The Relational Spirituality Podcast

The Relational Spirituality Podcast

7 Keys to Having Spiritually Forming Relationships | Ep. 32

August 29, 2023

After over 40 years as a psychologist, what did Dr. Larry Crabb find were some foundational ways of fostering spiritually forming relationships? Moving beyond psychological techniques and beneath surface struggles, he offers a framework for developing the kind of conversation where the Spirit can do His deepest work.  Tune in for his conversation with fellow psychologist Dr. Jim Cress.  


Through his storied 40-year career as a Bible teacher, psychologist, and author, Dr. Larry Crabb shared the movement of God in his own soul and through his story. In every book, article, sermon, or seminar, Larry reminds us to see the hand of God and hear His voice in any circumstance and condition of our soul.  



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[00:00:28] Kep Crabb: Welcome and thanks for joining us today for the next episode of relational spirituality. I’m your host, Kep Crabb. We’ve been discussing Dr. Larry Crabb’s book, SoulTalk and the different themes and concepts from that book. If you don’t have a copy or would like to get one for a friend, go to and get yourself a copy today. 

In this episode, we actually get to hear directly from the author of the book, Dr. Larry Crabb, my father, in a conversation that he has as he’s talking about SoulTalk. I’d like to remind you to click on the like button or press subscribe if you like what you’re hearing and you’re enjoying these podcasts. 

And now, Dr.Larry Crabb talking about SoulTalk.

[00:01:12] Jim Cress: We welcome you into this series we call New Way Conversations, and specifically, What Every Christian Counselor Needs to Know, the Seven Keys to a Spiritually Forming Conversation.

I’m Jim Cress here with psychologist and best selling author, Dr. Larry Crabb. Larry, we are going to share some specifics about these seven keys to a spiritually forming conversation. We’ll flesh them out over four programs. We thought it would be good to do both an overview and then to run through what the actual seven keys are before we move into the actual conversation today.

[00:01:44] Larry Crabb: I think there are seven keys, Jim. I’m sure there’s 20 or there’s 2 or whatever, but after all my years of talking to people – I’ve talked to thousands of people. I’ve been a counselor now, a psychologist, for almost 40 years – I believe that the core of every effective spiritually forming conversation is a good relationship. It isn’t a matter of technique. It isn’t a matter of expertise. It’s a matter of relating in a particular way. So whether you’re a cognitive behavior therapist, whether you’re a psychodynamic assist, whether you’re a spiritual director, whether you’re a pastor, I think beneath all of those issues – and a lot of those things are very helpful – but beneath all of those things, there are certain commonalities that define what a good relationship is all about and what the spiritually forming conversation is all about. I want to think about those things with you today.

[00:02:29] Jim Cress: You have come up with these seven keys to the spiritually forming conversation that all of us want to have with a loved one, a friend, a client – if it’s in a counseling setting. A lot of this has been, if we shall say, distilled down from your week long intensive school of spiritual direction. This is not the course by any means, but we’re taking the cream of the crop of this to share.

[00:02:51] Larry Crabb: After being a psychologist for so many years, I have moved towards spiritual direction because I believe that the core issues are always spiritual in nature. I’ve put together this one week course where I take 30 people for a week and we think about the whole model of spiritual direction. As I sat down and thought, what do I want to say to every Christian counselor? What do I want to say to every pastor, to every friend, to every spiritual director?

What do I really want to say? I thought about the school where I teach a very basic model. This is distilled down, that’s a good phrase. This is a distilled down version of what I believe are the seven key principles, seven key ways of thinking about how to have a good relationship is what I elaborate on in the entire week, but this is going to give Christian counselors a basic understanding, I believe, of what they need to know.

Because Jim, you’re a counselor, when you sit down with somebody no matter how good you are – I know you’re a gifted counselor. You’re well trained. I trained you, so I know you’re well trained. You know what you’re doing, and I know what I’m doing. I’m a pretty good counselor – but there’s something inside of me that always faces the mystery of it. There’s something inside of me that says, no matter how much I am committed to a cognitive behavioral model or a psychodynamic model or whatever, that there’s an underlying foundation that we’ve got to be more careful to think about.

So these seven key principles that I want to talk about today are ways of thinking beneath all the technical stuff that people do to what really is involved in developing the kind of conversation where the Spirit can do His deepest work. That’s what I’m thinking about these days in my spiritual directing mode.

