By Hope Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
What's your first instinct when a brother or sister talks about a difficulty they've been dealing with in their life? If you're like me, you answered, "To try and fix the situation." Most often, this comes through attempting to give advice on how to fix the situation. But what happens when humans themselves cannot give true aid to the scenario? For instance:
Scenario A: A single person wants a spouse. They have surrendered themselves fully to God's will, given up sexual temptation, and have prayed fervently for their future spouse. But years have passed with no luck. They feel called to a romantic relationship down the road but feel frustrated being stuck in limbo.
Scenario B: A person has applied to more jobs than they can count. They've made sure to have a professional resume, have a great deal of experience with internships and previous jobs, and have gone to many interviews. But nothing has stuck. They feel financially burdened and scared for the future.
Scenario C: A woman and her husband have done everything they can to have a child biologically. They have consulted doctors, prayed for the Lord's will, and have done "all the right things" medically. And still, no child has come. They feel both despondent and wonder if they've done something wrong to deserve this.
In all of these scenarios (of which I have experienced or know someone who currently is going through one of these situations), I think we can assess that everyone has done "all the right things." They've left it in God's hands and timing, but feel frustrated at the years that have passed by without seeing God move.
Christians may default to still offering these people advice.
"Well, maybe you haven't fully surrendered to God, and so he hasn't provided a spouse."
"Maybe you just haven't prayed hard enough for the job search and so the Lord has withheld a position."
"Perhaps God wants you to adopt or foster. Why haven't you considered that alternative?"
"Just be grateful for what you do have now. God has given you so many blessings."
Although Christians do mean well with statements such as these, it discounts the hurt a brother or sister currently experiences. It also calls into question their diligent faith in the Lord. We must not forget that those most faithful to God—David, Daniel, John the Baptist, Jesus, etc.—ended up in dire situations beyond their control. No one could dare think to tell Daniel in the lion's den, "Well, maybe if you believed more, you wouldn't end up in this pit full of hungry beasts." Or even to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Maybe you need to change your perspective and be more grateful for what God has given you now."
Yes, such advice seems preposterous in the above scenarios. And yet, believers get told these pieces of advice on a regular basis. I know I just did yesterday when I went on Facebook to ask for prayer.
So let's analyze when is a good time to give advice and when we should listen.
When Can a Christian Give Advice?
Please hear me correctly when I say that believers can give advice, and in many situations, they should. Below I will list the best times one should give direction to a brother or sister.
When They Specifically Ask for It (Proverbs 16:20)
Most of the time, we don't want advice. We want a shoulder to cry on.
If you don't know if you should give advice, ask someone, "Do you want me to listen, or do you want me to give advice?" Most of the time, people will answer the former.
Accountability Partners and Mentors
When we ask someone to be a mentor or accountability partner, we deliberately ask them to play a role of direction in our lives. In most accountability situations, we can use good Scriptural advice.
Pastors and Teachers and Spiritual Leaders (Proverbs 10:17)
When we go to our pastor with our problems, we probably don't want him to pat us on the back and say, "Sorry, that sounds terrible." We go to spiritual leaders for advice and direction.
Apart from these examples, most of the time, we ought to listen in a situation, unless otherwise prompted to do so.
When To Listen
Let's analyze when we ought to listen rather than speak (James 1:19).
When They Don't Specifically Ask for Advice
Unless you happen to be a pastor or spiritual leader in this person's life (and not an assumed spiritual leader—make sure to have clarity in this), you probably ought to listen with the person and sit with them in the hurt.
When They've Experienced Extreme Hurt
Hurting people cognitively know that God has a plan, that better days will come, and that direction will come as well. Telling them these things doesn't erase the hurt. It exacerbates it. Sometimes we have to accept that we cannot personally provide the balm they need to heal from the situation. Only God can. So we wrap our arms around them, tell them "Sorry," and pray for them.
In Most Situations, Default to This
Assume the person wants listened to unless otherwise stated. We'll explain more about why below.
Things to Assume When Someone Comes to You With a Problem
First, they've probably exhausted all options.
I often don't complain about a situation unless I've tried everything. So bombarding them with questions like, "Well did you try this?" "Did you try praying more?" "Have you read the Word of God lately?" likely doesn't help. It also calls into question their character.
Second, they trust you with this vulnerable information.
Make sure to handle this trust delicately. Or they may never come to you with another problem again—if they know you'll simply deliver a lecture to them rather than a listening ear.
Third, they will feel more open to asking for advice in the future if you listen to them now.
Nothing turns someone away faster than someone who will not truly listen to the hurt you feel. We can all probably think of someone we know who simply waits for us to finish speaking so they can insert their two cents. And it's exhausting to talk with such people.
So dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen and slow to speak, especially when a fellow believer experiences immense hurt. Your listening ear will go a long, long way.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Prostock-Studio
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,200 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.