I was recently reading Growing Together: A Biblical Approach to Fruitful Ministry in the Body of Christ by David Powlison, Ed Welch, Michael Emlet, Aaron Sironi, and Steven Midgley. In Unit 3 of this material David Powlison reflects on the role of prayer in counseling.


Here are my notes. I hope you find them helpful. The annotations to the outlines are my own and do not reflect the entirety of Powlison’s chapter, so if they do not make sense, please do not blame David.

Poor Ways to Pray

  • Vague and confusing – words that sound spiritual, but we don’t use them enough in day-to-day talk for them to be meaningful for us
  • Wish list – treating prayer like sitting on Santa’s lap
  • Superstitiously – believing because we pray we’re less likely to face hard times
  • Routine – praying simply because that is “what we do” at certain times
  • Reset or transition – using prayer a means to segue from one part of a meeting to another

Better Ways to Pray

  • Intense honesty – prayers that aren’t vulnerable are more business meeting that conversation
  • Aware of our need – prayer presumes much of life is beyond our ability to control or understand
  • Aware of God’s character – prayer presumes that God cares and is capable of influencing our lives
  • Desiring relationship – prayer seeks to build relationship more than change outcomes

Observation: “The vast majority of counselors do not pray. The designated counselors in our culture, in principle, as a matter of their deepest commitments (and policy) do not pray with the people they seek to help… There is a powerful faith commitment behind the reasons why a counselor does not pray (p. 37).” Prayerless counselors implicitly believe…

Why don't the vast majority of counselors pray with the counselees? Click To Tweet

  • … insight is sufficient for change
  • … expertise and best practices are all a counselor needs
  • … forgiveness of sin is not a primary concern of counseling
  • … there is no all powerful refuge to which we can run
  • … people do not need a strength that exist outside themselves
  • … faith is not essential for change

Observation: (paraphrase) Prayer is the tangible expression that we realize (a) our understanding of life and its challenges is always limited, and (b) our ability to help is always limited.

“We are still able to do things that matter and say things that are helpful and insightful. But prayer communicates that none of our explanations are complete and none of our solutions can solve every problem (p. 39).”

To conclude this chapter, David Powlison offers three tips for more effective prayer – in counseling or personally. I will share one of them here (for the rest you’ll have to buy the book, for which I get no kickbacks, but is well-worth your investment).

Tip: Be willing to pray in two moods: need (concern) and joy (celebration). “There are two sides to the sacrificial system [Old Testament]. One side of faith is need. One side of the sacrificial system is sin offerings and burnt offerings. The other side of faith is joy, gladness, and gratitude. On the other side of the sacrificial system are peace offerings and fellowship offerings (p. 42).” Our prayer life should be consistently, comfortably (without shame), and conversationally (in our natural verbiage) speaking in both moods.

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Spiritual Disciplines” post which address other facets of this subject.