When a couple you love is going through a marital crisis, both spouses giving you two entirely different accounts of what is happening and begging you for your insight…
When a child has prayed and prayed and God hasn’t seemed to answer that prayer and they ask you what to do…
When your spouse needs a word of comfort and encouragement, but you don’t know what to say…
When fellow church members have gone through a heartbreaking ordeal and they want comfort and counsel, but you’re terrified you’ll inadvertently say the “wrong” thing or something insensitive…
If you’ve been in or fear getting into one of these situations, a friend of mine has some very helpful advice that will take all that pressure off your shoulders and put it right where it belongs.
In my pride, I’ve always thought it would be wonderful to be an endless source of wisdom for all those who are hurting or who wonder what they should do. In a way, I think probably most of us are like that. But what if there’s a part of being an “endless fount of wisdom” that is at root an evil desire instead of a holy one?
One of the men I dedicate the upcoming book When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People to is the kind of friend whose counsel often feels like a spiritual bath. It’s cleansing. I actually have a few friends like that, so it was a little surprising when this friend told me he’s trying to no longer be that kind of a guy.
Dr. Mike Dittman explained that after years of wanting to have the “right” answer to every counseling question he received, God led him to pursue an entirely different path of ministry:
“People have often asked me to help them figure something out or fix something in their lives. They want answers to their questions and affirmation in their struggles, but not to learn how to pray. My goal is no longer to solve their problems or soothe their pain. Rather than fixing their lives to make them feel happier, my aim is to help them find God in the midst of their challenges.”
What if, instead of having an “answer” for our spouse or kids or friends, we said, “Let’s figure out how you can hear God’s heart on this matter?” How would that change everything?
For starters, this takes the pressure off us in so many ways. We’re not the hero; at most, we’re the Uber driver taking them where they need to go.
Second, it honors the active work of God’s Holy Spirit. We freely admit (and perhaps remind them) that we’re not the “source,” but we’re the friend walking with them as they connect to the source. Our “job” isn’t to have all the answers. Our job is to point them to Jesus.
Imagine how this could impact our relationship with our kids: we’d focus on training them to turn to God as we turn to God with them. If a child heard their parent say, “I don’t know what the answer is, but let’s seek God together about it” and you go into the Scriptures and pray and talk until an answer emerges, don’t you think that would be even better for our children than a “Father Knows Best” (or “Mother Knows Best”) speech? It’s the spiritual application of that old cliché, teaching someone to fish instead of providing a fish.
Mike confesses that, early on in his ministry, in his desire to help people, he was getting in the way of what matters most: their prayer life. “After several years of using my counseling and teaching gifts as a pastor and a professor, I came to realize that I was educating their minds and encouraging their hearts, but not really leading them to Jesus. I pointed people to Jesus, I told them to spend time with Jesus, and I nudged them to make Jesus the center of their lives. All that was good, but they weren’t asking me to teach them to pray.”
Mike now “evaluates” his ministry on an entirely new basis. It’s not, “That was the most helpful session of counseling ever!” or “Fantastic sermon!” Instead, it’s “Do people see the spirit of Jesus so strongly in me that they ask me how to pray?”
How do we apply this?
The next time a spouse (particularly if you’re married to a new believer) or a child asks you about something and the answer seems easy and obvious, pause before you speak. Ask yourself first how you can address the question in a way that points them to Jesus instead of to you. The goal isn’t for them to leave having a higher opinion of you; the goal is to help them grow increasingly aware of and dependent on God. And never assume that they’re asking the right question to begin with. How many times have we gone to God with a concern, only to hear from Him that we’re actually concerned about the wrong thing?
What I like about this in regards to marriage is that advice from us may sound self-serving; helping them hear from God in a way that they believe they are hearing from God removes any self-interest on our part and makes their transformation about them and their God, not a disagreement between two spouses.
For those of you running organizations (churches or businesses), I read a very helpful, inspiring and practical book that seeks to apply this principal to leadership. It’s called Mastering the Art of Presence Based Leadership: Discerning the Wisdom of Christ as Real-Time Partners with Him by Keith Yoder.
The reality of Jesus and His continued presence through the ministry of the Holy Spirit means that ministry and counseling can be and should be supernatural. It may not look miraculous, but this approach acknowledges the ongoing reality and presence of God, including his ability to make his will known in ways that may seem quiet and reasonable. In the end, anything that reminds us that God is the hero rather than us is surely a step in the right direction.