The Counseling Trap
A wise man once
said, "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward" (Job
5:7). We have to admit he was right As long as we are in the
flesh, there's no escaping problems. They seem to be the
warp and woof of the fabric of life.
But we have moved
into the era of the professional problem solver. Whether
your problem is financial, marital, psychological, or
whatever, somewhere there is an expert to tell you how to
experts have also invaded the church. Many ministries today
have professional or semi-professional problem solvers. If
you have a spiritual problem, you only have to pick up the
phone and a counselor is waiting at the other end with just
the right thing to say. In all likelihood he's been trained
it; handling the typical problems faced by believers, and as
an experienced counselor he's undoubtedly dealt with your
type of problem before.
For years I
accepted that this is God's method of "building up" the body
of Christ. But when I came to see my union with Christ, I
was compelled to re-evaluate the whole notion of the expert
who counsels on Christian problems, and to particularly
question the whole concept of the "shepherding" system.
counseling is an intrinsic part of modern church life. .If
the church abandoned its counseling system; many leaders
would find themselves with much time on their hands.
Besides, how could the flock survive without it? How would
they ever be able to handle their lives?
counseling and shepherding there is a basic assumption. It
is taken for granted that the counseling that takes place is
aimed at strengthening God's people. But I am going
to suggest that much of it frequently weakens the
spiritual strength of believers!
Can I be serious?
How could it possibly weaken them, you ask? Let us consider.
Aren't most counseling systems designed to solve problems?
Indeed they are. "Get at the cause of the problem and solve
it" is their watchword. Now, with all of these problems that
are apparently being solved every day, one would think that
the church would be gloriously triumphant and hardly
troubled by problems any more. But in my experience, those
who subscribe to this system always seem to abound in
problems. They continually need counseling; they need a
shepherd to keep after them, rarely coming to the place that
they no longer have to be counseled.
Urging people to
solve their problems through counseling as to the cause of
the problems tends to produce individuals who focus on outer
situations, and who therefore always find lots of problems
to seek more counsel about. In many churches you can observe
the same people going for ministry week after week. The
system actually generates problem-centered people! In
fact, countless believers are so hypnotized with the outer
situations of life, continually viewing life as a series of
problems that desperately need solving, that they would
hardly know what to do in life if they suddenly found
themselves free of this condition.
What makes us so
sure that God wants all of our problems solved? Have you
ever thought that He might mean problems to be? Is it
possible that He doesn't intend us to fuss about our
problems, but rather to see Him in them?
Christians have for
too long been intimidated by the idea that their spiritual
problems are sent by the devil, and that they are meant to
build godly character by overcoming them. A radical shift of
emphasis is needed. Spiritual problems are God's gift to us!
They move us from being individuals who live according to
outer situations to those who live by inner union with
Christ. They are intended to make us inner, supply-centered
Think about your
conversion. You became aware at some point of the greatest
spiritual problem you could ever face in life, the fact that
you were a sinner under the wrath of God. If you were like
me, you cried out to God to do something — you
wanted a solution to your plight. Of course, relief and
freedom from the problem came in the form of forgiveness
when you accepted Jesus Christ into your life. But
eventually you made a quite extraordinary discovery, the
fact that before the foundation of the world God had
provided the solution to your problem. The entrance of sin
into the world didn't catch Him napping. He didn't wait for
you to become a sinner before He acted to solve your
problem; He dealt with it before it happened! So the outer
problem was actually a vital negative to bring God's supreme
positive solution of inner grace to your attention.
And the way God
handled our greatest spiritual problem at the time of our
"first love" is the way He handles all of our problems. Just
as God knew that freedom of choice would lead to the
sin-problem and meant it to be, so too all of the
problems we face in life are meant to be. This "first love"
principle works throughout the whole of our experience of
problems may be, they haven't come upon you so that you
can solve them. Solving problems is not your problem! To
become spiritually mature means you recognize that "before"
you call for the solution to your problem, God has answered.
