The Good, the Hard, and the Bad

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By Jen Jang

The first biblical counseling course I took was Dr. Ed Welch’s “Helping Relationships” course. Dr. Welch is a biblical counselor, faculty member, and author at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. A few years later and I still remember something he said in class, look for the good, the hard, and the bad.

In this post and the next one, we’ll discuss what it means to look for the good, the hard, and the bad. Dr. Welch teaches that when we are talking with someone we want to look for these things in order. First, notice the good. How do you see the Spirit moving in the person’s life? Second, notice the hard. Where is there suffering in the person’s life? What has been difficult? Third, notice the bad. Where is there sin in the person’s life?

Today, we’ll focus on the good. One of the things you want to actively look for is how the Spirit is moving in someone’s life. How is this person turning to God, depending on him, and becoming more like Christ? If you’ve met with someone before and have shared personal things, the next time you meet with them you can follow-up and ask them how they’ve seen the Spirit move in their life. Or as you listen to them speak, you can share how you see the Spirit working in their life.

For example, if your friend, Mark, has been struggling with anger he may have shared his disappointment in exploding in fury again. However, as he continues talking, you hear how this time he turned to the Lord more quickly to receive help in his time of need. Instead of the usual ruminating on what others did to make him angry, he spent more time confessing his anger to God. While Mark is frustrated with his anger, you can share how the battle with anger already looks different. He’s turned to God more quickly, which means his heart is seeking and depending on the Lord more and more. By noticing the good, not only is Mark’s weary heart uplifted, but his eyes are lifted to the Lord. He gains more strength to continue in his struggle with anger and this time with a greater realization and hope that the Triune God is the only one who can change him and help him. Together, you can thank the Lord for his patience and faithfulness. The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in love and he will continue the good work in Mark.

Looking for the good includes finding something you enjoy about another. The word Dr. Welch used is delight. What delights you about the person? Is it the way they speak tenderly about their daughter? Is it their love for bird-watching? Is it the way they pour out their heart to the Lord? Everyone is made in the image of God, and there is something for you to enjoy and savor about them. Every believer is promised the Holy Spirit, and there is growth and movement for you to point out in a believer’s life. Ask the Lord to give you a heart that delights and eyes to see good.

Follow the Emotions

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By Jen Jang

“I wish I could just win the lottery!” While spending the whole day with my friend, this phrase caught my attention. She didn’t say this just once but twice throughout the day. Although she said it jokingly, I noticed a glimmer of hope in her eyes— the kind of glimmer one gets when daydreaming. In such daydreaming, while there is a hopeful longing for a different reality there is also a heartbreaking disappointment in the current circumstances.

Near the end of our trip, she said it again. This time I shared my observation with her. “I noticed that you said that a few times today. Could you tell me more? What does winning the lottery mean to you?” We spent the next hour talking about her upbringing, anxieties, and pressure as the oldest child. Winning the lottery seemed like an instant fix for all her worries. As we talked, we turned to God for comfort and help. If I did not ask her about the repetitive statement, I would have missed this precious opportunity to know and love my sister better.

So what is today’s take-away for engaging in biblical counseling? Follow the emotions. Don’t just listen to people’s words; pay attention to how they speak. Notice if someone’s emotions change and when they change. Does their demeanor change to sadness when they talk about their childhood? Do they talk with joy when they talk about their adventures in hiking? By noticing people’s emotions and patterns, we notice what is important to them. When we notice such things, we can engage in deeper conversation. “You seemed to hesitate before talking about your family situation. What is the hesitancy about?” “As you were talking, you looked a little down. Could you tell me more?”

By following the emotions, we are slowing down and expressing this: what is important to you is important to me. This kind of caring isn’t reserved for professional counselors; rather, this kind of caring is a delight and command for all believers. Count others more significant than ourselves and look at the interest of others (Phil. 2:3-4). By this people will know that we are his disciples, if we have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

Do you think you can love in this way? Remember, our God is a God who delights to love us in this way. I’ve often heard this: what you care about, God cares about more. We can look at the interest of others, because there is a wonderful Savior who is caring for us.

(This idea of following the emotions because it leads to what is important to the person is from my Helping Relationships course I took with Dr. Ed Welch. I highly recommend that you take that course or another CCEF course online!)

The Art of Listening

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As we continue to talk about the art of listening, we’ll now discuss a few specific skills. To start, here’s a question for you to answer: When you’re listening to someone talk, are you actually listening or are you thinking of what you’re going to say next? This diagnostic question is a good place to start.

In general, we want to be active listeners who are present with the person speaking. What are some ways we can be attentive and present? First, while someone shares we can periodically rephrase what they said. Rephrasing includes giving a concise summary. This serves three purposes: 1) you can check that your understanding is correct, 2) the speaker feels understood, and 3) the speaker can reflect on and hear his/her own thoughts and feelings.

Second, to be active and present listeners, we should avoid jumping to conclusions or incorrectly filling in the blanks based on our own similar experiences. For example, because we have experienced anxiety with academics before, we may assume that we know the reasons someone else experiences anxiety with school. We may have had anxiety with grades, because we desired control, like securing a comfortable future. However, someone else may struggle with anxiety with grades, because they find their identity in being successful. By “copying and pasting” our experiences, we may be listening more to our own stories rather than listening to the speaker’s story. We can miss precious opportunities to know him/her deeper and better.

