It was a dismal time in the lives of God’s people that was described by the Prophet Jeremiah. The people were backslidden, they refused to repent, and they rejected the Word of the Lord. The conditions were so dire that death was preferred to life (Jeremiah 8).
In the midst of these tragic circumstances, significant questions are raised:..”Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” (Jeremiah 8:22). Gilead was a region east of Jordan that was famous for its medicinal salve. The questions–applied spiritually–were seeking answers as to why there was no cure for a suffering people. Where was the balm? Where was the physician who would apply the cure? Why were God’s people continuing to live in defeat and bondage? The Old Testament King Jehoshaphat raised a similar query: “Is there no prophet of the Lord?”, he asked as he faced a tremendous challenge from enemy nations (2 Kings 3).
Similar questions are echoing around the world today. Why are so many believers in bondage to addictions, harmful emotions, and sinful practices? Is there no “balm in Gilead” to heal their wounds? Are there no “spiritual physicians” to apply the healing ointment of the Word of God? Is there no prophet of the Lord to speak the Word of Life that will set them free?
There is a desperate need for the ministry of what may be called prophetic counseling–counseling that is wholly based upon the Holy Bible, the authoritative Word of God. We need counselors who believe that God means exactly what He says and that the Word has within it the inherent power to meet very need–spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, and financial.
We need men and women of God who will boldly declare, “Thus says the Lord” to a lost, hurting, and spiritually dying world. Where are the spiritual leaders who will counsel prophetically, speaking forth the Word of God in answer to human need? Where are those who, instead of referring people to secular professionals, believe God’s declaration…
…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:11, NIV)
As born-again believers, we believe that the Bible reveals salvation through Jesus Christ as the only way to obtain forgiveness from sin and guarantee eternal life. If we are staking our eternal destiny on the promises of redemption and salvation, then why do we hesitate to believe God’s Word concerning deliverance, healing, and miracles? Why do we seek something other than the scriptures for answers to our problems?
Many pastors and church leaders today are referring people to secular psychologists, counselors, and clinics instead of dispensing the life-changing Word of God that will meet every need–spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. God’s command is not “refer my people”, “institutionalize my people”, or “put my people on medication”. His Word is “Comfort, comfort my people says your God” (Isaiah 40:1).
Secular psychology studies behavior and attempts to meet the needs of hurting people through scientific methods and theories developed by observation, experimentation, and experience.
While psychology can help someone understand their negative behavior and enable them to acknowledge their problems, such issues can only be properly dealt with in the life of a believer through application of scriptural principles. How can an unbeliever, who does not acknowledge God or His Word, counsel a believer whose whole life and destiny is rooted in faith?
God declared: “The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and trapped. Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have?” (Jeremiah 8:9). Is this the kind of counsel that you, as a believer, want to seek? Is this the type of “professional help” that you want to refer your family, friends, or followers to receive?
Many basic tenets of psychology are at odds with the scriptures. For example, secular psychologists may say, “It will take a long time to deal with this problem. You need extended counseling.” But that is not what we see in the Word of God. When Jesus spoke the prophetic Word of God to hurting people, they were immediately healed, delivered, saved, and set free. Jesus never referred anyone to a secular professional for help. He never told anyone it would take “extended counseling” to deal with their issues. The Word was spoken and–if the recipient responded positively to it–they were immediately made whole spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Consider the case of the Gadarene man who was possessed by a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20). A legion in the natural world at that time consisted of five to six thousand foot soldiers under Roman rule. This man had mental issues so great that he lived in a graveyard! He had supernatural strength from a host of demonic spirits. He was alienated from society and engaged in self-destructive behavior–cutting himself. Jesus spoke eight words: “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”–and this man’s life was changed (Mark 5:8). No long-term counseling needed. No referral to a mental facility. Just eight powerful Words from the lips of the Master.
For another example, consider the psychological model of the stages of grief. In response to tragedies such as death, terrible accidents, terminal illness, etc., psychologists say you will pass through stages of grief that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. They say these stages can occur in any order and last for varying lengths of time. But where does it say this in God’s Word? Is not the Holy Spirit who is resident within us our Comforter, and can we not call upon Him to fulfill this purpose when we are faced with tragedies?
