In order to determine that, let's begin with a simple test. This will tell us how effective we will be as helpers, encouragers, and counselors to our friends and family members.Ask yourself the following questions:
Am I willing to gain some basic knowledge of common problems people have (see Appendix); of what to say and not to say; of organizations, Christian psychologists, and counselors to whom I can refer people for help?
Do I show genuine Christian love to others? Do I have honest concern for hurting people? Do I offer a suffering person compassion, acceptance, and understanding?
Do I keep confidences?
Am I a good listener? Or do I show expressions of shock, horror, or disgust as I hear of the failures of others?
Am I slow to speak—one who thinks before he talks?
Do I use good timing and tact in my speech?
Can I be gentle in my speech?
Have I learned to ask questions before making statements?
Am I honest about myself and with others?
Do I openly share my personal struggles?
Am I working toward a disciplined life?
Can I be confronting if need be?
Do I pray consistently and often?
Am I capable of using the Scripture to help people discover errors in their thinking?
Do I believe God has the power to heal, however deep the hurt? Do I believe God can forgive, no matter how great the sin?
Do I recognize and accept my own strengths and limitations?How did you do? No matter how you did, I want you to pay close attention to what is discussed in this section because God's Word, especially Proverbs, has great counsel for all potential people helpers. In fact, these questions represent the qualities we will be encouraging for all believers.
The best counselor must be...
Romans 15:14. "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." The New English Bible reads, "My friends, I have no doubt in my own mind that you yourselves are quite full of goodness and equipped with knowledge of every kind, well able to give advice to one another."
The believer has the most potential to be a great counselor because he has living in him THE COUNSELOR—The Holy Spirit. When a believer is counseling another, he is not alone. Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit, resident in all believers, will assist us in a number of ways: He will lead us into all truth, remind us of what the Word says, and bring conviction of sin (see John 14:15-17,25; 16:5-16). What a wonderful privilege to partner with the Holy Spirit and give words of comfort and insight to those in need. This is a strong reason for us to continually be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20). (See quote, John MacArthur)
The Holy Spirit, however, uses a particular kind of believer, according to Romans 15:14. This passage lists two more characteristics needed in order to be a good counselor and partner with the Holy Spirit. One who is competent and well able to give advice to another is a "person
full of goodness."
We need to realize that the counsel we give will be affected by the goodness in our hearts and lives. In fact, Scripture makes it clear that "the good man brings good things out of the good stored in him..." and that the opposite is true. (see Matthew 12:34b-35). Therefore, we have to ask about what is in our hearts. Let's take a quick inventory to see how much goodness is there.
We need the following good things stored in our heart:
- Good words—Col. 3:16. "Let the word of God dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one onother with all wisdom..."
- Good theology—Psalm 145. We need to have a growing knowledge of who God is if we are going to help correct people's misconceptions about Him.
- Good motives—Proverbs 16:2; 1 Cor. 4:4-5. We need the proper motives to be involved in any kind of ministry.
- Good affections—Matt. 22:37-40. Do we love God with our whole being, and our friend as we love ourselves?
- Good priorities—Matt. 6:33. How important to us is the Kingdom of God? Is it our first priority?
- Good thoughts—Phil. 4:8. What do we think about? The nature of our life and words will be affected by our dominant thoughts.
Paul also teaches in Romans 15:14 that a good counselor needs to be
A learner/a wise person
"complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another" (v 14b) Proverbs16:23 says, "A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction." The person most effective in helping others is someone who is constantly working at it—a learner! Where do folks like this get this knowledge?
- First, they are believers who are aware of their own shortcomings and sins, and are faithfully dealing with and learning from their mistakes. (Proverbs 4:18-19—"The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. 19] But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble." The most effective encourager and counselor will be just the opposite of the wicked; he knows where he stumbles and why—v.19. He takes steps to correct his sins and stay away from places, people and activities where he is weak.
- Second, they work hard to gain a basic knowledge of people problems; i.e., they are students of human behavior. They observe how they and others react to various situations. They are people watchers. They go to the mall and watch people. They read the paper and news magazines to discover the problems of people and what is being done about them. They are conscious of opinion polls—of what people in our society might be thinking. (See Appendix.) In other words, they are willing to gain some basic knowledge of common human problems, through study and observation. They never close the book on their understanding, but are constantly updating their knowledge.
