slave to sin. The implication? There is no life issue your counselee struggles with that she cannot overcome in Christ; there is no sin that your counselee battles that she cannot repent of. If God has called her to “put off” what belongs to the flesh and “put on” holiness, then, empowered by the Holy Spirit, she is capable of doing so.

This realization is usually the turning point for counselees with life-dominating sins (“addictions”) including anorexia and bulimia. Often, they have believed for so long that they are under the “control” of the behavior that being able to “choose” freedom—based on their position in Christ—is a very liberating concept. She can learn to “put off” the unhealthy behaviors by renewing her mind.

Where Is Her Mindset?

One of the first places I take young women struggling with either anorexia or bulimia is Colossians 3:1-3:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

What are your counselee’s daily priorities? Where does her mind go? Is her focus on things of eternal value? Is she resting in Christ’s finished work on the Cross and the Father’s personal love for her? What is causing her anxiety? At this point, using the “Discovering Problem Patterns” worksheet as a weekly homework log is helpful in uncovering specific “triggers” that lead her to restrict or fall into a binge-purge episode.

For example, a bulimic woman may feel attacked by her husband’s criticism, conclude that she does not “deserve” food in her stomach and then purge in self-punishment and to numb her hurt feelings. Of course, this will lead to increased depression and feelings of failure and will probably set her up for the next binge. A woman finding victory over and repenting from anorexia may feel frightened by a colleague’s compliment on her recent weight gain—panic—and begin restricting again. The media is a constant source of secular definitions of beauty, and the temptation to vanity is as real to a woman repenting from an eating disorder as “peer pressure” is to a teenager.

Now…Let’s Transform that Mind!

As the counselee becomes increasingly able to recognize these triggers as unbiblical (and even irrational) thinking, she is learning what it means to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). She can be challenged to identify specific thought patterns such as: “No one loves me. I may as well go ahead and binge” or “The number on the scale determines my value.”

Then she can begin to counter them with the biblical truth: “God loves me, and I am created in His image. He has promised never to leave me nor forsake me” (Genesis 1:27, Hebrews 13:5). “My value comes from my position in Christ, and He calls me ‘friend.’ My purpose is to live for Him” (John 15:14).

The “put on/put off” chapter of the Bible, Ephesians 4, becomes a daily exercise for a woman being transformed in her thinking from an eating disorder. Vanity and fear of man (insecurity, desire for approval, being seen as “the thinnest”) are two heart motives behind anorexia and bulimia. Over the course of counseling, these and other manifestations of pride need to be gently countered with a high view of God and an accurate view of herself (a dearly beloved daughter in need of a Savior). God is often viewed as angry or distant by women struggling with addictions. Hebrews 4:14 is helpful to illustrate that Christ does understand her weakness and sin and is willing to strengthen her.

The Role of Grace

Moralism, at its core, is human nature’s attempt to make ourselves “right” in our own eyes. We do this by steps, rules, and how-to lists—often making our own “rules” on what it means to be good, successful, or attractive. Of course, this sets us up for failure as we will inevitably break one (or possibly all) of our self-imposed rules. Perfectionism—trying to attain works-righteousness by our own standard—flies in the face of the gospel.

“If being ‘thin’ is good, ‘thinner’ is better,” the inner taskmaster screams. “Spartan” eating habits and exercise regimes can take on a life of their own.

The Rest of the Story of Victory in Christ

Eating-disordered women are notoriously perfectionistic by nature. What “works of the law” do they create for themselves, and how do we counsel them? We will examine perfectionism and how to speak grace to anorexic and bulimic believers in Part 2.

Join the Conversation

When addressing struggles with eating disorders, either in your own life or in your counselees, how could it be helpful to consider the faulty thinking and “idolatry” behind eating disorders?

Topics: BCC Exclusive, Eating Disorders, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , ,

Weekend Resource: Free Discussion Guide for Gospel-Centered Counseling

The BCC Weekend Resource

A Word from Your BCC Team: On weekends, we often like to use our BCC “megaphone” to make you aware of new resources in the biblical counseling world. This weekend, Dr. Bob Kellemen, author of Gospel-Centered Counseling introduces you to a new, complimentary Gospel-Centered Counseling Discussion Guide.  

