I couldn’t believe how long she talked and how long my mentor sat listening to her. He seemed to have a bottomless supply of patience. It was my first time in a real-life counseling observation, and I quickly learned how vital patience is to being a good counselor. It has been this realization that has often most troubled me as a counselor because I know myself to be incredibly impatient. It has been this realization that has often driven me to prayer because I can’t make myself be patient. Prayer is one of the most vital tools in the biblical counselor’s belt.
Frustration seems to be a regular occurrence in ministry. Pastoral care brings much joy, but anyone with even a minimal experience in ministry knows that it is often accompanied by a fist-clenching challenge. For every restored brother or sister in Christ, several hard-hearted individuals refuse to change. It’s easy, then, as a counselor to find oneself becoming jaded, critical, and judgmental. If we are not careful, every counselee who fails to make progress will quickly become subject to our disdain. We may even become quick to discount their difficulties, to assume their apathy, or to judge them as “wasting our time”. The particular temptation I’ve described is genuine for every counselor in nearly every case. The importance of prayer, then, cannot be overstated.
First and foremost, prayer serves, to remind me that I am dependent upon God. Biblical counseling is not primarily about my role in helping others; it is about my being a servant of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who is the Chief counselor; I am a tool in His hands. As such no counseling scenario is dependent upon my skill or knowledge. I am dependent upon the Spirit of God to work in the hearts of those I seek to help. I am dependent upon His convicting them, opening their eyes, and drawing them. I can indeed be a hindrance to the process of change, so it’s essential that I be skilled and knowledgeable, but change does not depend ultimately on me. I must pray. When my patience runs thin, when I am tempted to wash my hands of a complicated case, I remind myself that God is still at work. That I can trust Him to see a case through to His desired end. I pray for my counselee, then, but I also pray for myself. For example, I might pray, “Lord, help me to serve You well; to trust You with these people and their needs, to trust You with this difficult situation. Help me to be patient as I wait for You to reveal Your handiwork.” My prayers focus my heart on serving God as I try to serve my friends in counseling.
Second, prayer reminds me that I need God’s grace. As a counselor I am imperfect. My counselees are not the only ones in need of grace. In submitting to God in prayer, I am reminding myself that I need God to help me improve as a counselor. Perhaps a counseling case has gone poorly because of my own failures. Perhaps my impatience has resulted in rushing a case, in discouraging a counselee, in becoming too critical and judgmental. I need to seek God’s forgiveness and grace to help me improve as a counselor. I need to seek His grace in helping me to avoid impatience. This is a real temptation, and all Christians are to fight temptation by praying that God will deliver them from evil (Matthew 6:13).
God’s grace helps His people to avoid impatience by reminding them that all Christian growth is a work of gradual progress. All Christians are in transition from one degree of glory to another (2nd Corinthians 3:18). Growth, then, requires patience, encouragement, challenge, and time. We cannot rush the process. So, as God gives me grace in my own growth, I am to give grace to those I seek to help. I pray for grace because I know I need it. I pray for grace because it helps me to demonstrate it.
Finally, prayer helps me to love others well. Loving others is exceedingly difficult. Other people, like ourselves, can be trying, selfish, petty, and annoying. Biblical counseling, however, is to be marked by love. To be an effective counselor, I have to care for those I serve genuinely. When I am tempted to give up, to abandon a case, I turn God in prayer. Praying for those I counsel often turns my heart towards them in sympathy. As I pray, God gives me fresh concern for them, fresh understanding of their challenges, and fresh alarm for the destruction they are heading towards. Intercession on their behalf draws my heart closer to their need. Impatience with them will cause my heart to be far from them, viewing them as an impediment to my own success, happiness, or comfort, but praying for them reverses this trend. So I pray, “God be merciful to my friend. Break their heart for sin; convince them of Your wisdom and truth. Do not let them wander far from You. Give them strength to say no to unrighteousness. Bless them with hope in sorrow.” I pray for their sake, but in praying I find I learn to love them more earnestly.
Counseling is hard work. Paul tells us that each scenario requires a case-specific response. He writes to the Thessalonians: “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1st Thessalonians 5:14)
The idle are to be admonished, the faint-hearted encouraged, and the weak helped. Each case requires a response sensitive to the individual and their need. But every person, Paul says, needs patience. Change is hard, and the temptation is strong. Burdens are heavy, and sorrow is enduring. Counselors are desperately in need of God’s grace in order to be of help their counselees. So, we pray and in praying we find the patience we need.