Prayer Is a Great Place to Begin Biblical Counseling

Prayer Is a Great Place to Begin Biblical Counseling

Prayer Is a Great Place to Begin Biblical Counseling

Topics: Prayer
Published: March 12, 2013

Often I am asked, “Where should we start in bringing biblical counseling into our church?” I like to come at this question from an unusual angle—but one that builds directly on something that already happens in churches. I say, “Change the way you make prayer requests, and the way you pray for each other.” When prayer requests deal with matters of consequence, when we learn to pray for each other about the actual struggles of our souls, when prayer aligns with God’s deepest purposes, then we simultaneously are making a huge start at becoming alert, effective counselors. For example, the Bible’s prayers are rarely about health, travel mercies, finances, doing well on a test, finding a job, or the salvation of unsaved relatives. Of course, these are legitimate things to pray for, but they are a minor emphasis in Scripture. Even so, these topics typically dominate most church and small group prayer requests. They easily miss the real action of God’s dealings with his beloved people.

In contrast, the driving focus of biblical prayer asks God to show himself, asks that we will know him, asks that we will love others. It names our troubles. It names our troublesome reactions and temptations. It names our holy desires. It names our God, his promises, and his will. When someone asks you, “How may I pray for you?,” imagine the impact of responding in a manner such as this: “I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and have been inattentive and irritable to those nearest and dearest to me. Please pray for me, that I will awaken and turn from my preoccupation with work pressures, recreations, health problems, or money. God promises to help me pay attention to him. Ask him to help me remember and focus. Ask him to help me to take my family and other people to heart. Pray that I will take refuge in him when the pressure is on. The Lord is my refuge, but I’ve been taking refuge in TV and food.” This kind of prayer gets things that matter on the table—things that matter both immediately and eternally. It so happens that these are the daily versions of the issues that serious counseling deals with.

When people start to identify where they really need God’s help, then they enter the world of both prayer and counseling. We step into reality. Most prayer requests ask for God to give external blessings. But biblical prayer, like counseling, deals with how God meets us, comforts us, changes us. Retooling our prayer requests is an accessible way for believers in a church to begin to teach each other to talk about the things that really matter, the things that are on God’s heart. If you are praying for matters with personal consequences, then you will have conversations of consequence.

How can you help people change the way they make prayer requests? First and foremost, model what it’s like to be in touch with where you really need God’s mercies, strength, and wisdom. Second, help God’s people to study what the Bible shows and tells about prayer. Learning to pray is not mainly about how often we pray, or the techniques and elements that go into prayer. It is about how to need the right things, and how look in the right direction for what you need. What is the Lord’s Prayer asking for?  What are the Psalms asking for? What about God comes into view in the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms? This is what we ought to be asking for from others, and how we ought to be praying for each other. The focus is on what people really need—not just the external blessings we crave. Real prayer engages the real person who stands before God needing much mercy, much guidance, much strength. As we do it, we start to become attuned to the dynamics of reality. As we are in touch with reality, then we are in touch with what really matters. We will then start to create conversations and accountability that is counseling-oriented.

Of course, there are many other “counseling-specific” things that can be taught, discussed, planned, and implemented. But prayer requests are a surprising door into the world of caring practically and pointedly for each other.

Thank you to Paul Tautges who interviewed me in December 2012. This blog represents a further development of the ideas we talked about.

Emotions R’ Us: How Changes in Emotions Impact Families

Emotions R’ Us: How Changes in Emotions Impact Families

Emotions R’ Us: How Changes in Emotions Impact Families

Topics: Emotions
Published: Apr 10, 2012
No matter how cerebral and egg-headed humans can be, no matter how interested in concepts and theories, no matter how seemingly robotic—at root, emotions are us. Think of any friend. Who are they? How would you recognize them even if they were physically disguised?

“Tell me about yourself?”

“Well, I’m thirty-something. I work for a small business.”

“Any hobbies?”

“Yes, chess.”

“Tell me about chess.”

“Chess is amazing, I love it. It is war. It is intrigue. It is getting to know the mind of the enemy. It is about the beauty of an elegant move for which there is no response . . . .

“Gotcha! I know who you are now.”

You know people by their passions, by what excites them.

