By: Scott O'Malley
November 5th, 2021
In early 2002 I began working on my Master’s degree in Biblical Counseling. I was eager to learn more about God and His Word as well as grow in my understanding of how to help people. I was also excited to learn from Dr. Wayne Mack, the author of one of the books I was reading for class. What was obvious from the first day of class was that I didn’t know my Bible like he did. His breadth of Scriptural knowledge and the amount of verses he had memorized blew my mind. But, as impressive as his knowledge of Scripture was, there was something else that impacted me even more. When Dr. Mack talked about the people he had counseled, and the struggles they faced, he frequently wept.
He clearly cared for them. He was passionate about what he was teaching because he wanted to be a part of raising up an army of people to care for hurting people all over the world. In class, many times I prayed that God would help me to never lose a love for people like Dr. Mack modeled so well.
Foundation #1 – Care enough to enter in
As we begin a new series of blog articles, we will be looking at twelve foundations that are vital to representing Christ to hurting people. The first foundation is to care enough to enter into people’s lives. We see this principle displayed by Jesus when two men were confused and walking on the road to Emmaus after His death and before they knew He was alive. “While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them” (Acts 24:15). Or consider how Jesus wanted to invite sinners into relationship with the Triune God and He chose 12 very imperfect men to be His Apostles. “And he said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
Jesus then spent the next three years living side by side with these men; teaching, encouraging, and rebuking. All of this training was to prepare them for when He would ascend back to heaven and give His final instructions: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). He had modeled for them what it meant to make a disciple. It was sharing one’s life as well as the truth of God with another person out of an overflowing heart of love. As we consider how we can provide wise counsel to the hurting people God brings our way, let’s consider three evidences that we care enough to enter in.
Jesus had modeled for them what it meant to make a disciple. It was sharing one’s life as well as the truth of God with another person out of an overflowing heart of love.
As we read through the Gospels and watch the life of Christ interacting with the people around Him, one of the most obvious characteristics that He displays is compassion. Consider the following Scripture describing Jesus:
Matthew 9:36 – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Matthew 14:14 – “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”
Compassion is defined as, “To feel deeply or viscerally, to yearn, have pity.”1 Notice in both of the above verses, Jesus had compassion because He saw the crowds. He felt deeply because He understood the condition of the people before Him. It is unbiblical and unlike Christ to not feel deeply for the people we counsel. One of the giveaways that we have lost compassion for those we counsel is we get irritated with them for struggling. Consider the example of Jesus in one well-known story with doubting Thomas.
Thomas was surely around when Jesus told His disciples that He would die and rise again (Mark 8:31). Then, after Jesus died and rose again, the other disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25). Yet, Thomas refused to believe. What is Jesus’ reaction to Thomas? Jesus responds with compassion and reassurance. “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:26). After Jesus allowed Thomas to examine His wounds carefully, Jesus invited Thomas to believe. “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God’” (John 20:28)!
One of the giveaways that we have lost compassion for those we counsel is we get irritated with them for struggling.
Jesus’ reaction to Thomas is very convicting for me. There have been so many times when my children have struggled in some capacity and my reaction is one of irritation and “I told you!” Yet, when Jesus enters the room He says to Thomas, “Peace be with you.” Not, “what is wrong with you?” Not, “I told you so.” Jesus instead offers peace. When we counsel people they are frequently struggling with unbelief with something God has said. May our hearts be filled with the compassion of Christ so we can reassure those who doubt.
What I have found to be the most helpful way to really care about people and cultivate a heart of compassion for them is to listen to their life story. At Twelve Stones, through our intensive counseling model, we provide a person three hours to share his or her life story. Jesus told us, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). After listening for three hours to the hurts, joys, disappointments, and struggles, my heart is filled with compassion for the people in front of me. Rather than desiring to rush to quick fixes or simple solutions, my heart longs to really know the heart of the person in front of me and understand the root of their struggles.
While most people who provide counseling in local churches will not have the opportunity to provide counseling in our three day intensive format, if you are counseling weekly I would encourage you to extend your first session to get the whole life story before resuming weekly counseling for an hour or two per meeting.
There are many reasons to listen long to a person’s life story before offering counsel; here are a few:
The person talking will feel heard, known, and understood.
It will be very clear to the person talking that you really care about them; which in turn will make them more likely to receive counsel when it is offered.
It will help you as a counselor not to jump to over-simplistic answers to complex problems.
Rather than desiring to rush to quick fixes or simple solutions, my heart longs to really know the heart of the person in front of me and understand the root of their struggles.
In hearing a person’s life story I want to get behind their eyes and see life like they see life. I don’t want to just quote Bible verses and proclaim truth. I want to really enter into the lives of the people I serve – just like Jesus is described in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God did not merely give us a book of rules to obey or instructions to follow; instead, He sent His own Son to live among us and become one of us. Then, the story of the gospels is Jesus walked among hurting people and entered into their story of sorrow or sin and offered good news!
Jesus didn’t just tell the woman at the well that she was involved in sexual immorality and she must repent. Instead, He engaged her as a person, drew her into a relationship, and offered her living water. She felt so known by Him that she later testified to others, “He told me all that I ever did” (John 4:39).
Share your own life
In addition to having a heart of compassion and listening long to people so they feel known heard, and understood; we should also be willing to share our own lives. Jesus certainly modeled sharing His life with those He discipled. But, we also see this same sharing of one’s life with the Apostle Paul. In 1 Thessalonians 2:8 we read, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” In another example of Paul pouring out his heart and sharing his life with the people he served he said, “Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears” (Acts 20:31).
One of the great joys of my life is having a front row seat to watch God work and transform lives right in front of me in the counseling room. But, an unexpected joy has been how many of the people I have counseled have become dear friends of mine. I have friends in the U.S. as far west as California and as far east as West Virginia; not to mention friends I counseled who are missionaries to Africa and India. I have had the privilege of sharing small parts of my story in counseling as is appropriate, but continuing to journey with people beyond our time of counseling and watching friendships blossom. I can truly say without reservation that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
One of the great joys of my life is having a front row seat to watch God work and transform lives right in front of me in the counseling room.
Next week we will begin looking at a practical first step to effective counseling. But for now, may we rejoice in the privilege it is to speak for God to hurting people. May we never lose sight of the reality that God is calling us to see those we counsel and minister to as people to be loved much more than problems to be solved.
Questions for Reflection:
How are you doing at caring enough to enter in? Which of these three evidences is most difficult for you?
How are you doing in your counseling at being patient with people as they struggle to implement the counsel given?
Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.