- My grandfather was a great counselor and friend to me right up until his death. I remember one time when he was in his 90s that he said to me: "Bob, in the last couple of weeks I've been learning something new from God about myself." I stopped him right there and said I didn't want to hear it. I told him it was unsettling to me to hear that he was still learning, because I always thought that when a person got to a certain age he wouldn't have to learn anything about himself; he would basically have it wired and kind of coast the rest of his life. He said: "Bob, as long as I'm living, I'll be learning..." What a lesson! He typified, therefore, the kind of person Paul is talking about in Romans 15:14.
- ILLUSTRATION: Proverbs 24:30-34; 1:5. Notice what these type of learners do. They ask questions, and observe what is going on around them. One of the worst counselors is one who gets an opinion about a certain problem, or type of person, and never changes his/her viewpoint. From the time he makes a decision about this behavior or type of person, he has every person remotely close to his preconceived ideas "pegged." That can be very harmful to counsel and to the people we talk to. Remember, therefore, to stay flexible in your understanding of others. Keep learning. Stay open to new insight from God, His Word, experience, and others.
- Scriptures to study: Prov. 9:9; 10:14a; 12:15b; 13:10;b 21;11; 23:12; 24:5.
- Third, those believers most effective in advising others are learning from the Scripture. Paul makes a very helpful observation a little earlier in this chapter, in verse 4. He says: "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope"—Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6-13. The most helpful source of knowlege, then, is the study of Scripture, with particular emphasis on both Old and New Testament character studies. People who learn from the examples of those who have lived before will have a rich storehouse of good things to share with others who are needy.
2 Corinthians 6:11-13; Proverbs 10:12; 17:9,17; 19:22; 20:6; 27:9; John 15:12-15.
In 2 Cor. 6:11-13, Paul reminds the church, "We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also." Was Paul loving or harsh with people? (1 Thess. 2:7,11)
Prov. 27:9 affirms that "perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel." Notice, it is the earnest counsel of one's friend that is pleasant. Solomon, in his culture, compared it to incense and perfume. In our day it might be like the aroma of a steak and a baked potato. Whatever the aroma that appeals to you, Solomon is saying that counsel from a friend has the potential to bring joy to the heart because it is so pleasant. Who is a friend, then?
Definition of a Friend: An exceedingly close companion who loves at all times, even when his friends are not thinking or acting right—Prov. 17:17; Jn. 15:12-15. He gives counsel to his friends, and that earnest counsel is pleasant and healing to the soul. He opens wide his heart to those he loves, and asks his friends to do the same for him—2 Cor. 6:11-13; I Jn. 2:9-11.
So take a good look at what kind of friend you are. Do you hide your love, or is your friendship like the perfume and incense of the Old Testament? Is your friendship valued—Prov. 27:9? The perfume of love that comes from a friend is a necessary quality for effective counseling.
If your love is lacking, let me suggest two things that might help you to grow in your love for others:
- Receive God's love and return it to Him and to others. Take some time to understand the love of God. Know with assurance of His love for you. As that begins to come into focus, return what you have received to God. Love Him because He first loved you—Deut. 10: 12-22; I Jn. 4:7-21.
- Know your own forgiveness. Study the incident recorded in Lk. 7:36-50. Note the comments of Jesus concening the one who loves little: "he who has been forgiven little, loves little." If that is true, then the converse is also true: He who loves much is one who is forgiven much. The one who is the best counselor, therefore, is a person who has learned to love much because he has been forgiven much. He sees himself in the light of God's holiness as one who needs a great deal of His grace. He doesn't react in horror if a person he is talking to has committed a gross sin, because he recognizes the extent of his own forgiveness He is eager to help his hurting friend experience the same forgiveness he has already received.
Meditate now about your understanding of your own forgiveness. Is it something you are aware and apppreciative of, or do you suspect God is fortunate to have you as one of His children, because you have lived such a good life? The answer to those questions will affect the amount of love you give to others.
Scripture to study: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Notice what we once were, and the particular things that have happened to us since that time. Do a word study of "washed," "sanctified," and "justified."
A good counselor must also be
one who keeps confidences
Proverbs 10:19; 11:13; 20:19; 25:9. Prov. 10: 19—"When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." Prov. 11:13—"A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret."
What harm does a person do who shares a confidence/betrays a secret? He spreads gossip, separating close friends—Prov. 16:28. "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." He can cause a hurting person to be ostracized or not trusted, even after they have recovered. He can also separate a person from the love and nurture of a local church. Many times this is done intentionally.