When People’s Emotions Change

But what if you know somebody well and then a profound change takes place in their emotional profile. This is what happens with brain injuries. The most dire consequence for families is not the financial strain or added duties around the house. No. The real problem is this: “He is not my husband anymore.” Or worse, you will hear a spouse say, “He died in that accident,” while the brain-injured person is watching TV fifteen feet away. What the wife means is, “My husband was interested in so many things—he loved to do so much, he took great pleasure in life—now he responds no differently to a random child in the street than he does to his own granddaughter. He has no apparent emotions; he doesn’t seem human.”

Now consider a different kind of change—the world of unruly emotions. Depression, for example, is when we feel down regardless of how much we prod those down feelings with good things. Mania is when we are artificially up. In that state we love everything, and wanting more of what we love, we might spend money recklessly. But those thirty penguin figurines are meaningless when emotions return to a more normal range.

At both ends of the emotional continuum—down and up—friends and family have a sense that an alien has abducted their loved one. The normal passions are no longer there, so the person is no longer there.

Now add dementia, or the emotions that come with drug abuse, or the less extreme emotional changes that can come with PMS or extreme fatigue. Acute or temporary conditions leave us wondering, “What’s wrong with that person?” Chronic conditions leave us wondering if we will ever see the old dad or the real wife again.

Loving a Stranger

My point is that our emotions and our identity are more closely linked than we realize. When someone’s emotional profile has been altered, the person is no longer moved by things that were once loved, or is now moved by things that before had no significance. The family is left with a stranger. You can love a stranger, but you miss the person you used to love.

All this leads to the question: what makes a person a person? To put it more theologically: what does it mean that we are created in God’s image? Our emotions—our loves, fears and loathings—are part of what it means to be human, but there is more. To be human means that we bear a resemblance to the Creator God. You can find something good, something that reflects the glory of the Father, in every person. Sometimes you will see loves and loathings that are in sync with God’s passions. Other times you will see something subtler such as a smile in response to a loved one coming into a room, or a person coming alive when praying or hearing an old hymn.

We are our emotions. There is truth in that. As a result, we can grow in compassion for families in which a loved one has become a different person emotionally. This can be so painful for families. Yet there is more to a person, and alert families can usually find it.

Does the Gospel Help with Everyday Things?

Does the Gospel Help with Everyday Things?

Does the Gospel Help with Everyday Things?

Published: Dec 21, 2011

One criterion for evaluating proposals about how we should live as Christians is this family of questions, “Does this work for peasants and factory workers? Would this be plausible for a mother of pre-schoolers or a lonely man who is dying?” Jesus has a way with people facing trouble. The Bible works with people who get sweaty, weary or teary, who worry about money, who find pain and sickness a long hard road. It is for war-weary sufferers. Ministry works to make unassuming warriors with quiet courage and perseverance.

Here’s a companion question: “Does this work for strugglers?” Jesus has a way with people who feel their sins, who are tempted to drink too much, who get too angry too easily and can’t let it go, who are consumed by irrational fears and can’t even imagine an exit strategy. Scripture works with people who find it hard to walk in the light, and too easy to stumble and fall. Ministry works to make unsung heroes who learn to make small, difficult choices.

These problems of daily life are the flashpoint for our life in Christ—the places we need him, the places we seek him, the places we find him, the places where faith walks out into love. We meet Jesus in our troubles and in our struggles, our vulnerability to suffering and tendency to sin.

Jesus meets you in your pressures and preoccupations.

His underlying foundation sounds so unassuming: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus meets you in your obsessions and compulsions.

His overarching goals sound so basic: “Love is patient. Love is kind. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.”

Jesus calms drivenness and lightens burdens. He is making you a person of peace, peaceable, at peace, a maker of peace, abiding in the peace that passes all understanding. He’s good for the long hard road in the right direction. Jesus meets you every day and helps with everyday things.

Taking Your Soul to Task: One Example

Taking Your Soul to Task: One Example

Taking Your Soul to Task: One Example

Topics: Anger
Published: Oct 27, 2011

When we are stuck in sin there are a few angles to consider. The most obvious one is that we are stuck in sin because we like it more than we want to fight it. Rarely do we lash ourselves to the mast to avoid the Sirens’ song or threaten personal dismemberment when we go back to the same old idols. Jesus calls us to be merciless and violent with our lusts (Matt.11:12 KJV) yet when we do battle with something we love, our aim often becomes friendly borders rather than utter destruction.

