There are a number of things that differentiate Christian counseling from traditional secular psychotherapy – and foremost among them is prayer. Prayer, in the Christian context, is uniquely suited to Christian counseling. The reason I say this is because in a sense prayer and Christian counseling both derive their power and influence from the same source – namely, a relationship.
Is Prayer Really Powerful?
If you come from a Christian background, and perhaps even if you don’t, you will be familiar with expressions about the “power of prayer.” Prayer is ubiquitous – it is everywhere and yet it remains one of the great mysteries of faith. I remember once seeing a man with a ball cap that read PUSH on the front and on the back Pray Until Something Happens! Without devolving into a treatise on the different kinds of prayer (thanksgiving, intercession, deliverance, confession, etc.), that acronym PUSH is a fairly concise representation of why we pray. We want something to happen. Prayer is goal oriented. In this, we see that the motivation to pray and the motivation to seek Christian counseling have something in common. There is a goal; we want something to happen.
The confusing thing about prayer is that it can feel as if it is both the most powerful thing in the world and totally useless. The power of prayer seems to topple evil dictators, save lives, and bring about great revival, hope, and healing. Yet at other times prayer seems hard-pressed to even make a dent on the sniffles. This can be confusing and even outright discouraging. Why pray if it does not seem to “do” anything? We hear powerful stories about prayer and its effectiveness and so, filled with inspiration about the mighty tool that it is, we direct our prayers to blast away all of our problems. And then, if our problems remain, we promptly wonder what is wrong with us, our prayers, or our God.
One possible reason why some of our prayers go unanswered is because we are praying incorrectly. How are we praying incorrectly? According to James 4:3, we are praying out of alignment with the heart of God. I believe our confusion comes in part from misunderstanding the nature of prayer. If we think of prayer as some magical force or secret code that we have to crack, then we are missing it.
Characterizing prayer as a powerful tool may be technically correct, but such a definition leaves a lot out. Prayer is not magic, nor is it some powerful force that we can harness. Prayer is not even about power. Rather, prayer is about relationship. And it is not about just any relationship, but a personal intimate love relationship with none other than the Lord and Creator of the Universe. Prayer is about a relationship with God. And, let me tell you, God is p-o-w-e-r-f-u-l. The power of prayer does not lie in fancy words or in many words (Matthew 6:7), rather the power of prayer is found in Christ and in our relationship to and with Him.
Prayer is Walking with God
When Jesus died on the cross as the way to reconciliation with God, He made it possible for us to have a relationship with God. And it is this relationship with God that is spiritually fruitful and produces results. Apart from a relationship with God the Spirit through God the Son, we are really not going to be able to enjoy any fruit of the Spirit. However, when we are in community with God and operate in concert with Him, then things start to happen! (John 15:5). You may not win the lottery (probably not) or get a new car, but you will start growing the fruit of the Spirit “love, joy, peace, patience …” (Galatians 5:22-23) in your life on a supernatural level. Beyond personal changes, prayer as a part of our relationship with God is a way of inviting God to get involved in your life. Again, I have yet to see God get involved in my life similar to Drew Carey on “The Price is Right,” instead He does what He knows I need, whether I realize what I need or not!
This is the reason why the prayers of a righteous person can accomplish so much (James 5:16-18). It is not that you personally become more powerful depending upon how righteous you are. Rather, a righteous person is one who is in a right relationship with God through Christ (1 Timothy 2:5; Romans 10:9). A person who walks in that God-given identity (John 1:12; Ephesians 5:8) is one who walks with God rather than away from God. The more you practice righteousness, the more you are by definition walking with God (Micah 6:8). The more you walk with God, the more He tends to show up in your life, because you are actually inviting His presence and power (Revelation 3:20) into your life.
So, what does all this have to do with Christian counseling? Well for one, we are not afraid to pray. We may pray with you in session, pray for you out of session, and encourage you to pray for yourself. And this is no insignificant thing. As people who believe in the power of prayer because of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we are literally petitioning for the redemptive healing power of grace by aligning our hearts with God. This is more than simply the power of positive thinking or directing our “good thoughts” your way. We are humbly entering into agreement with God for His loving will to be done in your life. What is more, in counseling (whether it is Christian counseling or not) the single greatest determinant of success is the quality of the relationship. Counseling is more about unity and connection than it is about whiz bang techniques and mental crescent wrenches. When you add the literally lifesaving relationship with Christ into a conversation that is already uniquely dependent upon relationship and prayerfully tap into Jesus’ vitality together (Psalm 133:1) – basically it is a counseling trifecta.
If you have ever considered counseling, or are presently considering it, but are not sure if it is for you, allow me to encourage you to check it out. Christian counseling is more than fancy words and clever tricks. Yes, we are fully trained to bring the whiz bang, but more than that it involves an authentic relationship of collaborating with you to bring healing and joy into your life by God’s grace.
All photos from CreationSwap.com: “Prayer,” courtesy of Joel Joseph; “Do you know Him?” courtesy of Thomas Roberts; and “Better together” courtesy of Stacey Lewis.