Note from the BCC Staff: This is the eighth in a series of periodic posts by biblical counselors regarding what they have learned during their years of ministry in biblical counseling. Read Part One: Hayley Satrom: Reflections after Two Years, Part Two: Deepak Reju: Reflections after a Decade, Part Three: Bob Kellemen: Reflections after Thirty Years, Part Four: Howard Eyrich: Reflections after Forty Years, Part Five: Chris Boucher: Reflections after Five Years, Part Six: Jeremy Lelek: Reflections after Eleven Years, and Part Seven: Andy Farmer: Reflections after Eighteen Years. Today Dr. Robert Smith shares what he’s learned after forty years as a biblical counselor.
One of the things I have learned is that I have not really completed learning anything—thus I cannot say that I have really completely learned anything. Whatever I have been learning I am still learning. So this will really be what I am learning through 40 years of ministry.
Prioritizing My Time for God’s Glory
One of the late-in-life lessons I am learning is to carefully evaluate what I am doing. As an “old man,” I do not have many years left statistically. But I want these sunset years to be very productive. As I approached retirement this became my goal for this time of life. I am still learning what is the best way to use my time with the skills God has enabled me to learn.
The Importance of Scripture
One of the most important concepts I have been learning is the importance of Scripture memorization. At His temptation, Jesus defeated Satan by quoting Scripture to him. Since the devil is a roaring lion on the prowl for someone to destroy (1 Pet. 5:8), I need to have the Word of God at readiness at all times. It is called the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) which I need to have out of the sheath and ready to use at all times. This is only possible through memorization.
Along with this is the superiority of the Bible over any of the benefits of this life—over money (Psalm 119:72), food (Psalm 119:103), sleep (Psalm 119:62,148), and even prosperity (Psalm 4:7).
Dependence Upon the Word as My Guide
Another thing I am continually learning is that I cannot depend on my emotions to guide me in important decisions. It must be the Word of God. My emotions are too affected by my sinful desires so that when I am up, I become overly optimistic about my abilities and over-schedule myself. When I am upset, I sinfully react when I should listen to learn. When I am down, I spend too much time on my feelings and self-pity. So, as I minister, my reliance must be on my relationship with God and His Word. It is a continual struggle to keep these as the authority rather than my feelings.
Careful, Compassionate Listening
Another important counseling concept that I am still working on is carefully listening to the counselee before presenting any biblical solutions. I must know what motivates the actions in order to help the total person. This requires listening and asking questions based on what the counselee tells me.
Of recent years, I am learning the importance of understanding the suffering the counselee experiences. Most of their current sinful actions result from their attempts to reduce the pains of suffering they have experienced. In the process, I must show compassion toward them in that suffering. Since I have not suffered as they have, one of the ways to show compassion is to listen to their story for the purpose of understanding their situation.
Learning from My Counselees
It has been interesting how the Lord brings me counselees that remind me of changes I need to make in my life. Because of this, more than once I have thanked the Lord for the person(s) sitting across from me. Many times I have had to admit that my mouth just said some things my ears need to hear.
I Need God’s Help
God’s help in counseling has been something I continually need and learn. More than once I have prayed a Nehemiah prayer in the middle of a counseling session. This comes from Nehemiah 2:2-5. The king asked Nehemiah what he needed after Nehemiah had told him his sad face was due to his city of origin being completely destroyed and in ruins. The short phrase in v. 4 is my guideline, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.”
There is no indication of Nehemiah kneeling to pray, holding up his hands in prayer, or even telling the king he was going to pray. It seems that the king asked the question, and while Nehemiah is taking a breath to answer, he is praying, for the next statement is his answer. I do that many times in counseling sessions and my prayer frequently is “Help?” And God does.
Focus on the Benefits of What I Can Do
Because this is referring to 40 years of ministry, that brings up the issue of aging. As the body ages it deteriorates due to the curse of sin. Rather than continuing to get stronger as it did in the first two or three decades, it then starts the slow decline of physical strength and ability. When younger, it was easy to think of aging as no big deal. But when age sets in it really is a big deal. The mind wants to do certain things but the body refuses. Life used to run seemingly unlimited—like the “Energizer Bunny”—on a couple of D batteries. Now the energy supply is reduced to one old, used AAA battery.
But what I am learning is that this helps me focus more on the benefits of what I can do than the limitations from what I cannot do. I have years of Bible study and memorization which are now rich resources in my teaching and counseling. They have produced a wisdom that is only based on God’s Word, not my intellectual skill. Not being able to do some physical things keeps my focus on the skills God has blessed me with in the spiritual and mental areas.
Not to Be Threatened by Change: Be Models of Change
Another major learning concept is to not be threatened when things change or when we are being replaced. We do not like to be replaced because it is easy for us to think we are irreplaceable. But young people come along and want to change things. That means our way of doing them is no longer satisfactory. So as we get older, we are in many ways gently moved aside. If we are honest that is good. The younger people are only doing what we did when we were young.
But being moved aside does not mean we are useless if we have been growing in godliness all our lives. With years of biblical change behind us when we reach the senior years, it should not be difficult for us to change. In fact, we can demonstrate the benefits of change to the younger people. We should be models of change.
All this is helped if I see the big picture of life and ministry rather than the everyday details. See change through the big picture.
Let me illustrate. When our church moved from traditional to contemporary music this was a big problem for me. My past training (some of which I should have challenged) made this a spiritual matter. But there was also the spiritual matter of submitting to my leaders and seeing the big picture of this change: this would enhance the outreach ministry of our church to which I was thoroughly committed. So I had to decide which was most important—my music preference or the outreach of our church. Many other factors were present, but seeing the big picture helped me understand and accept the music changes. Even though I haven’t made contemporary music my favorite, I see how it is enhancing our church outreach. Many of the words are actually Bible verses and passages so that is certainly God honoring.
There are many more lessons that I have been learning and I thank the Lord for the opportunities He has given to minister while I am learning them.
Join the Conversation
It has been said that God will use the events of our lives to humble us and that our role is to be responsive to God’s humbling and shaping process in our lives. How are you responding humbly to life’s lessons so that you grow personally and as a biblical counselor?