Here is one example of a man who has had enough. He is sick of certain sins and has strategized how to put them to death. He has sent the following plan to his wife, pastor and a few friends. Granted, a list doesn’t lead to change in itself. Anyone can make a list. But a written list that is public is a fine start.

Here is his plan. I left the first part in his caps, which usually means that someone is angry and yelling, but in his case it is simply the way he likes to write his notes.




  1. Trust Jesus Christ & appreciate his mercy and grace towards me—first, foremost, always.
  2. Return kindness in the face of adversity—listen to criticism openly & without fear.
  3. Practice gratitude—to the Lord—to my wife. Value—expressions of love—patience & perseverance.
  4. Seek spiritual growth personally & with the influence & encouragement of others.
  5. Keep my promises—exercise integrity.
  6. Act authoritatively & responsibly—do the work. No more passivity.
  7. Speak the truth in love and without judgment.
  8. Remember that my spouse is hurting and vulnerable and needs empathy, compassion & encouragement.
  9. Love & respect my spouse & value her opinions.
  10. Talk openly & vulnerably.
  11. Pursue honesty.


I find that there are three levels of clarity. When I only think about something, my thoughts are embryonic and muddled. When I speak about it, my thoughts become clearer, though not always. When I write about it, I jump to a new level of clarity.

If there is any practical wisdom in this progression, then a written plan that is edited and witnessed by others is good practice and indicates that we are ready to take our souls to task.

What Made David Great?

What Made David Great?

What Made David Great?

by Kevin DeYoung

Everyone who knows the Bible knows that King David was a great man. And yet everyone familiar with the Bible also recognizes that David did a lot of not-so-great things. Of course, there was the sin with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband Uriah, and the subsequent cover-up. That was not exactly delighting in the law of the Lord (Ps. 1:2). But there was also the ill-advised census motivated by David’s pride, not to mention a series of lessons in how not to manage your household well. For being a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), David managed to follow his own heart quite a bit.

So with all these flaws, what made David great? One could easily mention David’s courage, his loyalty, his faith, and his success as a leader, musician, and warrior. But he was great in other, lesser-known ways as well. In particular, David was a great man because he was willing to overlook others’ sins but unwilling to overlook his own.

David was a gracious man, bearing with the failings of others, eager to give his enemies a second chance. Twice, while his friends advised him to strike down their enemy, David spared Saul’s life (1 Sam. 24; 26). Though Saul opposed him at every turn, David did not rejoice at his death, but he wept for the king and his son Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:17–27). David welcomed Abner when he defected from the phony king Ish-bosheth and mourned for him when distrusting Joab stuck him down (chap. 3). David was unnecessarily kind to Mephibosheth (chap. 9) and uncommonly patient with Shimei’s spiteful cursing (16:5–14). Later, David would pardon those who rebelled against him during Absalom’s insurrection (19:16–23). Time after time, David showed himself to be unlike the sons of Zeruiah who lived to hold grudges and settle scores. David knew how to forgive. More than anyone prior to Jesus, David loved his enemies. Like no other Old Testament king, David was willing to welcome rebels back to the fold and overlook the sins of those who had opposed him.

But amazingly, David’s kindhearted attitude toward his enemies did not translate into a soft attitude toward his own sins. Usually, people who are soft with others are soft with themselves, and those hardest on themselves are even harder on others. But David was different. He was gracious with others and honest with himself. I believe David’s greatness was simply this: as much as he sinned, he never failed to own up to his sin. I can’t find a single instance where David was rightly rebuked for his failings and then failed to heed the rebuke. When Nathan confronted David for his adultery and murder, David, after he saw what Nathan was up to, quickly lamented, “I have sinned against the Lord” (12:13). When Joab sent the woman of Tekoa to change David’s mind about Absalom, he listened (chap. 14). When Joab rebuked David for loving his treacherous son more than his loyal servants, David did what Joab told him to do (19:1–8). Joab was often wrong in his advice to David, but when he was right David saw it and changed course. Likewise, after his foolish census, David’s heart struck him and he confessed, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done” (24:10).

