HOW TO USE GOODSEED TOOLS IN

COUNSELLING A FRIEND

(Reading time: 17 minutes)

 

In this “How to Train” series, we describe practical ways in which believers worldwide use our tools to share the message of the gospel.

 

In this article, we look at how a clear understanding of the gospel can be an important step in helping individuals sort through life’s messes. We’ll consider how a biblical perspective on life can provide a framework for those walking through life’s valleys.

 

We also invite you to share your own experiences with us to benefit others. You can write to us via our contact form.

THREE DIFFICULT LIFE SITUATIONS

After two years of fighting, Rob and Janette were emotionally exhausted. They loved each other, but felt an enjoyable relationship was hopelessly beyond them. Self-help books had only given temporary relief. Their Christian faith had kept them together so far, but how much longer could they keep it up?

As a teenager, Emily had dived into the murky world of the occult. She had no idea that dabbling in witchcraft could damage her life. She viewed her life as evil and spiralling out of control. Later, she came to trust Jesus for her salvation, but couldn’t overcome the emotional baggage of her past. Her marriage was suffering and she and her husband began to feel desperate.

Everything had gone against Ian. He plummeted into despair after suffering a head injury at work. In a matter of weeks, he went from being robust and active, to walking with a cane and struggling to look after basic needs. He lost the job he loved and his co-workers, who he’d thought were good friends, deserted him. His wife left him, and finally, his children let him know they wanted nothing to do with him too. In despair, he called Dennis. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t put a bullet in my head.”

THIS IS NOT WHAT GOD

ORIGINALLY CREATED LIFE TO LOOK LIKE

No doubt about it, life is messy. We don’t have to look very far to find those wading through broken relationships, addictions, depression; perhaps we need look no further than our own family to find a life spiralling downward. So where does the solution lie?

 

We are often guilty of looking for the “silver bullet,” the one perfect solution to the issue we’re facing. But life is just too complicated and messy for quick fixes. However, Scripture does teach us many principles that can provide guidance in the midst of the struggle. But even before those principles are put into practice, we believe it’s absolutely crucial that one have a clear grasp of the gospel message—that the foundations are solid before we try to shore up the crumbling façade.

 

LIFE IS HARD BECAUSE LIFE IS ABNORMAL

As Bible believers, we recognize that at the heart of every struggle is one important fact: life, as we know it, is abnormal. Suffering, pain and evil are abnormal. The terrible heartbreak that we may see in lives around us is abnormal. This was not how things were meant to be. There was a start to all the evil, pain and suffering. And there will be an end. And for this time in which evil exists, God has provided a solution to help us. There is hope.

 

People end up in counselling situations because something has gone wrong. Often, our first reaction is to find a quick solution. However, as any good doctor will tell you, there is wisdom in standing back to take in the big picture of a person’s overall health, before diving in to address any specific symptoms. Similarly, before we address a person’s individual difficulties, it is wise to step back and gain a good understanding of how God intended for life to function. We will briefly address how this “big picture” perspective helps us navigate the rough waters of life.

 

Consider Rob and Janette. They had spent many frustrating months trying to address the problems in their marriage, without success. Then they agreed to attend a By This Name study. When their understanding of the gospel was cleared up, their foundations became solid. When they learned to focus on God and his character, they found their minds renewed. Their obstacles and challenges did not disappear overnight, but they felt many of their problems were no longer relevant. As they renewed their walks with Christ, they found a unity together that they hadn’t experienced before. Now they had a unified foundation on which to build their marriage.

 

Every situation is complicated and requires the Lord’s wisdom and discernment, but we want to share how a clearly understood gospel provides the right biblical perspective to help a friend walk through the dark valley with hope. We provide some practical insights, gleaned from the testimonies of other wise believers, to guide you as you counsel your friend or family member through difficult times.

HOW DID GOD ORIGINALLY

CREATE US TO FUNCTION?