[00:04:23] Jim Cress: Some would say let’s take the phraseology of a spiritual director, just the name Christian counselor, that should connote something. There should be something there that, if you’re a Christian counselor, you’re not just doing whatever secular or unsaved people do in their counseling office. So when we talk about spiritual direction, I’m assuming that behind that should be not my Spirit so much as directing yours, but the Holy Spirit is involved in the process. Those are things that might be assumed and we go yeah, that’s right, but there’s something very important that there is a foundation here of all that we’re saying.

[00:04:58] Larry Crabb: Whether you’re a spiritual director, whether you’re a Christian counselor, the Holy Spirit better be essential or we’re not Christian in our approach. I recently went to a secular psychotherapy conference. I heard one of my heroes, Irvin Yalom, lecture. I heard David Byrne, Stanford psychiatrist. I heard Colin Ross, who’s one of the world leading specialists in dissociative disorders. I came away saying, these guys have a lot to offer. I was thrilled that I went to the conference, but they’re missing the key. They’re missing the center of the whole thing. They’re missing the fact that the soul bears the image of God. The soul was built for relationship with God and it’s the disconnection that causes all of these things we call psychological disorders. There’s got to be a reconnection to God. Maybe as a Christian counselor, maybe as a spiritual director, I can promote the purposes of that reconnection and I can get people back into relationship. I can’t do it, but the Holy Spirit can do it. And maybe that’s going to deal with a lot of these concerns that people bring to Christian counselors, as well as the spiritual directors.

[00:05:50] Jim Cress: Why don’t we just dive in? You have the seven different keys here, seven keys to a spiritually forming conversation. Again, what we said we’d do is we’ll outlined them, go through them and that’s the skeleton of the whole thing. We’ll put some meat on that skeleton as we go through the four different programs.

[00:06:02] Larry Crabb: When you’re sitting talking to somebody who’s struggling, I hope you keep in mind these seven keys. Key number one. Where’s your client right now? I call it the red dot principle. We’ll make sense of that later. What is happening in the counselee? What is happening in the person right now in the moment? Are you paying attention to that? Principle number one. 

Principle number two, know what’s happening in you. I call it the interior world principle. What’s happening in me when I’m talking to my counselee? That’s the second thing we’re going to look at very carefully. 

Third thing, let a faith vision develop in your mind. The, it’s possible principle. Let a faith vision develop in your mind. Can I get a vision for what the Spirit of God is up to in your life? Can I begin to develop? Can I begin to discern where the Spirit is taking you and what you might look like six months from now, a year from now, 10 years from now, when you’re 80 years old, what kind of an old man you are going to be? Do I have a vision for where God is taking you? And can I join that process? Even as you are, and even as you and I are chatting right now, that’s the third principle. 

The fourth principle that I hope every Christian counselor, every spiritual director keeps clearly in their mind when they’re having conversations is this: learn what the real battle is. Very few people are aware of what the real struggle is beneath their panic attacks, beneath their sexual disorders, beneath their difficult marriage, beneath their depression. Very few people are aware of what the real battle is, the deepest battle in the human soul, and only Christians understand that. That’s a very prejudicial sentence, but boy do I believe it. Learn what the real battle is. I call it the flesh dynamic principle. What is the power of the flesh of the evil sinful nature in the human soul? Let’s think about the real battle. That’s principle number four.

Number five, the fifth principle, is trust the Spirit’s work, the Spirit dynamic principle. That can be said so glibly. Jim, so many times I’ve sat down with people and they started talking about their struggles and internally I felt hopeless. I don’t know what’s going to happen. More is needed here than I can pull off. If more is needed than what I can do, then is there any hope? We’ll talk about arrogance and pride later. Maybe there is a Spirit. Maybe there is the Holy Spirit. Maybe He can do something. Do I really believe it? Here’s the real thing that we’re going to talk about later. Do I believe that the Holy Spirit is up to the job of moving through the mess of my life to carry me where He wants me to get? If I believe that, then maybe I can trust the Spirit’s work in your life. Do I really trust the Spirit’s work? So often I think we give lip service to the Holy Spirit and we’re waving our hands at worship services and doing all sorts of things about talking to the Spirit. But is He really active in the middle of a conversation with the counselee? That’s number five. 

