Chapter 6 – Homework That Transforms

Printable Resources:
“Interacting with Scripture” bookmark: [pdf]
Journaling Behaviors worksheet: [pdf]

Homework is an integral part of biblical counseling. It sets biblical counseling apart from other methods of counseling. It is the key tool used in helping the counselee to integrate change into her life. In this chapter, we will consider some benefits of homework as well as how to design good homework assignments that can result in genuine heart change. Because every assignment should be given with a specific purpose in mind, we will also consider possible purposes for particular assignments. In addition, this author has made free, downloadable, reproducible homework packets available online[1] for counselors to assign as homework when relevant. Some of the titles include “Attitudes,” “Attributes of God,” “The Fear of God,” “Fear of Man,” “Living for God’s Glory,” “The Sovereignty of God,” “A Study in Job” and “Who Am I?” Additional studies are added on an on-going basis.

Benefits of Homework

The advantage that biblical counselors have over other counseling systems is God’s sanctifying (transforming) power in the lives of His people through His Word. God’s goal in changing His people is that they might “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ … ” (Eph. 4:15). This change process is called sanctification (1 Thess. 5:23-24; Heb. 2:11) and is discussed more fully in Chapter 7. Paul points to three aspects of growing in Christ-likeness: Putting off sinful conduct, replacing it with righteousness while being renewed in the mind. Homework provides opportunities for God’s sanctifying power to be at work in the counselee on a daily basis by presenting opportunities to practice putting off sinful ways and putting on righteousness, while the counselor provides accountability. Reading, writing, listening and viewing assignments provide for renewing of the counselee’s mind.

A counselor and counselee will generally meet an hour or two per week but sanctification does not take place in an hour or two per week. It is a continual daily progression of change and growth. Imagine an athlete setting a goal to run a race and then training for only an hour or two per week. It is unthinkable in the world of athletics and it should be just as unthinkable in the area of spiritual growth. Homework provides the counselee with the daily training required to run the race toward Christ-likeness.

It is a counselor’s hope that his counselee will come face-to-face with biblical truth in each counseling session, but for genuine heart change to take root, a counselee must come face-to-face with her Maker on a regular basis. Homework provides this opportunity for the counselee when she seeks to “mine the riches of Scripture for understanding, conviction, promises and guidance.”[2] The homework assignments provided at  are designed with this purpose in mind.

When people lose sight of God and His purposes, becoming self-focused in the midst of their trials, they respond to their difficulties as if they are alone and left to their own devices. Homework offers the opportunity to point the counselee to God and His work in the lives of His people. The awareness of God’s presence and power helps to clarify what is God’s responsibility and what is the counselee’s responsibility. Homework focusing on God, His character, His ways and His standards will put the counselee’s circumstances in proper perspective, bringing hope, direction and purpose to the counselee. The counselor cannot be with the counselee throughout the week; the Holy Spirit can and is. Well-constructed homework can help the counselee view her circumstances through the lens of Scripture, directing her to daily depend on God, His Spirit and His promises while preventing her from growing dependent on the counselor.

In addition to the benefits that homework avails the counselee, homework is also profitable for the counselor. For example, it is not uncommon for a counselee to come to a session having discovered, through a homework assignment, biblical truths that the counselor had planned to teach, freeing up the counselor to move on to another agenda item. This is a demonstration of the Holy Spirit teaching the counselee through the Word. Another benefit to the counselor is homework that provides rich data that directs the counselor’s agenda. Journaling as well as assignments that contain questions for the counselee to answer are examples of data gathering homework assignments. Figure 6.1 provides a worksheet that can be assigned for a counselee’s journaling.

Journaling Behaviors: Every time you catch yourself responding in a way that displays your established sin patterns (i.e. anger, fear, jealousy, criticism, lust) complete one column in the chart below. Use the reverse side or a separate sheet of paper for additional incidents. Bring this with you to your next session.
Incident #1 Incident #2 Incident #3 Incident #4
Day and time


Where were you & who were you with?
What were you doing?  What was happening? What was the “trigger”?
What were you thinking about? What were you wanting?
What did you do, think or say in response to what was happening?
What would have been a God-honoring response?