Let’s take a look at just one foundational fact to get a glimpse at how having the right biblical framework will affect our approach to life’s problems. When God first created the world, it was perfect. God declared mankind “very good.” At creation, God set up certain institutions—marriage, family, productive work and dominion over the earth. These things were created to give us joy and bring God glory. But when sin entered the picture, these institutions began to crumble. Within the first generation, Adam struggled to provide for his family and their home became the focal point of struggle for marital control. Their family was torn apart by envy and murder. Sin’s destructive nature infected all of life.

 

Throughout Scripture, when people turn their focus to God—to his character and his purposes for man—they begin to see how life was supposed to function. One example is Job, a man who lost everything—his children, home, wealth and, finally, his health. He was a perfect candidate for the counselling couch, but watch how God deals with him.

 

GOD COUNSELS JOB

Job’s friends had done their best to advise him, mostly by analyzing his troubles and trying to come up with solutions. In the end, Job found their words to be of little help. Then in Job 38-42, it is God’s response to him that gives us pause. God did not address Job’s crisis nor provide comforting practical advice. Instead, God directed Job to a deeper awareness and understanding of who He is.

 

Once Job had an accurate view of God, he came to a rightful reverence of his Creator. He learned to trust God’s wisdom, knowledge and sovereignty. In time, God restored what Job had lost. But don’t miss what God did. He directed Job away from his problems and made Job look at God, the one who had the power to do anything he wanted with the world. Job got the right perspective on life when he came to a proper understanding of God.

 

If this was how God chose to address the crippling difficulties that Job faced, then God’s way of “counselling” Job is a model for us as we help a troubled friend.

 

A correct grasp of the character of God and his plan for mankind can be achieved through a clear understanding of the gospel message. The right biblical perspective fills one with hope. Understanding the gospel doesn’t fix all of a person’s troubles overnight, but it does give the foundation from which one can begin to rebuild those areas of life that have crumbled.

HOW DO I KNOW WHEN TO SHARE

THE GOSPEL TO MY FRIEND IN NEED?

In some cases, it’s obvious when a friend needs the gospel. But how about the friend who has faithfully attended the same Bible study group as you for the last five years? What about the young man who has grown up in church? We might think they understand but we cannot assume. Here are two key questions to help ascertain how solid your friend’s foundations truly are:

 

“How do you believe God views you? Does he see you as righteous or lacking?”

“Is God at peace about you or do you feel you sit under his judgment?”

 

If your friend says he believes God is angry at him or is judging him, then it’s time to lay down the foundations to help them understand how God made it possible for him to be in a stable, right relationship with God.

 

His fellowship with God may be broken, but even during the most difficult times, God views him as righteous if he is trusting in Jesus for salvation. Having this perspective can change everything about your friend’s mindset.

 

 

START WITH BUILDING TRUST

 

Dennis has counselled numerous troubled individuals and couples. He knows that crisis opens doors. “Our unsaved friends may not be interested in the Lord today; but when crisis hits, that’s when they turn to their friends and begin to ask questions.” Key to that statement, however, is that a friendship must exist in order to be of help.

 

It is paramount to spend “shoulder time” with the hurting individual. When Dennis met Ian, the man whose life fell apart after a workplace accident, it quickly became apparent that he was in desperate need of a friend. Dennis knew Ian needed the Lord, but Ian was full of misgivings. Having been raised in a religious home, Ian had some exposure to church and the Bible’s message. However, he’d also been abused by a church leader and was extremely opposed to hearing anything religious.

 

Instead of “jumping in and just throwing God at him without the right context,” Dennis decided to climb down into the trenches with Ian and work at building friendship and trust first.

 

It wasn’t difficult to be a friend, but it required time. Dennis listened to hours of “empty conversation,” often filled with bitter complaining and a few choice words. Dennis and his wife had Ian over frequently for meals or coffee. When Ian was struggling through some business matters, Dennis helped with those issues. It took months, but gradually Ian began to open up.