Number six, enter the story with discernment. I call it the spiritual listening principle. You’re going to tell me a story. You’re going to tell me about your life. You’re going to tell me about some of the struggles in your marriage, some of the concerns you have for your kids, some of the frustrations you’re experiencing in your own spiritual walk. You’re going to tell me about when you became a Christian and how it didn’t go so well and how you had expectations that haven’t been realized. Do I know how to listen when you talk? That’s more than a certain posture. That’s more than sitting forward and tilting my head. It’s saying, what does it mean to listen with the sermon, enter the story with the sermon, the spiritual listening principle?

Number seven, and this is where it gets exciting, facilitate movement through the cycle of change. Does change really happen? I’m not sure if a lot of people believe that deep change in the human soul really happens. If you’re depressed, you can take an antidepressant and probably feel a little bit better. If you’re going through some panic attacks, there may be some behavioral techniques to help you with that. If you’re into sexual dysfunction, then maybe some accountability groups can really help you. But is there real change? Maybe you’ve changed your symptoms, but is there real change in the core of the soul? Are you a different person? Are you living out the power of the gospel? Principle number seven, facilitate movement through the cycle of change, I call it the spiritual formation principle. 

Those are the seven principles. We’re going to think about them all in detail on this conversation series. And let me tell you, while I’m excited about this, Jim, the reason I’m excited about this is, as I said before, I’ve been talking to people for a long time, and I’ve been talking to you a fair amount and you struggle here and there, just like I do. And have you changed completely? No more than I have. But is it possible that when you and I sit down for a long cup of coffee, as we’re going to be doing in the next day or two, and we talk about some of the struggles in your life and I share some of mine, is it possible that our conversation could actually be powerful, that something could really happen? Yeah. I believe with these seven principles, if they’re embedded in our minds and if the listeners to this series think about it and ponder it and reflect on it and ask whether they’re living out these principles or whether they really believe them, if they move in the direction that I’m suggesting, I believe our counseling practices, our spiritual direction packs of practices can be transformed into something really exciting and really powerful. So this is what I believe every Christian counselor needs to know. The seven key principles of spiritually forming conversations.

[00:11:19] Jim Cress: And this applies to, let’s go through a list: Therapeutic or counseling session when you’re doing it as a professional, so to speak. Pastoral counselors, pastors who are maybe counseling in a setting where they are having a number of people come in. Maybe the same ones come back from time to time. You could go through all the different lists. Any person listening today, in any venue can, so to speak, put these into practice. 

[00:11:43] Larry Crabb: Add to that small group leaders, out of that, husbands and wives, out of that, a parent talking to his teenage kid who’s struggling. We’re talking about conversations. We’re talking about words, passing back and forth between two people whether in the role of therapist or anything else, but particularly we’re talking about those that are arranging conversations in particular, like in psychotherapy, like in counseling, like in spiritual direction. But you’re right. The application is all over the place.

These are principles that I think grow out of a Christian worldview, grow out of scripture and can help anybody in any setting make a real difference in how powerful the Spirit of God can work through them in somebody else’s life

[00:12:19] Jim Cress: Before we get into some of these specifics, we may just cover just the one on today’s program, but the person who maybe has gone to a convention, maybe they picked up this CD set at a convention, a counseling convention, and they’ve received a different coursework. They’ve taken CEUs. They’ve gone through this speaker and that speaker, and they’ll say all of them were even Christian presenters. And they’ve read this book and that book, et cetera, and they’ve really studied well. And they come to your material, the material on this CD set, and they say, okay, how the seven keys to a spiritually forming conversation can make a difference in my counseling ministry, whatever Christian counselor needs to know. And they almost have a checklist, I’ll go through this and maybe this will be it. This will finally be that missing link. What do you say to that person? 

[00:13:08] Larry Crabb: I have a couple of responses to that person. One, if you’re coming to this series and you’re thinking you’re going to find out the answer and you’re regarding this as the next thing that you hope will do it for you, right? Take the CDs right now and throw them in the waste can because this will not do it. I’m not making that promise. I’m not saying this is the final formula because there’s no final formula to make everything perfect. But there are some basic ways of understanding. There’s some basic thinking that goes on.

Jim, you’re familiar with being in the field of secular secular psychotherapy for maybe 20 years, maybe a little bit longer. There’s been at least some agreement and it’s actually spreading that the real curative factors in most psychotherapy have little to do with technique.

