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When applying Scripture to troubled souls, there has to be the utmost carefulness because it’s not always appropriate to map a Bible story over a person’s situation as though there are enough similarities to make that practice wise. No trouble in life or the Bible is the same. If it were, we would use formulas while discarding the need to search the Scriptures or the mind of the Spirit. Self-reliance would rule the day as we feed the problem into our biblical counseling A.I. and follow whatever the output suggests. Counselors who don’t know how to counsel follow forms, formulas, and current best practices. Maturer believers work hard to educate themselves from the Bible and lean heavily into the Spirit, who guides them into all truth.
No doubt, the Lord’s response to Job opened the sufferer’s eyes to help our old friend see what was happening, and Job’s response was stellar: “Job put his hand over his mouth and said, ‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.'” God’s stern counsel implied that He did not owe Job anything, nor does He owe us, but is that the proper approach for those compromised by cruelty? I suggested to my friend that as he continues to teach her about God’s love, he wants to think strategically about how to move her forward, practically speaking. It could take months for her to benefit in measurable ways from the transformative love of God, while implementing God’s counsel to Job could sabotage his aspirations for her.
I’m not suggesting he was thinking formulaically, though that could be a temptation when confronting the unchanging person. Truthfully, she may never get to where he wants her to be. Only the Lord holds this kind of information (Deuteronomy 29:29). Her future outcome is in His mind, and He will not share those intentions with anyone. God’s desire for disciple-makers is to faithfully serve struggling souls as they wrestle through the torment of what has happened to them. We must not put time limits on their transformation. Traditional counseling can have a limitation in that we may want to “speed up the process” because we’re working within an artificial construct. When the person is not changing according to the artificial counseling window, the counselor may whip out something harsh that is proportional to his desperation to change her.
You may be surprised to know that many Christians are angry at God, though I suspect most would never say it that way. We frequently recategorize our anger to lesser-sounding offenses like disappointment with God or “I’m just frustrated.” Euphemisms soothe the pinging conscience, especially when we’re at our pain threshold already. Why compound the problem using biblical nomenclature when I can have a softer landing borne upon culturally pleasing wordsmithing? But angry at God? Are you serious? Though it is not wise to openly talk about anger at God, we must be honest with at least one other person about our most transparent thoughts about God and the accompanying trials.
In a private setting, it’s a positive sign when the struggling soul feels vulnerable and hopeful enough to admit their struggle with God, even in PG13 terms. The fact they will say the quiet part aloud is what you want. It’s messy, sure, but it’s a more realistic starting point. Sometimes our Christian propriety interferes with soul care’s hard and nasty work. It is helpful for competent, courageous, and compassionate friends to know the internal turmoil of others. Whenever a person is honest with me, though they are struggling and may even be sinning in how they communicate, I appreciate knowing where they are rather than assuming they are somewhere they are not. Too often, disciple-makers assume where to begin caring for someone’s soul without calculating the true nature of the situation.
For example, a Christian laboring under the cruelty of sin probably knows about God’s omnipotent ability and His everywhere presence. When they factor these things into their thinking, it is reasonable to ponder, “Where was God when all this crazy stuff went down?” I’ve thought similarly. April 08, 1988, my wife of nine years decided to leave with our two young children. They never returned. I’m still affected by that day more than any other day in my life. A dark cloud rolled over my soul, and though I have trained my brain not to see it, I can see those shadows from that dark night if I choose to fixate on them. Those troubled days plunged me into the Book of Job, where I spent considerable time wondering about God’s sovereignty and my suffering.
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes (Job 3:23-26).
Job said the thing he had feared had come upon him. I’m unsure if that has ever happened to you. What these souls go through cannot be thoroughly explained or understood unless you have been in their place and experienced comparable pain. I’m not suggesting that never experiencing such things disqualifies you from helping someone, but I want to call attention to the complicatedness of such travesties. Even the hurting soul does not fully understand the complexity of what has happened to them. How could they? Who can know the mind of the Lord? There is an element of faith that God calls us to walk, and when things like what happened to these souls come, it can disrupt their faith in proportion to the size of their trouble.
