You find yourself talking repeatedly to Edna, your loved one (friend or family). She professes to be a Christian. You love Edna, so frequent conversation isn’t a bad thing. What is distressing, though, is that the conversation invariably centers on her problems. She frequently cries, explaining a woeful story of why she is so depressed, or why she is so tired of conflicts with her son or husband, or how she is constantly worried that she might be attacked by another panic attack, or how____ (fill in the blank with ongoing problems). As the months go by, you notice that no matter what you say life isn’t improving for her.
You keep praying for Edna, thinking about her, and intensely desire to help her. In conversations, you urge her to do what you believe will help. You give her Bible verses. You recommend books. You recommend people she might consult. You know that her life could be so much happier. Her problems continue to dominate your conversations with her. By now, you’re at your wit’s end. What can you do?!
Let’s back up. First, thanks be to the Lord for moving you to exercise compassion toward Edna. Next, what might be hindering improvement? Perhaps your counsel has not been biblical. Perhaps you have not addressed the real problem. Has Edna not applied your counsel? Perhaps she has given up hope. Perhaps she doesn’t know how to do what you have suggested. Perhaps she isn’t truly asking for counsel. Have you considered the possibility that she is not really a Christian?
Think through these questions, and maybe some more. Meanwhile, let’s look at some basics.
- You love Edna; you love her fervently. That is so wonderful because it exercises what the Bible tells Christians to do, love one another fervently and love unbelievers also (Matt. 22:37; 1 Pet. 1:22).
- You believe that Scripture tells Christians to counsel one another (1 Thess. 5:14). It is believers, not “professionals” like psychologists, to whom God has given the privilege, authority, and even the mandate to counsel one another’s problems in living.
- You want to glorify God by how you speak to Edna. The glory of God is a child of God would want to have and is called to have (1 Cor. 10:31). But be sure. I raise a caution because our hearts trick us. So many people want to dive in and fix others. They love the person, hurt for them, hurt with them, and know that life could be better if only… As they get involved, if their Edna doesn’t change, they grow anxious, worry, and stew on the situation. With Edna, they commiserate or cajole or even retort in anger. After all, it is in Edna’s best interest to change.
Wait! These are sinful reactions. Someone who sins while thinking to want only the best deceives himself, actually wanting what he wants more than he wants to glorify the Lord or else he wouldn’t dare to sin over it. So check your own heart, per Matthew 7:1-5. Is fixing Edna a way to feel needed? A way to escape dealing with your own problems? If Edna doesn’t change, will you brood on it? Complain? Reject her? Continue to let her problems dominate your conversation? Or will you lovingly speak truth and then move the conversation to other topics, leaving the results in God’s hands without continued efforts to get her to listen?
- You believe in the goodness and sovereignty of God. This is important. It enables you to maintain a peaceful heart without worry or anger if Edna chooses her own way, and to refuse to take credit but give that to God if Edna chooses to obey the Lord. If God can change the heart of a despot, He can certainly change the heart of Edna (Prov. 21:1).
- You believe that each person is responsible for his own heart (Prov. 9:12). While we love others and counsel and desire the best for them, we must not take responsibility for what is not ours–their change. Like Jesus with the rich young ruler, we can convey truth with grace, but if Edna does not change, while we grieve and remain friends, we must also respect that her choice is her own responsibility and not try to pressure change.
- Are you prepared to listen to Edna? Really listen? Perhaps you have been. Have you asked questions that draw out key heart issues? “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” If you don’t have the necessary facts then your target problem won’t be clear and then the arrow of your words won’t hit the bulls-eye (Prov. 20:5; 18:13; 15:23).
- Are you prepared to counsel with God’s Word (Rom. 15:4)? You don’t have to already having biblical answers, but be willing to do the work required to find them. So many give their own advice. I’ve done this, too. Most appeal to their own experiences, what worked for them. Without overtly saying so, that approach to counseling assumes that experience is authoritative. Our experiences are neither self-authenticating nor authoritative.
“The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer” (Prov. 15:28). Apply diligence to find what the Bible says about Edna and her problems (2 Tim. 2:15). Take yourself out of the picture and lead Edna to Christ in His Word.
- Have you considered the role of Edna’s local church? Counseling passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:14 and Galatians 6:1-2 are stitched into the context of letters to churches, of local church life. Matthew 18:15-20 requires a church environment for it to be carried out. She needs to seek the help of her church. Especially if Edna lives at a distance from you, consider the implications of Proverbs 27:10, “Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.” Perhaps the most loving counsel you can give Edna is not a direct address to her problem, which may enable her to remain aloof from a local church, but an exhortation that she seek the counsel of her local pastor.
Now, we have some foundation for talking to Edna. Shall we dive in? Wait! We have a bit more groundwork to lay, in the next post.