Counseling, Mentoring, or Helping Friends
Part 1: Prepare your heart, watch your attitude, understand your role
Doug Britton, MFT
When I started to write this study, I was writing it for people whose friends want to talk with them about personal problems. That’s because many people have told me they don’t feel capable of helping friends who are dealing with problems or other life issues.
For example, imagine that you are visiting with a friend when your friend suddenly confesses that he or she is having a sexual affair with a married person. Or imagine that a friend asks why people don’t like him or her, asks for advice about raising children, or asks if you think he or she should move to a different neighborhood.
How would you respond? It can be hard to know how to genuinely help. In this four-part study, you will read guidelines that can help you be an effective friend. These guidelines are based on the Bible’s truths, plus my experience counseling thousands of people over the years as well as my experiences helping many people in informal settings.
Are you a counselor, mentor, pastor, or teacher? Although I originally began this study for people in everyday life who want to help friends, I began to realize that many of these guidelines could also help you as counselor, mentor, pastor, or teacher. It’s my prayer that as you read this four-part study, you will discover some helpful insights and “tools.”
Make it personal
1. Do you ever talk with friends about their frustrations, problems, decisions, or sins? If so, describe one time you did this.
Understand your role
If you are a friend helping friends, remember that you are their friend—not a counselor, mentor, pastor, or doctor. Don’t try to “analyze” people or diagnose mental health problems Instead, listen, encourage, and offer to pray. Sensitively share from the Bible and your own life. Help identify options or choices, but don’t tell people what to do. Although you are not a “professional,” you are competent to help as a friend.
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. (Romans 15:14)
Make it personal
2. How would you describe your role when you are helping a friend? In what way is that different from the role of a counselor?
Prepare your heart
Preparation is the key to success in almost any endeavor. For example, if you are on a basketball team and you don’t learn the plays, you won’t be very effective.
Examine your walk with Jesus.
If you want to truly help others, stay close to God in your own life. Spend time in prayer and Bible study every day. Ask God to help you grow closer to him. Deal with any unconfessed sin.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
Don’t wait until you’re perfect to try to help others. (That would be impossible.) However, make sure that you are being honest with God and you are allowing him to change you.
Make it personal
3. How are you doing in your walk with God? Are you ready to help others? Why or why not?
Pray to deeply love others.
At times you may find it hard to love the people you are trying to help. You may feel judgmental, condemning, or impatient. You may be irritated or angry. You may feel unappreciated. However, if you aren’t loving someone you are helping, you are violating God’s greatest commandment:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Related: Love other people as-is
People will usually respond positively if they think you genuinely. care for them. They will usually react negatively if they think you dislike them or you are angry with them. It’s not always easy to love others. Every morning, ask God to help you love everyone you come into contact with, then continue to pray throughout the day.
Related: Talk with respect and love
What do you think?
4. Why is it important to pray to love people you will try to help?
5. Do you ever pray to love other people more? Why or why not?
Pray for genuine concern.
Ask God to help you overcome a judgmental or critical spirit. Pray for genuine compassion and concern for others—no matter what they have done. I am inspired every time I read what Paul said about Timothy.
I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests. (Philippians 2:20-21)
Pray for patience.
Don’t get exasperated or agitated with people. Instead, pray for patience and wisdom.
Related: Replace irritation with grace
Pray to see a great potential in everyone.
Pray to see God’s “redemptive potential” in everyone. Pray for faith to know that God does miracles and that everyone has tremendous potential to change with God’s help.
Make it personal
6. If you start getting impatient with someone you are trying to help, how will you deal with your impatience?
Watch your attitude when you talk
The way you talk is just as important as the words you say.
Discipline yourself to talk with respect and love—no matter what the other person has done.
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)
Express concern, not disgust.
If someone tells you he or she has done something terrible, don’t respond with shock, anger, or disgust. That would probably push him or her away. It’s usually much more effective to say something such as “I’m concerned for you” than to get mad at them for sinning.
Remember that you too are imperfect.
It’s easy to slip into a judgmental attitude when people do something you overcame in your own life. However, no matter what you have overcome, you are still imperfect. One way to overcome a judgmental spirit is to remember your own shortcomings or failures.
What do you think?
7. When you talk with others about their problems, do you think you come across as caring or as judging? Explain your answer.
8. Why is it important to give hope? Explain your answer.
Guard against pride
It’s easy to think you are really wise or smart when you help others. Ask God to help you avoid becoming prideful, and to remember he is the one who gave you the ability to help. If you say “Look at what I did,” you risk taking credit away from God and giving it to yourself. Instead, say “Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of being used by you. Thank you for helping me.” In other words, replace pride with a thankful heart.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2) Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
Related: The power in humility
Make it personal
9. How can being thankful keep you from being prideful? 11. How will you remind yourself to be thankful, not prideful?
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
1. Why do you think this study focuses on your attitude, not on “practical” steps?
2. Describe your role when you try to help a friend.
3. Explain why it’s a good idea to prepare yourself spiritually before trying to help someone.
4. Say a prayer asking God to help you love people, including people who irritate or upset you.
5. Do you agree that it’s usually better to show concern than condemnation? Why or why not?
6. How can you give hope to someone whose situation seems hopeless? Explain your answer.
7. What’s wrong with feeling proud if you helped someone? Explain your answer.
More Bible Studies
About Doug Britton, MFT
Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)
Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.