I remember one of the very first workshops I taught on biblical counseling at my church. Fresh out of college with a degree in counseling but little experience, there was an overwhelming sense of fear and unpreparedness. During the question and answer time, question after question came regarding hypothetical and some real counseling situations. In the space and time that the question was being asked, I remember trying to rack my brain to come up with a verse, a passage…something which would let these people know I could solve their problem in that one exchange.
I left the workshop disappointed that I so quickly bought into the lie that I could solve every problem. Subsequently, I resolved, by God’s grace not to just give quick and easy answers to life’s problems.
Platitudes, Platitudes, Platitudes
Dictionary.com defines a platitude as a “flat, dull or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound.” A temptation any counselor, friend, or pastor faces in day-to-day ministry is wanting to please the people he is speaking to. As people come and seek godly counsel from you, there is a temptation to pre-program what you’re going to say, where you’re going to point them as if each problem and struggle could be ‘solved’ in a conversation.
Telling a suffering person that God is sovereign and having them memorize Romans 8:28 is not a bad thing, but divorced from the life-giving message of the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ such advice can quickly fall flat. Counselors are not advice columnists dispensing witty bits of Scripture; rather we are called to take the Word of God and apply it to life’s situations in a way that brings life and healing.
Paul writes in Ephesians 5:13-14, “But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.'” A counselor’s desire is to shine the light of God’s Word and expose darkness where darkness exists. In each conversation I need to ask myself how I can allow Christ’s light to shine through me in my words, thoughts, movements, and prayers for this person?
Pray & Pause
In a culture where we want to have what we want our way, right away; waiting and pausing is not always our first relational instinct. What are some helpful disciplines when giving counsel?
As I seek to model the character of God, I need to remind myself of who God is and how He acts towards those He loves. Isaiah 59:1 reads, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” While you think you might have heard every story, every twist and turn, be sure to listen to the person’s story. Remember, you’re listening to their heart! If you are pressed for time or need to be somewhere else, instead of giving a quick answer, seek to establish another time when you can have unhurried conversation.
While most of the questions I receive as a counseling pastor are problem-oriented or directed at problem-solving, what people truly need is to be connected in relationship to Christ and to the Body of Christ. This is not completed in a one-two step conversation, but happens from now until eternity. A loving counselor understands this process and journey and will seek to patiently walk this path with those they encounter.
When speaking with those I encounter, I also never want to make myself out to be the messiah or answer to their problems. It is a position I was not designed for. A counselor’s desire should be to present Jesus Christ, His person and work, to the counselee as the true source of wisdom, hope, and healing. While God chooses to use vessels like us, it’s an easy temptation for people to begin to seek you out as the “answer guy.” When I speak with a person it is important for me to point to Christ as the source and power for all I say and do. God’s grace must permeate my words. Point people to pleasing God, not you the counselor.
If in the moment you do not know what to say or how to move towards that person, be sure to pursue them later. There is nothing wrong with telling your counselee and friend, “You know, I’m not exactly sure if I know the answer to this, but I will pray and seek counsel and get back to you.” There have been many times (probably more often than not) when I have needed to seek additional counsel myself, pray, read and study before I offered an answer.
This is not a stalling technique or a way to shift paperwork, but rather a way to offer the best God has to give to that person at that particular time. Solomon writes in Proverbs 15:23, “A man finds joy in giving an apt reply—and how good is a timely word!”
Join the Conversation
Do you often find yourself in scenarios where people want a quick fix or answer? How do you respond? What are ways you can help connect people to Christ and help them make connections from the pages of Scripture to their life?