Figure 6.1. An example of a journaling homework assignment

Designing Homework that Transforms

As we saw in Chapters 2 and 4 while completing the steps of preparing the homework for the first and subsequent sessions, there are six basic elements that every good homework assignment should include:

  1. Relevant Bible Reading including instructions to interact with the text
  2. Relevant Scripture Memory with instruction to “meditate on” or mull over practical applications of the passage throughout each day
  3. Prayer: Assign specifics such as what, when and how to pray
  4. Collateral Reading involves the reading of a theologically-sound book, article or pamphlet relevant to the counselee’s problem, including a short assignment to interact with what is being read (i.e. answering study questions or highlighting principles that the counselee will implement)
  5. Church attendance, involvement and/or note-taking
  6. Projects include anything that the counselee is asked to do, apart from the above

Each of these six aspects of life-transforming homework is addressed individually below.

  1. Relevant Bible Reading

Something that few Christians understand about reading the Bible is that the Holy Spirit had a specific purpose for every biblical passage written. The purpose of a particular passage is its telos. “The Greek word telos means ‘purpose’ or ‘end.’ What’s the goal that God has in mind?”[3] Jay Adams further explains:

… Let’s consider the telos of John’s entire Gospel. Why do you think so many people have been converted through John 1:12, John 3:16, John 3:36, John 14 and so on?

Because that was the telos (or purpose) of that Gospel: “These are written that you may believe and that through believing you might have life in His name” (John 20:31). Use the Bible, whether you are discussing a book or just a section of it, for the purpose that it was given. Search out what the Holy Spirit had in mind. Don’t use it for your purposes or anybody else’s. Find the Holy Spirit’s purpose, use it for that purpose, and you’ll find it powerful. It will change people. It will do things to them.[4]

This means that the counselor must always be studying the context of Scripture passages used and seeking to increase his understanding that he might interpret and teach accurately and according to the telos of each text taught. Not all counselors are Bible scholars, but all counselors, especially beginning counselors, should be consistently double-checking his understanding against the understanding of more mature teachers. A good Bible commentary such as John MacArthur’s is a helpful resource for gleaning and checking understanding, but counselors should be growing in their understanding of how to study Scripture. Books that can promote learning in the area of Bible study and interpretation are:

  • Journey Into God’s Word: Your Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays
  • What to do on Thursday: A Layman’s Guide to the Practical Use of the Scriptures by Jay E. Adams
  • Lord, Teach Me to Study the Bible in 28 Days by Kay Arthur
  • The New How to Study Your Bible: Discover the Life-Changing Approach to God’s Word by Kay Arthur, David Arthur, Pete DeLacy

When a counselor uses Scripture in accordance with its telos, lives are transformed. “Telic analysis asks, ‘What did the Holy Spirit intend to do to people through this passage?”[5] This is what is meant by “Relevant” Bible Reading assignments. Helpful sources available to the biblical counselor to assist in locating relevant biblical texts are Transformed Into His Likeness by Armand P. Tiffe published by Focus Publishing and the Quick Scripture Reference series published by Baker Books.

It is important to understand that simply reading the words as they are written in the Bible will not necessarily result in transformation. The reader ought to be interacting with the text so that it becomes integrated into daily living. Jay Adams speaks to this:

There’s nothing magical about the Bible or about how to read and understand it. Some people think that if they just read a certain number of words or passages every day at a certain hour, that’s going to make a difference in their lives. And, by the grace of God, it might! The Word of God might snag them at some point. But just reading words in the Bible is not the same as studying and understanding those words. God places no premium on ignorance or sloth.[6]

For this reason, biblical counselors should encourage their counselees to interact with the text in some manner that is relevant to the counselee’s problems. This means that the following assignment would not be the most effective tool for sanctification: “Read one chapter per day in the book of Colossians.”

Now, granted there is much in the epistle to the Colossians that would most likely bring the counselee under conviction that might lead to change. But assignments ought to be concrete leading to a specific action. A more effective assignment would look like this:

Read through the book of Colossians one chapter per day.

Keep a journal answering the following questions related to your daily reading:

  • What did this passage say about God?
  • Is there a sin to avoid? Is there a command to obey?
  • What is a specific teaching that can be understood from this passage?
  • What did this passage say about putting off sin or putting on righteousness?
  • What is one thing from this passage for which I can thank God?
  • From this passage what is one thing I should ask God to help me do?
  • Write down a specific application you will make in your life today as a result of your reading.[7]

Notice the difference between the two assignments above. Note how the latter provokes thought, digging for answers, self-examination and dependence upon God, while the former may become a duty checked off a list. Depending upon what the counselor’s purpose is for any given assignment, the questions suggested above may be modified to fit any situation. For a new counselee, it may be best to have the counselee looking for only one item on the list but by the time she graduates from counseling, she may be consistently able to complete the list in one sitting.