[00:13:50] Jim Cress: Even many in the leading and leading in the secular community in the secular world.

[00:13:52] Larry Crabb:  I listened to a fellow named Dave Burns, who’s a Stanford psychiatrist. I mentioned him just a moment ago, and he said that if we’re going to do what we say we can do and really help people with their psychiatric psychological disorders, emotional problems, everyday struggles. If we’re going to do that, we’re going to have to learn how to relate in a way where the patient feels connected to the therapist, where there’s a relationship. If we believe that God is Trinity, if we believe that He’s the final small group that gets along very well, three persons that are doing very nicely, and if we’re made in His image, then I presume that what He’s calling us to is a certain kind of relating. He’s not calling us to do cognitive behavioral versus dynamic versus gestalt versus behavioral versus whatever approach we have versus spiritual direction. He’s calling us to relate to each other in a particular way. I think the person who picks up this seed needs to say to themselves, whatever else I’m doing, and there may be value to all the things that you’re doing, but if these don’t define what’s happening in you and the way you’re thinking as you’re relating to somebody, then you’re missing out on what Christianity offers to the change process.

[00:15:04] Jim Cress: Let’s do number one. You talk about this red dot and you said you will come back to it. You want to find out where your counselee is right now. Again, the red dots.

[00:15:14] Larry Crabb: The red dot. Let me explain the phrase. Everybody’s had the experience of walking into a big suburban mall with which they’re unfamiliar. They don’t know where they are. They feel when they walk into the mall the way most therapists feel when they begin a session. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know where to go. I have my roadmap. I have my training. I have my degrees. I have my system, but this is an unfamiliar mall. One of the things that I’ve learned so strongly is that I can come in with my theory, but when I sit down with an actual person, they always contradict my theories. It just doesn’t work.

[00:15:50] Jim Cress: It worked well in the laboratory, but then you got into the real world.

[00:15:52] Larry Crabb: Give me a lectern and an audience and give me a blackboard and I can teach up a storm. Give me a real person and it’s a whole different story. A real person to think with. So when I walk into a counseling situation, it’s like a person walking into a strange mall. So what’s the first thing you do? First thing you do when you’re walking into an unfamiliar big mall is you look for the directory, right? And on the directory, what do you look for? You want to know where you are. So you look for the red dot. And the red dot has a line going to it that says, you are here.

The first principle is, when I sit down with a client, when I sit down with a counselee, and again, I’m not comfortable with the words, I hate the word patient, a client sounds like a consumer thing. So I’d rather call it having a good chat with a friend, but it doesn’t sound very professional, but that’s how I think of it.

So there’s this person coming in, George, Sally, Pete coming in and sitting down with me. We’re going to start having our conversation and I say, tell me what’s going on. How can I be of help? And they begin saying, my marriage isn’t so good. They begin saying, I’ve been struggling with some depression and I’m just feeling out of sorts and I don’t know what’s going on, but I need some help. I had a child die a year ago and I’m still in grief over it and I can’t recover from it. And they’re telling me all these things, but I want to know something more than what we commonly call our presenting problem. I want to know the red dot. I want to know where they are right now. I believe the key is an authentic encounter with that individual.

I don’t want to sit there like some doctor, like some medical physician who, when the patient says my throat is sore and my head hurts and here are my symptoms, I have a fever and the doctor says, okay, I’m hearing what your problems are and on the basis of hearing your presentation or problems and a couple of tests that I’ve run, here’s my diagnosis. Here’s my prescription. That’s not how a counselor works. A counselor has to meet the counselee and he needs to meet them in the moment. I need to know where you are in the moment. I need to know what your red dot is. How are you feeling right now? You’re talking about your bad marriage. What comes to your mind right now as we’re talking about it? What are you feeling as you’re sitting in front of me right now? Are you discouraged? What’s it like coming in to talk with me? These are all the questions I’m thinking of.

Jim, one of the hard things about this first principle is we’re terrified to admit where we are in the immediate moment. Why? Once I admit where I am in the immediate moment, once I admit who I really am, I’m not sure what you’re going to do with it. There’s really a fear. There’s a terror that if I let you know, if I let you know really honestly that in the core of my soul at any given moment, there really is a bunch of neurotic, ugly stuff. There’s insecurity, there’s irritability, there’s frustration, there’s terror, there’s anxiety, there’s resentment, there’s anger, there’s bitterness, that at this particular given moment, there’s a lot going on inside of me and there’s a lot of things I want to hold back from you. I don’t want you to know me because I’m so scared that if you really knew me that you wouldn’t want me because one thing I’ve learned as a kid and every kid has learned it, if you are really honest, you’re in for trouble. 

