The other night as a couple was leaving my office, I was reminded of what a privilege it is to serve as a biblical counselor. This husband and wife have been driving to Lafayette from another city because they wanted help to handle a particular trial that has weighed them down for years.
We have been counseling now for several weeks and as they left, they thanked me for investing time in their lives and our relationship. It was heartfelt—much more than a casual thank-you given to the person bagging your groceries. I in turn thanked them for trusting me enough to open up the recesses of their hearts and marriage so we could go to the cross together.
As I was walking out to my car a bit later, I thought about what a particularly delightful privilege counseling can be. How else could you make such genuine friendships that so quickly go from chit-chat to intimate matters of the soul?
Paul’s words to the Thessalonians came to mind.
But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God (1 Thessalonians 2:7-9).
I am sure I am not always as gentle as I should be, in the counseling room or anywhere else. But there is something uniquely humbling when people come asking for help in times of suffering. My prayer is that I, and all of us as biblical counselors, will prove to be gentle with those who are hurting. With this particular couple, I have found it helpful to use Pastor Mark Vroegop’s new book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy. His study of the subject of biblical lament has been very helpful to this man and his wife. It has allowed us to face the pain and uncertainty of the trial honestly before the Lord as opposed to simply running to find answers and solutions without first taking the time to grieve together. I think creating an atmosphere where it is acceptable to cry out to God in lament is part of what led to this couple’s expression of thanks at the end of our time together.
In his words to the Thessalonians, Paul also explains the power of combining the gospel with his own life in the way he related to his brothers and sisters while in their midst. I have found that counselees who are suffering are helped by learning about my family and our struggles, our pains, and our failures. When such information is shared in a gospel saturated way, something unique happens in the development of the relationship. It goes from one counselor and two counselees to three fellow-travelers jointly seeking Christ together. A genuine friendship is being formed and my sense is that it will be life-long. What an incredible privilege the Lord has given us.
Paul was also able to say that his other labor allowed him to serve the Thessalonians without being a financial burden to them. I realize this is not the case for everyone who counsels biblically, but many of us are paid by our churches or in the case of our lay-volunteers, by secular work or retirement incomes. That frees us up to provide biblical counseling at no cost to our counselees. I prefer that approach and am deeply thankful for our church family and the way they supply for my family’s needs. I think this increases our counselee’s appreciation because they know that we are there simply because we love them and sincerely wish to minister God’s grace in their lives.
As I walked to my car, I could also not help but notice the Christmas decorations all around our building. The possibility of developing gospel-saturated friendships with counselees is only attainable because of wonderful gift of God’s Son. He is the One who redeemed us and then gave us such a marvelously fulfilling mission. Thanks be to God, for His unspeakable gift.