Recently, I heard a counselee say, “Sometimes I ask myself, what would Caroline do if she were in my place?” That statement made me realize that even though I want my listeners to focus on following Christ, they will look to me as a real-life example. Do you realize that your counselees might model their behavior after you? This may not be explicit, but we have that role whether we are aware or not. There is a sense in which we represent our Savior’s actions to others. We can say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
My two previous blogs presented the importance of the counselor’s character and conversation. This third and final blog in this series takes a look at the conduct of the counselor.1For more information, see When Words Matter Most: Speaking Truth with Grace to Those You Love by Cheryl Marshall and Caroline Newheiser, released by Crossway on September 21, 2021. It helps our counselees and it pleases the Lord when we occasionally spend some time in self-assessment. We will examine three qualities of the conduct of a counselor.
- A Gracious Counselor Listens Well.
When I meet with a new person who needs help, I want to listen well. To do that, I think of my own examples of good listeners: Ed Welch, Jeremy Pierre, Ana J., and Cindy S. My friends serve as my own real-life examples. These people give me their full attention, don’t interrupt, and ask thoughtful follow-up questions. They listen to gain understanding. They make sure they understand before responding with solutions. They heed the Scripture which warns that “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). The positive expression of the same thought is found in Proverbs 18:15: “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”
Our best example of thoughtful listening is Jesus. He not only heard the Samaritan woman at the well, but truly listened to her real need for living water. He went deeper into her actual need, a Messiah (John 4:1-26).
- A Gracious Counselor Forgives.
When I meet with women, I sometimes find myself in a situation which calls for forgiveness. Perhaps they keep me waiting for an appointment or make a critical comment about the homework I assign. Other counselees resist our advice or even turn on us. Sometimes I am indirectly the target of heightened emotions aimed at others. It requires effort to avoid feeling personally hurt. The truth is, the more time we spend with someone, the more opportunity we have to sin and be sinned against. I seek to respond with grace to inevitable misunderstandings. At these times I remember that “it is [a] glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). This is a type of glory worth striving toward! Peter writes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). After all, we want others to show the same grace to us, to take our words in the most positive way. The Golden Rule states that we should treat others the way we wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12). Because I want others to interpret my words in the best light, I seek to interpret their words the same way.
Such a forgiving spirit comes from knowing how much we have been forgiven. We have been forgiven a great debt owed to a great God. The minor debts that others owe us are far less than our own debt (see Matthew 18:21-35). Our best example of gracious forgiveness is our Lord Jesus. He loved Peter, who spoke foolishly. He loved His disciples who were unable to stay awake and pray during His night of agony. He loved Thomas, who doubted His resurrection. He cried out upon the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
- A Gracious Counselor Serves.
No matter the words we speak, our actions declare our true intentions. The gracious counselor is willing to become a part of her counselee’s life. Sometimes that means taking a call at an inconvenient time. Sometimes that means spending an evening counseling a couple in a crisis. Sometimes that means rearranging your schedule to accommodate a young mother who had trouble finding a babysitter. We are called to serve.2Care should also be taken to protect the counselor’s family time and rest. Seek advice in such cases. As Paul wrote, “You were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13-14). Special care is given to the counselees who are a part of our church body and thus are a part of us. We love them with brotherly affection and are called to outdo each other in showing honor (Romans 12:10).
We serve the Lord as we serve our counselees, looking to Jesus who gave His very life for His people. “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God…do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:15-16).
These goals of gracious conduct can only be achieved through a strong connection with the source of grace, the Lord Jesus. He is the vine which sustains and nourishes, producing beautiful fruit. Jesus clearly connects our counseling conduct and ability to abide in Him. He also warns that “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He continues, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). May the Lord enable those who counsel to listen well, to quickly forgive, and to serve with genuine love so they might demonstrate by their fruit that they are true disciples of Christ.
When Words Matter Most: Speaking Truth with Grace to Those You Love by Cheryl Marshall and Caroline Newheiser