Maybe the word grace means so little to us for that reason. We’ve never tested the theory of grace, if you will. Am I willing to be honest with where I am with you right now? Here’s the principle I want the counselor and the spiritual director to grab hold of: that your client is terrified to let you know exactly where he or she is. Therefore your mood toward that client has to be one of, I really do want to know and I want to know because I value you. There’s nothing that’s going to topple me. I’m not going to back away from you no matter what you tell me, because I have confidence, not in you and not in me, but I have confidence that whatever the mess is in your life, God can carry us both through that mess to a vision that He has for you.

Now, if I believe that, then maybe you’re going to catch the vibes. Maybe you’re going to smell the aroma of acceptance. Maybe if my attention toward you is powerful and profound and I’m sitting here and not trying to figure you out. I’m sitting here not trying to think of what to say next, but I’m sitting here saying, I want the incredible privilege of entering your battle. I want the incredible privilege of knowing your soul. This is going to be the safest place you’ve ever known in your life. And I want to provide that for you. There’s nothing you can say that’s going to make me withdraw from you. Nothing you can say that’s going to put me on edge, that’s going to make me feel anxious. I simply want to be with you. I want to give you my presence. And if I’m able to do that, if that’s my mood toward you, then maybe at some point, and it might be an hour, it might be a year before you really share honestly with me your red dot. So I want to know where you are. That’s crucial.

That red dot, by the way, is a window into everything else you’re going to discuss. Because if you hold something back from me as my counselee, if you don’t tell me what’s happening in you right now, that right now you’re scared of me, you’ve been talking to me for 15 minutes, you don’t like me. You feel unsafe with me. If you hold back something from me, then we’re never going to get to where the real action is. We’re going to be skirting around the relationship that’s going on between us. We’ve got to get profoundly relational if our counseling, if our spiritual direction is going to make the difference that both of us want it to make.

[00:20:58] Jim Cress: Say for a moment what the difference is and what everything you’ve just said for the counselor listening right now who says, but Larry, probably all of us have been trained that the presenting problem is seldom ever the real problem. So we get it. We get your point. Someone comes in and shares something and they think it’s, I want to quit acting out sexually. I want to quit, being depressed. I want to have a better marriage and they’ll say that’s the presenting problem. So many counselors, why I’m going this direction is I fear of someone thinking, Okay, I got your point, but there’s something far different about that red dot and then how early on in counseling, if you’re going to meet with someone for several sessions, do you do it each session?

It’s the idea of trying to understand and is it something you’re just discerning right away in your soul? I wonder where their red dot is, what’s going on for them right now, and then what do you do with that information once you perceive it?

[00:21:43] Larry Crabb: Yeah, you’re right. Everybody who’s been trained knows that the presenting problem is not typically the whole picture. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. Typically what I think oftentimes counselors do, they hear a person present their concern and then they want to go deeper into the person’s psyche. They want to go deeper into the person’s psychology, into their emotional life, into their background, into their history of sexual abuse, whatever the case might be.

[00:22:06] Jim Cress: Basically a psychodynamic approach, right? And that can feel, dare I say it, exciting because now we’ve got somewhere to go.

[00:22:12] Larry Crabb: Yeah. It’s going to give me some sense of a roadmap. But maybe the basic point that I’m making here, and I think this is a hard point to grasp, so I hope you’re going to listen carefully as you listen to my words. The thing that everybody is most terrified of is an immediate relational encounter. What is happening in you right now in the context of our relationship? Not what secret are you hiding from me, that’s different. Maybe you’re going to share me with me that, 10 years ago, you actually raped somebody. That might be very hard to share. I can hear that. But if a person said to me, Dr. Crabb, I’ve got to be honest with you. I feel like an awful person because 10 years ago, I actually date raped and I feel terrible. My thought is, we haven’t gotten to the red dot yet. 

[00:23:03] Jim Cress: Right there, someone could say, Okay, there’s the red dot. I knew I was trying to set you up for this to say no. That’s not the red dot. 

[00:23:10] Larry Crabb: So I wonder what it is. I wonder what the listener is thinking right now. Where do they go from there? 