One note of warning in regards to assignments: If every assignment asks a counselee to change something, she will most likely begin to feel overwhelmed with attempting to change several things at once, as if she has “too many balls in the air” or “too many irons in the fire.” A counselor must be sensitive to the counselee’s “load.” If she is working on a plan to trust the Lord more to overcome anxiety and worry, for example, and her Scripture reading points her to communicating in a more loving fashion, she may not yet be ready to take on a new plan for controlling her tongue. Instead, the reading may be preparing her heart for her next plan, but she should not be held accountable to changing every sin pattern in her life at once. As she learns to love the Lord more fully, she will ultimately trust Him more, be less anxious and begin to have a desire to love others as well. As this change takes place in her heart, she may then be ready to begin a new transformation plan on controlling her tongue. Jesus said: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). This must be the counselor’s approach as well.

Figure 6.2 contains a list of ideas that a counselor might use in helping the counselee learn to interact with the text of Scripture. This list is presented in the form of a bookmark which can be given to the counselee, streamlining the assignment process. For example, the assignment might be, “Read one chapter of James each day and respond to numbers 4 and 6 on the bookmark.” As time progresses, the counselee can begin to design her own homework assignments, using the ideas listed on the bookmark. A counselor can add his own ideas to the list and seek additional ideas from counselees, compiling a custom-designed list of ideas for interacting with the text of Scripture.

  1. Relevant Scripture Memorization

Unlike other methods of counseling, the biblical counselor is not concerned primarily with outward change in the counselee but is concerned with the “heart” (inner man) as it is defined in Scripture (see figure 6.3 for biblical doctrine on “The Heart”). Because God’s Word tells us that human problems are rooted in the heart, we know that what controls the heart shapes human behavior (Heb. 4:12; Matt. 12:18-20; Mark 7:15-23). The Psalmist wrote, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11). As a counselee spends time memorizing Scripture passages that target sin areas in her life, God’s Word is being “hidden in her heart” in order to crush idols and correct unbiblical thinking, leading to more righteous patterns of living. Therefore, memorization of relevant Scripture passages is essential for homework assignments that lead to genuine heart change.

When referring to a counselor assigning “relevant” Scripture memorization, the meaning is similar to that above in the discussion about “relevant” Bible reading: The counselor should consider the telos of the text being assigned. If a counselee is working on a sinful pattern of angry outbursts, for example, she should be assigned the memorization of passages where the telos is overcoming the sin of uncontrolled anger. As noted in the “Relevant Bible Reading” section above, sources available to the biblical counselor to assist in locating relevant biblical texts for memorization are Transformed Into His Likeness by Armand P. Tiffe published by Focus Publishing and the Quick Scripture Reference series published by Baker Books.

Interacting with Scripture

Cut out the bookmark below and fold on the center line, forming a two-sided list of ideas to promote the interacting with Scripture. The image below can be used as a master and reproduced onto cardstock and laminated.

Interacting with Scripture


Answer one or more of the following questions as it relates to the passage that you have just read:


1.       What did this chapter tell me about God?


2.       What did the reading reveal about God’s love for me?


3.       What did this passage tell me about myself and my relationship to God?


4.       What did this chapter tell me about the gospel of Jesus Christ?


5.       How did I receive hope or encouragement from this passage? Is there a promise?


6.       What does this passage teach concerning God’s will for a holy life?


7.       How does my life measure up to the standard in this passage? Specifically where and how do I fall short?


8.       What definite steps of action do I need to take to obey this portion of God’s Word?


9.       Write a prayer from one of the verses in this chapter.


10.    Choose a verse to memorize, then meditate on it throughout the week (mulling over potential practical applications).


11.    Was there a verse that was especially meaningful? Write it on a 3×5 card; add it to a card ring of “Meaningful Verses” to read every morning before starting the day.


12.    Is there something I don’t understand? Read the surrounding text (chapters). Read the same passage in 2 or 3 other Bible translations. Look up and read cross references listed for the confusing part. Refer to a Bible commentary. What has been clarified for me by further reading?

13.    What does God tell me about delighting in Him? About being satisfied in Him? About having fellowship with Him? About trusting Him?


