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Counseling, Mentoring, or Helping Friends

Part 3: Help people make their own decisions, share from the Bible, suggest “homework”

Doug Britton, MFT

Page Summary
Summary: When people tell you about their problems, the most helpful thing you can do may be to listen, offer hope, and pray. However, there may be times when it would be helpful for you to also talk about possible solutions.

Part 3 of a 4-part series on “Counseling, Mentoring, or Helping Friends”

Part 1      Part 2      Part 4


The general guidelines in these Bible studies can help whether you are a counselor, pastor, mentor or friend. However, especially when you are helping a friend, the most helpful thing you can do may be to listen, offer hope, and pray. However, there may be times when it would be helpful for you to also talk about possible solutions.

As you read this study, remember that there is no formula to follow when you are trying to help people. Some ideas may help in one situation. Other ideas might help in another situation.

Help people make their own decisions

If you tell people what to do, they usually won’t do what you say—no matter how right you are. Plus, if they follow your advice, they are likely to blame you if there are bad results.

Instead of telling them what they should do, help them identify alternatives. Then help them evaluate the alternatives.

Consider asking how they might have contributed to a problem.

After listening to someone describe a problem, sometimes it’s appropriate to ask, “Is there anything you did that might have contributed to the problem?” Or, “Is there something you wish you had done differently?” It’s rare that one person is completely right in a situation. They may be able to identify a “plank” (or at least a “speck”) from their own eye. However, there obviously are times when this would not be appropriate, such as when was physically assaulted or raped.

How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:4-5)

Consider asking if they would like to change.

After listening to people complain about a situation, it might be appropriate to ask if they would like to change anything about themselves. They might say something such as “yes, I have an anger problem” or “yes, I take things too personally.”

When people identify a change they want to make, your task as a friend becomes much easier. You are helping them achieve their own goal—not what you think they should do.

Consider asking how they think God would want them to act.

If people identify something they would like to change, consider asking how they think God would want them to act.

Make it personal

1. Do you agree you usually shouldn’t tell people what to do? Why or why not?

2. Do you think asking the previous “Consider asking” questions would make it more likely that people would change than if you told them what to do? Why or why not?

Go to the Bible for guidance

We live in an age of countless and ever-changing opinions and theories about human relationships and how to live fulfilling lives. Yet there is a dependable source to which we can go, one proven trustworthy and constant throughout history—the Bible.

There are several ways you could bring the Bible into a conversation without being pushy. You could simply read a few verses. Or you could ask if it would be okay if you read a few verses. Or you could invite them to read some verses.

Have a two-way discussion about the verses. Don’t give a speech or a sermon.

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given. (Proverbs 25:11)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

If you bring up Bible verses, do so politely and respectfully

Avoid a harsh or judgmental spirit. If someone disagrees with you, don’t argue or get angry. If someone isn’t interested in talking about the Bible, don’t e pushy.

What do you think?

3. Why is it important to go to the Bible for guidance? Explain your answer.

Speak the truth in love

Throughout these Bible studies, I have encouraged you to be understanding and gentle when you help people. However, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t ever identify sin as sin.

If people you are helping have committed a serious sin, you probably should bring up your concerns. Talk about their need to repent and to deal with the consequences of what they did.

Remember to speak as a friend. Encourage them to ask forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Reassure them that God loves them and will forgive them. Also tell them that God will help them do the right thing.

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:6)

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the Head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)

Make it personal

4. Read Galatians 6:1. How can you gently restore someone who is caught in a sin? Explain your answer.

Consider sharing from your own experiences

If you share about your own life experiences and lessons you have learned, people may be able to learn from your lessons. Plus you give them hope since they learn you have experienced problems, and that you have grown through them. It’s usually best not to go into too much detail about your own problems.

What do you think?

5. When would it be a good idea to talk a little about your background? When do you think it would not be a good idea? Explain your answer.

Don’t give simplistic advice.

