In the Book of Job, we find the man Job surrounded by his “friends” during his time of calamity. Their presence is no doubt a comfort to Job until that fateful moment when they decide to offer him some advice on why he was facing the trials he was experiencing. As we teach the Word of God, it will not be unusual for people to want to hear our advice or counsel. Perhaps the following thoughts will be helpful as you consider how God might use you in this way.
Before offering counsel, be sure you are the right person to give it. Jesus had an encounter with a man in Luke 12:13 who wanted Him to settle a family inheritance issue. Jesus responded with a question, “Who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Jesus did not offer to counsel the man or give him advice because there were other people responsible to do so. As we work with people, we may find that a parent, church official or even a lawyer is the best one to give the counsel needed. It is human nature to attempt to get people on “our side” of a dispute. Be careful not to get pulled into a situation where someone wants to use you to referee their fight.
It is also good to not offer advice to someone who is not emotionally ready to receive it. If you are generally a caring, sensitive person, you may be especially tempted to start giving advice when it is not really called for. Probably the best way to be sure your advice is wanted is to wait for the person to ask you! Even then, be careful. If you are walking away from a cemetery where a person has just buried a loved one and they ask, “Why does God allow such pain in the world?” the person is probably not really ready for you to try to answer that question.
I read about a well-known pastor whose wife was in the hospital with cancer. The hospital chaplain, who was normally very sensitive, I’m sure, recognized the famous pastor. The chaplain prayed and as he left the room he said, “Well, keep a stiff upper lip.” The pastor wrote, “I wanted to give him a stiff upper lip!” The chaplain may have felt intimidated or wasn’t sure what to say to a fellow minister, but his “advice” seemed trite and insensitive. The prayer for comfort and healing was appreciated, but the advice was not. The timing of the comment was simply not right. The pastor was not emotionally ready to receive advice and didn’t ask for it!
Another mistake in giving advice is assuming we have all the answers. Especially when a person is suffering, it is a huge mistake to assume we know the reason why. I may be able to give a general theological answer as to why there is suffering in the world, but it would be foolish for me to assume I know why a particular person is suffering. Frankly, the more severe the crisis, the less we really need to say. Our presence, a listening ear and a sincere prayer is all that is really needed at such a time. Even if I think I know that a person’s personal sin is directly related to their crisis, it would be best to keep it to myself, even if I am convinced I’m right. I once witnessed a funeral for a 10-year-old who was killed as he and his cousin were playing with a gun. The preacher used part of his funeral sermon to shame these grieving parents concerning gun safety! The advice may have been good in another setting, but that was not the time to be the “answer-man.”
As the people in your class seek out counsel, be sure your advice is biblical and consistent with the spirit of Christ. He understands suffering, conflict and trials like no other. Our goal in giving counsel is that people would encounter Him as they seek answers to the issues of life from the pages and principles of God’s Word. Jesus isn’t just the “Answer-Man”—He is the answer!
Dave Frasure is CABA's Disciple-making Catalyst and also pastors First Baptist, So. Lebanon, Ohio.