August 16, 2019

Supernatural Counsel

Gary Thomas — 

When a couple you love is going through a marital crisis, both spouses giving you two entirely different accounts of what is happening and begging you for your insight…

When a child has prayed and prayed and God hasn’t seemed to answer that prayer and they ask you what to do…

When your spouse needs a word of comfort and encouragement, but you don’t know what to say…

When fellow church members have gone through a heartbreaking ordeal and they want comfort and counsel, but you’re terrified you’ll inadvertently say the “wrong” thing or something insensitive…

If you’ve been in or fear getting into one of these situations, a friend of mine has some very helpful advice that will take all that pressure off your shoulders and put it right where it belongs.

In my pride, I’ve always thought it would be wonderful to be an endless source of wisdom for all those who are hurting or who wonder what they should do. In a way, I think probably most of us are like that. But what if there’s a part of being an “endless fount of wisdom” that is at root an evil desire instead of a holy one?

One of the men I dedicate the upcoming book When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People to is the kind of friend whose counsel often feels like a spiritual bath. It’s cleansing. I actually have a few friends like that, so it was a little surprising when this friend told me he’s trying to no longer be that kind of a guy.

Dr. Mike Dittman explained that after years of wanting to have the “right” answer to every counseling question he received, God led him to pursue an entirely different path of ministry:

“People have often asked me to help them figure something out or fix something in their lives. They want answers to their questions and affirmation in their struggles, but not to learn how to pray. My goal is no longer to solve their problems or soothe their pain. Rather than fixing their lives to make them feel happier, my aim is to help them find God in the midst of their challenges.”

What if, instead of having an “answer” for our spouse or kids or friends, we said, “Let’s figure out how you can hear God’s heart on this matter?” How would that change everything?

For starters, this takes the pressure off us in so many ways. We’re not the hero; at most, we’re the Uber driver taking them where they need to go.

Second, it honors the active work of God’s Holy Spirit. We freely admit (and perhaps remind them) that we’re not the “source,” but we’re the friend walking with them as they connect to the source. Our “job” isn’t to have all the answers. Our job is to point them to Jesus.

Imagine how this could impact our relationship with our kids: we’d focus on training them to turn to God as we turn to God with them. If a child heard their parent say, “I don’t know what the answer is, but let’s seek God together about it” and you go into the Scriptures and pray and talk until an answer emerges, don’t you think that would be even better for our children than a “Father Knows Best” (or “Mother Knows Best”) speech? It’s the spiritual application of that old cliché, teaching someone to fish instead of providing a fish.

Mike confesses that, early on in his ministry, in his desire to help people, he was getting in the way of what matters most: their prayer life. “After several years of using my counseling and teaching gifts as a pastor and a professor, I came to realize that I was educating their minds and encouraging their hearts, but not really leading them to Jesus. I pointed people to Jesus, I told them to spend time with Jesus, and I nudged them to make Jesus the center of their lives. All that was good, but they weren’t asking me to teach them to pray.”

Mike now “evaluates” his ministry on an entirely new basis. It’s not, “That was the most helpful session of counseling ever!” or “Fantastic sermon!” Instead, it’s “Do people see the spirit of Jesus so strongly in me that they ask me how to pray?”

How do we apply this?

The next time a spouse (particularly if you’re married to a new believer) or a child asks you about something and the answer seems easy and obvious, pause before you speak. Ask yourself first how you can address the question in a way that points them to Jesus instead of to you. The goal isn’t for them to leave having a higher opinion of you; the goal is to help them grow increasingly aware of and dependent on God. And never assume that they’re asking the right question to begin with. How many times have we gone to God with a concern, only to hear from Him that we’re actually concerned about the wrong thing?

What I like about this in regards to marriage is that advice from us may sound self-serving; helping them hear from God in a way that they believe they are hearing from God removes any self-interest on our part and makes their transformation about them and their God, not a disagreement between two spouses.

For those of you running organizations (churches or businesses), I read a very helpful, inspiring and practical book that seeks to apply this principal to leadership. It’s called Mastering the Art of Presence Based Leadership: Discerning the Wisdom of Christ as Real-Time Partners with Him by Keith Yoder.

The reality of Jesus and His continued presence through the ministry of the Holy Spirit means that ministry and counseling can be and should be supernatural. It may not look miraculous, but this approach acknowledges the ongoing reality and presence of God, including his ability to make his will known in ways that may seem quiet and reasonable. In the end, anything that reminds us that God is the hero rather than us is surely a step in the right direction.

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25 responses to Supernatural Counsel

  1. Thanks for teaching me to always make people focus on Jesus not on we who are counselors. To make them know that their personal relationship with God is very important.

  2. Thanks Gary for this post! I’m a new pastoral counselor and my training has taught me exactly what you said. However, it was validated for me by your post, as my first inclination is to “find a way to fix” their situation. I’m saving this post and reminding myself often that our only real help is to point them to the Lord in prayer and His Word. Blessings!

  3. “In the end, anything that reminds us that God is the hero rather than us is surely a step in the right direction.”

    As an encourager and writer, I need to always remember this. Thanks, Gary.

  4. Incredible timing brother! There are several things going on now with our sons, one recovering from a motorcycle accident. How to point them to Jesus is the absolute best advice. Would love a do over as parents, we didn’t always guide them in the right way. Never too late!

