I found your email address while looking through the website for Center for Biblical Counseling, and I’d like to ask your professional advice about a matter, if you don’t mind assisting a colleague.
My question for you: what’s your approach when you encounter non-believers who are clearly in a Proverbs 1 crisis for neglecting wisdom their whole lives? So often I just think their only hope is to repent of their sins first and to believe in Jesus. Thus with unbelievers, I find I keep going back to sharing the gospel over and over again, before I think they’ll learn principles to resolve their issues (cf. Prov 1:7).
What are your thoughts about how to counsel somebody who fits the biblical definition of a fool that Proverbs often describes?
Thanks for your help,
I know what you mean about trying to help people who can’t see what you’re trying to tell them.
Here’s what I usually do, often do, and sometimes do. As you know these things are not the kinds you can put in a box and use for everyone.
I usually treat the counselees like they are Christians. I give them all the same homework and talk to them as if they were Christians. I even tell them to pray and read their Bibles, etc. Then, when they can’t do the homework, because they aren’t Christians, I talk to them about why they don’t have the power to live the Christian life. Usually, I can use the events of their not doing the homework to talk about the Gospel from the standpoint of the problems rather than preaching to them. I call the first part, “blowing past” the real issue and the second, “coming to the real issues through the back door.”
I do it this way because most people will put on their brakes when you confront them with issues directly, but are much more open to talk about ancillary issues which they don’t think touch on the real issue. It is much easier to talk about why a guy’s wife won’t do what he says than to talk to him about why he won’t do what God says. But as Nathan did with David, once he is agreeing about the principle of wives submitting to their husbands, it is only a short hop to talking to him about his submitting to Christ.
Often, especially with young men, I will tell them that I would like to help, but they are powerless to do what is necessary, so why waste all the time. I try to make it a challenge to them. I try to get them to chase me around for the answers. I think this is the sort of thing Jesus did with the “woman at the well” and with Nichodemus. He said things that caused them to chase after him for further or clearer answers. I want the young man, who thinks he knows it all and can do anything, to want what I have to offer and to come after me to get it out of me.
Sometimes I go right to the Gospel. I’ll tell the folks that without their becoming a Christian there is no hope for this marriage or for any other they might wander in to. They are exceedingly selfish and, unless they have help from God almighty himself, they are doomed to repeat over and over again whatever brought them into my office. God loves them and he wants them to live long and fruitful lives, but because he is God and we are not, he won’t let us live on our own terms.
The danger with this approach is that they came to me with one set of problems and I appear, to them, to be switching the topic on them. They feel like I’m doing the bait and switch and they feel ripped off. So, if I simply share the Gospel with them, I try very hard to tie their current situation in to the Gospel presentation.
One thing that helps in all this is that often, not always, the fact that they have come to me means they really want help. This means they are somewhat more open to what I have to say than if I were just a friend. And if nothing else, they will hear what I have to say and at the least I’ve planted a seed for God to be working in their lives.
I hope this helps.