Theology for Counseling & Life

It was 1979 when Jay Adams authored A Theology of Christian Counseling: More Than Redemption. A generation ago, Dr. Adams called the book “a first attempt to consider a biblical theology of counseling.”

In October 2014, Zondervan released my latest book, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives. It is a “second attempt” to consider a biblical theology of biblical counseling.

Gospel-Centered Counseling takes the 10 classic systematic theology doctrines and “translates” them into 8 ultimate life questions that every counselee is asking and that every counselor must address.

New: A Free Copy of the Gospel-Centered Counseling Discussion Guide

Gospel-Centered Counseling--How Christ Changes LivesI designed Gospel-Centered Counseling as a practical, user-friendly book that will ground lay counselors, college and seminary students, and pastors in truth for life, in theology for counseling.

Gospel-Centered Counseling just became even more user-friendly. You can now download, for free, a 55-page GCC Discussion Guide.

The Discussion Guide is great for individual use—to help you to apply Gospel-Centered Counseling to your life and your ministry. And the Discussion Guide is also ideal for group interaction in churches and in educational settings in Bible colleges and seminary.

Download Your Free GCC Discussion Guide

To download your free copy of the GCC Discussion Guide in a Word format, click here. Send others to this link for their free Word copy: http://bit.ly/GCCDGWord

To download your free copy of the GCC Discussion Guide in a PDF format, click here. Send others to this link for their free PDF copy: http://bit.ly/GCCDGPDF

For additional free resources related to Gospel-Centered Counseling, you can visit the GCC Page here.

Topics: Biblical Counseling, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: ,

Friday’s 5 to Live By

Friday's 5 To Live By

Each Friday our BCC staff links you to the top five biblical counseling and Christian living blog posts of the week—posts that provide robust, rich, and relevant insights for living.

12 Signs You Have a Genuinely Repentant Heart

Jared C. Wilson offers a dozen indicators to Know You’re Genuinely Repentant.

A Gospel-Centered Approach to Sanctification

At his RPM Ministries site, Bob Kellemen explains why this statement is incomplete: “Sanctification is the art of getting used to our justification.” And why this statement is more biblically accurate and comprehensive: “Sanctification is the art of applying our justification, reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption.” Read more in A Gospel-Centered Approach to the Christian Life.

3 Cheers for Bill and Hillary Clinton

We know, you read this title and your eyes open wide. Intrigued? Read Kevin DeYoung’s historical survey of the Clintons’ statements on marriage in Three Cheers for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

How the Prosperity Gospel Hurts Racial Reconciliation

At the Desiring God site, Russell Moore explains How the Prosperity Gospel Hurts Racial Reconciliation.

3 Phases of ACBC Certification

The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) has produced a new video that provides an Overview of ACBC Certification.

Join the Conversation

Which post impacted you the most? Why? What blog posts have you enjoyed this week that you want to share with others?

Topics: Five To Live By, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

4 Strategies from Proverbs for Breaking the Grip of Porn

Addiction Series--4 Strategies from Proverbs for Breaking the Grip of Porn

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the third of a three-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on Biblical Counseling and Addictions. In today’s post, Luke Gilkerson, of Covenant Eyes, shares 4 strategies to break the grip of porn. You can read Part One in this series, by Dr. Mark Shaw, at 5 Mentalities of a Porn “Addict.” And you can read Part Two, also by Dr. Shaw, at Addicts: An Unreached People Group?

False Promises

Three thousand years ago, King Solomon stood at the window of his palace at dusk, looking down on the dusty streets of Jerusalem. From his birds-eye view he observed a young man wandering near the well-known street corner—her corner. There she stood, dressed to kill, lips dripping with promises of pleasure. Solomon could overhear her smooth words, her brazen seduction, and he watched as the young fool followed her inside.

With penetrating insight, Solomon then picked up his quill and wrote Proverbs chapter 7, dissecting this man’s lust like a skillful surgeon.

To a man like myself who spent many years hooked on pornography, the relevance and value of this chapter of Scripture cannot be overstated. What makes women like this so attractive to men like me is not just how they look; it is the false promises they state with their words and body language.