The Bible does indicate there is a time to mourn (Ecclesiastes 3:4), but the immediate mourning following a death or tragedy is not the same as prolonged grief. Jesus bore your sin and shame on the cross, so you do not have to bear them. He also bore your grief so you need not bear it:
Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5, NKJV)
So if Jesus bore your grief, just as He bore your sin and shame, why must you go through “stages”? Why must you continue to grieve months or even years after a tragedy or loss? Is there no spiritual “balm in Gilead” to heal your wounds (Jeremiah 8:22)? Does not the Bible say “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). Will you take God at His Word, or will you follow a psychological model that says you must go through stages of grief?
Secular psychologists also talk much about self-esteem, but there is a difference between self-esteem and Christ-centered esteem. It is not who you are, but rather who He is and what He can do in you and through you. Christ-centered esteem recognizes you are no longer who you were, and acknowledges who you are as a born-again believer. You are a child of God, forgiven and redeemed from sin, adopted into the family of God, and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ.
Secular psychologists claim that “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” For the biblical counselor and his counselee however, this is not true. God says: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19).
Your past does not predict the future when you become a new creature in Christ because
“…if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 45:17, NKJV).
The goal of counseling is not a “patched up version” of the old person, rather it is a new creature in Christ. The purpose of biblical counseling is not for rehabilitation, rather the goal is transformation–total change:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–
his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
The “patterns of the world” in secular psychology do not bring transformation. Psychological theories and models cannot change people. Only God can change a person from the inside out, give them a new mind, a new heart, and make them a new creature in Christ.
A biblical counselor believes God has the answer to every problem–not secular psychology. We are not adversaries of secular psychology, but we simply believe relying on it for answers is denying the sufficiency of scripture to meet every need.
People with tremendous needs came to Jesus from Galilee, Judaea, and Jerusalem, and the power of the Lord was present to heal them physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally (Luke 5:17). That same power is resident within a biblical counselor who speaks the prophetic Word of God into the lives of those seeking help.
WORDS WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE
The Bible warns about walking in the counsel of the ungodly (Psalm 1:1). A true believer who is walking by faith cannot be helped spiritually by a person who has refused to acknowledge God. The psalmist declared:
The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:10-11, KJV)
Sometimes, even counselors who are believers don’t get it right. Large sections of the book of Job are filled with advice given by Job’s friends. Generally speaking, Eliphaz spoke from experience, Bildad spoke on the basis of human authority, and Zophar emphasized legalism. If you want a manual on how not to counsel someone who is suffering, the book of Job is it!
From their counseling we learn that not all advice is good advice, even that given by well-intentioned friends. We learn from Job’s friends that we should not pass judgment on those who suffer. Rather than giving theological dissertations, we should share in their grief, provide comfort, and speak the Word of God into their lives. We must be willing to acknowledge that we do not have all the answers as to the depth or extent of their suffering (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Like Job’s counselors, some people may know the Word but may misapply it because of their traditions, experiences, prejudices, or perceptions. These counselors are speaking “words without knowledge (Job 38:2). Only the scriptures, properly interpreted and applied, can bring healing and deliverance to a struggling soul.
The New American Commentary aptly summarizes the faults of Job’s counselors:
“A review of the speeches of Job’s associates shows that they were poor counselors. They failed in several ways: (1) They did not express any sympathy for Job in their speeches. (2) They did not pray for him. (3) They seemingly ignored Job’s expressions of emotional and physical agony. (4) They talked too much and did not listen adequately. (5) They became defensive and argumentative. (6) They belittled rather than encouraged Job. (7) They assumed they knew the cause of Job’s problems. (8) They stubbornly persisted in their views of Job’s problems, even when their ideas contradicted the facts. (9) They suggested an inappropriate solution to his problem. (10) They blamed Job and condemned him for expressing grief and frustration. Counselors today do well to be sure they do not fail in similar ways.”
AN ANSWER FOR EVERY NEED
A biblical counselor believes that a person does not have to undergo years of therapy. We believe the Bible has the answer to every problem and, when acted upon, the scriptures will manifest true change in the life of the counselee. The only time factor involved in this process is the length of time it might take someone to accept and act upon God’s Word.
