Counseling is not just for professionals. In our culture we are made to believe that healing from issues like depression, PTSD, sexual assault, anxiety etc. are strictly physiological conditions that are in a separate medical realm from that of the spirit. Though there is a place for seeking professional help and we encourage this, the community we surround ourselves with can also play a role in lending support, counsel, and reminding one another of truth.  The question  is whether or not you are giving counsel that actually heals and restores broken relationships to God, self, others, and creation. One Iraqi man who had experienced severe trauma once pointed out the irony that any time Americans experience pain they run to pay someone to listen to them, walk through their pain with them and give advice. He said in most parts of the world that is called real friendship, and it is free. 

As believers, we all have a part to play in counseling others. God says that the purpose of church leaders is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” What is the work of ministry? It is exactly what we are doing. We are meeting broken, hurting people where they are and pointing them toward healing and wholeness, which comes through Christ. In our culture we label it “counseling,” in Christian culture, we may also call it discipleship. But the Bible calls it “the work of ministry” and one of the main ways we can accomplish the purpose for which we exist on this earth, glorifying God. 

Understanding the Heart

It is helpful to understand that there are three aspect to our human condition. We are simultaneously sinners, sufferers and saints. Good biblical counseling addresses the needs of each of these aspects of humanity. 

A. We are Sinners

We are all sinners. The Bible exhorts us to both confess our struggles and sins to others as well as to exhort others when we see sin and selfishness in them. We cannot have discipleship without addressing sin in others. 

When we address sin, we should:

  • Have a heart that is full of humility and gentleness, never accusing or angry. 
  • Establish the friendship first 
  • Verbalize your love for the person and commitment to this friendship before beginning a conversation to address sin 
  • Ask them why they took a certain action (the sin) 
  • Try to understanding what is the root behind the sin that they are valuing more than God
    • “We act according to the desires of our heart and unless we change the heart, permanent life change and growth (sanctification) will not take root. “Sin is fundamentally idolatrous. I do wrong things because my heart desires something more than the Lord. Sin produces a propensity towards idolatry in us all” (“Instruments in the Redeemers Hands” p. 66).
  • Use the root underneath the sin to further the conversation
  • Talk about your own sin in an area where the root was similar, and how God convicted you and the lessons you learned,
  • Talk about the destructive nature of sin in general that is in all of us. 
    • “Sin produces in all of us a tendency toward ‘now-ism,’ which means we forget three things: who we are (betrothed to Christ); what he is doing now (preparing us for the final wedding); and what we are supposed to be doing (remaining faithful to him). When we focus only on what we want now, we fail to solve our problems and we also cause more difficulties” (“Instrument in the Redeemers Hands” p. 241).

Include how this root sin can hurt others and ourselves, keeping us from experiencing the fullness of life that God has for us.

  • Finish by talking about how we want the best for them, whether it be respect from others, a better marriage etc. and ultimately the “fullness of joy” and “life abundantly” that God offers in knowing him and following Him intimately, because you have found that in Him is where life and joy are found. 
  • Reaffirm your commitment to the friendship and love for the person 

B. We are Sufferers

“This is the comfort we offer people. We don’t comfort them by saying that things will work out. They may not. The people around them (or the circumstances) may change, but they may not. The Bible tells us again and again that everything around us is in the process of being taken away. God and his love are all that remain as cultures and kingdoms rise and fall. Comfort is found by sinking our roots into the unseen reality of God’s ever-faithful love” 

-(Instrument in the Redeemers Hands p. 152).

Enter their pain. 

  • Scripture tells us to “mourn with those who mourn,” and to “bear one-another’s burdens.” 
  • We are all on the path toward glorifying God and experiencing His wholeness, fullness of life, and Shalome that he desires for us. But we are not there yet. We have to recognize our inadequacies first. 
  • Then we can take people’s hand as equals, enter their pain and brokenness and walk the path alongside of them as true friends. 
  • When we enter the pain and brokenness of another person we have the amazing opportunity to be a physical representation or incarnation of “Emmanuel” (God with us). God is with us in our pain. You can represent him by being with someone else in their pain as well. The best comforter is not the one who has all the answers, but the one who is deeply present, listening, mourning with those who mourn.
  • Sometimes, we want to respond in a helpful way, but we just don’t know what to say. This list below (adapted from a handout at the “Respond Conference” (A conference teaching ministry workers how to respond to victims of sexual abuse) has been very helpful for me in how to respond to all kinds of trauma and suffering.

