Helping People Who Resist Counsel (part 2)

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How do you help people who resist biblical counsel, even though they need it? In part 2 of a two-part series, biblical counselor and a former BCC staffer Jeff Forrey tackles this problem. Jeff’s article appeared first here on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission. 

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Misunderstands Spiritual Growth

Some hurting people might resist biblical counsel because they have been disappointed by shattered assumptions about how God produces change in us. They might have expected that the Holy Spirit would produce quick or absolute changes in their desires (motivation), and this did not happen. If so, we can appreciate how discouraged they might become when more Scripture is given to them.

Although quick changes in God’s people might occur, we have no biblical time frames laid out for how quickly change will normally occur in our lives.

The Corinthian church must have challenged Paul’s patience, considering the multiple letters he had to write to them. He certainly was perplexed by the Galatians’ being persuaded by the “agitators” he wrote about in that letter (Gal. 3:1).

And Jesus shocked the apostles when He said,

If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them (Luke 17:3–4).

Part of sensitive caregiving with a hurting person is finding out if he or she has such a misunderstanding of the Spirit’s work in our lives.

Suggestions for Helping People Embrace Scripture

1. Take Time to Listen

Take the time to listen attentively to the other person. Rather than rushing the conversation, ask questions that uncover not only what has happened in the person’s life but also why this situation has had the great impact on the person. Here are a few ways to make sure you’re listening attentively:

  • As you listen, don’t think about what you might say to the hurting person.
  • Stay focused on how the hurt this person has experienced tears at his or her heart.
  • Ask clarifying questions about what happened, about what the person thought and felt in that situation, about the aftermath of the situation in the person’s life.
  • At natural breaks in the conversation, offer your summaries of what was shared to gauge how well you’ve grasped it.

Following these guidelines, you will be in a better position to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15, NET) rather than be like “vinegar poured on soda” (Prov. 25:20, NET).

2. When a Counselee ‘Thinks Out Loud’

If you know this person is a “verbal processor”—someone who thinks out loud—then:

  • First ask if the person has thought about how to respond.
  • Listen for whether or not the Lord or His Word is mentioned and how the person seems to think about God’s involvement in the situation.
  • If you are not sure, ask if the person has thought about God’s role.

When a Counselee Is Negative Toward God

A person may resist counsel if he has a negative reaction to God’s involvement:

  • Ask for clarification: “Help me understand how you came to your conclusion about God in this situation.”
  • Listen for whether the person is responding out of confusion, being sinned against, shattered expectations, overwhelming grief, etc.
  • Ask if your assessment is accurate: “Wow! I’m so sorry about that. It sounds like you expected God would ___, but He didn’t. Is that correct?”
  • Keep in mind that it may not be valuable to address right away the misunderstandings about how God “ought” to work in situations, especially if the hurtful situation has been recent and there is still a level of shock that the person is wrestling with.
  • If the person has a little emotional distance from the hurtful situation, you might consider saying, “I can see how you’d be so discouraged by this situation. I wonder if the Lord might be up to something else in your life. I know God loves us, but it’s certainly true that He also surprises us. Maybe God is ___.”

The overarching goal in this type of conversation is to help the hurting person see more clearly (more biblically) what God is doing in our lives. One lesson we all have to learn to accept is that God does not always reveal why He orchestrates the events we experience in our lives or in the lives of the ones we love.

But what He has revealed in Scripture is meant to reassure us that even in the confusing, scary times, He is still working out His perfect plan—a plan that involves working in all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

This lesson is not easy to learn, and we might need to learn it in degrees, but it is always a lesson we need in our lives.

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