[00:23:16] Jim Cress: You wish you could have on this tape, which you don’t want to do, but about a two minute pause where we don’t say anything. Of course, it is on a CD. They could hit pause and think about it. That might do some of you good. Hit the pause button and think, okay, what is this red dot? And then we’re going to continue though right now.

[00:23:33] Larry Crabb: What are you most curious about?When the person says 10 years ago, I raped somebody, when the 45 year old woman says I was sexually abused, I never told anybody how bad it was, it was my dad and he’s a pastor. As soon as they share this horrible secret, whatever their issue might be, what are you most curious about? Do you want to hear the details of what happened when she was 10 years old and her pastor dad moved toward her in very sinful, wrong ways? Do you want to hear about the rape and what led up to it? Do you want to hear about his internal struggles? Do you want to hear about how he felt inadequate as a little boy because the dad was never there for him and he wanted to find the power of being aggressive over a woman that led to the date rape? Is that what you’re after? Maybe eventually, but that’s not the red dot. The red dot is, what’s it like to share that with me right now? What’s happening in you as you’re telling me that right now, what are you reading in my eyes? What is going on inside of you right now in this immediate relational encounter?

That’s where you take the conversation to a whole different level. That’s where a certain level of productive intensity takes place where all of a sudden it’s not, I’ll share all my secrets doctor and you tell me what to do about it, but it’s rather I’m sitting with other human being and what’s happening inside of me in the middle of this encounter is something that I’m terrified to even talk about, and it’s much harder to talk about what’s happening in me right now than it is to talk about my horrible secrets. That comes much closer to what I mean by the red dot. What’s happening in the immediate relational encounter.

[00:24:59] Jim Cress: You just really set me up for my next question I want to ask you. And that is just as you were describing all that, I’m thinking, what does this require of the counselor? To do what you’ve just described, to be present. 

Sometime along the series, I want to talk about all of us dissociating from the moment. We all know that as this clinical word, but how we aren’t there. We aren’t present with what’s going on. If we do what you’ve just said, what does this require of us or what’s this going to do in us?

[00:25:31] Larry Crabb: If a person begins to talk honestly about their life, that’s going to scare me as a person. I’m as scared as they are of my red dot encounter. Am I willing to say, am I willing to believe that this is what I think is required of me? Am I willing to believe that the core of all profound change is an authentic relational counter and authenticity works both ways? Am I willing to be authentic enough that when you tell me something like, I just told you a very deep, dark secret and I saw you look away and I’m just terrified that you’re judging me. That’d be a red dot sentence. Am I willing to be authentic enough to look into my own heart and say, was I so turned off that I backed away from this person?

When I heard that this person sitting in front of me is a rapist, Jim – I can recall working with a client years ago, a young woman who was struggling with all sorts of relational things. It took her nine sessions to tell me she was a prostitute. I had no idea she was a prostitute. And now I’m looking at her as this prostitute. My mind didn’t go to Jesus talking to prostitutes. My mind went to, this is disgusting. This is awful. My mind also went to, I wonder what she’s like as a prostitute.

[00:26:47] Jim Cress: Almost salacious detail kind of stuff.

[00:26:48] Larry Crabb: Salacious detail. I was curious about that. I had to be very authentic within my own heart. I didn’t tell her all this, of course, but I had to be very authentic within my own heart and say that, is there something in me that backs away from you? And we actually talked about that. And when she said, as I’ve told you, I’m a prostitute, that’s my worst secret. But my worst terror is not that I’ve been a prostitute. My worst terror is what are you going to do with it right now? I’m scared right now. I just thought I saw your facial expression change. And my response has to be, I wish I was good as Jesus. There’s something in me that does tend to back away. And if we’re going to work together, we’re going to have that kind of relational authenticity between us. Because my commitment, the core of my soul, is to never back away from you, but to walk with you. If you really want God, and you want to know what He’s like, and you want to have Him clean up your life, and turn you into the kind of woman you want to be, and if you want to become whole as a woman, and you know you’re not whole now, then my commitment is to walk with you through that. Whatever you tell me is not going to make me back away. But is there part of me that wants to back away? Yeah, there’s a part of me that wishes that you never had been a prostitute and weren’t talking about your prostitution now. If you’re looking for a perfect counselor, try the guy next door. He’s probably better than I am. But I’ll tell you this, I’m going to level with you about where I am, but I want to stay with you as deeply as I know how, and we’re going to walk together through all of this. Now you’re having an immediate relational encounter and now red dots are meeting.