When someone initially shares a traumatic experience

  • Examples of what to say: 
    • I am so sorry that this happened to you.
    • I can’t imagine the pain you must feel.
    • I am angry that this happened to you.
    • I believe you.
    • This was not your fault
    • I am so glad that you are here now and that you are safe. 
    • Thank you for trusting me enough to share this with me.
    • Will you let me walk with you and be by your side as your friend, while you begin to heal from all of this?
  • Examples of what NOT to say:
    • “It’s going to be ok. It will all work out.” It may not be ok. It may not work out. This world is broken and we need to acknowledge brokenness with tears, not platitudes. 
    • Nothing.  Silence in these cases is not the best approach because it expresses not understanding or disbelief.
    •  “I know how you feel” or “I understand.” NO. Only a person’s own heart and God can truly know the pain that trauma caused in someone.
    • “I experienced something similar when…” Telling stories of “similar” experiences is not helpful when someone first shares with you a traumatic experience. First of all, it is unlikely that the other person will consider your story to be “similar.” Plus, too many of our conversations fail to engage the other person in their struggle. When someone opens up to us and lets us into their pain and we respond by turning the conversation towards ourselves, we show that we don’t really care about the other person, but only how their life relates to ours.  
    • Asking for details such as “What time of day was it?” or “Was no one with you?” or “Why didn’t you hide your ID card” or anything else that could imply if one detail could’ve been different then the situation could’ve been avoided. These sorts of questions imply that the situation was their fault.

Prayer for sufferers

In comforting someone as a sufferer, it is often a good idea to pray with and for the sufferer out loud. In your prayers:

  • Acknowledge the truth about who God is and where God is in all of this. 
  • Pray the promises of God over them. 
  • Pray against the Enemy. 
  • Pray for God to come into their lives in a deeper way to bring peace and healing. 

Benefits: 

  • God is faithful to answer prayer. We cannot bring healing to a broken heart, but God can, and is likely to do so, it we are faithful in asking. 
  • We show the sufferer that we recognize the above truth. We don’t have the answers and cannot heal them, but there is a God who can. 
  • When we call on Him in desperate situations, we are often more in tune to experience the presence of God moving in that room. “God is near to the broken hearted and will save the crushed in spirit.”
  • Prayer is a great way for sufferers to hear truths about the God who loves them without you preaching to them. 

A prayer in this situation might go something like this:

Father,

I will never know the depth of what this person has been through. 

But, Lord, I know that you do know and you feel the full extent of their pain. 

You have told us that in this world we would suffer greatly because of the Enemy and because of sin, but that You would never leave us.  

May it bring them comfort to know that they are not alone, because You are always with them, even in their darkest hours.

I pray that Your presence would surround them and your love would sink deep into the darkest places of this person’s pain.

I know that it grieves your heart to see your children suffer in this world. Help them know and feel how much you love them. 

I see that we are in a war and the spirits of darkness, and the enemy has sought to kill, steal from, and destroy this person. 

In the name of Jesus, I pray that you would cause any spirits of darkness that have come against them to harm them to flee. 

In their place, send your Spirit of  peace, hope, and comfort to take root in heart, to draw them to Yourself, and protect them from the evil.

Thank you, Lord, that you suffered and died a horrible death on the cross, to show us how much you love us, and how much you hate evil.

Thank you Lord that you rose from the grave, proving that you have won the victory in the battle against evil. 

Jesus, we pray that you would return soon to set up your rightful, perfect kingdom here on earth.

We long for the day when you will righteously judge all wickedness, and wipe every tear from every eye, and make all things new.

We lift up all of this to you in the power of the name of Jesus. 

Amen.

C. (If we are Christians, then) we are Saints

“People need to hear the comfort of the gospel again and again. They need to be reminded of who they are in Christ and what they have received in his life, death, and resurrection. It is not safe to assume that a Christian who attends a good church understands this. People often live with huge gaps in their understanding of the gospel” (p. 215).

Identity of a Christian



Approved by God

Please God; we don’t strive to please men
1 Thess. 2:4
4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Free
We live and serve in freedom, not enslaved to dos and don’ts.
Galatians 5:1; 13,14
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery….13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Chosen
We cannot earn holiness. We rest in his hold on us.

Ephesians 1:4

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

A New Creation, Ambassadors for Christ

God is on mission and we get to be part of it. We live representing him.

Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

God’s workmanship

We play the part that God has given us beautifully

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Bride of Christ

We rejoice in His covenantal love that remains even when our hearts wander away.

Isaiah 54:5;10
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”

Dearly Loved, Child of God

We approach God as a father

John 1:12

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
Salt and
Light of the World

Preserve what is good. Add His flavor. Be filled with His light. Do good works.

