What does it mean to manifest Christ? What is required of Christian counsellors and caregivers? The term “manifest” is defined as, “making clear or evident to the eye or the understanding; to show or be distinctively perceived; to prove and put beyond doubt or question.” It is also the root word in manifesto, which is understood as a public demonstration or an openly declared statement. Christian counselling is a high and sacred calling - to humbly, yet transparently represent Christ as His ambassadors to a lost and hurting world. Simply put, it is the ministry of reconciliation and from the perspective of the Apostle Paul, “as though God were making an appeal through us [emphasis mine]; we beg you on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
Only through the grace and the truth found in the Word of God are we able to minister to the whole person. The following is a quote by a psychiatrist named James Fischer and made after nearly 50 years of mental health practice. It is excerpted from his book, A Few buttons Missing, (1951, p. 273):
“If you were to take the sum total of all authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene; and if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out the excess verbiage; and if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the bones; and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets; you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the teachings of Christ, particularly the Sermon On The Mount; and it would suffer immeasurably in comparison.”
Jesus is our standard bearer, always sensitive to and maintaining a perfect balance, the One who was “full of grace and full of truth” and in whom these qualities were consistently “realized” or manifested (John 1:14, 17). We see His gracious interactions with those who needed an expression of kindness or gentleness and at other times, giving a strong exhortation or challenge directed toward those who needed to be held accountable for their words and/or deeds. Each of us must likewise seek to balance the right characteristics of both grace and truth as we counsel others, even though we may naturally or instinctively lean in one direction. Some counsellors tend to be more priestly in their therapeutic approach and some, more prophetic. Priests love to comfort the disturbed, while prophets love to disturb the comfortable. Both are important and necessary interventions, but the key is discerning the right application given the particular moment or presenting problem.
The essence of grace is the freely given, unmerited favour of God. On the other hand, truth can be viewed as an ideal or fundamental reality that stands apart from and even transcends one’s perceived experience. These two essential qualities - grace and truth - along with the capacity and spiritual maturity to rightly employ them, is what sets apart the Christian counsellor. They allow us to become the eyes, the ears, the hands and feet, and ultimately, the love of God to those He brings and who need care and compassion. Ephesians 4:24 is an encouragement to, “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” In defending his grasp of truth in a dialogue with his peers, the Earl of Somerset reflected that it was, “So clear, so shining, and so evident, that it will glimmer through a blind man’s eye” (Shakespeare, The History of Henry VI, Part I, Act II, Scene IV).
The implication here when it comes to our calling is that the manifestation of grace and truth in the counsellor’s life and work, should be just that, visible, apparent, readily seen by all - in fact, so unmistakable that even those who lack insight could still see and comprehend these attributes at some level. Paul understood this important principle in his discourse with the church in Corinth. He spoke powerfully on how the lives of the believers there were like handwritten letters that others could read and hopefully recognize something about their walk of faith. Listen to his words, “You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men: being manifested [there’s that word again] that you are a letter of Christ cared for by us, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor. 3:1-3).
Our goal therefore, is to become a reflection of Christ, the Wonderful Counsellor. Again and again, Paul emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in forming the believer in Christ, conforming the believer to God’s will, and transforming the mind of the believer. Listen to his exhortation, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). This should be a normal outcome related to our spiritual growth and sanctification since we were created in the Imago Dei (Image of God). “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). The counselling process, especially when it is based on the foundational principles of God’s Word, is a progressive journey of discovery, transformation and change, because, “He who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (Jn. 3:21).
Referred to as the process of growth in holiness, sanctification, or the work of the Spirit, is not compartmentalized to those areas of life people tend to think of or define as “spiritual,” but the Spirit’s workings consists of encouraging growth and bringing wholeness in every area of life: formation in personal faith, in emotional maturity, in social/interpersonal relationships, in vocational call and giftings; in theological and intellectual knowledge; in the ability to adopt practices and habits that encourage health and wellness and in forming a lifestyle of wise financial and resource stewardship. Together these seven areas form the holistic, integrated nature of the Holy Spirit’s gracious work in those who are alive in Jesus Christ. We must allow God’s love, grace, and truth to work deeply in us, so that His transforming power can be manifested through us.