The fact that a problem has arisen in your life means that
God already has the solution worked out. It is the negative
prelude to the positive reality. Problem and solution are
both complete in spirit-reality before they come to you in
This means that any
need which arises in your life is simply the evidence of
supply. The need you see by sight, the supply
you see by faith. Your visible need is the evidence of the
invisible supply. Problems, then, are proof that God already
has the solution.
So often we rush in
where angels fear to tread, taking over the problem and
trying to get it solved through counsel from shepherds or
"experts." But God's way is to unveil the gospel— the
revelation of which lifts the needy one to a level in which
he finds the solution already prepared. This means that
instead of running to others continually, he can help
himself; indeed, he has the solution within him.
The moment we
descend to the level of the person we are trying to help
through counsel, seeking to supply a solution to his
problem, we become like one who goes to the bottom of a well
to help the person who has fallen in. If you try to help
another by descending to his level — focusing on the
externals of this material realm instead of on inner
spirit-reality — your sympathy is akin to the desperate
efforts of a beetle to escape from a slippery bowl.
"solve" the problems of another is to get in that
individual's way. It is impossible to fill a barrel that has
a hole in it, and that is what much of our shepherding and
counseling amounts to. As long as the person focuses on his
problems — and you also focus on them by trying to sort them
out — he will never recognize that God is deeply involved in
the whole of his life. And when you can't solve his
problem, he will trample you under his feet, because he is
determined to have an external solution immediately. Then
you too will have an attitude problem with him, and
rehearse the same old ditty about "ingratitude," sinking to
his mundane level.
Every problem we
can possibly face in life is simply an adventurous
challenge to faith. Will we live by the inner consciousness
of total supply, and so enter into our "rest" in each
problem — or will we stew around in the outer dimension,
desperately trying to get someone to solve this "devil-sent
Once you see God in
your problem, it is solved. Its burden disappears instantly.
Certainly the final manifestation of the solution in outer
experience is a welcome bonus. But the real thrill lies in
seeing God in the problem through the single eye of
faith, recognizing Him as your full supply before the
solution is manifest.
When you can see
God in your problems, realizing that He means them to be and
is using them for a good purpose, you yourself become a
worthy counselor. When someone calls you with a complicated
problem, you find no need to rush for the "How to Solve All
Problems" manual. You simply reveal the good news to them.
All they actually need is a change of mind about the problem
— a switch from "solve my problem and I'll be happy" to "I'm
happy in (not in spite of) my problem." We preach
Christ as our total adequacy in all situations,
affirming that He in us will handle every difficulty in His
own time and way, using all for a good purpose.
"I'm so unloving,"
you say. Or, "I'm so unwise, and never know what to do when
problems come." This is the negative prelude to Christ
expressing Himself through you. It's only as you are aware
of the fact that you are not loving or wise that you can
recognize Him as the Positive who is your total supply. You
were never meant to be loving or wise independent of union
"It's all very well
for you to say that I shouldn't be concerned with the outer
solution to my problem," you reply, "but it's a painful
situation to bear."
Yes, that's true.
The birth of inner consciousness of union with Christ comes
through much travail for most of us. It's human to want to
be rid of problems. It isn't easy to praise God in the midst
of painful situations. To quit struggling with the problem
and accept it as from God — realizing that if the devil is
involved, he's fully under God's control and a mere tool in
His hands — takes a giant leap of faith against all
appearance. Yet any pain we encounter is but the light yoke
and easy burden of Jesus once we realize that He means such
things to be; and this means that we can have peace right in
the midst of tribulation.
If you want to
remain in the problem-solving syndrome, that's your choice.
But as long as you do, you will be dependent on the limited
resources of the "experts" for your spiritual strength and;
stability. You will forever need shepherds to tell you what
But take a leap
into the faith dimension, and you will tap the infinite
inner resources of the living Christ, who promises to be in
you a well of water flowing out from you in rivers of living
water that will never dry up. You will discover that Jesus
is Lord of all situations, so that nothing comes upon
you that He doesn't intend to use for good. Instead of
constantly fighting problems, wishing situations weren't the
way they are, you will find peace right where you are even
when the outer troubles of life remain unchanged for the
moment. And you will have the assurance that when God has
accomplished His purpose through those problems, His answer
was there even before you called!