Matthew 5:13-16
13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Sheep Forever

Follow Him and trust Him as the Shepherd

John 10:27-29

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

As Christians, we are gifted: we are a specific part of the body of Christ

Understanding that all Christians, volunteers and asylum seekers alike, are given spiritual gifts to be used to build up the body of Christ can be a great way both for volunteers to serve in a way that feels natural and life-giving, and can be a conversation tool to show asylum seekers their dignity and value (and even how they can be using their time) even in a season of life while they cannot work for money. Read 1 Corinthians 12. 

ADMINISTRATION: 1 Cor. 12:28 – to steer the body toward the accomplishment of God-given goals and directives by planning, organizing, and supervising others (Greek Word: kubernesis – to steer, guide, helmsmen)

APOSTLE: Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28 – to be sent forth to new frontiers with the gospel, providing leadership over church bodies and maintaining authority over spiritual matters pertaining to the church (Greek Word: apostolos – ‘apo’=from ‘stello’=send; one sent forth)

CELIBACY: 1 Cor. 7:7,8 – to voluntarily remain single without regret and with the ability to maintain controlled sexual impulses so as to serve the Lord without distraction

DISCERNMENT:  1 Cor. 12:10 – to clearly distinguish truth from error by judging whether the behavior or teaching is from God, Satan, human error, or human power

EVANGELISM: Eph. 4:11 – to be a messenger of the good news of the Gospel (Greek Word: euaggelistes – preacher of gospel; eu=well, angelos=message – messenger of good) 

EXHORTATION: Rom. 12:8 – to come along side of someone with words of encouragement, comfort, consolation, and counsel to help them be all God wants them to be (Greek Word: paraklesis – calling to one’s side)

FAITH: 1 Cor. 12:8-10 – to be firmly persuaded of God’s power and promises to accomplish His will and purpose and to display such a confidence in Him and His Word that circumstances and obstacles do not shake that conviction

GIVING: Rom. 12:8 – to share what material resources you have with liberality and cheerfulness without thought of return

HEALING: 1 Cor. 12:9,28,30 – to be used as a means through which God makes people whole either physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually

HELPS: 1 Cor. 12:28 – to render support or assistance to others in the body so as to free them up for ministry

HOSPITALITY: 1 Pet. 4:9,10 – to warmly welcome people, even strangers, into one’s home or church as a means of serving those in need of food or lodging (Greek Word: philoxenos – love of strangers; ‘philos’=love; ‘xenos’=stranger)

KNOWLEDGE: 1 Cor. 12:8 – to seek to learn as much about the Bible as possible through the gathering of much information and the analyzing of that data

LEADERSHIP: Rom. 12:8 – to stand before the people in such a way as to attend to the direction of the body with such care and diligence so as to motivate others to get involved in the accomplishment of these goals

MARTYRDOM: 1 Cor. 13:3 – to give over one’s life to suffer or to be put to death for the cause of Christ

MERCY: Rom. 12:8 – to be sensitive toward those who are suffering, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally, so as to feel genuine sympathy with their misery, speaking words of compassion but moreso caring for them with deeds of love to help alleviate their distress

MIRACLES: 1 Cor. 12:10,28 – to be enabled by God to perform mighty deeds which witnesses acknowledge to be of supernatural origin and means

MISSIONARY: Eph. 3:6-8 – to be able to minister in another culture

PASTOR: Eph. 4:11 – to be responsible for spiritually caring for, protecting, guiding, and feeding a group of believers entrusted to one’s care

PROPHECY: Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10; Eph. 4:11 – to speak forth the message of God to His people (Greek Word: prophetes – the forth-telling of the will of God; ‘pro’=forth; ‘phemi’=to speak)

SERVICE: Rom. 12:7 – to identify undone tasks in God’s work, however menial, and use available resources to get the job done (Greek Word: diakonia – deacon, attendant ‘diako’=to run errands)

TEACHING: Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11 – to instruct others in the Bible in a logical, systematic way so as to communicate pertinent information for true understanding and growth

TONGUES: 1 Cor. 12:10; 14:27-28 – to speak in a language not previously learned so unbelievers can hear God’s message in their own language or the body be edified

INTERPRETATION OF TONGUES: 1 Cor. 12:10; 14:27,28 – to translate the message of someone who has spoken in tongues

VOLUNTARY POVERTY: 1 Cor. 13:3 – to purposely live an impoverished lifestyle to serve and aid others with your material resources

WISDOM: 1 Cor. 12:8 – to apply knowledge to life in such a way as to make spiritual truths quite relevant and practical in proper decision-making and daily life situations Definitions of Spiritual Gifts Specifically Listed in the Bible: (From http://mintools.com/gifts-list.htm#exhortation)

Thoughts on Depression

  • Depression is a normal part of the human experience. 2/3 of the Psalms are laments crying out to God from the anguished places of the soul. However, in all circumstances, God gives us the power to choose our attitude despite our circumstances. We can choose to try to fight through pain alone, or we can choose to bring God into our pain.  
    • Exercise: Find a psalm that speaks to you. Look at the structure/parts of it. Based on the Biblical Psalm, write your own Psalm.  

