This article is by Andrew Dealy and published by BCC
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29).
Words are powerful. Remember, we bear the image of God, who chose to create by simply speaking creation into existence. He gifted us with a voice, and our words carry a divine weightiness. They have the power to tear down and build up. In unique ways, our words can affect the soul and shape our reality.
Words: The Tools of Our Trade
Words are a tool that, when properly used, build up and bring flourishing. Like a knife, when rightly used, makes removing a bruised spot on an apple easy, so also right words can cut away unhelpful elements present in our lives. And, as a knife improperly used leads to the emergency room, so also words misused can leave us crippled and deeply wounded. Therefore, we must be thoughtful and careful about what we choose to say.
This is particularly true for us as biblical counselors. The counseling profession is primarily composed of words. People come to counseling seeking words that will bring healing, hope, and help to their circumstances. As Proverbs succinctly puts it,
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11).
Counselees come to us for words that, when timely spoken, carry value, impact, and beauty; words that drip with the divine truths woven throughout the fabric of creation; words worth holding onto that resonate with our soul.
Words Frame Reality
The words we use become the frame through which we understand our circumstances. Often, our words create a frame that is too tight for God to fit in. We unintentionally shrink down the possible options available to us through the use of restrictive words. Phrases like “I can’t,” “I’ll never,” and “they always” become fence lines that unduly inhibit our view of the possible paths before us.
As counselors, it is paramount that we attend to the explicit and implicit impact of the words utilized in each session. There are three areas we must carefully attend to: the words we speak about our counselees, the words our counselees speak about themselves, and the words our counselees speak about others and their circumstances.
We must attend to what we say to and about our counselees. The words we use will frame our expectations for their progress and will either help or diminish our ability to see God’s work in their lives. Our words in session are just as important as our words outside of session. How we think and speak about our counselees outside of session will inevitably impact how we view our counselees and shape how we counsel them. It is good for us to often meditate on Proverbs 18:21:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
Do our words lead to life? What fruit are we seeing from the counsel we are giving? How are the words we use framing our counselee’s view of their circumstances?
Our Counselee’s Words
We also must attend to the words our counselees use regarding themselves. No amount of homework, exercises, or specialized therapeutic intervention will be effective if our counselee’s internal world is formed by negative, self-limiting, and self-determining words. If their inner dialogue is riddled with words of death, it must be addressed before they will be able to receive the words of life we are offering.
Lastly, we must attend to the words our counselees use about others and their circumstances. Unhelpful words about others and their circumstances will naturally lead to unhelpful outcomes for our counselees. A misdiagnosis of the problem will always lead to a wrong solution. We must carefully help our counselees properly retool their understanding of their circumstances and view of others according to the truth of God’s Word.
So, let us be wise with our words and seek to image God well as we build our counselees up through the edification of sanctified communication. May we also help our counselees grip onto the words God has spoken into their hearts and, in turn, teach them to use those same words to build up others in their lives.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Questions for Reflection
- Take a moment and assess the words you speak over yourself. In what ways does your internal dialogue need to be reshaped by God’s words for you?
- What are the most common unhelpful and restrictive words you hear your counselees using about themselves? How are these words limiting their ability to move forward?
- How do you talk about your counselees outside of session? How is the way you speak and think about your counselees outside of session affecting your time counseling them?