In contrast, how is the person regarded who can keep a confidence? He is seen as trustworthy (Prov. 11:13), and as wise (Prov. 10:19), while the confidence breaker will be remembered as a gossip, an untrustworthy one to be avoided. He may even be seen as someone who will betray a confidence in order to win an argument (Prov. 20:19).
How would you rate yourself as a confidante? People may already have us pegged by our conversations—the stories we tell about others. Gossips and trust-breakers may conceal their "secret-sharing" for awhile, but eventually it will be revealed.
Interestingly, a gossip often has good verbal skills and can get people to open up and talk. The tragedy is when a hurting person shares a secret and then later finds out it has become common knowledge with many people. That disclosure can impede the progress of healing and can put that person in a negative light for years. It is like taking a feather pillow to the top of a high building and dumping out the contents into the wind. Try as we might, the contents can never be recovered. Though the betrayed may heal, they may never be trusted again by others, nor will they trust another, because their secrets have been divulged.
Note that the principle of confidentiality isn't absolute. If a law is being broken, or serious harm is being done to another, then of course those who can do something about the problem should be consulted. That certainly includes situations when physical, sexual, or verbal harm is coming our way. Don't let abuse continue just because you promised not to tell anyone. Find the proper person and get some help. If you don't know who to consult, please see one of the pastors. If the above exception is not the case, then the old saying still applies: "Keep thy mouth shut."
Another quality of a good counselor is being
a good listener.
Behaviors to Enhance Listening
A good listener should show his interest in another's need not only by his silence, but also by his body language. Nonverbal behaviors communicate loudly. Here are behaviors that will help communicate to another person, "I'm interested in you..."
Watch how you sit. (Adapted from Lawrence Crabb, Ibid, pp. 124-125.)
Squarely face the other person. Standing sideways to someone says, 'You're not the center of my attention.' A possible exception might be when you are talking to a shy person. Maybe a walk will open that one up and allow him/her to talk without looking right at you.
Openly face the other person. Tightly crossed arms and legs communicate distance and inhibit the development of closeness.
Lean forward. Position yourself toward the other. A slight lean of the body or head communicates attentive interest.
Maintain eye contact. Your eye contact should avoid the one extreme of a merciless stare and the opposite of looking at everything but the other's eyes. Some researchers indicate that length of eye contact is a pretty good measure of intimacy in a relationship. A good rule of thumb is—speakers may break uncomfortable eye contact; listeners should maintain fairly steady eye contact.
Relax. Though relaxing is easier said than done and clearly something that cannot be forced, encouragers need to consciously relax as they chat. Be natural and comfortable."
Watch your agreement responses.
Don't repeatedly say "Uh huh" after every phrase or sentence. That can throw off the rhythm of the conversation. The speaker may not take the opportunity to stop, think, or reflect, because the nodding may communicate either, " Keep on talking or I will," or "Hurry up and get to the point because I already agree with what you're saying."
Also, be careful about the way you nod your head. A periodic nod is appropriate, but a continual nod can keep the person wondering what he is saying that is causing so much agreement.
Watch your face.
Guard against overreacting to a person's problems. Expressions of shock, horror, or disgust are hardly comforting to a distressed person. They communicate what you are thinking in your heart—Prov. 15:15. Avoid if at all possible: open mouth, gasps, frowns, clenched teeth, facial and body contortions, looking at the floor or the ceiling, or shaking. A smile or a look of concern is often very appropriate—Prov. 15:30.
Proverbs 18:13,15 tells us, "He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame... The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out." The instruction is very clear—if we don't listen to a person before we speak, Proverbs says we show great folly and shame.
What are some characteristics of a good listener?
He concentrates on what others are saying before determining his response. Then his words will fit the concerns of the one sharing and will not be a stock answer, or one that does not even apply. Thus, we should be careful not to plan our responses until we have heard a person out. Lawrence Crabb gives some good insight about listening: "Researchers have found that human beings can listen at least three times faster than they can talk. This suggests that we can daydream, plan our week's menu, hum a favorite tune, and still 'listen' to our neighbor's chatter. If we could hear what others are thinking as we talk to them, it might be disconcerting: 'I'll listen long enough to get an idea of what you are saying, then I'll begin to plan my response.' That is not listening." (Encouragement, Lawrence J. Crabb, Jr., Pyranee Books [Zondervan] ,Grand Rapids, Mich.,1984, pp. 114-115).
In summary, how we listen can be a key to our success as helpers. People get clues about our love for them by how we listen. Let's show our love by listening well!
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