At the risk of sounding crass, this woman’s seductive speech reads like an ancient porn script. She knows exactly how to sell him the fantasy he wants. Her words play to this man’s idolatrous desire for escape, his sense of entitlement, his ego, his desire for intimacy, and his craving for the forbidden.

Not much has changed in 3,000 years except the delivery method of her seduction. In Solomon’s day, we found her on the street corner. Today, we find her online.

But Solomon doesn’t leave the reader high and dry. The reason he tells the story so vividly is so we can remember it the next time we find ourselves passing by her street. Solomon offers us four words of wisdom.

1. Think Soberly About the Consequences

“Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27).

Solomon here is playing on words: the man thinks he is going to her bedchamber, but really it is a chamber leading to the grave. This harlot runs a halfway house to hell.

Here Solomon is using vivid language to describe the final consequences of lust. We could form a line of people many miles long who could give one testimony after another about how lust started small but led to more costly decisions. “Many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng” (Proverbs 7:26).

If we are to keep our heads on straight in the moment of temptation, we have to consider what we will lose if we start down the dark path of sexual sin. When the woman beckons to us from the other side of the screen, we need to have the sound of the “mighty throng” of her victims ringing in our ears.

2. Repent of Pursuing the Tempting Paths

“Do not stray into her paths” (Proverbs 7:25).

Christian musician Rich Mullins said for several years he found that it was too tempting to not watch the porn movies in hotel rooms, so he made a personal commitment to never travel alone. One night in Amsterdam, famous for its Red Light District, he was in his hotel at night, waiting to hear his friend start snoring so he could be sure he was asleep. He thought, “Maybe it would just be fun to take a walk and be tempted.” He never heard his friend snore that night, and in the early morning hours he finally gave up out of sheer exhaustion.

Let’s be clear: it is not a sin to be tempted, but it is a sin to seek out temptation. Wisdom does not say, “How close can I get to the edge.” Wisdom is grounded in the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10) and the very hatred of evil (Proverbs 8:13). If we want to be free from habitual sexual sin, we have to repent of our desire to flirt with sin. “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

In addiction circles this is called “SUDs”: Seemingly Unimportant Decisions—the justifications we tell ourselves to walk close to the edge. “I’m just going to check my e-mail,” or “I’m just going to see who’s online,” or “I’m just checking Facebook.” Deep down, part of us actually hopes to encounter the temptation.

If we are going to break free from the power of habitual lust, we must repent of treating lightly something God despises. We must close all on-ramps to pornography, knowing that to deliberately use the on-ramp, even if you don’t see porn, is itself sinful.

3. Pay Attention to Your Heart

“Let not your heart turn aside to her ways” (Proverbs 7:25).

The heart walks down the path of temptation long before the feet do.

The “heart” is mentioned over 70 times in the book of Proverbs. It is a word that refers to the seat of our appetites, our knowledge, our emotions, anxieties, joys, furies, grudges, passions, plans, motives, inclinations, and choices. The heart is our whole inner person. Above all else, we should guard our inner life, because it is the wellspring of all we say and do (Proverbs 4:23).

What does it mean to guard your heart? For starters, it simply means to notice, training our minds to recognize when the lures of lust start to pull at us. The sooner we notice, the easier it is to turn the ship around.

Second, it means to deliberately cultivate virtues in our hearts that run contrary to the allure of porn. John Owen says this is what it means to walk in the Spirit. The Spirit implants new holy impulses into our hearts, and we keep in step with the Spirit by the “cherishing of a principle of grace that stands in direct opposition” to the sin we hate:

  • Instead of seeking porn as a refuge, make God your refuge (Psalm 91:2).
  • Instead of looking to the quick fix of lustful masturbation, cultivate a deep thirst for the Living Water (Jeremiah 2:13).
  • Instead of the illusory respect offered by pixels on the screen, seek the glory that comes from the only God (John 5:44).
  • Instead of the safe intimacy of solo sex, cultivate genuine intimacy with God and others, knowing God uses every relationship in our lives—even our risky ones—to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

4. Walk with the Wise

“My son, keep my words…O sons, listen to me” (Proverbs 7:1, 24).

The book of Proverbs is an address from father to son. The words “My son” add a personal touch to the whole book. Proverbs is not just a classroom textbook. It is an extension of Solomon himself to those he loves.

