What Determines When and Whether Change Takes Place?
We experience a variety of outcomes in our counseling.
The final aspect of this about which I wanna talk is, I wanna address, is well, what determines when change actually takes place? In counseling over many, many years now, I’ve observed that there are a variety of outcomes in counseling. And I can’t even tell you, I’ve kind of put them into three broad categories and I really couldn’t tell you which category’s bigger than the other. There are some people who come for counseling and you bring them the word of God and there is radical life transformation to the glory of God fast. And the couple that were on the verge of separation and divorce are broken down and humbled and they leave hand in hand. I had a couple recently that had been married over 30 years and yet for more than 10, 15 years it was like they were living two separate existences in the same house, embittered against each other. And as they understood really the gospel and how… Thinking on how God’s grace to us, and how we can reflect that to each other and repenting of their own sin against each other and showing grace to each other. Within just a couple of weeks they came back and said, “We have talked to each other more in the last week than we’ve talked in 20 years before this, or maybe even since we were engaged. This has been so wonderful.” And you love that, and you’re blessed by that.
But there are some people and you tell them the same thing, you read the same verses, you try to show the same compassion and they walk away like the rich young ruler, sad, and they don’t come back or you meet and there’s no progress or even things seemed to get worse. And then the third type of case I’ve seen is kinda gradual change, call it glacial change. Just kinda maybe an inch every thousand years it moves. They meet with you over and over again and it has kinda ups and downs but doesn’t seem like the big problem has ever been solved. I actually got an email from somebody I was mentoring, and he’s describing a case of this couple in a church for 15 years and the husband will kinda listen and they’ll talk and just a little layer of life, and then… But not any substantial change over time. Well, we deal with this personally, don’t we? That some of us go through seasons of depression. Some of us do struggle, not just the counselees but the counselers, with worry, with fear, some struggle with gluttony, fighting to lose the weight and keep it off. And you know, sometimes we struggle to change. And then back to the counseling, another thing that I’ve observed is sometimes you’ll have one of those cases where the progress has either been glacial or nonexistent and then they’ll come back to you a month or a year later and, “oh, well I read this book or I talked to this person and now everything’s all better!” And you’ll sit there and think, “Well that’s what I told you,” but for some reason it happens then. Well, why does change take place? Or why does change not take place?
Sometimes change doesn’t take place in the life of a counselee because he/she is not regenerate. John 15:2; Phil 1:6; 1 John 2:3-4; Matt 7:16ff
Well, sometimes change does not take place because the counselee is not yet a believer. And if someone has not yet personally died to sin and been united to Christ and been set free from the slavery to sin, it’s no wonder that change has not taken place. Jesus in the passage on abiding in John 15 says that the branches that don’t bear fruit are going to be pruned and burned. And there are some who make a profession of faith. John talks about those who say they know him but don’t keep his commandments. Jesus talks about those on the last day who may say, “Lord, Lord!” And he says, “I never knew you.” The problem will be that when you bring the word of God, especially the commands, to unconverted people, telling them to do something based upon what hasn’t happened to them yet, they’re not able to change. You’re asking a fish to fly. And the fish doesn’t have wings, he can’t get up in the tree. And yet sometimes this can be a positive thing in counseling because it can explain the failure and maybe they’ll get converted. I’ve had several cases of professing Christians come in and sometimes even in middle age and a pattern of many years of failure in one or more areas of their life. Moral failure, financial failure, family failure. And then God does a work and they got converted and then what was impossible before, all the sudden they’re flying because their nature has been changed from a fish to a bird.
Personal revival is like corporate revival: God sees fit to sovereignly work in powerful ways in the lives of His people at certain times. John 3:8, 15:5; Ps 71:20, 85:6
And then even for believers, change, let’s call it personal revival, sometimes change I think is like corporate revival. That God sometimes sees fit to sovereignly work in power in the lives of his people at certain times and not others. Like Jesus described about the spirit. The spirit blows where he will. We will meet with people and I think… In counseling some people just think if they just meet with you they’re gonna get better or sometimes people will send you their hard cases and think, well, I’ve met with them many times, I keep telling them things and they’re not changing and they think that maybe ’cause you have more experience or degrees or certification you can make something happen. God alone can make something happen. Only through Christ can fruit be born. Sometimes he sees fit to do it. The Psalmist, many references in the Psalms where there’s a pleading for revival. “Will you not yourself revive us again, that your people may again rejoice in you?”
