What is Biblical Counseling?
Her name was Li Mei. She was a bright and eager student at a local seminary. Li Mei loved the Lord, poured her life into ministry, and aspired to dedicate her life to missions. One evening, I met her at a coffee shop, and her eyes filled with tears as she confided in me her struggles with depression. Before she contacted me, she shared her struggles with her pastor and church. The pastor replied, “Why do you have depression when you know Jesus?” From then on, she was treated like a leper. It took courage for Li Mei to share her depression. Instead of help, she was met with a lack of compassion and understanding. Li Mei felt shame and hopelessness. She looked into my eyes and asked, “Where do I go for help if my church is not willing?”
I would like to give Li Mei’s church the benefit of the doubt and think they responded this way because they did not know how to help her. There is a need for the church to rise and to take up once again the posture of caring for souls. This is the purpose of biblical counseling.
What is biblical counseling? Put simply, biblical counseling is walking alongside another (Ephesians 4:1), bearing their burden (Galatians 6:2), and speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This simple definition provides a biblical framework and represents the actions applied in biblical counseling: walking, bearing, and speaking.
Biblical counseling can be both formal and informal. When most people think of counseling, the formal aspect is what comes to mind: a professional counselor in an office working with a counselee on specific problems. Formal counseling can take place within the church with trained pastors or counselors. This kind of counseling is necessary, especially when the counselee requires help from a more experienced counselor.
There is also an aspect of biblical counseling that is informal. This happens when the gospel changes us, and we become more aware of our heart struggles. We begin to die to ourselves and strive to live lives that glorify the Lord. As the gospel changes our own hearts, it begins to affect our marriages, our families, and our churches. We desire to serve others and create an atmosphere of vulnerability and humility within our churches. We become ambassadors for Christ, willing to be used as an instrument of change. Walking alongside others, bearing their burdens, and speaking the truth in love is the heart of biblical counseling.
“…to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1)
My son’s favorite book series is The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. The main character, Frodo, is on a quest to destroy a ring that the villain Sauron once possessed and used for evil. On Frodo’s journey, he is joined by hobbits, elves, dwarves, and men – the fellowship of the ring. They unite to walk alongside Frodo on this perilous journey.
In the same way, we can walk alongside one another because of our union in Christ. We are each other’s best helpers because we have experienced the mercy of God, that while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8). We help those who are in need because we have received comfort from God when we have faced our own afflictions (2 Cor 1:14). As the body of Christ, we walk alongside one another, helping each other live worthy of our calling. Walking alongside another is living life together side by side.
“Bear one another’s burdens so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2)
Bearing another’s burden is supporting a person through their grief, sin, or difficult relationships. As Frodo’s burden grows heavy, Samwise proclaims, “Come, Mr. Frodo! I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you.” We cannot take away a person’s burden; that is the Lord’s work. We can support them and alleviate the weight of their burden. We often bear them up by simply listening. God listens to us with compassion and care, and we can extend that ministry to each other. We can carry them to Christ, who is able to sympathize with them and give them the strength to continue.
“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15)
We need wisdom from the Spirit to discern when and how to speak truth. There will be times when we offer words of comfort and strength. Scripture is a sweet balm to a person’s soul, providing encouragement to persevere through struggle. Other times, we need to gently confront others about their sin or help them to see their situation through a different perspective.
Samwise offered Frodo words of encouragement as the burden continued to take a physical toll on him. Frodo falls into despair, and Sam reminds him that trouble is ahead, “but where there is life there is hope.” Speaking the truth in love points others to the “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) who promises that the difficulties we endure will one day feel like “momentary afflictions.”
(2 Corinthians 4:17).