Solomon writes this way because he knows wisdom isn’t merely taught. It’s caught. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” God’s path of maturity in the Christian life is the path of discipleship.

In Proverbs 20:5 Solomon begins saying, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water…” Many times you have no idea what your real motives are, what’s lurking deep within you. Our hearts are like deep water. We cannot see to the bottom. But Solomon finishes the proverb, “…but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

Find “men of understanding” to guide you—wise friends and mentors who can walk alongside you and help you see what you are unable or unwilling to see about yourself. Find those who can probe beneath the surface, men who are learning how to apply the gospel to your specific weaknesses, men who can’t be fooled by your pretenses and love you in spite of them.

I’m reminded of the scene in Rocky V when Rocky is in a street fight with Tommy Gunn. Tommy is merciless, delivering blow after blow, nearly knocking him out. As Rocky is trying to sum up the will to fight back, his mind flashes with scenes of his previous challenges in the boxing ring—the moments when he thought all was lost. Suddenly, in a flashback, he hears the echo of his former trainer, Mickey Goldmill. With a fierce but fatherly crassness, Mickey yells, “Now get up! One more round. I didn’t hear no bell! Get up, because Mickey loves you.”

In my experience working with men and women ensnared by pornography, too few of them have the echo of a fatherly voice in their minds, a voice that imparts to them a strength not their own. To the sexually enslaved, this is the kind of relationship we need: someone who is willing to say to us, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Join the Conversation

What biblical wisdom principles do you glean from this passage in Proverbs 7?

Topics: Addictions, Pornography | Tags: , ,

Addicts: An Unreached People Group?

Addiction Series--Addicts An Unreached People Group

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the second of a three-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on Biblical Counseling and Addictions. In today’s post, Dr. Mark Shaw explores whether we should see addicts as an unreached people group and the implications if we do. You can read Part One in this series, also by Dr. Shaw at 5 Mentalities of a Porn “Addict.” Today’s post original ran at the Faith Church website and is re-posted here with the permission of Faith Church and of Mark Shaw. You can also read the original post on the Faith Church site here.

Evangelism through Biblical Counseling

With over 2 billion people worldwide lacking access to a Bible, an evangelical church, and even just a Christian person, there is a serious need for the missional work of global evangelism, disciple-making, and church planting. That’s why I believe biblical counseling is a tremendous tool for a church plant or an already established church to use to reach hurting and lost persons, especially those enslaved to addictions of all types. Addicts are everywhere, including overseas.

When we refer addicts out of the church for help, we are losing opportunities to preach the gospel and failing to address the heart issues driving addicted, idolatrous behavior. It is a problem that trained biblical counselors can address for the purpose of disciple-making within the local church and evangelism in our communities and the world.

Who Are the Unreached?

I deeply appreciate Dr. David Platt’s work to mobilize the body of Christ to be mission-minded because reaching the lost is a daunting task for an often apathetic church. Missional work is a primary work of the body of Christ. While I know some of my more literal friends may get angry with my broad use of the description “unreached people group” when describing persons in the struggle with all types of addictions, I truly believe the label applies to addicts in several ways and I will explain why.

In a Radical Together blog post entitled “Who Are the Unreached?” on January 6, 2015, Dr. Platt answers this question in the following way:

The unreached are people groups among whom there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to engage the people group with church planting. Now you’ll notice in that definition the term “people group.” And just to remind you what that means…

When Jesus commanded the church to make disciples of all the nations, the word He used for nations there is “ethnē,” from which we get words like “ethnic groups.” And this is important, because when Jesus was talking about nations there in Matthew 28:19, he wasn’t referring to nations like we think of nations today—200 or so geopolitical nations in the world that, quite frankly, didn’t exist 2000 years ago, when Jesus said this, in the way they do now. No, Jesus is specifically talking about ethnic groups: groups of people that share common cultural and language characteristics. And among 200 nations today, there are a plethora of people groupings.

And not just among nations, but in cities…

So think about 200 nations filled with a diverse array of peoples. Most anthropologists and missiological scholars say there are over 11,000 different people groups. So unreached peoples, then, are people groups who don’t have “an indigenous community of believing Christians”—and what that means is that there is not a church made up of men and women from that people that is sufficient to engage that people with the gospel…that has enough presence to make the gospel known among that people.

