From time to time most preachers are asked for help dealing with personal problems. A person recognizes he is miserable and wants relief. He may have tried everything he can think of but he still feels awful. It is at this point that some will come to a preacher. While many preachers are not specifically trained in counseling, these situations present a great opportunity to minister to people who are hurting. Good preachers direct troubled souls to God's word since it has the answers to all of life's issues. II Peter 1:2-4 declares that God has given to us "all things that pertain to life and godliness." Certainly, God has delivered this knowledge through the Scriptures. Additionally, Peter prayed for his readers (including us today) that they might have God's grace and peace multiplied in their lives. But, this blessing comes only through the knowledge of God's will and this results only as one studies the Bible. The Scriptures address every facet of life since it comes from the One who created man. However, His Book must be used in order for it to help (cf. James 1:25).
Unfortunately, some people think counseling will not help them in their situations. Perhaps they have tried other times with no success. The problem may not have been with the counselor or the advice given but the ones seeking help. They may not really want to change for the better.
An older preacher I know has on occasion been asked to counsel people in distress. He told me that before agreeing to spend much time with them he would ask three questions. Unless all three answers are "Yes," he would politely inform them that he would not be able to assist them. No doubt this approach has disappointed some folks but I believe he is wise to ask.
So, what are these three questions that can change a person's life?
Even if each reply is "Yes," the counselor may not be able to help much. Sometimes anguish is the result of serious depression. There may be a physical cause such as a chemical imbalance in the brain or head injury. If the preacher suspects this is the case he may suggest seeing a doctor. Counseling and medication may help the sufferer cope with and hopefully overcome this medical condition.
Sadly, some people will not be helped by counseling because they answer "No" to the first question. They may not verbalize it but their actions belie their real choice. Miserable is the word that best describes their situation. Sin is the cause. It may be their own or another party's, as in the case of a marriage or family situation. When two or more parties are involved the difficulty of obtaining a remedy is multiplied (this is especially true when a spouse does not want counseling). Why do people choose to stay in sin when it causes such grief? The Bible says sin has its pleasures (cf. Heb. 11:24-26). They are short lived at best and always come with the high price of guilt, shame, and condemnation, which remain until the sin is forgiven. Even then, there may still be lasting consequences to deal with.
Other people, who answer "Yes" to the first question, will give a "No" to the second. They are unwilling to seek help from God. This is nothing but stubborn pride at work. It caused the ruin of the devil and it will cause the loss of many precious souls (cf. I Tim. 3:6). Instead of searching the Scriptures, they will look everywhere but the Bible. The path to eternal life is found only in God's word (cf. John 5:39). Unfortunately, many will trust in their own thoughts and feelings (cf. Jer. 17:9; Prov. 3:5-7). This always leads to the same terrible end--eternal destruction (cf. Jer. 10:23; Prov. 14:12).
Finally, there is a third group of people who will answer "Yes" to the first two questions but "No" to the last. To them, there is no urgency in obeying God's will. Perhaps they do not appreciate just how destructive sin is. These deluded souls are waiting for a "convenient time" much like Felix was (Acts 24:25). But will such a time ever come for those who have no urgency in forsaking sin and making changes? More often than not, these individuals will remain in sin. It is a tragedy for one to die in his sins for his soul will be lost eternally (cf. John 8:21-24).
Will counseling really help? It can if the person or persons seeking help can honestly answer "Yes" to the three questions previously listed. The way to escape the burden and guilt of sin is through obeying the gospel (cf. I Pet. 3:21; 4:17). Renounce the pleasures of sin through repentance and obey God's teaching each day. His word provides counsel that can truly help. If applied, it will change a life for the better!