Pastoral Counseling (Part 3)

Bob RoaneCounseling, Loving and Trusting God, Wise living

Jesus said: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. (Luke 4:18-19 NLT)

More Pearls from Powlison

One premise of biblical counseling is that people are not just “problems” and not defined by a “diagnosis.” All people are created by God in His image and likeness with gifts and callings. Christians have a new identity in Christ. The most limited human being, in terms of physical or mental abilities, has been given gifts by Jesus for serving Him and others, as part of Jesus’ greater family. Most people have helping gifts. Biblical counseling is not just a strategy for coping with your emotional or relational problems. It is a call to love and serve others. In God’s church, everyone has an important role to play.

Dr. Jack Miller told of his sister-in-law who was mentally disabled and lived with his family. One day, Jack grumbled about the rainy weather and Aunt Barbara, in her simple 5-year old way, said, “But Jack, the sun is always shining. It’s just behind the clouds.” God used that like a lightning bolt to get Jack back on track. The Bible teaches that God is always shining. Jesus is always the Light of the world, no matter what His providence is. Out of the mouth of a woman with a 5-year old mental ability came words of faith that blessed the pastor of 800 people. As iron sharpens iron, so all Christians can sharpen one another. That’s how the body of Christ is meant to work.1

In previous posts (Part 1 and Part 2), I wrote that in my view, Pastoral Counseling is really shorthand for four overlapping areas of ministry:

  • Pastoral Care
  • Shepherding
  • Biblical Counseling
  • Spiritual Formation

I focus on the fourth one here in this post.

Spiritual Formation

This is a newer term for an aspect of pastoral ministry that goes back to Bible times. Christian Spiritual Formation is a life-long process helping believers to become more like Christ in attitude and action, belief and behavior, character and conduct, words and deeds. This happens only by the empowering presence of God the Holy Spirit. This is also called “discipleship” or “coaching” and is a big part of pastoral counseling.

The Apostle Paul writes:
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to His power that is at work within us, 
to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.2

Spiritual theology, direction, and formation deal with really living the Christian life instead of just thinking and talking about it.

Aiming at Spiritual Health

Much modern counseling is heavily psychologized and problem-centered, but spiritual direction doesn’t always begin with a problem. It aims more at spiritual health, wellness, and growth in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. George Washington said that the best defense is a good offense. So proactive discipleship often prevents many problems as we learn to do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.3 If we seek first Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness, He will give us an adequate amount of the good things in this life (spiritual and physical) as God’s free gift so that we may enjoy His blessing as we serve Him and others.

Some biblical references to Spiritual Formation: The Lord who created and formed you and says, Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine….For God knew His people in advance, and He chose them to become like His Son (Christ), so that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters….We can now see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Jesus as we are changed into His glorious image….Christ gave pastor-teachers to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ….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.4

Each of these Scriptures deserves further explanation, but I won’t do that in this post.

Christ-centered Spiritual Growth is the Key

In His humanity, Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people.5 Son of God though He was, Christ learned from what He suffered.6 So the Lord calls us to help one another grow in Bible-based wisdom, physical and spiritual health, loving the Lord and our neighbors, especially through tough times. Each of us has personal and interpersonal struggles. Jesus knows those struggles, He cares about stumblers and strugglers, and so He enters into our lives. My highest privilege is seeing the Lord change people’s lives in Greater Houston!

One praise song says:
Christ is the Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper,
Light in the darkness, my God. That is who You are.

Because this is who Christ is and what He does, He is the primary Counselor. All of Scripture is about teaching us Christ-like wisdom, understanding, knowledge, discernment, and insight. Jesus teaches how to live disciplined and successful lives (as He defines success) and helps us to practice what is right, just, and fair to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.7

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
So that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 15:13)

Notes (various Bible translations): 1 Adapted from Paul Tautges’ interview with David Powlison.     2 Eph 3:20-21.     3 Micah 6:8.     4 Isaiah 43:1; Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18; Eph 4:11-13 MSG; Rom 12:2.    5 Luke 2:52.     6 Heb 5:8.     7 Some of this section adapted from Proverbs chapter 1 and David Powlison.