In my years of work as both a police officer and now a biblical counselor, I have found that one common thread running through most, if not all interactions with people seeking help is their desire for hope. Whatever circumstance they face, they seek the assurance that things can change for the better.
It has been my observation over time that this search for hope is usually buttressed by the expectation that I, as either a first responder or counselor, would be trustworthy to either dispense hope or ensure them of a basis for it.
Hope, as it turns out, has much to do with why those in crisis or trauma call the police or seek wise counsel (Proverbs 15:22). My ability to build involvement with, and earn the confidence and trust of the counselee is largely dependent on my skill in communicating hope.
As I reflect on the array of counseling cases that I have attended within the past few months and take into consideration the various trials faced by my counselees who themselves are as diverse as the troubles they face, I am reminded of the centrality and unifying role that hope plays in counseling biblically.
Whatever else the counselor seeks to accomplish in the life of their counselee, the responsibility to impart Christ-centered hope in each and every session is of first importance (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Above All, Give Hope
This matter of hope is no tertiary thing (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Counselees who face a trial of any kind hope for the very best outcome and resolution. We are not surprised then to observe people of all beliefs and faith systems expressing, in some way, a longing for hope that the pain and trials of life have an answer.
In any counseling scenario, the absence of hope, that is, the judgment that all is lost will be detrimental to the prospects of success in counseling, however, faint they may appear to be (Proverbs 13:12).
Dr. Wayne Mack writes that “biblical change cannot take place without hope.” He goes on to say that hope that is unbiblical, of the type offered in non-Christian settings, such as secular counseling and psychotherapy offices, “will inevitably crumble.”
Mack’s counsel can be difficult, but necessary, to convey when people believe themselves to be the recipients of hope that the biblical counselor knows is rooted in the emptiness of humanist philosophy, rather than the fullness of biblical wisdom. Discerning how and when to share those concerns is critical to providing a gospel-centered hope (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 27:6). It should be done with care, concern, and respect (Ephesians 4:15).
Mack’s words are worth careful consideration, nonetheless. They serve to remind us that not all hope is created equal (Matthew 7:24-27). For this reason, he calls upon those involved in biblical counseling to discriminate between true, biblical hope and that which is false.
The Substance of Hope
The substance of hope in biblical counseling, regardless of the facts and circumstances of a given case (i.e. marital infidelity, physical sickness, addiction, depression/anxiety, etc.), is the timeless, matchless, eternal word of God (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Even as we celebrate science and medical technology making advances in the treatment of true diseases of the brain, the biblical counselor is persuaded of Scripture’s centrality to the offering of hope in the practice of soul care (Psalms 119:105).
Dr. Robert Jones writes that what makes biblical counseling biblical is the counselor’s vision for God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ. He writes that “The Bible does not merely inform our counseling as if it were simply one source of truth among several…the Bible drives our counseling.”
Indeed, as the many theories of secular psychology are constantly refined, and new, even competing theories are developed, Christ and His Word remain the same (Hebrews 13:8; Isaiah 40:8).
How Then Shall We Counsel
In an era of exploding medical advances, it is improbable that anyone counselor would display omniscience in the latest discoveries and understanding of how to apply all available scientific data on every possible counseling topic (particularly those not trained in the practice of medicine).
This begs the question, then, about how the clinically-informed biblical counselor ought to approach his or her work. Are we striving toward becoming dispensers of clinical data or conduits of gospel-driven, Christ-centered hope?
Dr. Heath Lambert writes that today’s biblical counselor leaves the practice of medicine to those who know how to provide it while recognizing that spiritual problems do not have physical remedies.
The counselor’s task then, through training and education, is to become adept at discerning the difference between the physical and the spiritual, and being nuanced enough to recognize when the two may be colliding as they formulate potential counseling remedies.
When counselees see that their counselor is interested in the wellness of their whole person and is not only concerned with identifying sin and memorizing Bible verses, as some outside of biblical counseling have suggested, hope is extended and confidence is instilled.
Hope-giving counselors who are committed to biblical change lead hopeful counselees.
Joshua Waulk is the Founder and Executive Director of Baylight Counseling, a nonprofit biblical counseling ministry in Clearwater, Florida. He is married with four children, three of whom are adopted. Josh earned the MABC and is now pursuing the D.Min. in biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is ACBC certified.