After spending weeks, months, or years studying, we can become pretty confident that we know what we are talking about when it comes to that particular subject. We have invested sweat, tears, and many paper cuts to know this information; we have earned that confidence.

That’s how I felt after finishing the first two phases of ACBC certification. I had spent months listening to lectures, watching recorded counseling sessions, reading books, and writing exams. When it came time to begin my supervised counseling stage, I felt pretty confident that I not only knew what I was doing, but I could do it well.

Though I am only a few weeks into my supervised counseling for ACBC, I have already learned one major lesson on counseling and discipleship: It is not for the prideful heart. Discipleship and counseling require humility—a humility that we are not capable of on our own. When we are teaching and guiding others, we need humility that only comes from being submissive servants of Christ.

Humility to Relate

As counselors or those in a position to disciple others, we need humility to relate to their struggles. We need the humility to be able to admit we are not perfect. When we are mentoring or teaching someone, our first instinct may be to put up the façade that we have it all together. Our attitude might become something like You can have confidence in me because I have never struggled, questioned, or made that mistake.

Not only is that a lie (1 John 1:10), it’s also not helpful to those we are counseling. Who do you find it easier to talk to about your sins? Someone who has never battled that temptation, or someone who bears the battle wounds? We need humility to admit that we are likewise sinners in need of God’s grace, but even better, that we are sinners who have seen God’s grace. We know the battle, but we also know the peace that comes only through Christ.

Pride strives set the stage of perfection when counseling others, but humility lets down the walls and admits, “I struggle too, but here’s what God has taught me.”

Humility to Admit Ignorance

Despite the long hours we have spent studying, we still don’t have all the answers. In our pride, we assume we know the answers to each problem we will face and each question that will be raised. You can either choose to put humility on now, or be humbled later. Unwisely, I chose later and my pride took a pie to the face when a counselee brought to me a problem I never thought I would face.  I had no words.

My initial reaction was to run, to avoid the whole situation. But upon recognizing my pride in that, and my commitment to serve this counselee, I sought out others wiser than me to counsel me as I took on this case.

This kind of know-it-all pride left unchecked can lead to a bigger problem: A refusal to learn. Pride says we already know all that we need, there’s no need to continue studying. But humility is willing to admit that we still need help. We still need God’s Word, because human wisdom is faulty (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). We still need the counsel of godly friends and leaders because in the multitude of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14). Our humility keeps us at the throne of grace, seeing our own inadequacy and need for Christ to teach us first before we could ever presume to teach another.

Humility to Listen

Pride assumes it already has an answer. In our pride, we don’t take the time to listen and understand what someone is telling us, but rather jump in with our eloquent answers and speech. Prideful counselors assume they already have a sufficient understanding before truly knowing the problem. In our pride, we want to treat every issue like a textbook; if they have these symptoms, if they have these issues, you give this predetermined answer. Pride leads us to believe that every problem looks the same.

But in our humility, we recognize that each person is different and needs our full attention as we listen. We want to ask thorough questions and receive thorough answers. Humility knows that, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13 ESV).

In our pride, we want to be able to give an answer at the snap of a finger to prove our wisdom, but God says it will only show our folly to answer too quickly. With humility, we are willing to be patient and spend time mulling over and meditating on what God’s Word says before we give an answer—because we care more about God’s glory and handling his Word rightly than what we look like.

Humility to Set Aside Our Own Desires

Prideful counselors say, “My time is the most valuable time, and what I want is the priority.” But counseling doesn’t always work that way. People don’t always have their crises on our schedule. Pain, loss, and suffering don’t always happen when it’s convenient for us. Problems can’t always be communicated within one hour. Problems don’t always resolve within ten weeks. When we want to counsel, mentor, and simply be there for others, we have to be willing to set aside our own schedules.

Sometimes we forget that discipleship, counseling, and mentoring are not about being served. It’s about serving another. It’s about being like Jesus and washing the feet of Christ’s disciples. We come not to be served but to serve. We come to counseling with this humble attitude fixed in our hearts:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:3-8 ESV

Pride says that we are too important, too good to do that. Humility says, Christ died on the cross for me—how can I die to my desires for you?

Be Humble, Or Be Humbled

If you don’t choose humility first, God will humble you himself (Proverbs 16:18). The fact is, we are sinful people without omniscience. We will make mistakes, we won’t know what to say, people will be complicated, and we won’t always get our way. If we remain in pride, this is going to be a lot harder, and God will be sure to bring you back to your place. But if we strive for humility, this is yet another opportunity to fall on our faces before God in need of grace. And we don’t need to fear, because while God may oppose the proud, he gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).