Is Prayer A Significant Part of Your Counseling Ministry?
When we are helping other Christians work through a relational crisis or an ongoing sin struggle, we will certainly want to walk them through the biblical principles that should inform their choices moving forward. We will also want to remind them of the facets of the gospel that will give them comfort and motivation for obedience. And there are those tokens of biblical wisdom too, that will help guide their repentance or pursuit of reconciliation. All of these ingredients are needed for a faithful counseling or discipleship relationship, but we must also consider what place prayer has in this ministry.
It may be that prayer is one of the most neglected aspects of your work of soul care. Think about it. Do you assume that the person you are counseling knows how to pray? Even if you assign prayer as homework, does that person know what that means beyond simply asking for help? Asking for help is a crucial part of prayer, but certainly prayer is so much more. Consider these ways in which prayer can play a more prominent role in your counseling or discipleship ministry:
Teach Them How to Pray
Your counselees need to know things like the importance of adoring and thanking God in their prayers. This will draw their hearts away from themselves and the “gimme, gimme” posture of just asking for what they feel like they need. They also need to know what it means to submit their wills to the will of God as they pray, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). In addition, a well-balanced prayer life is crucial for your counselees, so giving them a framework for prayer like the ACTS method (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) will be highly practical. These are things that you as the counselor can unfold for them in your meetings. Jesus Himself obviously believed the practice of teaching prayer to be important or else He would not have prefaced the Lord’s Prayer with, “Pray then Like this…” (Matthew 6:9).
Model Prayer for Them
One of the best ways to teach prayer is not simply telling someone how to pray, but showing them how to pray. Try and use more than twenty seconds at the beginning and end of your meetings to pray with your counselees, so that the ability to pray can be caught. And don’t feel funny about telling them to pay attention to your prayers for this purpose. We have a tendency to check out when others are praying, so a bit of exhortation here won’t be wasted. Eventually, you can ask them to begin doing more of the praying in your meetings, so that biblical prayer becomes a more natural expression.
Pray the Bible with Them
If you want to teach your counselees to pray in the will of God, then teach them to pray Scripture. Take a text like Psalm 46:1 – “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” – and help them turn it into a prayer of praise, a prayer for others, and a prayer for themselves. Sadly, our prayers can often be informed by fleshly desires and worldly thinking, but using Scripture to give voice to our prayers can help to anchor them to the heart of God. A great resource for communicating this skill is Donald Whitney’s book, Praying the Bible.
Give Prayer-Focused Homework Assignments
It is hard to imagine that prayer will become an important spiritual discipline to your counselees if it is only a focus during your weekly meetings with them. We want our counselees to “continue steadfastly in prayer” (Colossians 4:2). Therefore, you would do well to give some type of prayer assignment to your counselees each week. Because I whole-heartedly believe in Randy Patten’s expression, “Change doesn’t happen in fuzzy land,” I think such assignments should be specific. Of course, you don’t want to give them the verbiage of the prayers you want them to pray, but consider giving them specific truths, people, and topics to pray about and even assigning how many times during the week that you want them to pray about these things. Consider also assigning certain people for them to pray with as well, especially in counseling cases where there is relational strain. Another good assignment, would be to assign different prayers for them to read and pray through from the Valley of Vision or other books that provide a collection of written prayers.
When we remember that our Lord is “worthy to be praised” (2 Samuel 22:4), “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10), and the One who gives “good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11), then it is obvious that prayer should play a prominent role in our counseling and discipleship. What steps will you take to this end?