Before You Rush to the Rescue, Part 1 introduced Edna, who can’t seem to solve her problems even after repeatedly hearing your counsel. It suggested a few possible hindrances to Edna’s improvement and backed up to lay initial essential groundwork like your love, the goodness and sovereignty of God, making God’s glory the goal, personal responsibility, the need to listen well, the necessity for counseling with God’s Word and not other counsel, and the need for local church involvement. A biblical approach to these topics helps prepare you to be effective in the hand of God for Edna’s welfare.
Now we turn to Edna.
Does Edna want your counsel?
When someone explains a problem, the normal tendency is to get the problem fixed. Draw your verbal six-shooter, shoot the bad guy problems, walk over to Star Bucks Saloon and relax with your friend over a cup of coffee.
What if the person isn’t really looking for advice? To paraphrase a proverb, “he who shoots out answers before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). Have you asked if Edna is looking for advice from you?
You say, “Well, she called me, so she must want it.”
Not necessarily. In our present case, you’ve already offered advice and nothing has changed. You might ask, “Edna, are you wanting me to just listen or do you want me to give you some counsel about how to solve the problem?”
Option 1: Edna: (Sniff, sniff) “I just want you to listen.” If Edna wants only a listening ear over and over then she is not seeking a solution. In addition, rehearsing her troubles without taking action to change is grumbling against the Lord, a serious sin (1 Cor. 10:10). If you continue to only listen it will abet her habit of grumbling and make you complicit. Worse, it will certainly not glorify the Lord. While gracious and patient, a Christian speaks truth to help another Christian out of sin (Gal. 6:1).
Option 2: Edna: “I’d like to hear what you believe I should do.”
You: “Are you sure?”
You: “Are you very sure? We’re going to use the Bible. Will you do what it says to do?”
It is worth proceeding only if she agrees to heed biblical counsel. Edna will be far more amenable to heeding it if she has clearly stated that she wants it. Proverbs 23:9 says that if someone doesn’t want it, any wisdom will be despised. Also, telling someone what God’s Word says when that person persistently refuses to heed it can work as a heart-hardening agent because it exercises the person in refusing to obey (Heb. 5:11-14).
Does Edna believe that God’s Word is authoritative and sufficient counsel for problems in living?
Since she professes to follow Christ, you could proceed with this assumption and then, if she refuses to obey the Bible, call her to account at that time. Or you can ask. Many Christians agree that God’s Word is authoritative, but their disobedience belies unbelief. If the topic arises, passages like Psalm 19, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, and 2 Peter 1:3 are encouragingly instructive. As you counsel, show her its relevance and urge obedience to what it says. Give God’s Word time to convict her of its power. Tell her that when she sees what it commands, even when that contradicts how she feels or what she believes about herself and her problems, she can and must obey. The Holy Spirit provides the grace she needs to do so.
Does Edna want to change?
Your eyebrows rise and you say, “How could she not?! She’s always in tears. She sounds miserable. She keeps calling me to talk about it. Of course she wants to change!”
A lot of people want change in the form of relief from their pain but they don’t want the discomfort, self-sacrifice, and hard work required to make permanent heart changes for the glory of God. I have felt this way. I dare say we all have at one time or another.
Tears can gain attention from others. Being emotionally “hurt” or “mentally ill” can earn time off from work, pity from others, and freedom from responsibilities. Overcoming anger, worry, fear, and depression requires admission of guilt, something which pride strongly resists. It is also very hard work to make yourself do what is right when all of your feelings protest. Habituated, even the unpleasant becomes more comfortable than what is godly but unfamiliar.
If you ask and she says that she wants to change, then a follow-up would be, “You know that change may be hard. It may feel scary or like it is impossible. Are you willing to work hard at it?” Help her face the reality that she will have to count the cost.
If she says that she doesn’t want to change or demonstrates such by a lack of real change from the heart, by reluctance to accept or apply Bible passages, then it is not the time for the how-tos of change. You may be trying to serve Edna an apple of gold, but if the setting is not of silver, she will trample it underfoot (Prov. 25:11). In this case, she needs (gently spoken) warnings that trouble will continue as she continues to sow sinful ways of handling her problem. Pray that God will use the unpleasant consequences of her disobedience to convict her so that she wants to repent. Plan questions to help her realize the price she is paying for continued sinful responses to her circumstances (sowing and reaping). Here are just a few examples.
- You’re telling me and others your problems but you’re not doing anything to change. What is merely talking about it doing for you? What has been the result?
- I can tell you’ve been brooding about this. How has it solved the problem? How has brooding complicated your problem? (Ps. 37:1-8)
- Well, you know the Bible says that the way of the transgressor is hard (Prov. 13:15).
- What do you think your complaining conveys to others about Christ?
- The Bible says that grumbling is sin. Do you really want to continue?…God is not pleased if I continue to listen to grumbling. Let’s change the subject to ____.
Desire the glory of God more than Edna’s relief. Remember that Edna’s heart is God’s to change; your responsibility is to love her and leave the results in His hands. Continue to love Edna, but don’t participate in her sin. Speak truth in love. With prayer, depend upon the Holy Spirit. Trust Him with the outcome.