Christians sometimes give simplistic advice. For example, “Read the Bible and pray, then you will be okay.” Or, “All you have to do is trust God.” Both these suggestions have some truth, but it’s usually much more helpful to share practical Bible-based insights about people’s situations.

Make it personal

6. Has anyone given you simplistic advice? How did it affect you? Explain your answer.

Don’t give hypocritical advice.

Don’t offer advice if you are dealing with the same situation as the person you are helping, and this advice hasn’t worked for you. When Jesus confronted religious leaders, one of the key things he judged was hypocrisy. Instead of giving advice, you could tell the other person about your struggle and suggest praying for each other.

If you have the same problem as the person you are speaking with, admit it. Look for a support group or biblical counselor who can help you both deal with the problem.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)

Encourage growth in the Lord

I am more likely to have problems when I have not been close to Jesus. Likewise, when I talk with friends about their problems, they often say they have not been close to him.

If people you are helping aren’t trying to live close to Jesus, encourage them to devote more time to prayer, Bible study, and spending time with other Christians. However, don’t imply that this will make everything better. It’s still a good idea to talk about their specific issues.

Also, don’t imply that people have problems because they are far from God. Being close to God doesn’t guarantee that people won’t go through difficult times. Many godly people in the Bible went through extremely challenging times.

Make it personal

7. How can you encourage someone to get closer to God without sounding pushy? Explain your answer.

Consider suggesting “homework”

Ask if the person you are helping would like to do some “homework.” For example, you could suggest a section of the Bible or a Bible-based book to study, or you could suggest an activity such as complimenting someone every day. Another idea would be for both of you to study a Bible-based book on the topic you are discussing. Check out some of these books.

What do. you think?

8. Do you think suggesting homework is a good idea? Why or why not?

Be wise

When you talk with people, stay alert and be aware of possible problems. As Jesus said:

Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)

Realize that people may not tell you the whole story.

It’s hard to offer insights or ideas when you don’t know the whole story. Sometimes people lie. Other times, they aren’t consciously lying, but they are describing events from their perspective. Someone else might have an entirely different perspective. To get a better picture, it might be appropriate for you to ask, “If the other person was with you now, what would he or she say?”

Rarely take sides.

I have talked with many people who sounded very persuasive when they described a problem with someone else, but when I later talked with the other person, he or she added significant details which changed my understanding of what happened. It’s usually not a good idea to take sides.

The first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines. (Proverbs 18:17)

Realize that people may try to set you up.

Think about what you are saying as you speak. It’s possible someone may quote (or misquote) you to someone else, using your works as “ammunition.” It’s also possible that someone may be recording (or live streaming) your conversation.

Set boundaries for yourself.

Don’t get over-involved in others’ problems, and don’t develop too close of an emotional attachment. Help people turn to God for help, not you.

Also, it’s wise to only help people of the same sex as yourself. If you help people of the opposite sex, they may start to look at you with sexual feelings—or you might start to look at them sexually. Plus you open yourself up to possible rumors.

Make it personal

9. Look over the previous “Be wise” points. Name one that will help you. How will it help?

Memory verse

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling lightly given. (Proverbs 25:11)

Personal application

1. Do you go to the Bible for guidance in your own life? If so, describe two or three Scriptures that guide you.

2. Do you agree that it’s usually not wise to try to make decisions for people? Why or why not?

3. Is it sometimes okay to ask someone you are helping if he or she would like to make any personal changes? Why or why not?

4. When do you think it would be helpful to share lessons from your own life?

5. Give an example of simplistic advice someone might give a friend, then explain why this would probably not be helpful advice.

6. If you have an anger problem, is it okay for you to try to help someone conquer his or her anger problem? Explain your answer.

7. Give an example of how someone who asks for help might try to set you up, then explain how you could protect yourself from this.

8. What are boundaries you will place on yourself when helping people with problems?

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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.

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