One of the most straightforward, and yet most easily overlooked tools we have in the process of change is prayer. Perhaps that sounds overly simplistic, and it may be depending on the complexities of one’s troubles. Counselors can tread into dangerous waters when we seek to give any direction that might come across as some version of “Pray it away.” However, as biblical counselors who are called to a particular form of care that is centered around the person and work of Christ, we certainly do not want to neglect the importance of prayer. Christ himself modeled for us that prayer invites us into a deeper connection with God.
Prayer offers a powerful space for inner transformation that is not based on human might or ingenuity. Rarely does a counselee present in their early sessions having complete clarity on what specific problems they are facing. Sure, they may list off concerns such as relationship issues, general anxiety over an ongoing situation, or a one-time event that has brought distress. But it is often the case that those concerns are the most obvious ones on the surface, and as they begin to explore the underlying patterns of thinking or dynamics of a particular relationship, they can narrow in on the need for deeper reflection.
There are a variety of tools and growth assignments [see here, here, and here for examples] that can be impactful in our work as counselors; prayer gives us something that no resource or strategy can fully accomplish on its own — a source of power outside of ourselves. Whether we face a battle marked by racing thoughts, biological or physiological suffering, or relational brokenness, we cannot ultimately access hope apart from the throne of grace.
One way I have learned to pray with more attentiveness is by slowly going through The Lord's Prayer, usually while I’m out in nature. I speak it aloud as I walk, pausing after each phrase, conversing with God about whatever shape that phrase seems to take on any given day. It might sound something like this:
"Give us this day our daily bread" | God, you have faithfully provided my daily bread every day of my life. Thank you for welcoming me to pray in such a direct manner. I'm able to say "Give me," almost as a child seems to demand from his parent, crying out, "Give me!" Lord, help me to recognize the daily bread that you have given, one day at a time. Teach me to trust in your provision that is borne out of your love for me. Help me to be content and filled with my daily bread, rather than the ways I often seek other things out of greed and self-interest [Here, I might name a specific area of temptation or sin I've become aware of in my life]. Father, I know that you love to give good gifts, and so I ask you for more than my physical sustenance. Your Word tells me to bring my requests into your presence. There are longings of my heart that remain unfulfilled, dreams I want to experience in reality [I usually name my desires here, or ask for wisdom in knowing what I want with greater clarity]. In your care for me and your delight in me — you "sing over me!" — would you guide me into these good things? Grant my request, Lord. Give me the discernment to see with clear sight the good that is already in front of me. Surprise me with what you provide, God.
A book I have benefited from as a counselor is Look and Live by Matt Papa. He says: “God’s power is a holy power. It is in a class by itself. We pick up sticks. God picks up oceans. We breathe out carbon dioxide. God breathes out stars.” In finding care for our troubles, we will often benefit greatly from worksheets, calming exercises, and reading assignments. But our greatest tool in gaining ground against dark thoughts or finding comfort amidst deep sorrow is communion with the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17).
Melissa Affolter has served in various aspects of counseling and discipleship ministries for nearly twenty years in the local church.