14.    What does God tell me about His delighting in me?


15.    Does the text teach a doctrine to believe? If so, what do I need to change about my beliefs? Ask God to renew my mind.


16.    What (in the text) am I thankful for? Add a praise journal entry, referencing the verse(s).


17.    Does a topic spark my interest? Do a topical study by using a concordance to find other passages on that topic.


18.     What are the answers to: Who? When? Where? What? Why? and How? regarding this passage?


19.    Is there a word I don’t understand? Look it up in a Bible dictionary and write the definition in my journal.


20.    Is there an attribute (character trait) of God revealed in the passage? How should knowing this about God change how I think, speak and live?


21.    Draw a scene described in the passage. Or draw several scenes in comic strip type frames.


22.    Does the text teach a principle to live by? What change do I need to make in myself as a result?


23.    Write a psalm or an entry in my praise journal praising and thanking God for what I have read today.


24.    What put-offs and put-ons were found in this passage? What do you need to put off or put on?  How and when will you do that?

Figure 6.2. A bookmark for interacting with Scripture

The “Heart”

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk 6:45)

What is the “Heart”?

Everyone knows that there is an organ in each human called the heart that pumps blood to sustain life. But when speaking of the heart as some deep inner force, some people think the word heart refers to the seat of emotions. Some people say, “I’m convinced in my head, but not in my heart.” Others want to “follow their hearts.” There is disagreement among people about what the term heart means so as Christians we must look to the Scriptures to find the answer to the question, ”What does it mean when the term heart is used in the Bible?”

Jesus says, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ (Matt 22:37). The word heart is translated from the Greek word καρδία [kardia /kar·dee·ah/]. “Kardia denotes the centre of all physical and spiritual life…the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections… of the understanding, the faculty and seat of the intelligence; of the will and character… emotions…[8]

Elyse Fitzpatrick helps the reader to understand the heart: “When Jesus spoke of the heart, He was talking about the inner you. When the Bible refers to the heart, it means the three main operations of the inner you: your mind, affections, and will.”[9]

The Heart: The Inner You[10]

                MIND: Thoughts, beliefs, memory,

                understanding, discernment,

                the conscience, judgment


                WILL: Chooses and determines actions


                AFFECTIONS: Longings, desires,

                feelings, imaginations, emotions

Scriptures that illustrate the 3 main operations of the inner you:[11]

The Mind                                      The Affections                                          The Will      

Matt 13:15                              Ps 20:4            Josh 14:8                                 Deut 30:19

Rom 1:21                                Eccles 11:9      Jas 3:14                                   Isa 7:15

Mark 2:6                                  Ps 73:7            Isa 35:4                                   Josh 24:15

I Tim 1:5                                 Deut 28:47      Heb 12:3                                 Ps 25:12

Luke 24:38                              I Sam 1:8                                                         Deut 23:15-16

I Kings 3:12

Q. So what is the big deal about the heart?

A. If a Christian is going to experience genuine lasting change, it must be accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s heart. As the believer seeks God in His Word, God transforms the mind, the will and the affections. She begins to think differently. Her desires and priorities begin to line up with God’s. As she becomes more obedient to the Word, she begins to reap the blessings that come from sowing obedience. Others begin to notice outward change. Her heart is being sanctified.


Figure 6.3. The doctrine of “the heart”

  1. Prayer

A counselor cannot assume that the counselee has a regular prayer life or that she enjoys a strong prayer life. Many counselees seem to be neglecting prayer and do not really know how to pray. Although God tells us to ask Him for what we need, it is important that the counselor teach the counselee that prayer is not simply about bringing a list of requests to God for Him to fill. Prayer is about fellowship with God. It is about exalting Him and bowing to His Majesty. Prayer is a demonstration of dependence upon God and an exercise in trusting His sovereign will. Prayer is an act of confessing sin to God. There are several resources listed in Chapter 7 under “Step 3: Pray”  regarding prayer. In addition, some specific homework assignments are listed below to guide a counselee in prayer. It would be best to assign these one or two at a time for multiple weeks each, so that the counselee can gradually integrate them into her daily habits:

