Prayer and Counseling

by James Rudy Gray


1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Pray without ceasing." Luke 18:1 says, "Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart." Jesus prayed. Prayer has always been a significant exercise in the spiritual disciplines. But what about prayer as it relates to counseling?

Dr. Archibald Hart has written, "Christian counseling is only Christian' to the extent that it collaborates with God in the healing process." Prayer, he adds, is not so much about getting answers as it is about getting hold of God.

There have been enough studies done that should encourage doubters about the effectiveness of prayer. Indications are that people who were suffering from physical ailments and were prayed for got better more often than those who were not prayed for-even when they did not know they were being prayed for!

Still, prayer is not one of those realities of spiritual life that can be analyzed and proved or disproved based on scientific principles. Prayer is supernatural. As Dr. Harold Koenig, MD, puts it, "Science can help us learn about the natural, not the supernatural. The supernatural is God's business."

We know from Scripture that the effective prayer of a righteous person can accomplish much. Prayer is a means of grace in the plan of God. Prayer, however, cannot be a substitute for good Christian counseling. Neither can counseling be considered Christian without real prayer. A counselor should pray believing that God does work through prayer.

Counselors need wisdom to understand what a counselor can do, what God alone can do, and what can happen if nothing seems to be happening in a person's circumstances. For example, happiness is a desired quality among most people. But happiness is fragile. It comes from the word "hap," which carries the idea of luck, chance, or circumstance. When favorable or good things happen to me, I am happy. When unfavorable things happen, I am unhappy.

Counselors have a great opportunity to teach people the reality of Christian joy. The joy of the Spirit, I believe, feels like happiness, but it is not based on chance or circumstance. It is the product of God's Spirit and can be realized even in the bleakest of circumstances. Paul, after being beaten and thrown in jail at Philippi, was undoubtedly joyful as he sang hymns of praise to God at midnight. He was not happy because of his circumstances but He was joyful because of God's presence in His life.

Very often, a great deal of counseling has to do with helping a person have hope and change unhealthy thinking patterns into more biblically healthy and constructive ways of thinking. Prayer can be a key element in that process. Our counselees must know they are prayed for and we must pray with them, but they must also learn the discipline of prayer themselves.

Koenig has stated,  "People who pray regularly often experience greater peace, more purpose and meaning, and cope better with difficult life situations. Prayer-talking things over with God-helps us establish priorities in life, so that our daily decisions produce less stress and more positive interactions with others."

The model or pattern prayer in Luke 11 or Matthew 6 can help a person see the big picture or structure for praying. The discipline of personally praying can be reached through continued study, interaction with teachers and counselors, and practice. 

Some counselors pray before they begin each session. Some pray at the close of the session. Some even pray at different times during the session. All should pray with and for the people they counsel. Prayer is a powerful force in Christian counseling. It cannot be a substitute for what a counselor should know or do but neither can our knowledge or ability replace the need for dependence on God through prayer.

Christian people know the Bible is true. That book teaches us to pray. We should also teach our counselees who know the Lord to pray. Prayer works.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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