A beautiful example of this “in” and “through” principle comes out of the life of Peter (Matt. 14:22-33). On a dark night in the open sea, and as waves and strong winds battered their small boat, Peter and his fellow disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, but in fact it was Jesus walking on the water towards them. When Peter said, “Lord if it is You, command me to come to You on the water,” he stepped out of the boat and began to walk. As soon as he got his eyes off the Saviour and on the wind and waves, he began to sink. Calling out to Jesus, the Master responded by “stretching out His hand and taking hold of him.” Now some months beyond that experience and after the resurrection, Peter and John are on their way to the temple to pray (Acts 3:1-11). As they pass through the outer gate, they encounter a man who had been lame since birth. In their discourse with the lame beggar, Peter says, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” However, instead of merely standing off to the side in a detached manner, the Scripture says that Peter, “seized him by the right hand, raising him up.” The reality that Peter had first reached up to Christ when he was sinking in the water, freed him to reach out to the one who was now before him in need. Only because God had done this work in him, could He now continue the work through him.
For this dynamic to work in all its fullness, we must continue to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd. Jesus said that His sheep hear, know, and follow His voice (John 10). An honest question to ask ourselves is this: If God stopped talking, how long would it take us before we noticed? Author and pastor, Henry Blackaby, in his book titled, Experiencing God, puts forth an intriguing construct. He encourages the believer that rather than praying and asking for God’s blessing on our day and activities, to instead ask Him to show us what He is doing around us in the moment and to humbly request that we be allowed to join Him in what He’s already doing? Here are some practical ways we can walk in this light:
- By Going (Evangelism) - Go to people with the good news. Have a strong commitment to reach out to the hurting and incorporate the Gospel message of redemption and transformation.
- By Gathering (Fellowship) - Gather them into community. Emphasize the critical importance of meaningful relationship for the purpose of personal and spiritual growth, accountability, and connectedness.
- By Growing (Teaching) - Grow them into fully devoted followers of Christ. Guard the sacred trust that has been given by God in the process of restoration and discipleship, endeavouring to journey alongside those who need care.
- By Glorifying (Worship) - Glorify God in all of it. Acknowledge that it is God, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, who sets people free, changes broken lives, and is worthy of all honour and praise.
As counsellors, part of our vital role is to help people correct their “vision” and walk in the Light of Christ. Some of our clients are near-sighted (they are so overwhelmed by their pain, hurt, or the need right in front of them, they cannot see the bigger picture of what God may be doing or saying). Some are far-sighted (they are in denial, wrestle with responsibility and accountability, and cannot see the log in their own eye). Finally, some are simply blind (they lack hope and faith and cannot see through the darkness and despair at all). We have been given the privilege of being God’s optometry assistants. He is the Great Physician, but He chooses to use us in helping others see things more clearly.
To be effective within the counselling process, we should consider earnestly seeking and embracing the following attributes:
- HUMILITY - to approach the one who is in pain
- DISCERNMENT - to understand what God is saying and doing
- WISDOM - to know what to do with what God reveals
- GRACE - to apply God’s solution in the matter
- POWER - to push through the resistance of the “evil one”
- LOVE - to “cover a multitude of sins”
Imagine how our work with others could be radically different if we were willing to look beyond the outward appearance, to read the meaningful narrative that exists between the lines of people’s life stories, and moreover, able to fully sense and be in sync with the very heartbeat of God. Ultimately, this means we are capable of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), manifesting Christ to a hurting world and in doing so, having found the right balance in our calling as Christian counsellors. May He continue to work in and through us, so that His Kingdom will be established as salt and light for those who are groping in darkness and need to hear the Good News.
Eric Scalise, PhD, is an author, speaker, Licensed Professional Counsellor, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, and mental health professional with over 32 years of clinical experience. He is the former Dept. Chair for Counselling Programs at Regent University (located in Virginia, USA) and serves as the Vice President for Professional Development with the American Association of Christian Counsellors (AACC). He is also Executive Director of the International Board of Christian Care (IBCC).