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The Impatient Counselor

Love your counselees by hearing before you speak.

Sep 10, 2021

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear? An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. … The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverbs 18:13, 15, 17

It is no accident that “patience” appears in the Bible as both a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and the first characteristic of biblical love (1 Corinthians 13:4) Disregard the virtue of patience in your counseling and you may at the same time quench the Spirit and sabotage love—two of the most fundamental means of grace for counseling. Who would be so careless? “The fool,” says the ancient sage of Proverbs 18.

Meet a man who parades his careless impatience with his tongue. We get our first glimpse of him in verse 13. Rather than quietly listening and learning from a man of “wisdom, he is swept away by the irresistible impulse to interject his own makeshift wisdom “before he hears.” The word “hears” in this text is noteworthy. It means “to pay careful attention.”1Bruce Waltke, NICOT: The Book of Proverbs 15-31, (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 79 This is precisely what the fool cannot discipline himself to do, and that to his folly and shame.

In counseling, this unfortunate dynamic occasionally plays out as a Christian man or woman attempts to help someone resolve a stubborn problem. In a typical counseling session, this counselor would be careful to “hear” and slow to offer counsel, but on this occasion something is amiss. Perhaps it’s the third counseling session of the day. His brain is tired, it’s late and he would much prefer dinner with his family over starting a new case with a needy counselee. Whatever the provocation, he inadvertently approaches the meeting with an impatient spirit.

Having heard but scant testimony and having gathered insufficient data, he interprets his new friend’s problem haphazardly and draws conclusions prematurely. All the while, he—the biblical counselor—remains deaf to essential facts of the case and blind to his own error. The outcome? Not wisdom and timely counsel but “folly and shame.” What’s worse, the person on the receiving end of such counsel will likely leave the encounter not with hope and help but with further injury; namely (v. 14), a “crushed Spirit.”

One might charitably assume that such a counseling failure is owing to innocent distraction or fatigue. Occasionally, however, impatient counsel is motivated by impulses of a darker nature. Drill deeper into the heart of the impatient counselor and you may discover a pride that feeds on the admiration of others rather than the glory of God in the sanctification of His people. Woe to the fool whose ambition is to be lauded as wise!  

Later in the book of Proverbs we hear an echo of this warning in a different verse: “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).  Perhaps this concern is why Derek Kidner entitles this section of his commentary on Proverbs, “A special snare of the self-important.”2Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 17, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1964), 121. “To answer before listening,” says Duane A. Garrett, “implies an arrogant (and indeed rude) spirit.”3Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 165.

In contrast, the author of this set of proverbs suggests that the wise counselor patiently listens until he acquires all necessary knowledge about the case (v. 15) before he offers counsel. And even then, though he feels the collected data have created an airtight vault of understanding on the matter, he still proceeds with caution because, as every seasoned counselor can attest, even an honest counselee may unwittingly omit key bits of intelligence pertinent to the case. Rightly does Scripture warn (v. 17), “The one who states his case first seems right, until another comes and examines him.” There is always more information to be gathered, and some of it may prove to be profoundly important.

Therefore, my dear counselor, discipline yourself to be an undistracted listener. Love your counselees by hearing before you speak. Resist the urge to draw hasty conclusions. Take time to collect sufficient data. Ask questions throughout each session. Repeat what you think you heard and ask for confirmation that you truly understood.

Patient listening is the way of the wise counselor. Far from inflicting hurtful “folly and shame,” such ministry will likely be received as sweet, healing fruit delivered by the very Spirit of God.

This blog was originally posted at CBCD, view the original post here.