by James Rudy Gray
We often hear people who made a mistake refer to their decision as poor judgment. People are constantly making decisions whether good or bad. Christian counseling is a tool in the hand of a sovereign God to aid people in making good and healthy choices.
If Jonathan Edwards was right and the will "always chooses according to its strongest inclination at the moment," then our choices are influenced by our desires. There are mysteries about life and about God that we will not figure out this side of heaven. However, as counselors we have the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to guide us as we seek to minister to those who need help.
Christians sin but we do not have to sin. Galatians 5:16 says, "Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." That principle is simple in presentation and complicated in nature. Desire is a God-given attribute we possess. But wrong desire or desire that goes too far is sin. The word "desire" in this passage means to long for or to yearn for. In Greek it is in the present active indicative which means that desire is always present. We cannot escape the fact that we have desire and desires. The key is for our desires to be Godly and not ungodly. It is at this point where many Christians become troubled. The Christian life is a struggle that does not end on this earth. The struggle is the sign of life. For those we counsel, that simple point is often encouragement for them.
The struggle is intensive and perpetual. Sometimes our desires are strong and sometimes they are not. Our choices come from our desires and we choose whatever desire is the strongest at the time we choose. The lost may struggle also but their struggle is not about pleasing God or choosing sin. It is about what kinds of sin they will choose or what natural good they can do. It cannot be about pleasing God because they have no desire to please God. Christians do have that desire, but they always war against their own natural inclination to sin.
One of the important disciplines in building strong and Godly desires is to starve the lower nature and feed the spirit on the truth of God. Great athletes make what seems like lucky shots, but great athletes are likely to find luck because they have developed great skills as an athlete. When a Christian can be trained by the Word and Spirit of God in the truth, they put themselves in the position of making better choices and winning more spiritual battles.
Every Christian we counsel is on a journey. They are being sanctified. Still, they struggle, sometimes greatly and at other times lightly. The struggle is not failure nor is it success. It simply is. How we struggle and what we do as we struggle is the significant and revealing fact. In 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 Paul wrote, "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses."
When Christians come to us for counseling, they often present symptoms. Beneath the symptoms is the much more important issue of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit. Christian counselors can offer hope because God is the God of hope. We can provide encouragement and edification. We cannot change someone. We cannot give a person victory. We cannot heal a person's troubled soul. But God can. We may be able to help them with the symptoms of toxic faith or misbeliefs, but God must be the one who creates changes in their hearts, in their desires, and with their choices.
Again, Edwards noted that the will is the mind choosing. The Christian faith requires thinking. As a person thinks in his or her heart, so he or she is. We change our feelings (often how people feel is a symptom) by changing first our thoughts. When our thoughts become dominated by truth and empowered by the Spirit, we are capable of having a mind that chooses what pleases God and as a result blesses people. Our Godly choices will also be a blessing in our own feelings and behaviors. God has given Christian counselors the privilege of being a tool in the Master's hand in that process.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.