 

“Being a friend of the worldis compromise;being a friend of sinnersis compassion.”When we desire to walk with people, we must be committed to wading through the mess with them. The people we befriend may have habits we find distasteful. Perhaps our friend is a heavy drinker or uses foul language. Or like Dennis, we may have to listen to hours of empty talk before enough trust is established and our friend begins to open up on the deeper struggles and questions about life.

 

It’s important to realize there is a big difference between being a friend of the world and being a friend of sinners. Dennis explained, “Being a friend of the world is compromise; being a friend of sinners is compassion.”

 

Those around us need to clearly see we are different, but they also need to know we love them and care about them, right in midst of the life’s messiness.

 

TREAD CAREFULLY

WHEN SHARING THE GOSPEL

 

Not only are we building trust when we spend the time with our friend, but it also gives him or her plenty of opportunity to see the Lord at work in our life. It is only a matter of time before a question arises. When that happens, it’s important to tread carefully. Honour the trust that has been placed in us; don’t be too quick to deliver a quick gospel message. Instead, move ahead carefully, trusting God to direct us.

 

One day, while the two men were on the way to the hardware store, Ian began to crack open the vault. Knowing that Dennis was undergoing cancer treatment, Ian asked, “How in the world do you keep upbeat with everything? Life seems like it should be hopeless for you.” Dennis carefully answered, “The answer is that it’s a matter of perspective. My perspective of life is from the viewpoint of the Creator of life. That’s what makes the difference.”

 

Dennis continued, “I’d love an opportunity to get together and explain it to you. It will take some time, but if you let me, I’d like that.” Dennis didn’t push his agenda, but was careful to let Ian know he had answers he was willing to share when Ian was ready.

 

 

WHEN DO I SHARE

THE GOSPEL WITH MY FRIEND?

 

The day came when Ian was ready to listen. He had received a text message from one of his children, asking him to stay away. This was a very low point in his life. That was when he called Dennis at midnight and said, “Dennis, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t put a bullet in my head.”

 

“When life stinks...there's only one way you can make sense of it. You have to understand it from the perspective of the Creator of life." Dennis was away on a business trip and wished he could rush to Ian’s side. But he was able to say, “Ian, I get it. Right now, life really stinks. We know that. We’re not in denial about the mess or awfulness that you’re going through. We can’t say it’s not bad. It is bad. When life stinks as bad as it does right now, there’s only one way you can make sense of it. You have to understand it from the perspective of the Creator of life.” He told Ian that he was arriving home soon and would go see him as soon as he got back. “But you have to promise me you won’t shoot yourself.”

 

Ian didn’t take his life that night and he agreed to Dennis’s offer to study the Bible. They began immediately after Dennis arrived home. Dennis was aware that Ian had some mixed-up ideas about the Bible’s message, so he knew a study through By This Name would be the best approach. By This Name would address many of the postmodern ideas that Ian believed and give him a thorough understanding of the gospel.

 

Dennis and Ian began meeting every other day for about sixty to ninety minutes each time. Ian was hungry to learn, but his mind was so exhausted by the end of each session, that Dennis kept them short. When Dennis’s friend began teaching a group through By This Name at a local coffee shop, Dennis and Ian joined them. Once they got into the book, there was no holding Ian back. He began to grasp the hope that God offered and he was anxious to hear the whole story. Upon understanding the entire message, Ian eagerly put his trust in the finished work of Christ. He became a believer.

 

Dennis was thankful he’d put the time into establishing a relationship with Ian. That trust opened the door for Ian to become interested in learning God’s Word. Dennis was glad he didn’t rush to the punch line. He knew that truncating the good news would have only added confusion to Ian’s life.

 

Dennis can’t emphasize enough the importance of laying a biblical foundation to give a person the right framework to journey through life. Many in our churches are believers, but still lack the foundational understanding of the Bible’s message, which in turn means they lack the biblical perspective needed to ride out the rough storms of life.

 

This was the case for Emily, the woman who carried emotional baggage from her years of flirting with witchcraft. Even though she had become a believer, she lacked understanding of the biblical perspective. Desperate for help, she and her husband sought help and were put in touch with a couple that offered marriage counselling.

