We need to get a good grasp of our human situation according to the word of God. If we don’t, we will be trying to help people in a way that is contrary to what the Bible says about our human situation. For example, if we think people are basically good or that Christians have only one nature which is getting progressively better, then we will not be very helpful in a counselling situation. We need to believe how God describes the human situation, in His word. We must not adopt non-biblical values or human assessments. People need the grace of God to be healed and to grow to maturity, not just “good” advice which is not based on the truths in God’s word.
Here are some factors to keep in mind when we are trying to help others whether it be in a counselling situation or in sharing with a neighbour who has dropped in for a bit of advice.
- WE NEED TO REMEMBER THAT GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE COUNSELLOR.
The Holy Spirit is called in scripture, “another Helper” (paraklatos) just like Jesus, where “another” is allos, [meaning another of the same kind] not heteros [meaning another of a different kind]. John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper [allos paraklētos] to be with you forever,
The term [paraklētos] also means advocate, encourager, comforter, exhorter, strengthener, one called alongside to help. The Holy Spirit is described as such also in other verses such as John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Jn 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
Jn 16:7, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
1 John 2:1, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
He lives in God’s people and will teach them and remind them of Jesus’ teaching. He is the Spirit of truth who will witness to Jesus, guide His people and make known the Father’s will. He convicts people of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.“;John 16:8-9.
- At best, in our attempts to help people, we are only the human instruments that He uses. We will need His wisdom, sensitivity and insights to be of any use. If we are too dependent on secular techniques or on unbiblical psychology we may be closed to what the Spirit wants to say and to do through us. We could interfere with what He is wanting to reveal and to do in the person’s life.
- We need the Spirit’s wisdom and sensitivity. God speaks about wisdom in James and says it is available to those who seek it 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
- We need to recognise that human wisdom may be earthly, not spiritual and that it may even be demonic, Jas 3:15 “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”
- However the wisdom from above “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” 3:17. This is the wisdom we need to receive as we seek to help people with their problems.
2. WE NEED TO TRY TO UNDERSTAND THE PERSON’S SITUATION.
We need to have compassion towards those we are trying to help, to try to understand what their true situation is.
- Not apathy as in “Gone with the wind,” where Rhett Butler says to Scarlet O’Hara, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” OR when someone says, “This is YOUR problem, not mine!”
- Not sympathy or pity such as, “You poor thing. No wonder you feel as you do.” Sympathy may go a little way but does not provide real answers.
- Empathy to some extent, putting ourselves into their situation. Trying to see it from their perspective. But in doing so, don’t unthinkingly take on their burden or be wrongly influenced by their emotions.
Don’t be judgmental at what you hear. Eg., “You shouldn’t feel that.” Or “What a rotten person to do that to you!”
Rather have a broader perspective. Praying “Lord, what is the truth of this situation?” “Lord what am I to say or to do?” Let THE Counsellor (the Holy Spirit) counsel you in what to do and to say. I remember talking with a young woman in her early 30’s who had gone out of her way to see me. She spoke about her life for quite some time and I was wondering why she had come to see me. I prayed an arrow prayer,” Lord what am I meant to do or say now?” It’s as though the Holy Spirit put these words into my mind, “Ask her about her father.” So I asked her what her relationship was like with her father. Immediately she exclaimed, “When I was 15 he raped me!” I knew then why she had come, and praise God, a lot of healing took place over the next hour!