[00:28:13] Jim Cress: Take us to, and there are many examples, but let’s pick one. John 4, the woman at the well and Jesus is talking to her. What did He do with her red dot? As we would look at that in scripture, what was her red dot? He has to be the master counselor.

[00:28:30] Larry Crabb: She was backing away from her red dot. She was giving all sorts of theological objections and arguments and questions, and do we worship here, do we worship there? And you know what’s happening inside of her, she finally was able to say it. You’re a Jew and I’m a Samaritan. How come you’re talking to me? And Jesus was able to discern, obviously, because He can discern everything. He can discern that her real red dot was, I am actually hopeful that you might want to spend time with me, but I can’t believe it. I’m terrified that if you knew all about me, first of all, I’m a Samaritan and Jews don’t like Samaritans. The bigotry is incredible. But beyond that, I’ve gone through a whole bunch of husbands and I’m living in sin now, as the Jews would say, with a man that is not my husband. And if I were really upfront with you, I don’t know what you’d do. Jesus is perceiving all that. Put the words in her mouth and said, the man you’re living with, you’ve had five husbands. Somebody living with you now is not your husband. And as I expose you for where you are in the moment, then I have the opportunity to not back away from you and for you and I to meaningfully relate to one another. And as I can move toward you in the middle of who you really are, it’s going to change your life and we’re going to stop all this theological discussion that you’re using as a smokescreen, and I’m going to bring you the real theology of a father in heaven who’s looking at you and saying, I want you as my daughter, I want you as my child, I see a beauty beneath all your ugliness and I have a way to forgive all your ugliness and to bring out your beauty.

And that’s essentially what He was saying to that young woman.

[00:29:55] Jim Cress: Instead of, if I follow you, not debating her theologically. Not even when she said, I perceive that thou art a prophet, the old King James and kind of dialogue going on in those terms or meeting her on her presenting problem. One of her presenting problems was physical thirst. She kept wanting to talk about physical thirst and He went to the thirst that’s in her soul that only his living water could provide. 

I’m thinking as we end here for this Christian counseling piece, either we’re Christian counselors or we’re not. And if we are, we might just mess around and talk about the presenting issue, or we think this is the red dot physical thirst instead of the soulless thirst that someone has.

[00:30:31] Larry Crabb: Can you imagine if Jesus said, it’s pretty clear you need marriage counseling. You failed five times. How about if we get you married, then I’ll give you some sessions on how to be a happily married woman to this guy that you’re living with.

[00:30:42] Jim Cress: And don’t you know what Matthew wrote in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 about divorce anyhow?

[00:30:46] Larry Crabb: Let’s go to the core issues. The core issue is what’s happening between you and me right now. What is the deepest need of your soul? What are you most thirsty for? And that’s what I want to provide you.

A Christian counselor or a Christian spiritual director wants to know that where the person is in the immediate moment relationally what is happening right now between me and you as we relate, that’s the red dot. 

[00:31:09] Jim Cress: We’ve certainly got a whole lot more to talk about in this series. We will flesh out all of the other remaining points. There’s seven total points, the seven keys to a spiritually forming conversation. We’ve titled the series, what every Christian counselor needs to know. Give us a final word, Larry, just to pull it all together and what we’ve talked about today. What do you want to leave people with in this particular session they’ve listened to?

[00:31:33] Larry Crabb: This is going to sound a little bit abstract, but bear with me. If people believe that God is a trinity of persons, and if people believe that final joy, final reality is a certain kind of relating, then I want Christian counselors and spiritual directors to drop their image of being experts, to drop their idea of Dr. Crabb, to drop their idea of, I’m the spiritual director and you’re the spiritual directee, I’m a fellow pilgrim, I’m struggling along with you. I want to meet you where you are. And when we meet, maybe God can begin doing something in both of our lives. 

Thanks for listening to Larger Story Messages with Dr. Larry Crabb. To subscribe, visit

[00:32:20] Kep Crabb: Thanks again for joining us as we talk about things that really matter on the Larger Story Podcast, Relational Spirituality. If you like what you’ve seen, click the subscribe button or the like button, and we hope to see you next week.

Have a great day.