A young man struggles with depression because he can’t resist viewing pornography and other sexual sins. As much as he has tried on his own, he cannot resist and admits he is hooked. His counselor told him to put a filter on his computer, which he did. When tempted to look at porn, he was told to replace his lustful thoughts with godly thoughts by meditating on his list from Philippians 4:8. Furthermore, to know the importance of self-control, he is memorizing 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5. Finally, he was told to journal each day, recording the circumstances that led him into temptation and how he responded.
A couple struggling in their marriage wants to work out their differences and restore their marriage. But the offenses have led to deep bitterness and distrust of one another. They are habitually judgmental and argumentative with one another. Old habits die hard. They blame each other. Their counselor teaches that as Christians they must forgive as they have been forgiven. The first step is a Bible study on forgiveness from Luke 17:1-10. In addition, their counselor sees the need to help them learn to communicate biblically, preventing more offenses. Finally, the counselor plans to lead the couple through a study of Ephesians 5:22-31 to address the roles as husband and wife as they learn to trust one another.
Do you identify any missing elements in the counsel?
You may observe that the counselors point their counselees back to the Bible helping them gain hope for their trials. You may also recognize counselees being instructed in how to put off the old man and to put on the new man. They are given homework to help with the change process.
But how are the idols identified? If the counselor fails to expose idols of the heart and sinful motivations, then the counseling becomes legalism—change by keeping the law (Gal. 3:2-6). Counselees will continue to worship their idols in one behavior or another, changing just enough to keep the rules, or to give the appearance thereof, while still living for their own desires.
Worship: The Crux of Counseling
Why is worship the crux of counseling?
Whatever we worship is our master and we become its slave. But it won’t seem like slavery if we love what is controlling us. Take for example the young man who initially did not perceive that sensual desires would enslave him. Rather, he hoped that it would make his life better. He reasoned that sensuality promised vitality, the ability to have a good life. Sensuality and pleasure became his god, which in turn enslaved him (Jn. 8:34).
The counselors above could have helped the counselees more had they emphasized the concept of worship in a clear and practical way. Counselors tend to spend a lot of the time uncovering the problems (Prov. 18:15; 20:5) and teaching the counselee how to live according to biblical principles like those found in Colossians 3:5, 12-15, and James 1:22-25. While this is necessary and good, the real problem in the human heart is idol worship (Ezek. 14:3; Dt. 11:16). Counselors must encourage counselees to worship the only true God (Is. 45:5-7, 18-19). A complete paradigm shift from idolatry to living for Christ alone is necessary if there is to be true and lasting change.
Becoming True Worshipers
How do we help counselees to become true worshipers?
First, our identity is found in what we worship (Ps. 95:6, 7) and we take on the attributes of what we worship (Mt. 25:31-46). Those who worshiped Christ (the sheep) had attributes of Jesus, caring for the needs of others. Those who did not worship Christ (the goats) did not have His attributes. They claimed to be followers of Christ, but were deluded.
We were created in God’s image to know and serve Him (Gen. 1-2). The young man identified himself as a porn addict because he worshiped pleasure. The couple identified themselves as victims of one another because they never felt safe in each others’ presence. They did not see themselves first and foremost as worshipers of Christ following in His steps and growing in sanctification.
Second, worship helps people to achieve their purpose. The young man’s idolatry led him to believe that life was about feeling good. The couple believed their purpose was to be safe from criticisms by the other. However, our purpose as believers is to serve the Lord with joyful thanksgiving knowing that He is God and that He is good (Ps. 100). Our life is about HIS purposes, not ours!
Third, what we do is a reflection of what is worshiped. For example, Jesus says in John 14:15 that our love (worship) for Him is demonstrated by our obedience. What does the Lord require? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before the Lord (Mic.6:6-8). The young man and the couple were all trying to fix their problems by seeking counseling, which is good (Ps. 1). But they must choose whom they will serve daily, each moment when they are tempted to go back to their idolatrous habits.
Worship is much more than just Sunday rituals. We worship all day, every day. To truly help those who come for biblical counseling, we must guide them to respond to their trials and temptations with worship (James 1:2-4). This is why Paul says to do everything for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31), which is the expression of worship (Col. 3:15-24). This is biblical change at its best!
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty? I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’ (Ps. 91:1-2).
Join the Conversation
How can worship, instead of becoming the missing element in biblical counseling, become the central element?
Note: This article was originally posted in the Biblical Counseling Center’s e-Counselor’s Weekly Guide. It is re-posted by permission of Jeff Temple and the Biblical Counseling Center. You can read the original article at True Biblical Counsel.