 

...they found great unity in their common understanding of the same gospel truths.But when Emily learned that the first stage would be a Bible study using By This Name, she balked. She was already a believer. This wasn’t the kind of help she needed. Though initially a hostile learner, Emily opened up as the study progressed. She and her husband began a journey that transformed them both.

 

The gospel became coherent and they found great unity in their common understanding of the same gospel truths. Their marital problems paled when compared to God’s greatness.

HOW TO SHARE THE GOSPEL:

SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

START WITH THEIR BACKGROUND

 

GoodSeed has produced books that specifically address three of the most common worldviews.

 

                  

 

By This Name is for those who adopt their own spirituality, making God out to be whatever they want. This is a common mindset in our postmodern, secular world. This book will likely be your most effective tool for explaining the gospel. It addresses many areas of confusion found in our culture. All that the Prophets have Spoken is for those from an Islamic cultural background. The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus is for those from a background influenced by Christianity or those familiar with the Bible.

 

The simplest way to lead a study is to read together. Get a copy of the book for yourself and one for your friend.

 

If you believe your friend is ready for a more formal study, consider using the Worldview Rethink curriculum. The curriculum begins with the same choice of the three books, but adds on a leader’s guide, videos, visual aids and a workbook. Having these additional aids helps to engage your friend more but use discernment to decide which is the most inviting way to share the gospel message.

 

 

TIME REQUIREMENT

 

You will need approximately 16 hours if you use By This Name (12–13 hours for the other two books).

 

 

FORMAT

 

Agree upon a regular time to get together (we suggest no less than one hour at a time), and read through the book together, moving through it as quickly as you can, but as slowly as your friend needs. Keep your sessions close (once or twice a week if possible). If you drag it out too long, your friend may lose interest or the gospel narrative becomes disjointed.

 

Plan on you reading aloud the commentary, while your friend reads aloud the Scripture verses. If you’re counselling a couple, then they can take turns reading the Scripture passages.

 

If you’re using the leader’s guide, then make use of the notes to prompt you on when to use a visual aid and when to play the videos. In addition, the leader’s guide has additional notes at the back that will help you gain confidence in leading.

 

Caution

Maintain an above-board relationship by being careful to teach those of the same sex. If the friend you desire to help is of the opposite sex, then ask a spouse to join you or teach in a group. Avoid being alone with a counsellee of the opposite sex.

WILL THE GOSPEL FIX EVERYTHING?

The gospel is the starting point. Without it, every other solution is only a temporary Band-Aid. When your friend gains a clear understanding of the gospel and puts his trust in Jesus for salvation, he is on the right road. The biblical perspective brings clarity and provides hope.

 

In Ian’s case, his new life in Christ was marked by a deep peace from God. But while he found friendship and encouragement through a local church and in his newfound walk with Christ, his circumstances didn’t really change much. Ian’s ex-wife never came back to him. His health did not improve. Instead, Ian became gravely ill. Upon his deathbed, Dennis checked on how Ian was coping. He asked, “Ian, is God at peace about you?”

 

Ian nodded, “Yeah. He is.”

 

Dennis asked, “How in the world can you say that, with everything that’s happened?”

 

"I know God is at peace about me, because Jesus made peacefor me."Ian replied, “I know God is at peace about me, because Jesus made peace for me.”

 

Ian passed away a few days later, but not before God graciously provided an important opportunity for him—his ex-wife and children visited him at the hospital and they had an emotional reconciliation.

 

Not only does the gospel give a person perspective and hope, the Holy Spirit renews one’s mind, providing clarity about life.

 

This was the case for Emily. Though she was a believer, her gospel understanding was fuzzy. But when her foundations were set right, she gained a clear perspective about her former life and she could deal with the baggage she’d brought into her marriage.

 

And for couples at odds with each other, suddenly having a like mind on this most important message brings a unity to their relationship.

 

This was the case for Rob and Janette, who were at odds in every area of their marriage. Once the gospel snapped into focus for them, they found something to unify them.