  • We can choose gratitude. Are you caring more about what is owed to you or the debt of gratitude you owe to God for everything. 
    • Exercise: A-Z Thankfulness list
  • See God’s Sovereign Love: Recognize that we are not in control. We do not see the whole picture, we see a clouded, muddled reflection. We know that God is in the business of redemption and transformation and His mission is to restore all things to Himself. But we do not know how specific circumstances fit into that plan. “His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.” When we do not understand, that is where trust comes in. God is all-good and all-loving. He is against evil, and He is working all things for the good of those who love Him.
    •  Exercise: Write a prayer to God, giving over to Him all of the things you do not understand, and choosing to trust His Sovereignty and Love in the midst of the storm. 
  • Relinquish Rights: If we got what we deserve, then we would get death. “Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;” (Isaiah 40:22) If a bug bit you or overstepped boundaries where bugs are not allowed (i.e. sinned against you) you would not think twice about giving it the death that it deserves. “The wages of sin is death.” Tell the story of Jonah. God says near the end, “Do you do well to be angry over the plant?” God says I have a bigger plan to reconcile people to myself. 
    • Exercise: Confessing what it is that we try to hold on to (our plant). Sharing how this thing is a gift from God to be given and taken, and how God taking away our “plant” might fulfill God’s purpose. 
  • Dwell on Truth: Meditate on who God is, who God says we are if we are in Him, and His promises to us. 
    • Exercise: Make a chart of lies and counter-truths.
  • Move Forward: Take action to improve your life. Consider:

  1. The importance of community (join a church, have friends/accountability). 
  2. Importance of Health (exercise, healthy food, sunshine). 
  3. Importance of Organizing your life, (finish a big project, make time for the things that matter) 
  4. Importance of Surrounding yourself by positive influences (what music, TV, reading, etc. is filling your mind?)

  • Exercise: What changes are you going to make this week in each area?

  • Live a Selfless Life: Those who think more about God and about serving others are happier than those who think about themselves and their own problems. Getting our eyes off of ourselves is key to happiness. 
    • Exercise: what can you do to help someone else this week?
  • Celebrate: When you see God has made real progress, share the testimony of what you see God has done. 
    • Celebrate through thanking God together, sharing a meal together, buying a gift, etc. 

Thoughts on PTSD

  • Stands for: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Many asylum seekers exhibit symptoms of PTSD, whether or not they have been diagnosed.
  • Common physical “symptoms.”
    • Nightmares
    • Flashbacks
    • Hyper-Vigilance in a crowded room
    • Panic attacks
    • Startle-reflex
    • Avoidance of things that trigger memories
  • PTSD can be a helpful label, but it is not really a “psychiatric disorder.” We must understand that it is the way God wired us to see what is horrible and be horrified. PTSD is a normal response to a terrible traumatic experience. It would be abnormal not to be profoundly affected by what is profoundly distressing. 
  • The world holds the idea of “normality,” and will want you to just stop experiencing “symptoms” of your “disorder.” But normality is illusory and not Biblical. It is impossible to live up to this American dream normality after having our eyes opened to the horrors this world can hold. Your world has been turned upside down. We live in a world of both horrible evil, and great blessing.  No one should rush you toward a “picket-fence” normality. 
  • The goal is not to “return to normal” but rather to find a new life not built on the sand of illusions of goodness or people, or safety, or self-reliance, but on the deep, solid rock of Christ.
  • The Bible talks a lot about people who have been through things that are horribly distressing, and the only answer is to turn towards Him. 
  • God does not cause evil. Sin and Satan cause evil. God hates evil. 
  • But, God is willing to allow us to go through desperate things to make us desperate for Him. Knowing Him, not safety is His greatest concern. God wants more than anything for us to seek Him and find Him, coming to know that He is with us. Many more people come to know and trust Him on the heels of trouble and trauma than through blessings and peace.  
  • Many people that go through traumatic experiences will come to know and trust God in a deeper way than people who have never had their faith tested by the world around them crumbling.  
  • Down the road, God can use your experiences and testimony of how God was there in your pain, what He brought you through, and how He transformed you and healed you through it, to help others. Paul says from prison after experiencing trauma, “If we suffered it was for your benefit so that we could comfort others with the comfort that we have received.” Often the bigger your trail, the more powerful your testimony, inspiration, and help to others can be.