  • Every morning when you wake up (before you get out of bed), think about how Jesus suffered on the cross so that He could save you, then thank Him for doing that. Ask Him to give you the strength to please Him today – to get out of bed and live the day for Him instead of for yourself.
  • Thank God for His provision EVERY time you eat something, even when eating alone.
  • When you sit down to read your Bible, ask God to open your eyes so that you see what He has for you today from the Bible reading. One way to do this is to read Psalm 119:18 to God as a prayer for Him to “open your eyes” to His Word.
  • During a dedicated prayer time, confess your sins from the day to God and ask for his forgiveness and ask Him to change your heart to make you more like Him. Pray for your needs, your kids and for the needs of others. Pray for your counselor so that God would give him wisdom and power to counsel you. Pray for your own heart to be receptive to God’s conviction.
  • Paraphrase Colossians 1:9-14, Ephesians 1:16-19 or Ephesians 3:17-19a into a personalized prayer. Write it on index cards. Pray these verses for your loved ones (or enemies) daily.
  • Take time to look up into the sky and praise God for His majesty at least once every day. Acknowledge His attributes (i.e. love, patience, power, wisdom, sovereignty, compassion, mercy, grace, omniscience).

For the counselee who wants to teach her children to pray out loud, the following structure can provide confidence in her teaching:

  • Instruct the children to close their eyes to shut out distractions and to think about talking to God; not about the people in the room. Kneeling in front of a couch, chair or a bed is a great way to demonstrate humility before the Almighty. Go around the room giving each family member an opportunity to thank God out loud for one thing. One parent can begin and the other parent can close. After a few times, increase the one item of thanksgiving to two items. The next step would be to add a request for something that is needed, later increasing it to two requests. After a time, confession of sin can be added as well as praises for God’s attributes. Soon the structure will not be needed. The children will know how to pray.
  1. Collateral Reading

When biblical counselors talk about “Collateral Reading” they are referring to the reading of a theologically-sound book, article or pamphlet written by a human author and relevant to the counselee’s problem. In addition to continued Bible study, then, the counselee ought to be taught the importance of continually reading books on solid biblical doctrine. Books approved by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) have been read by biblical scholars for biblical accuracy before being released for counselors’ use. Although there are no humans that are infallible, a counselor can proceed quite confidently that ACBC approved books are written from a perspective where the telos of the Scriptures used is accurate. It should be noted here that the counselor ought to make it his aim that he will routinely read ACBC approved books on an on-going basis for his own personal growth and equipping for ministry.

As with Bible reading, the counselee should be directed to interact with the text of the collateral reading assignment.  Some books include discussion questions at the end of a chapter or within the text of the chapter. Discussion guides are available with other books. If so, these questions can be used as homework assignments to guide the reading and the application of what is read. But often a reading assignment does not include questions for the reader. One option that the counselor has in these cases is to prepare questions in advance that can be assigned. Another option is for the counselor to assign the reading along with an instruction such as one of the following:[12]

  • Write down five questions from the reading that you would like to discuss.
  • Highlight the ten most important statements and prioritize them. Come prepared to explain why you prioritized them as you did.
  • Choose the most important statement for you to apply in your life right now.
  • List three specific steps you can take in order to integrate the teaching in the reading assignment into your life. Record the results in your journal.
  • Highlight three principles for living the Christian life. Choose one to work on. Come prepared to discuss making a plan to integrate the principle into your life.
  • Highlight one thing that you learned from the reading and come prepared to discuss its significance in your life.
  • Answer the question, “What am I going to change about myself as the result of this reading?” Be prepared to point to the text that prompted your thinking.
  • Answer the question, “How does this reading give you hope or encouragement?”

When it comes to collateral reading, the counselor must again bear in mind what the counselee’s work load is. Assigning three or four chapters in a book along with other assignments is generally not wise. Typically, if a counselee is reading a book, only one or two chapters should be assigned per week, depending on the length of the chapter, the counselee’s academic level, her lifestyle and other considerations. A “Recommended Reading List for Biblical Counselors and Counselees” is provided online[13] to assist in planning collateral reading assignments.

