The Goal of Counseling — and of Life
A tool I have used many times — for myself and for counselees — is an assignment to ask oneself the following question at least 25 times throughout the day: “I am here to glorify God — how am I doing right now?”1 This goes with the commitment I always seek to obtain from a counselee in our first meeting by taking them to 1 Corinthians 10:31 and 2 Corinthians 5:9, and asking them to commit to making it their goal in counseling and in everything they do, say, or think, to glorify and please the Lord. It is evident that this was at the top of the apostle Paul’s list of concerns, just as it was for the Westminster Divines when they identified the “chief end of man” as being “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”2
First Things First: The Character of God
A recent read through of John Piper’s book The Pleasures of God served as an important reminder for me that, when it comes to the question of how we please God, it is crucial that we start by seeking a proper conception of God himself.3 In sum, the main reason this is so important — for both counselor and counselee — is that it is easy to slip into (or never to have repented of) thinking that God is somehow dependent on our good works for his pleasure or satisfaction. That kind of thinking about God is a deadly error, as demonstrated by many texts of Scripture. Here is just a small sampling:
Psalm 50:12-13, 22:
“‘If I were hungry I would not tell you,
For the world is Mine, and all it contains.
‘Shall I eat the flesh of bulls
Or drink the blood of male goats?
‘Now consider this, you who forget God,
Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver.”4
Micah 6:7, 13:
“Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
‘So also I will make you sick, striking you down,
Desolating you because of your sins.”
“Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.”
The blog post format prevents us from considering more texts — and even from considering these texts fully — but a brief look at this common theme in Scripture as sampled here should enhance our view of the character of God and how that relates to whether we are pleasing him.
The passages from Psalm 50 and Micah 6 both explicitly state that God does not look to people (not even to his people) to satisfy himself. Micah in particular points out that even if we could produce an impossible super-abundance to offer to God, it would not be a delight to him. Later in each text, the effect of thinking wrongly about this part of God’s character (which thinking is inescapably tied to being wrongly related to him) is devastating judgment. Similarly, when Paul chastises the Galatians for the thought that their good works (as represented by circumcision) could achieve God’s favor, he makes the startling statement that Christ will be of no benefit to one who trusts in his own works to recommend himself to God. It is clear that this is an important truth taught across the testaments.5
The Doctrine of the Trinity
As A.W. Tozer famously said, what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.6 As we have seen, it is wrong to think of God as somehow needing us or our gifts or works to serve his own pleasure or satisfaction. But it is good to drill a little deeper and ask: What is it about God that makes this so? Biblically, the answer seems to lie in the reality that God is a Trinity — that is, he is one God in three Persons. The relationship between God as Trinity and his own eternal joy and satisfaction is perhaps most evident from Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer:
John 17:5, 24:
“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”
“Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”
What we see in this text is that the Father and the Son shared glory and love before the world (or the people in it) even existed. And of course, this perfect and satisfying and loving fellowship would not have been theirs alone, but would also have been enjoyed by the Holy Spirit through whom “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts” (Rom 5:5).7 Considering the truth of God as Trinity, we can confidently say that God does not depend on us or our contributions to him for satisfaction, because he enjoys satisfaction and delight in himself eternally, in the fellowship of the Trinity.
God is a Mountain Spring, Not a Watering Trough
Something else that is present in the texts mentioned above (Jn 17:24 and Rom 5:5) is the fact that God brings men into the love and fellowship that he has enjoyed eternally in himself. This reality sheds light on why it is so offensive to God that we should think of him as needing us or our gifts in order for him to be filled with delight and satisfaction: It is precisely the other way around! John Piper captures this truth with a powerful analogy:
“God is a mountain spring, not a watering trough. A mountain spring is self-replenishing. It constantly overflows and supplies others. But a watering trough needs to be filled with a pump or bucket brigade. So if you want to glorify the worth of a watering trough you work hard to keep it full and useful. But if you want to glorify the worth of a spring you do it by getting down on your hands and knees and drinking to your heart’s satisfaction, until you have the refreshment to go back down in the valley and tell people what you’ve found. You do not glorify a mountain spring by dutifully hauling water up the path from the river below and dumping it in the spring.”8
We glorify God by coming to him to receive from his fullness — he is pleased with our thirst and with our seeking to satisfy our thirst by drinking from his abundance. David’s words in Psalm 116 accord with this truth: “What shall I render to the Lord For all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord” (Ps 116:12-13). David’s answer to what we should give to God in response to his abundance given to us, is that we should lift up our cups to receive more of his abundance poured out. What blessed good news!
Hopefully it is clear to you that our thoughts about God and how he is pleased are often in need of biblical correction, and that the eternal truth of the doctrine of the Trinity can help us to see how God is like a mountain spring, not a watering trough. We (and our counselees) must think these right thoughts about God, if we are even to make a start in our efforts to be pleasing to him.
In part 2, we will look at more specific ways in which those who think these right thoughts about God can be pleasing to him in word and action.
- I got the idea for this assignment from the Biblical Counseling Observation Videos produced by Faith Resources, which is an excellent training tool in general. Available here: http://store.faithlafayette.org/browse-by-topic/counseling-education/biblical-counseling-observation-10-digital-videos/. Just a further explanatory note on this assignment: it is helpful to shift one’s thoughts away from whatever has been consuming those thoughts — often whatever presentation problems have brought them to counseling. As one makes the conscious choice to shift thoughts from problems to glorifying God, this helps discipline the mind to pursue thoughts, words, and actions in accord with God’s purpose for our lives, instead of indulging in self-pity, fear, anger, etc.
- In addition to reading the book, I also listened to the sermons on which the book was based — those sermons are available for free download at this link: https://www.desiringgod.org/series/the-pleasures-of-god.
- Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in this post are from the NASB translation.
- Again, it is impossible to point here to all of the Scriptures that touch on this theme, but it is worth noting that the first recorded sin after the fall was related to the question of pleasing sacrifices to God (Gen 4:3-8).
- A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1978), 1.
- Way beyond the scope of this post is a comprehensive study of the biblical evidence for this eternal Trinitarian fellowship. Although it seems to include some extra-biblical speculation, Jonathan Edwards’s An Essay on the Trinity provides some helpful insights. (https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/Edwards,%20Jonathan%20-%20An%20Unpublished%20Essay%20on%20the%20Tr.pdf)
- John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2000), 196-197.
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