3. SOME FACTORS WHICH MAKE IT DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND ANOTHER PERSON’S SITUATION.
a. The deceitfulness of the human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Those seeking help may not see their own position clearly. For example, bitterness can twist the mind. The writer of Psalm 73:21-22, wrote, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, 22 I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” Bitterness distorts our thinking. Or in the words of the Christian Standard Bible, “When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded, I was stupid and didn’t understand; I was an unthinking animal toward you.” The Greek word for bitterness is [pikria] from which the name picric acid is derived. This acid is very unstable and explosive and was actually used in explosives in the First World War. [A very apt description for bitterness.]
b. The counsellees’ difficulties in understanding their own problems. Rom 7:15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” They are “inside” their experience and their thinking may be inaccurate or distorted. They may not see the fuller picture because of personal hurt or pain.
c. The counsellee’s difficulties in trying to communicate their problems. It may be in their minds too painful, too shameful, too unbelievable to attempt to share. They may be reticent in trying to express what they are thinking or feeling because they may be fearful of our reaction or response. Or they may feel that they could lose control over their feelings if they expressed what they were feeling.
They may have difficulties with their own perception of things that happened to them. Those who have suffered rejection in any form can easily begin to imagine rejection when none was intended.
d. Our own difficulties as counsellors in trying to understand. We may interpret through the filter of our own experiences. For example our own limited experience, or through pain we ourselves still carry.
Our own prejudices or hang-ups may interfere in receiving or assessing what we hear. We may too readily identify with what the person is telling us instead of truly listening to get the right understanding
Their expressed hurt may re-stimulate our own unhealed hurt as counsellors, so that we begin to interpret what we’re hearing in the light of our own situations. That is, our own hurt, rejection, confusion etc that may still need some healing.
4. SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS.
a. Cultivate the listening ear to pick up what is expressed and not expressed. Eg, who is mentioned and who is not mentioned in relationships and what emotion is shown in mentioning them.
b. Watch for body language as they speak, which may be more accurate than the words being expressed.
c. Use reflective listening (sparingly), to make sure you’re actually hearing what is being said. eg., Paraphrasing to make sure content is being correctly interpreted. Reflecting feelings to ensure we understand how they feel about their situations.
d. Don’t be shocked at what you hear, or at the emotion being expressed. Really horrible things have happened to large numbers of people.
e. Look for the major issue. The “presenting problem” may not be the real problem. In the case of the young woman I mentioned above, the presenting problem appeared to be the trouble she was having with discipline in her school class, but her real problem was her father’s rape of her when she was just fifteen.
f. Don’t probe with questions, but encourage the person to share what they feel free to share. Silences are often helpful in allowing the counsellee to reflect on their thoughts before they try to express them in words.
g. Don’t feed in any “new” information. You may add to an imagination that is already out of control. A woman I was counselling was harmed by a professional counsellor who heard what she was saying, but unwisely said, “I’ve read about situations like yours. This is what actually happens in those situations.” She now had not only the vague memory of what may have happened to her but also a vivid picture of what could have happened. There was no certainty that anything had actually happened to her.
h. Don’t get them to use their imagination. “I want you to imagine” can be a dangerous form of mind-control, especially if you go on to build up a scenario. You may be getting them to imagine things that were not true and that may be harmful to them to imagine.
5. THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION.
- God does know the real situation. He can reveal truth to set people free. eg., Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” I often recommended those I was trying to help, to pray this prayer, for God knows every facet of our lives [the good and the bad] and what has contributed to make us the people we are today. He can both search and reveal to us the result of His search, so that we come to know more clearly the things that have damaged us in life and thus be in a better position to deal with them.
- The gifts of the Spirit may aid understanding. For example, as we are counselling someone God may impress a word or a phrase on our minds that reveals some truth about the person that they haven’t told us. This could be a word of knowledge. Or it might be we are given a word of wisdom in the form of a question we are led to ask, or a statement that helps the person to clarify their thinking. The discerning of spirits is another gift of the Spirit that enables us to discern the origin of something that is said. But we must be careful when we feel we have received a gift of the Spirit. Knowledge has always to be handled with wisdom.
- We are to recognise we are only part of the body of Christ. God may want to use others to bring His help to those we are seeking to help. It all doesn’t depend on us! We just need to be faithful in playing the part God wants us to play in helping someone in need.
Blog No.449. “Helping Other People Become Different.” [Core Teaching Stage 3 Topic 5.]