Technically speaking, when we say “unreached,” we’re saying that the percentage of evangelical Christians in this people group is less than 2%. And why that’s important is because what that means is that if there’s not a substantial church presence among a people, then not only do over 98% of the people not believe the gospel, but because there’s no church around them, and no Christians among them, then most of them have never even met a Christian (i.e., a person who would share the gospel with them). They are “unreached.” Most (if not almost all) of the people in that people group have not been reached by a Christian…and Christ has not been named/preached among them.[1]

Hope for All People

How can we read this quote and not have broken hearts for those without access to the gospel? As believers prospering by God’s generosity to us in America, we have been entrusted not only with great monetary riches, but with the greatest of all riches: the gospel.

Yet the call to make disciples of all nations starts in our own backyards. To paraphrase a former pastor of mine:

“If you are not already doing the work of ministry and evangelism here in the United States, then you certainly won’t do it if we send you out on the mission field.”

In like manner, local churches must stop automatically referring addicts of all types out to secular entities for so-called help. If local churches refuse to serve the spiritually lost people of their own country who are struggling with heart issues leading to addictive behaviors, how effective will they be in serving those overseas?

The Bible clearly addresses alcohol, drug, and other addictive problems as moral choices rather than some medical disease since the problem is within one’s own heart. For example, Proverbs 23:35b ends an unusual portion of Scripture with a statement of the heart: “When shall I awake? I will seek another drink.” Clearly, it is a desire of the heart and an act of the will to leave one drunken stupor in search of the next drunken stupor. Addiction problems are sin and often likened to idolatry. Passages such as Matthew 24:49; Luke 7:34; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10; Ephesians 5:18-21; and 1 John 5:21 are just a few Scriptures that address drunkenness and warn against idolatry.

Reaching the Unreached Enslaved Idolater—The Addict

The call is for Christians to reach out to help the enslaved idolater in the community who is crying out for help. Most people turn to the church last, not first, for help with addictions. “I’ve tried everything else so now I will try God,” is often the thought that brings an addict to his knees, and yet what the addict finds in a secular, self-help meeting is an introduction to a Higher Power of one’s own choosing.

Let me remind you that if I can choose my Higher Power, then I am really the highest power in that I am crafting this god into my own liking and my own understanding—which is the definition of idolatry (Isaiah 44:9-20). The secular world is offering “god” to the addict while the church is offering a referral to an outside agency for so-called “real help.”

Here is what I have observed with the unreached people group of idolaters/addicts who are lost and need Christ:

  1. They do not have access to the gospel if they go to the vast majority of the treatment and rehabilitation programs available today. If there are believers in those programs, then they are bound by the policies not to initiate faith discussions. Dr. Platt wrote, “The unreached are people groups among whom there is no indigenous community of believing Christians able to engage the people group with church planting.”[2] Church attendance in lieu of attendance at 12-step meetings is very often discouraged among most programs because, as it is commonly said, church is for “religious people” while self-help groups are for “spiritual people.” Some have even said, “Church will just confuse you.” (In many churches in America, this may be an indictment of a culture that needs to be taken into consideration and changed.) My point is, however, that addicts will not be pointed to the evangelical church or the Bible for help at the majority of addiction programs.
  1. There are not many addiction resources to make Christ known since it is discouraged in treatment and rehab programs that teach a different message that any higher power will do. A common phrase among self-help meetings is that, “Any God will do as long as he’s higher than you!” Well, any god won’t do and only the One True God will do. You won’t hear that message at the majority of addiction programs.
  1. Addicts share a common culture and language, not only in their underground drug-seeking world, but also, as I’ve already alluded to in the points above, in their treatment and rehab circles. The drug culture is its own widespread community. It is hard to break into that sense of belonging and community when you are a biblical counselor working in a residential program that is disconnected from the local church. Many well-meaning programs are 501c-3 non-profit programs that are not under the direct authority of the local church; therefore, they help temporarily in the short-term but cannot offer the lifelong community that a local church can offer. For this reason, we see many substitute churches that have risen in the form of self-help groups all over the world.
  1. Finally, the remedy taught by most programs is based upon the assumption that addiction is a disease not a sin nature problem from the heart (Mark 7:20-21). As I’ve said in my many publications on this topic, we acknowledge the physical ramifications of putting poisons into your body and take measures to have that addressed by medical professionals where needed. However, the message of most addiction programs is one that does violence to the gospel and makes addicts hopeless victims of a so-called medical problem when the problem is one of sinful desires and idolatry (Proverbs 23:35). Why would a local church send a lost soul to a secular entity where they will not hear the Gospel; not going to be held responsible for their choices in terms of their relationship to God;[3] and not be encouraged to read and study the Bible? Should we reconsider how often churches refer lost souls out to wolves in sheep’s clothing for soul care? Are we in sin when we send hurting people like this away, without any real hope?