 

Janette said, “Ironically, all those self-help marriage techniques we tried accomplished the exact opposite of helping our marriage; ultimately they focused on conforming the marriage relationship to serve and justify our selfish attitudes and focus on each other’s faults more than focusing on our own. But [once we understood the gospel], we moved our focus onto the Lord and on his Word. We focused on serving Him and on sharing the reason why we believe what we believe. And all the issues in our marriage, we can honestly say we don’t know what happened to them—they just disappeared. It’s not that our marriage became perfect but the issues that bothered us weren’t important anymore as we focused on God. What became important was serving the Lord. And the Lord, somehow, some way, put us back together.”

 

Once your friend is clear on the gospel, her troubles won’t disappear overnight. But it is a giant first step towards managing life’s problems, not just the ones she currently faces, but also the unseen, future difficulties that will inevitably come.

MY FRIEND BELIEVES! WHAT NEXT?

It’s important to continue walking alongside your friend. He will continue to need encouragement and advice. Furthermore, you will need to remind him of the truths in God’s Word—that there is hope in Christ, that he has a Saviour who considers him righteous and looks upon him with love and peace.

 

Many would consider that the next step is to immerse their friend into church life. But here are some words of caution. While the body of Christ is invaluable to your friend’s long-term walk with the Lord, please take into account these points before introducing your friend to church:

 

  • Consider how some people in your church will handle the bad habits and difficult situations your friend is working through right now. While your friend may be basking in his new-found faith, he may also still be struggling with a bad smoking habit, a drinking problem, a foul mouth, a terribly wayward child or other difficulties. These may hamper his smooth integration into a church where people are not used to such behaviours and may treat him in a less than gracious manner.

Having a chat with your pastor on how best to introduce him to the church may be very helpful. He may have good suggestions and may also be able to help build a culture of grace among the leaders as your friend starts attending the church.

Also think about preparing your small group or your close church friends to welcome him. While keeping his confidences, you may still find a way to carefully prepare them for this new believer. As a group of friends, strive to accept him right where he is at and patiently encourage him as he works through his struggles. Be willing and open to work with both the bad and good to bring your friend into a deeper walk with the Lord.

Be careful not to force or insist on your friend changing his behaviour immediately to conform to expected norms. Let the Holy Spirit and the Word of God work in his heart as he grows in understanding. You don’t want your friend to come to believe that he or she will only be acceptable to the Lord once he overcomes his bad habits or difficulties. Nor do you want to unintentionally breed legalism into his understanding of his relationship and position with God.

  • Make sure your friend knows that church attendance is a way to grow deeper in his knowledge and walk with the Lord. It is not a means towards earning salvation. In some situations, your friend may not feel freedom to attend church right away. Perhaps a spouse has forbidden it, or there are some serious emotional or physical hindrances that keep him from being able to attend. Be careful to communicate that though church attendance could be a real blessing and help to him, his standing with the Lord does not hinge upon his faithful church attendance.
  • Consider conducting a period of one-on-one discipling with your friend in preparation for bringing him to church. Some churches have a lot of “christianese” traditions and other practices. Several of the practices may be more of a tradition than actually based on the Bible. These things can be confusing and instead of being a blessing to your friend, might become a hindrance. One-on-one discipling can help him gain a solid understanding of the basics and help him adjust better to church life with less confusion.

 

Ian, Emily, Rob and Janette were all individuals struggling with the messiness of life. Each was desperate. And while the gospel didn’t erase all their troubles overnight, it gave each one perspective, clarity and hope. A clear understanding of the gospel brought peace in their lives—the peace that passes understanding—not because they had found a secret recipe to fix their problems, but because they had become well acquainted with the One who is our peace.

RELATED STORIES

 

The Monthly

GoodSeed eNewsletter

Sign up to receive articles, testimonies, sneak peeks of new resources & upcoming seminars. You'll receive a PDF copy of The Tabernacle: Model of Messiah as a thank you for partnering with us.

© 2015 GoodSeed International. All rights reserved.   Privacy & Security | Terms of Use