  5. Brenda Hernandez August 16, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Gary,
    This is what I needed because I am the type of person that when something wrong happens people are use to call me up for comfort and answers. I always try to tell them to pray and that I am praying for their situation. But just sometimes the crisis is so big that I wished I can move the situation around. The true of the matter is that I am not God and all I can say God is in control. Am I doing the right thing? How can i truly show I care .

  6. This is such a great message; thank you! I am currently working / learning my way through a program in Spiritual Direction, and this is the underlying role of a spiritual director: to turn with the other person toward God (Holy Spirit), watching, listening for, noticing, helping them to notice God’s activity in their situation, in their story. Also, as spiritual directors ~ and as brothers and sisters in Christ ~ we are concerned most of all with their prayer life, which is the catalyst to their relationship with God growing more intimate. I very much appreciate what you’ve said here!

    • Margo, you hit it. This is classic teaching for the ancient practice of spiritual direction.

  7. Wow, I so needed to hear this, Gary. Many people come to me and tell me they are blessed by my spiritual gift of wisdom, but now I realize I have not been directing them to Wisdom Himself as clearly as I should. My availability and resources are limited, while God is ever-available as they learn to seek Him independently. Ooof. A timely rebuke that I am grateful for. Thank you!


  8. Patricia S Ivie August 16, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Thank you Gary. Wanting to give or direct to answers…ah yes, that has been a problem. Learning to bring them back to Jesus for their edification—that’s the higher aim.

  9. Would this also apply to grief counseling or is that an entirely different animal? I understand we should go to Jesus in our grief, but it’s obviously not the same as a marriage situation. I have a friend whose son was killed in a motorcycle accident and of course, she is beyond devastated. She is a believer and is leaning on Jesus.

    • Cathy,

      I think it would, but grief counseling is an essential but difficult skill to learn. I’d love to hear some experienced ones speak to this.

    • Estella Trostle August 16, 2019 at 8:45 pm

      Cathy, very sorry to read this. Am a bit teary eyed for your friend. My son was in a motorcycle accident two weeks ago. He’s ok, but pretty banged up. He went to the ER and was misdiagnosed. Just learned today he has a broken ankle. I’m aware it could have been much worse. Please let your friend know I am praying for her.

      • Estella…thank God your son has non life threatening injuries. Still no fun, but it could have been much worse. Thank you so much for praying for my friend.

  10. My wife attended the single’s class 2 times before leaving. I asked the singles staff leader why he didn’t suggest that she protect her marriage and family from divorce. He said “We take them where they are”. I replied “That’s good, but head them to Jesus and the Word of God as quickly as you can”. He went silent.

    I said “I do” and I STILL DO, so I am waiting as God works out and finalizes His program of Reconciliation. It’s working.

    • Sorry to hear about your situation Billy, I applaud your courage standing up for marriage with the Singles Staff leader. No one wants to admit the effect of divorce and destruction of families damages EVERYONE in the family including the person leaving. Unfortunately, society and today’s culture, plus singles class give the person leaving confirmation they should go in order to find their own happiness. Everyone needs God’s counsel, its selfish to think that we know more than God in making a decision to leave a family. Unfortunately, the world wants spouses to look for perfection in their mate only, if not there keep looking.
      Keep praying as many who stand for the restoration of marriages will rejoice in your restoration.

  11. When is this new book coming out???? Cannot wait to read it.

    • K, October 8 is the official due date, but it’s available for pre-order now. Let me just say, pre-orders are one of the best gifts you can give an author. They make such a huge difference in the industry and send an important message to the publisher and retailers about interest in the book which can greatly impact how much notice and support a book receives.

  12. Thank you Gary and Mike… Thoughtful words, for sure. I have a friend, who whenever I bring up a concern, she says, Let’s pray. It removes my yapping about me to asking God, my Abba Father, to give me wisdom, the actual help I’m looking for. Wow, I’m brot down a notch, for sure. Let’s make our purpose sure, it’s all about the Gospel, our/their relationship with God and others. Praise the Lord!

  13. Alissa Mathison August 16, 2019 at 7:22 am

    Wow! Always our deepest desires to be closer to God and be able to hear from him! It helps to have others to redirect us gently back to him. Thank you for reconfirming this and helping us put our eyes back on the source, Our Lord!!

  14. Very timely, Gary. Thank you for pointing us to Jesus once again. He is our help and hope.

  15. A very helpful blog, Gary. Too often, we try to be God’s “answer man” for people’s every dilemma. Thanks for the reminder that it is our duty to be the “Uber driver” who takes them to where they can get the answer.

  16. Amazing article!!! I think this is something that I have been wanting and needing for years. Thank you so much for writing it.

  17. Hi Gary,
    I just got divorced this March 1, 2019. I went through agony and sorrowful day and night.
    I am just getting out of this mess and still hurts time to time. I am truly saved by this divorce and i thank God for my joy of salvation. HE is truly amazing God. So many scriptures i have been reading over the years and i am getting it with many mistakes but i am getting it from my heart. Oh, how thankful i am. Your blog and book lead me to think deeper in God. I thank God for your hard work and insights.
    Thank you,

    • Thank you Nala! Kudos for you to turning to God instead of on God in the midst of your pain. It sounds like the Lord is drawing you ever closer–and that’s the safest place you can be.