Speaking of a personal example. I’ve gone through different times in my life. I’ve gone through a season, especially when my sons who had professed faith, as they came into adulthood turned away from the faith in the gospel, and that was quite devastating. And there was a season of a great struggle with depression. And it didn’t just melt away suddenly, and yet over time, God by his grace revived me after a season of just kind of hanging on by my fingernails. And it wasn’t likeyou know, okay, I’m just gonna believe the right verse and it’s gonna instantly change. Sometimes change doesn’t take place rapidly. Another personal example is with weight and gluttony, kind of along with the struggle with depression. I gained weight, especially through my 40s. And I struggled and failed in so many ways. I’m thankful that the Lord and his people were gracious to me in the midst of that. And I tried so many times. I didn’t need to go buy a book to find out how to lose weight. You eat less and you exercise more. It’s math, it’s simple. And yet I tried so many times. So many beginnings, “okay, I’m gonna be disciplined when I’m eating, I’m gonna exercise harder, and I’m gonna take care of this.” And I became virtually an expert in failure. And then time came a couple years ago where God and his grace gave me success and I was suddenly able to eat a reasonable amount and exercise further and knocked off a great deal of weight. People would ask me, “Well how did you do it, what was your secret?” And a big part of my answer, and by the way, when people ask me that I feel a little bit like Herod in the Book of Acts when they said the voice of a God and not a man and he accepted it. I’m afraid that worms will eat me or lightning will strike me if I take credit. All I can say is I kept failing and it wasn’t that suddenly I got good at it. God and his mercy and his grace helped me. So in our lives, and the way sanctification works, yes, we need to think about the gospel and use the means that God has given us.
God uses various means to accomplish change.
Yes, we need to make effort, but it’s a work of God, the change that takes place in our lives. And we can’t just make it happen through a methodology. Yes, God uses means, and Jesus said that as we abide in him and his words abide in us, as we ask he will answer. And so we do. The Psalm that says revive me according to your word, and so as we go to the word, which is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword, that we may be an agent for change. That’s why counseling is so much immersed in the word.
Then also we pray. Pray for ourselves and for our counselee. Prayer is also a means that God uses. In Psalm 119 there are many, many references to the psalmist pleading for revival. “Revive me in your ways,” he says. “Behold I long for your precepts, revive me through your righteousness.” In verse 88, “Revive me according to your loving kindness so that I may keep the testimony of your mouth.” And on and on he goes. “Greater your mercies, O Lord, revive me according to your ordinances, consider I love your precepts, revive me, O Lord, according to your loving kindness.” That guy was asking for revival. Seems like he was doing pretty well as I’m reading the psalm but even he yearns for that and we should be yearning that God will work in us and in our counselees.
Then sometimes God brings circumstances into our lives that enable us to change in the way that merely learning will not. The psalmist also in Psalm 119 says in verse 67, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep my word.” Verse 71, “It was good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn your statutes.” He describes in his own case personal revival in my life only took place through affliction. Now, I admit that’s not my personal favorite way of experiencing change and revival, but sometimes God has to do through his spirit or through affliction what you as a counselor can’t do. You’re not allowed to bring hardship upon them and fiery trials, but the Lord disciplines those whom he loves. And he will do that. God often uses his people and the church and the community and the fellowship of the saints, which is why it’s so important to be engaged in the life of the church as we seek to stir each other up to love and to good deeds.
Sometimes the Lord will send a Nathan, like David experienced. Nathan came to him and said, “You are the man.” We began this course in Romans 15:14 where Paul writes to the people in Rome, concerning you I’m convinced you’re full of goodness, full of knowledge, able to admonish one another. And so we have that duty. Galatians 6:1 we’ve also talked about. Accountability in the body, God can use that.