At some point in scriptural counseling, a counselee must either accept or reject what God has to say regarding their problems. When the Word of God is rejected, no further progress can be made in terms of biblical counseling. How sad it is when we turn elsewhere for peace, comfort,
and release from sin, guilt, grief, and shame when Jesus Christ suffered and died to secure these blessings for us.
Believers experience many of the same conflicts as unbelievers, but they also have additional spiritual conflicts between their new nature and the old nature (Galatians 5:17). Only biblical counseling can deal with these issues from a scriptural perspective and guide a believer in spiritual growth. This is not to discredit any valid contributions by the field of psychology to counseling. It is merely to establish that–as in the case of all secular data–these contributions must be viewed through the lens of scripture.
We serve Jesus Christ, the Wonderful Counselor who has promised that “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). When Jesus returned to Heaven, He sent “another counselor” to be with us and dwell within us (John 14:16-18). Biblical counseling is simply learning to release the supernatural power of this resident Counselor through application of scriptural principles.
A DEFINITION OF BIBLICAL COUNSELING
Here is a definition of biblical counseling developed by and agreed upon by experts in the field of biblical counseling:
“Biblical counseling endeavors to build a relationship with another person in which God’s work of change can thrive. It is therefore dependent on the Word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ. It seeks to build a contextualized understanding of the counselee (past and present) and will view that data through the lens of Scripture. The Biblical counselor rests in the knowledge that he is not the change agent, but a tool in the hands of the One who is. The biblical counselor does not ignore physical issues or emotional data, but seeks to integrate them into a holistic understanding of the person and where change needs to take place. The biblical counselor is not adversarial in his relationship to the psychologies of his culture, but examines research and insights through the lens of Scripture. In his work with the counselee the biblical counselor always recognizes the sovereignty of God, the transformative grace of Christ, and the insight-giving and conviction-producing ministry of the Holy Spirit. In all of this the biblical counselor sees himself not as an isolated instrument of change, but one whose work is intimately connected to God’s primary tool of change; the church, with all of its God-ordained, duties, structures and means of grace.”
Biblical counseling relies upon the Word of God rather than theories that are rooted in a worldly, defective understanding of human nature (John 17:17). Any method worthy of the name “Christian counseling” must address the root problem of sin and present God’s solution–the redemptive work of Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
While there may be conditions that warrant legitimate medical treatment, biblical counselors reject the assumptions of the therapeutic culture that offers a pharmacological solution for every problem. Too often, medications only alleviate the symptoms and do not deal with the root causes of issues.
Unfortunately, some believers have lost confidence in the power of God’s Word to change lives because they do not understand and know how to apply the scriptures. Others do not believe the Word actually works for them or they claim miracles are not for today. Such unbelief hinders the work of God in their lives (Matthew 13:58).
Reading the Bible and memorizing verses are good practices, but change will not occur unless the Word of God is understood, believed, and applied. Before the people of Nehemiah’s day experienced a change of heart, Ezra read the Word of God and helped them understand it. They heard, understood, believed, and acted upon the Word, and then change resulted. A biblical counselor must share the scriptures, make certain they are understood, and then direct the counselee in the appropriate response.
Jesus told the Pharisees, “…You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29, NKJV).
Biblical counseling combines the Word of God with the power of God to effect true change in the lives of hurting people.
Jesus said:Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.] Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest
(relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29, AMP)
The appeal to come has not changed. Jesus is still calling hurting humanity to come, just as they are–with their burdens, addictions, issues, sins, and failures. He still offers rest, refreshment, and re-creation–new life–as we learn of Him.
Some professional chaplains are counseling in difficult situations where they are forbidden by their employer and/or by law to say things like “homosexuality is a sin,” etc. In such delicate situations, establish with the counselee that the counsel you are providing is not an opinion that you formulated, but it is the Word of God, the Holy Bible. The counselee is seeking biblical counseling, that is what you are providing, and that is what your counsel is based upon. They must make their own personal decision to accept or reject God’s Word.