Conclusion

While I know I am broadly using the description “unreached people group” for addicts, my reason is to make one simple point:

The local church is the answer for connecting the hope of the Gospel with the heart of addiction. Churches failing to offer hope and help to those struggling with addictions are missing opportunities to proclaim the excellencies of Christ (Colossians 1:28).

If you are looking for a helpful way to start an addiction outreach in your local church, The Heart of Addiction and its companion Workbook are written directly to the struggling addict. These practical tools I’ve written can help you come alongside someone struggling, so you can start by working through the text together. For group leaders, my wife and I co-authored a Leader’s Guide for The Heart of Addiction to be used in an intensive small group study. The message of these resources matches the message of the Bible—a fact that is not true of all self-help, recovery materials. When starting a group, start as small as possible and make quality disciples, maybe even challenge them to become disciple-makers one day!

Admittedly, my desire is to see more and more churches reaching out to lost and dying souls right here on American soil, particularly addicts of all kinds. I believe that there are more souls willing to seek God’s answers for help with an addiction than you may realize. The harvest is plenty but the workers few (Luke 10:2). Is your local church ready and willing to labor in this field while continuing to try and reach the billions of those in urgent physical and spiritual need around the globe as well?

When we say unreached, we’re not just talking about lostness, we’re talking about access. Unreached means that they don’t even have access to hear the gospel. There’s no church, no Christian, no Bible available…God has not just commanded us to make the gospel known among as many people as possible. He has commanded us to make the gospel known among all the peoples (Dr. David Platt).[4]

“There’s only one thing worse than being lost. That’s being lost and having no one try to find you” (Dr. David Platt).[5]

Join the Conversation

How are you strategically reaching out to connect the hope of the gospel to those struggling with addiction?

How can your local church begin praying about starting a non-residential, biblical, and Christ-centered disciple-making program for the addicts in your area?

How can your local church begin to reach the more than two billion unreached people around the world?

[1] Platt, David. “Who Are the Unreached?” Radical. January 6, 2015. Radical: Devoted to Christ, Serving the Church, Reaching the Nations. March 5, 2015. <http://www.radical.net/blog/2015/01/who-are-the-unreached/>

[2] Ibid.

[3] Most programs will hold them somewhat responsible for their choices that hurt society, their families, etc.

[4] “Missions Focus: Unreached.” East West Missionaries International. Nov. 26, 2013. East West Missionaries International. March 5, 2015. <http://www.eastwest.org/blog/missions-focus-unreached/>

[5] Platt, David. “Our Obligation to the Unreached- Part 1, Romans 1-3” Radical. August 17, 2014. Radical: Devoted to Christ, Serving the Church, Reaching the Nations. March 5, 2015. <http://www.radical.net/media/series/view/2441/our-obligation-to-the-unreached-part-1?filter=series>

Topics: Addictions, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , ,

5 Mentalities of a Porn “Addict”

Addiction Series--5 Mentalities of a Porn Addict

A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading the first of a three-part BCC Grace & Truth blog miniseries on Biblical Counseling and Addictions. In today’s post, Dr. Mark Shaw helps us to understand 5 Mentalities of a Porn “Addict.” Today’s post originally ran at the Covenant Eyes website and is re-posted here with the permission of CE and of Mark Shaw. You can also read the original post on the CE site here.