Third, be prayerful and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you. As you meet with someone and listen, humbly ask the Spirit to be present and to give you the words to speak. Further, you can begin and end a meet-up by praying with the other person, in which you are acknowledging your reliance on God together. During your conversation, you can also actively and privately pray for the person in your mind. One private prayer that I’ve found helpful is a confession that I cannot change the person but that the Lord can. While you pray, you can lift up the person and give their struggles, suffering, and sin to the Lord. In this way, the burdens are cast upon the rightful throne of the High Priest, not the throne of yourself.

These are just a few strategies to utilize when listening. Now we hope to end on an encouraging rather than instructive note. You and I may not be the best listeners. Even when we have grown in our listening skills, we will still misunderstand people from time to time. But rest assure, that while we may not hear everything someone shares with us, the Lord does. The Psalms are filled with beautiful reminders that the Lord is a listening and knowing God. When someone comes to you with a heavy heart, remember who is listening to their story with you.

“In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ear” (Psalm 18:6).

The HeArt of Listening

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By Jen Jang

Have you ever considered listening to be an art? Consider if you know some “bad listeners” and “good listeners.” There’s a difference, right? Listening, like an art, involves finesse, work, and your heart. The good news is that we can all become better listeners. Like an introductory art course, this post will review the general method and vision for the art of listening. Although we won’t go over specific listening strategies, we will lay a foundation that will help us better understand and utilize specific strategies later. When our method and goal are correct, then the practical skills of listening will follow.

 First, let’s start with our general method of listening. As Ed Welch says, you want to retell the story of the person you are talking to. What do we mean by “story?” By nature, man is a meaning-maker. We are always interpreting our world and fitting these interpretations into a story. When someone is speaking, we are listening to different pieces of a story that they are weaving together. As we listen, we can ask ourselves how is this person interpreting their situation, themselves, or God? For example, a woman in her late 20’s may have subconsciously labeled herself as a failure throughout her life. So when she finds herself in depression, she may subconsciously use her depression as further evidence for how she is a failure and how God must be disappointed in her. The storyline most likely won’t be laid out clearly, but if you listen for it you will begin to see it more and more. 

Second, our goal in listening is to know and love others. By understanding someone’s story, we are coming to know them more fully. Now how can we also love deeply? We can love deeply by hearing and accepting a person’s story without judgement. We fear being fully known, because we fear being rejected, isolated, judged, and shamed. To deeply love someone, therefore, is to hear their story, know them fully, and still love them with a patient, gentle, and committed love.

In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

By listening well, we are fully knowing someone and truly loving them. By fully knowing someone and truly loving them, we are reflecting the love of God. (We see this love described in Psalm 139!)

 My hope is that you are beginning to see the beauty in the art of listening. Listening is not an inactive, dormant art. It is an active, dynamic avenue through which we can reflect the love of God. God knows us intimately and perfectly. He knows our wounds and weaknesses. He knows our sins and thoughts. Yet, he loves us intimately and perfectly. Our God, who is abounding in love, knows you fully and loves you deeply. Take some time to reflect on how this Holy God fully knows you and loves you truly, so that the next time you meet with someone you can listen with a heart like His.

Initiate Like the Initiator

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By Jen Jang

During the summer, we considered the importance of biblical counseling in the church. Biblical counseling is the personal ministry to individuals, in which members of the body of Christ move toward one another in care. With the secularization of counseling, many have come to believe that counseling is reserved only for the professional. Scripture, however, calls all believers to love and care for others. Yes, that includes you and me.

So today we want to consider one of the ways we can engage in biblical counseling. Where do we even start? My short answer is: you just start! You and I engage in biblical counseling when we begin moving toward others.

Throughout Scripture, we see that God is an Initiator. The Triune God initiated creating the world and creating you. He initiated a grand plan of salvation through his Son, and he initiated saving you. God initiates relationships and moves towards people throughout Scripture. From speaking to Adam first to selecting and shepherding Israel as His people, the examples of God pursuing people are endless. And when we think about this personal God in our lives, we see how he has pursued us throughout our lives. From creating you to saving you, the examples of God pursuing you is endless.

Sometimes reading and learning about God’s initiative works can seem distant. He made the world and made a way to save sinners. It is nothing new to you. However, Scripture tells us that, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4-5). Reflect on that for a moment. In love he predestined us for adoption. God’s pursuit of us is not just a fact of life but a fingerprint of his love. God pursues a relationship with us in love, and if we are called to be like him then we also must pursue others in love.

What are some practical ways we can move toward others? Here are several suggestions:

  • Initiate a deeper relationship. If you are already acquaintances or familiar with someone, then you can initiate getting closer with them by talking with them and asking to meet up. Eventually, the contact can become more consistent, as they feel more comfortable with you.
  • Follow-up with people after they share something personal.
  • Text, email, or call someone sharing that he/she is on your heart. Ask how he/she is doing and or how you can pray for him/her.
  • Ask someone to get coffee or a meal.
  • Have intentional conversations by asking thoughtful questions. (Of course, while being aware of the other person’s comfort-level!) This can happen in church settings or during one-on-one meet-ups.
  • Pray for someone before or after church. You can ask for their prayer request too.

The list is endless, and we invite you to begin pursuing others. Initiate like the Initiator and consider taking the initiative to care for someone today.