In Part 1 (which can be viewed here) I expressed my belief that we are all counselors, whether we want to be or not. I also provided a challenge to purpose to learn and minister Scripture as God gives you opportunities to provide counsel. One of the biggest obstacles when we consider counseling is a sense of inadequacy. “I don’t know what to say” or “How could I help somebody like that?” or “I have never experienced anything like that, I can’t imagine how to help” are statements and thoughts that might run through our minds. The great advantage to counseling with Scripture is that the focus is not on you. Whether you have had a similar experience or not or whether you have specialized training or expertise or have studied the issue is insignificant in comparison to the fact that you have been transformed by the Living Lord Jesus Christ and you have the treasure of His sufficient, superior, eternal Word. The indwelling Holy Spirit will guide you as you minister His incomparable Word.
A major focus of counseling is lovingly confronting someone who is in sin and calling him or her to repentance. Many people who approach us for counsel are struggling with one or more sin issues in their lives. In Part 3 of this series I will present suggestions on how to counsel those struggling with sin issues. There are also people who seek counsel (or whom we are led by the Holy Spirit to minister to) who are struggling not because of their sin but due to the sin of someone else or a crisis situation that is beyond their control. I have had many opportunities to counsel people in serious crises situations including the Wedgwood Baptist Church and Virginia Tech shootings; Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Isaac; tornadoes; fires and line of duty death responses for firefighters and police officers. In ministering in these situations I have been blessed by developing relationships with many people and being a part of God’s work in their lives.
Crisis = Opportunity
When the crisis strikes close to home it is even more challenging. Just this week I was teaching a grief and crisis counseling class at Southwestern Seminary. We were discussing some of our personal experiences with crisis. I began sharing the stories of two crises that my oldest son and his family had faced. I first told how in June of 2009, I received a call from my son Hudson at about 3 a.m. He said they had experienced a lightning strike at their Seminary apartment and wanted me to come over. I arrived in about 10 minutes and saw multiple fire apparatuses on the ground and noticed a firefighter throwing burned mattresses out of my granddaughter’s bedroom. Hudson told me he had been awakened by what he thought was lightning striking the tree outside his window. He looked out and saw nothing but then began to smell smoke. He opened the door to his daughter’s room and encountered flames climbing up the wall and banking on the ceiling. He was able to get Ava out of her crib and along with his wife Molly leave their apartment totally unscathed.
In January of 2011, I was teaching a class in Houston when Hudson called from work (at SWBTS) and said that Molly had just called him from their house and told him that someone was trying to break in. Eventually the man did break in and Molly locked herself and their two daughters in a closet. The man saw them get in the closet and tried to open the closet door. Molly had a gun and told the man she would use it, and he stepped away. He was finally scared away by the sirens of the approaching police cars, and again life and limb were spared.
As I was sharing this second story, my secretary came into the classroom and told me that Hudson’s father-in-law had just been in a serious car accident and might be dead. After dismissing the class I met Hudson and Molly and her mom, Pam. Rick had indeed died, leaving Pam a widow again, six years after losing her first husband. Even though I have ministered in countless crisis situations, I was not prepared and felt inadequate in this situation. I had, and still have, many questions; the majority of which I know will not be answered. I was hurting for those who had been impacted by this tragedy and knew I had no ability to help on my own.
I could identify very clearly with those who feel inadequate to counsel and are not sure what to say. This situation drove me to recognize anew my dependence on God and need for His direction. Prayer, presence, and Scripture are the tools God provides for us to minister in the midst of challenges we can’t understand or even comprehend, and His Spirit guides us in using them.
If you have opportunity to minister to those in a crisis or a situation that is not due to their personal sin, I suggest the following:
- First, pray! Ask for God’s comfort and peace for those involved, ask for wisdom and clear leadership as to what you should do and say, ask for His ability to see and His compassion (Mt. 9:36), and ask that He show you Scripture that would be encouraging in the particular situation.
- Second, to whatever extent possible, be with the person affected. Look for opportunities to serve, walk with him or her, cry, listen, pray, and minister God’s Word. Call on others in the church to minister as appropriate.
- Finally, purpose to minister Scripture and assist the person in experiencing God’s presence and comfort.
There are many Scriptures that can be helpful in crisis situations. I suggest reading the Psalms with an eye toward which ones would be applicable during crisis. Stories from Scripture can be a very good way to connect with those who are struggling. The story of Joseph and the story of Job can be particularly useful. Finally, I suggest using Romans 8:28-29 as a way of encouraging a future hope. While we usually cannot know what specific good God will bring out of a crisis, we can use the promise that He will to provide encouragement. Don’t overlook verse 29, for in it God defines the primary good that He will bring out of such situations—that we will, “be conformed to the image of His Son.”
In summary as you minister to those in crisis, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).