  1. Church Attendance

God has given us His church to aid in our sanctification, as well as His Spirit, His Word and the privilege of prayer. The church is the community of saints for whom Christ died (Eph. 1:1, 22, 3:6-10, 21, 4:25, 5:23-30). The purposes of the church might be articulated as:

  • Ministry to God: Worship
  • Ministry to Believers: Nurture
  • Ministry to the World: Evangelism and Mercy[14]

Because our very purpose for existence is the worship of God, the first purpose of the church is worship. Counselees must be held accountable to being involved in regular public worship as well as private worship individually at home. Because God uses the church to “nurture those who are … believers and build them up to maturity in the faith,”[15] counselees must be held accountable to sitting under the teaching of the word and to be involved in the church community. Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians that gifts are given to each of Christ’s followers “for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). This means that a counselee, if she is saved, has gifts to offer to the body of Christ as well as the privilege of receiving help from others. Counselees should, therefore, be held accountable to being involved in small groups and in service. Finally, God has designed the church to be a “light” in the darkness; a light whereby the lost world experiences the love of God in Christ (Matt. 5:14-16). If saved, the counselee has the responsibility to be an active part of the evangelistic effort of the church.

The church is God’s providential plan for the sanctification of His people and His divine power is demonstrated through His church. Counselees ought not to attempt to be unattached from the community of believers. Counselors must, therefore, ensure that the church is woven through the counselee’s life and that the counselee’s life is woven through the church. This is accomplished through homework assignments such as:

  • Take notes in Sunday’s sermon (or Bible study group, for example). Choose one thing that you plan to do as the result of what you heard and learned and prepare to discuss what you have written at the next session.
  • Research the various small study groups available and choose one to join. Be prepared in two weeks to report about the first session that you attended.
  • Research the various ministries in the church and choose one in which to serve. Be prepared to report who is the ministry leader, what you will be doing and when you will begin serving.
  • Be on time for the Sunday worship service. Write down the time you sat down in your seat and bring it to the next session. If late for worship, write down how many people your late entrance disturbed from their worship (this is most useful for counselees who have a habit of arriving late for worship).
  1. Projects

An assigned project might involve acquiring materials for future counseling assignments such as a particular book, index cards or a notebook. A project might entail practicing a specific behavior throughout the week. It might include viewing a relevant video, signing up for a class or Bible study, seeking forgiveness from someone they have offended, maintaining a record of how time is spent over the course of the week, writing a letter to someone, starting a praise or prayer journal or drafting a transformation plan. Transformation plans are discussed more fully in Chapter 7.

Purposes that Drive Homework Assignments

While utilizing the six aspects of homework assignments as discussed above, the counselor must continually ask himself, “Why am I assigning this?” Every assignment should have one or more identifiable purposes and those purposes might include:

  • Instilling hope and encouragement
  • Knowing, trusting, loving and serving God more
  • Gathering data
  • Identifying personal sin patterns or heart motives
  • Addressing sin patterns or heart idol issues by developing a plan for overcoming sin or providing practice opportunities for putting off sinful behavior and putting on righteousness in its place
  • Renewing the mind (gaining God’s perspective; correct wrong thinking)
  • Providing opportunities for the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin
  • Preparation for a future session

Hope should be woven throughout each session as well as throughout each homework assignment. There are multiple examples of homework assignments that build hope presented in Chapter 5. Studies and reading assignments on God’s character provide opportunity for growth in the area of knowing, trusting, loving and serving God more. There is a “God’s Attributes” study as well as a “God’s Sovereignty” available online.[16]

Journals are a prime example of homework that gathers data for the counselor but at the same time, can aid the counselee. A journal involves asking oneself specific questions about comfortable habits that are done automatically by the counselee, often without awareness. Figure 6.1 provides an example of a journal form that might be used to gather data and to help the counselee identify behavior patterns.

In addition to journals, the counselor may assign a series of questions to be answered by the counselee. In an article published in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, David Powlison coined the term “X-ray Questions”[17] referring to questions that can expose heart motives. Listed below are some examples of such questions:

  • What do you love? Hate?
  • What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey?
  • What do you seek, aim for, pursue? What are your goals and expectations?
  • Where do you bank your hopes?
  • What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?
  • What do you think you need?
  • Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security?
  • What or who do you trust?
  • What would bring you the greatest pleasure, happiness and delight? The greatest pain and misery?
  • What do you see as your rights? What do you feel entitled to?
  • In what situations do you feel pressured or tense? Confident and relaxed?

Above is a mere sampling of Powlison’s questions that provide a “window” for peering into the heart. Additional questions can be found in figure 2.2, “Questions that Probe.”