The War Within

While many of my books and booklets have a focus upon substance abuse issues, a struggle with any “addictive” pleasure of sin is a war within one’s heart desires. Anything pleasurable on this earth can become enslaving, so the applications are manifold.

Two of the books I wrote address the mind of an addict to help us to understand the desires within anyone engaged in the struggle:

5 Mentalities of “Addiction”

Because I like to keep things simple, I’ve identified 5 mentalities which often manifest in the hearts of those who battle addiction. I prefer to not use the word “addiction” in the same way the world describes the problem as a “compulsive disease.” So I redefine it to reflect biblical truth as a “habitual, sinful heart” issue. With that in mind, there are certain mindsets that are evident in those who are seeking to please self above anyone else.

In Relapse: Biblical Prevention Strategies, the person in the struggle can address the mentalities which are each described within the context of the workbook in practical detail. A mentality is simply an “outlook” or “way of thinking,” so the book is about changing one’s outlook and perspective from one that is self-centered to become more Christ-centered.

When I counsel, I often see them in a progressive order as outlined below (each of them has an application example of those justifying their sexual sin):

  • Entitlement Mentality: “It belongs to me. I own it” (opposite of Matthew 22:37-38). Controlling persons who look at porn and people as objects to be used rather than as living souls might fall into this mentality.
  • Consumer Mentality: “I want to spend all of it on myself” (opposite of Matthew 22:39-40). Takers rather than givers often get involved in sexual sin seeking to please self. God ordained sex in marriage to be a mutual blessing.
  • Victim Mentality: “It’s not my fault” (Ephesians 5:18). “I’m not hurting anyone” is the incorrect idea that permeates this mentality. It is a view that I am not doing anything wrong or, if I am, it’s not my fault because someone (i.e. boss or spouse) made me angry enough to do this.
  • Perishing Mentality: “Woe is me. Nothing good happens to me. My spouse is not treating me the way I want to be treated” (Ephesians 5:19-20). This is the “never satisfied” person who is always searching for more. Because sin does not satisfy, the person is always increasing in perversion.
  • Rebellious Mentality: “I can do what I want. I am my own boss” (Ephesians 5:21). This person abhors restrictions unless self-imposed and thinks thoughts like “no one tells me what I can and can’t do on the Internet with my time.”

The progression starts when one thinks in an entitled way and he is failing to trust and love God with all of their heart, soul, and mind by acting as a “god” in charge of his own life. This mindset leads to an addictive thought process of a rebel who says in their heart “there is no God” and “I can, therefore, do what I want.” In the books, I explain the progression of this mindset because all 5 can be interconnected.

Persons enslaved to pornography or any type of so-called addiction will often find one or more of these mindsets behind their sinful choices. It is important to examine one’s heart as much as possible though it is better to have a disciple-maker, trusted Christian friend, biblical counselor, or accountability partner to point out when you are thinking in one of these ways.

Proverbs 27:5-6 states a truth many of us prefer to ignore: Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. As a biblical counselor and someone who has worked in residential programs for addictions, I know this to be true in that my best counselors are often those who are willing to say the hard things in a gentle spirit to a blinded counselee. We call that “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

As a counselor, when I hear a counselee reflecting an ungrateful attitude, especially toward his spouse, it is a signal to me that the counselee is headed toward a fall because it is what I call the “perishing mentality.” A lack of thankfulness is a clear indication to me that my counselee is dwelling on the opposite of Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Let these 5 mentalities be a way for you to evaluate your own heart and thoughts as compared to what God calls you to be: humble, giving, responsible (obedient), grateful, and submissive.

5 Godly Mentalities

Five Christ-centered replacement mentalities are described and taught in the text as well:

  • Be Humble
  • Be Giving
  • Be Responsible (or increasingly obedient)
  • Be Grateful
  • Be Submissive

All of these mentalities, both the good and the bad, are based upon two passages of Scripture: Matthew 22:37-40 and Ephesians 5:18-21. The book unpacks those passages in connection with each mentality in a more detailed manner.

Ultimately, my prayer is that this workbook will be used by those who are involved in the struggle or are providing biblical counsel as a disciple-maker in a relationship with an “addict.” My hope is that the books help paint a realistic picture of what the mind of the addict looks like in contrast to Christlikeness.