David knew how to forgive, and he knew how to repent, too. He never blamed others for his mistakes. He did not make excuses based on family history, peer pressure, or the demands of leadership. He did not use passive language, referring to his sin as a dysfunction or a growth edge. He did not lament over his sins simply because of the negative effects they could have on his kingdom and his relationships. He saw his transgressions primarily in their vertical dimension, as an offense against almighty God (Ps. 51:4). He never ran from the light when it exposed his darkness. Instead, he squinted hard, admitted his iniquity, and worked to make things right. When we consider how rare it is in our day for athletes, movie stars, and politicians to candidly and clearly take responsibility for their public sins, we should be all the more amazed that the king of Israel, arguably the most famous man in the history of God’s old covenant people, was humble enough to listen to the chastisement of those who were beneath him and change accordingly.

David was a man after God’s own heart because he hated sin but loved to forgive it. What better example of God could there be? God doesn’t just welcome His enemies in, He dies in their stead (Rom. 5:6–11). He is always eager to show mercy, always willing to give traitors a second chance. And yet, God is not soft on sin. He exposes it and calls on us to exterminate it (John 16:8–11; Col. 3:5). But of course, God, unlike David, is never guilty of His own sin. God showed His condescension not by humbling Himself before a needed rebuke, but by humbling Himself to take on human flesh and take up a cross (Phil. 2:5–8). David was great, but not nearly as great as his greater son.

Parents Ignore your Kids Feelings

Parents Ignore your Kids Feelings

Parents Ignore your Kids Feelings

Ed Welch

Yes, that’s what you might overhear among mental health professionals. The self-esteem revolution is officially over. The writing was on the wall when Baumeister identified that violent prisoners did not suffer from low self-esteem, rather they suffered from egoism. They thought too highly of themselves. As a result they had to seek revenge when someone showed them a hint of disrespect.1

Now it is stylish to bash our decades-long infatuation with self-esteem. Helicopter parenting, extreme parenting, parents who rebuke teachers for giving a B to their 3rd grader, parents who need their children to be happy and successful and will do anything to make them that way, teachers who embrace “different learning styles” to shield a 7th grader from the simple fact that he isn’t that great at math, parents who try to protect their children from all hurt and failure, and little league coaches who give life-sized trophies to every five-year-old—they are now being told to let the kids cry and let them learn how to deal with hard things. If there aren’t hard things in their lives, then feel free to impose some hardship. And, for crying out loud, stop trying to make your kids feel so special and learn how to say “no”! It’s time for them to earn their stripes.2

Perhaps the next decade will be filled with “Tots week with Bear Grylls,” cold showers in every locker room, and drill sergeants in elementary school classrooms.

Indeed, as Ecclesiastes says, nothing is new under the sun. It isn’t only the nutritionists who change their tune every five years. Pop psychology does the same.

The reality is that not every kid can be President. Kids are like the rest of us. We are good at some things, bad at others, and average at most. Wise people consider their strengths and weaknesses, and have sought the help of their critics so they don’t indulge in wishful thinking.

“An accurate self-image.” That’s what I remember John Bettler3 teaching almost thirty years ago. Not an inflated self-image, not a low-self image, but an accurate one. It sounded like heresy then. Now it is mainstream! And though John’s teaching was wise, he wasn’t ahead of his time, he was just thinking biblically about this topic. There is a timeless quality to that.

In other words, expect your biblical thinking about morality and human nature to have two distinctives: (1) parts of it will be ridiculed because it will be out of synch with popular thinking, and (2) parts of it will be received as ordinary wisdom that has broad, popular appeal (there are facets of God’s wisdom that are available to the naked eye). And—if you wait long enough—what was once ridiculed will often become ordinary.

What does this mean for parents? If you never really signed on with the self-esteem movement, then it means nothing. If, however, your parenting philosophy is that your children must always be happy, they have unlimited potential, they could be great at everything if it weren’t for that pesky algebra teacher and tennis coach, both of whom are blind to real talent, and your children live in a world where life is about them, then now is a good time to recalibrate your understanding of discipleship.

But you certainly can pay attention to your kids’ feelings.

1 Baumeister, Bushman and Campbell, “Self-esteem, narcissism and aggression: Does violence result from low self-esteem or threatened egoism?” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol.7, no.1, Feb 2000, pp.26-29.

2 E.g., The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel; “How the cult of self-esteem is ruining our kids,” by Lori Gottlieb, The Altlantic Monthly, July/August 2011); and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

3 John Bettler was a co-founder of CCEF and Executive Director for more than 20 years.