Another form of a homework assignment that affords significant data to the counselor is the use of resources that provide checklists for the counselee’s self-examination. Two key resources that are highly recommended are:

  • From Pride to Humility by Stuart Scott
  • Transformed Into His Likeness by Armand P. Tiffe

In figure 6.4 a checklist of potential heart idol themes can be found. This checklist can be reproduced and assigned to a counselee. It will provide insight for both the counselor and the counselee. In addition, a four-page reproducible homework packet entitled “Attitudes” containing a similar checklist assignment is provided online.[18]

Suggested Themes of Idol Worship

Heart Idols are things that drive us to do what we do; things we crave or think we need; things for which we are willing to sin in order to obtain or achieve; things we desire as our “end result” or “goal” instead of God’s glory; things we delight in more than God Himself. There are many “themes” of idol worship but all serve self. Below is a list of potential themes. Draw a ring around the number beside each item that you detect in yourself then place a star beside the two that seem to be the most dominant in your life.

1.       Comfort

2.       Pleasure

3.       Control

4.       Fear

5.       Fairness; justice

6.       People-pleasing; Fear of man (wanting acceptance & recognition from others)

7.       Praise of man (wanting others to exalt and praise me)

8.       Emotions (letting emotions control my choices rather than God’s commands)

9.       Self-pity; wanting sympathy from others

10.   A particular person; my kids; a lover

11.   Safety; Security

12.   Physical appearance (weight, clothes, hair influence/determine priorities/choices)

13.   Education (finding identity in educational level)

14.   Sleep

15.     Rest; leisure; freedom from responsibility or accountability (i.e. vacations; slothfulness)

16.   Possessions

    1. Shopping (acquiring possessions)
    2. Hoarding (accumulating an over-abundance of possessions but not needing or using them)
    3. Materialism (Possessing possessions)
    4. Covetousness (wanting the possessions of another)

17.   Health (obsessed with proper eating, exercise, medical appointments, vitamins—to the detriment of relationships, obeying & trusting the Lord or serving the Lord and others)

18.   Entertainment (social media; video games; movies; social situations)

19.   Food

20.   Sports

21.   Ministry

22.   Drugs or alcohol

23.   Electronics: Cell phones and texting, social media, TV, video games, computer

24.   Peer group; time & association with friends; their acceptance, values and opinions

25.   Envy; jealousy—wanting what others have to the degree of wishing them harm—in such areas as relationships, status, appearance, lifestyle, ministry, possessions, money, abilities, education, knowledge, marital status)

Figure 6.4. Potential heart idol themes

Identifying sin patterns and heart idols can be accomplished through data gathering assignments as discussed above. Additionally, relevant Bible and collateral reading and Scripture memorization provide opportunities for the Holy Spirit to convict the counselee of her sin. When the counselor sees a sin pattern in a counselee that the counselee has not yet identified, rather than pointing a finger at the counselee and saying, “I notice this sin pattern in your life,” it is often helpful to assign Scripture reading with a telos directed to the particular sin pattern and pray that the Holy Spirit convicts the counselee, assisting in her identification of her own sinful behavior. Collateral reading and media resources directed toward a particular sin pattern can also be assigned to prepare the counselee for a future session where they will be addressing a sin issue. Once heart idols and sin patterns are identified by the counselee, a transformation plan should be constructed together by the counselee and counselor to promote the putting off of sin patterns, the putting on of righteousness and renewal of the mind. Chapter 7 provides details for developing transformation plans that address sin patterns and heart idols.

There is much more that can be said about homework and resources are continually being developed to help counselors and their counselees to grow in the various areas where change is needed. The astute counselor will regularly read biblical counseling articles, blogs and books and attend classes and conferences as well as maintaining a regular Bible study routine in order to gain more understanding on how to glorify God through biblical discipleship.


[2] Tripp, Instruments, 319.

[3] Jay E. Adams, “Biblical Interpretation and Counseling, Part 2,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling Volume 17, Number 1 (Fall, 1998): 30.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Adams, Interpretation, 29.

[6] Ibid., 23.

[7] Somerville, 74.

[8] Strong, (G2588).

[9] Elyse Fitzpatrick, Idols of the Heart (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 93.

[10] Fitzpatrick, 96.

[11] Ibid., 93-96.

[12] Adapted by Nanette Loveless from Robert Somerville’s SCF, 58.


[14] Grudem, 867.

[15] Grudem, 867.


[17] David Powlison, “X-ray Questions: Drawing Out the Whys and Wherefores of Human Behavior,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling Volume 18, Number 1 (Fall, 1999): 2-9.