In 1 Corinthians 2:16, Paul reminds all Christians, even those in the midst of the struggle, that “we have the mind of Christ.” Therefore, the books I have written provide hope and instruction about how that struggling person can practically change into Christ’s image with the motivation of glorifying God.

Join the Conversation

How does the lack of gratitude reflect a heart prone to relapse? How would lack of thankfulness demonstrate a mind that does not appreciate the gospel?

When counseling anyone, how could listening for statements that reflect any (or all) of these mentalities help you in your ministry?

Topics: Addictions, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: , , ,

20 Questions Assessing How Equipped We Are to Counsel

20 Questions Assessing How Equipped We Are to Counsel

A Word from Our BCC Team: Today’s blog post was first published as part of the Association of Biblical Counselor’s (ABC) March Newsletter. The BCC is re-posting it with the permission of ABC and of Jeremy Lelek. You can also download the full article PDF at the ABC site: Download full article PDF

Our Calling as Biblical Counselors

God honoring biblical counseling requires continual assessment of our own hearts, knowledge, skills, and shortcomings. Simply because one becomes licensed, certified, or accrues hundreds or thousands of hours counseling does not permit us to relax in our zeal to know God’s Word more deeply. Prayer that God would continually expand our abilities to minister well should be of utmost priority in our ongoing practice of caring for souls.

Biblical counseling is not to be a pre-packaged, stale set of methods that we apply identically to each person who walks through our doors. We must approach people as people. Individuals are diverse. They range in their capacities to comprehend certain aspects of the Bible. Some need comfort, others confrontation. I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 as I believe it captures the spirit of our call as biblical counselors:

“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”

Meeting people at their point of struggle while “keeping our bearings in Christ” and exercising the teachings of the Bible (not just verbally, but experientially) is part of our tasks in growing into mature ambassadors of God’s Word. Below are 20 questions to consider for yourself as you seek the Lord’s glory in your daily ministry to others.

Assessing Our Biblical Counseling Competencies

Rate yourself 1-4 on the following questions.

= Never   = Sometimes   = Most of the time   = Always

  1. I exhibit genuine love for those I counsel (1 Corinthians 13:1).
  2. I display patience with those I counsel (Galatians 5:22).
  3. I treat those I counsel with kindness (Galatians 5:22).
  4. I am gentle with those I counsel (Galatians 5:23).
  5. I work to be self-controlled when emotions are high in a counseling meeting (Galatians 5:23).
  6. I am not rude when I confront those I counsel (1 Corinthians 13:5).
  7. I am not irritable with difficult counselees (1 Corinthians 13:5).
  8. I work diligently to understand the Bible’s application to life and change (2 Timothy 2:15).
  9. I understand the role of depravity in people’s presenting problems (Ephesians 2:3).
  10. I view human change in the context of sanctification (Romans 8:28-29).
  11. I rely on God’s grace and Spirit to change others (Titus 2:11-14)
  12. I can introduce the sovereignty of God during suffering in a sensitive way (Philippians 2:13).
  13. I emphasize the supremacy of the Gospel in the work of change (John 14:6).
  14. I listen attentively and patiently (James 1:19).
  15. I seek to understand the situation before offering advice or counsel (Proverbs 18:13).
  16. I am willing to confront others when necessary (Titus 2:15).
  17. I pray for those I counsel.
  18. I recognize and accept my limitations.
  19. I humbly consult others when I reach my limits as a counselor (Proverbs 11:14).
  20. I do not approach counseling legalistically (Galatians 5:1-6).

Where Can I Grow?

There are many more questions to consider, but this is a good starting point. In light of your ratings, where do you need to seek the Lord for continued growth? Who is someone you can reach out to who can mentor and train you in these areas? What issues in your own heart prevent you from ministering more effectively?

While it is not always comfortable to own our weaknesses and shortcomings, it is imperative in our service to others. We must never remove ourselves, as counselors, from the same redemptive narrative we teach others. Never forget: as you counsel others God is using them as a means of changing and maturing you just as much as He is using you as an instrument of His grace in changing them.

Topics: Biblical Counseling, Equipping, People in Need of Care, People Who Offer Care, People Who Train Caregivers | Tags: ,

About the BCC

The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.