Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah predicted, “And he will be called Wonderful Counselor…” (Isaiah 9:6).

     What makes a good counselor? What kind of confidant would you look for if you needed marital or financial advice? If you were struggling with depression or mental health issues, what qualities would you seek in a therapist?

     Last week, while writing a sermon on Isaiah’s prophecy, I listed three characteristics that I consider to be most important in an effective counselor.

Personal credibility: Most of us would not seek financial counsel from someone who just declared bankruptcy. Likewise, we probably wouldn’t seek marital advice from a 25-year-old living with his girlfriend in his parents’ basement. We want someone with valid credentials—someone whose personal life bears testimony that they have “been there and done that” and done it well.

     Compassionate listener: We also want someone with mercy and tenderness. We prefer a counselor who cares enough to listen, understands our situation’s uniqueness, and empathizes with our burden. Psalm 32:8 reads, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

     Gives Godly advice: We all need wise, biblical guidance. We need to hear Godly counsel. Psalm 73:24 says, You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will take me into glory.”  Do not go to a counselor who is not a devoted Christian. Worldly counselors can give terrible, anti-biblical advice. They will say what itching ears want to hear and will lead you into hell. Colossians 2:8-9 warns us, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

     Allow me to caution that just because the counselor is a Christian does not make them a Godly counselor. Rather, we need Godly wisdom to guide us in the way we should go because, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Author Charles Allen claimed that he was a great counselor, even as a young preacher with no formal training.  He bantered that his method was easy.  “I sit with troubled people and ask, ‘Tell me about your problem.’ After they describe it, I say, ‘I understand.’ Then I ask, ‘What do you think you should do about it?’ Almost always, they have a pretty good idea of the right course of action. So, I say, ‘I think that’s what you should do. I agree.’ They leave saying, ‘Thank you so much – you’ve been a big help!’”

     While humorous, his method is similar to a counseling technique referred to as “non-directive counseling” or “person-centered counseling.” This method attempts to guide the individual toward self-awareness and self-direction so that they can understand their emotions and draw conclusions on their own. While this technique has some effectiveness, I think many Christians who seek counseling truly desire Godly advice rather than being slowly led toward self-actualization.

     Notice how Jesus fulfills each of the characteristics of an effective counselor.

     He has perfect credentials. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we. Yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

     He is full of compassion and listens to every word of our prayers. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 NLT).

     In His infinite wisdom, Jesus guides us into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. The Bible says, “He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

       Simon Peter is a biblical example of someone who was an emotional wreck and needed a counselor. Three times he had caved to peer pressure and denied he even knew Jesus. He was so devastated when Jesus was led away to be crucified; he wept bitterly and uncontrollably.

     A few days later, Jesus rose from the grave and confronted Peter. Jesus didn’t rebuke him or say, “Simon, I’m so disappointed—even after I warned you! You really let me down!” Nor did he ask Peter to resolve his own guilt or say, “What do you think you should do?” And Jesus did not gloss over his sin as though it didn’t matter, saying, “It’s no big deal. We all sin every day.”

     Instead, Jesus gently asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” He encouraged him to affirm his faith as many times as he had denied him. Each time Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep” or, “Feed my lambs.” As a result of his encounter with Jesus, Peter came to the realization he was forgiven and restored to discipleship. His focus was to be on his future assignment, not the past mistake.

      This same man who had cowardly renounced Jesus in front of a servant girl a few days later stood boldly in front of thousands in Jerusalem and proclaimed, “You have crucified the Son of God. But God has raised Him from the dead and made this same Jesus Lord and Christ.” Jesus was such a wonderful counselor to Simon Peter that the man who denied Jesus was given the keys to open the door to the church.

     Jesus invites us to bring our burdens to Him still today. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

     Indeed, it is Christ who provides rest for our troubled souls.

“What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged.
Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

*”What a Friend We Have in Jesus” Hymn by Joseph Medlicott Scriven (1855)

 Bob Russell is retired minster of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville KY.