Jesus the Botanist
I’m not a botanist. I can barely tell the difference between most trees. I am generally ignorant about the intricacies of gardening. But did you know that Jesus occasionally talked about trees? That’s right—He was a botanist of sorts. Recall His words from Luke 6:
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:43-45).
While I’m not a botanist, one thing is clear from this text: there is a relationship between the quality of the fruit and the quality of the tree. The tree is a clever analogy for human beings. Each person is “recognized” by the “fruit” in his or her life—the words, thoughts, actions, motivations, desires, hopes and dreams. The key sentence is the last one: “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” What you see in a person’s life is evidence of what is going on in his or her heart.
One of the central themes in biblical counseling is the human heart. Why? Because Jesus makes the heart central to how He defines humanity.
X-Ray Machines in Counseling?
If I had one wish as a counselor, it would be to own and operate a spiritual X-ray. A client walks in. He tells me his story. I listen carefully, sort through the data of his life, but because his life is such a mess, it’s hard to understand what is going on in his heart.
Problem solved. For $89.99, I buy a spiritual X-ray, which I wheel in front of the client, flip on, and shazaam!!! Look right there… he struggles with pride about his work, jealousy of his wife’s time, self-exaltation, idolatry of his car and electronic devices, and fear of man with his boss. The X-ray tells me what’s going on in his heart.
Don’t you wish something like this really existed? Wouldn’t a spiritual x-ray make your work as a counselor a billion times easier? Too bad it doesn’t really exist.
Ask Good Questions: Heart-Penetrating Questions
When I was a young lad I was taught that in order to be a good fact finder, I needed to seek out the five “W’s”—Who? What? Where? When? Why? Reporters, scientists, and investigators use these five “W’s” to gather all the data necessary to do their jobs.
In the Bible, we learn that in order to really understand another person, we have to ask good questions. Solomon writes, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Prov. 20:5). To get at the sin, someone has to ask you good questions. In my mind, good questions are heart-penetrating questions. They are questions that go beyond the superficial elements of life and “draw out” the sin that sits in the deepest recesses of your heart.
Consider an example of a Christian who struggles with lying. You can start by asking fact finding questions to understand the circumstances that surround the sin. “When did this problem start?” “How often do you lie to others?” “In what situations are you more likely to say a lie?”
But to go deeper, you have to ask more penetrating questions. “What are you trying to cover up by your lying?” “What self-centered motives make you lie to others?” “What’s the ‘pay-off’ for lying and do you really think it is worth it?” “How do you plan to give an account to God when you have to explain your lying habits?”
A friend came to me the other day and said, “Let’s have a heart-to-heart conversation.”
Honestly, I’ve always been a little fearful of this phrase—“heart-to-heart.” You know what the person means—something like, “I am going to tell you something you are not going to like.” Or, “I want to be brutally honest with you.” You get the sense that the person doesn’t want to stay at a superficial level, but plans to dig deep to expose the roots of your life. Scary thought, huh?
The Bible has a lot to say about the heart. Our skin, vital organs, arms and legs, toes, and everything else physical—that’s our outer being, or physical self. The heart is your inner being, or spiritual self (Eph. 3:16). Heart-to-heart conversations are not just intimate or confrontational …they are vital “stuff” that makes up counseling. They are not superficial conversations, but conversations that get into the inner dynamics of a person’s soul.
If you are committed to making God’s Word central to your work, then heart-penetrating conversations should be a normal part of what you do. Why? Because the Word of God cuts right to the heart. The author of Hebrews reminds us: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing the soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
A Counselor’s Heart
As a biblical counselor, God has helped me to grow in wisdom of the Scriptures and knowledge of the people who come to see me. Over time, I have learned to draw people out, probe their messy lives, and carefully apply the gospel.
In the counseling process, the one thing I most often neglect is my own heart. A poor sense of my own desires, hopes, idols, and struggles hurts my ability to care for my counselees. I desire to love wisely, and to do that, I need to know my own heart (Mt. 6:21; James 4:1). I can’t expect to do heart surgery on others if I haven’t applied the knife to myself.
Join the Conversation
How can a biblical focus on heart-penetrating questions impact your personal walk with Christ and your ministry as a biblical counselor?