Their problems are mountainous, so their ability to trust God will be proportionally challenging. God’s counsel to Job was perfect because God is perfect. He knew what Job needed during that “counseling season,” which lasted forty-two chapters. Please remember that we are unaware of the counseling time from the beginning of Job’s ordeal—chapter one—to the end, forty-two chapters later. The part of the Lord’s counsel where He rebuked Job—chapter thirty-eight—could be appropriate at some juncture. I remember when someone gave me Romans 8:28 as part of their counsel, a robust and precise biblical nugget for all of us. That passage presents beautiful advice to the afflicted, but my heart was not in the place to receive it.
My response to the “Romans 8:28 advice” was something like: “Has it ever occurred to you that I might not want all things to work together for good? I’m not interested in what the Lord is attempting to do in my life. What I want is my family back.” My friend gave me good counsel, but it was the wrong time. It reminds me of some of our students. They come into our counselor training program while working through the aftermath of a horrendous situation. They fit better within the counselee mold rather than the counselor mold. It’s a mismatch. Perhaps in the future, our counselor training would be the perfect solution to what they need, but today is not that day. Introducing a Little Leaguer to the Major Leagues is improper parenting, and sharing the more complex parts of God’s Word with souls who are not ready to hear it is also wrongheaded.
A few weeks ago, I talked with a sick friend about how some people are “blessed” by her suffering—their words, not hers. She understands what they are trying to say and knows how difficult it is to speak into her unchangeable situation. She humorously but truthfully said, “I don’t want to be the poster girl for sickness so others can be grateful for their health or be encouraged by my illness. I’d rather they find another way to be grateful and encouraged.” She realizes her attitude is wrong, but she also tries to be honest with me about what is happening in her life. My goal is not primarily to change my friend. I’m trying to be a friend to my friend. I want to be a caring listener as I walk with her and her husband through her unchangeable situation.
Perhaps I can carry the heavier truths to them as I build that relational bridge. Maybe I can call attention to my sick friend’s bad attitude at some future point. There is no formula for this. We’re talking about Spirit-led and Bible-guided soul care. I trust the Lord will open that door to adjust her heart, and she will receive my corrections gracefully, but I can’t change her or her situation, so I don’t try to. I’m God’s water boy, watering and planting while trusting God to bring the needed growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). My goal is to help a struggling soul by creating an environment where everyone can be honest with each other. Even if she does not respond with the proper Bible expectation, there is much encouragement to find with our reciprocal transparency where we know where each other stands and have mutual respect because the care is legit.
The warning here is that the Book of Job is not a one-size-fits-all template for doing things or how things will always conclude for trapped people. Job’s book was a unique historical moment between a man and his Creator. Not all counseling situations will play out this way, though it would be nice if they did. Some hurting believers are not in a place that recognizes how they are doing better than they deserve. Is this the time to let them know they deserve eternal damnation, and anything above hell is a perk? Probably not. When Sovereign God rebuked Job, his heart had already begun to soften; his humility set the stage for how he responded to the strong counsel that God gave to him. Humility is one of those invaluable keys you’re searching for in the struggler because without it, the sad soul will not be teachable, a second key that follows humility’s heels.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? (Job 38:1-2).
Ensure you properly assess the person you are discipling to see if you are speaking to a humble or proud heart. Your assessment will be subjective, but you must explore this because you cannot unreasonably assume you know where they are in their journey. If they are angry with God, they will resist what you tell them and may even retaliate if you begin dropping Job one-liners on them. If you sense a reluctant posture toward God, for whatever reason, tread carefully. James talks about God opposing the proud (James 4:6). God is a warring army against this type of person. Simply stated, if they are not in chapter 38, where the Lord counseled Job, it’s not the time for you to advise them how God guided Job. Discipleship is conditional on the heart of the person you’re discipling. The Lord knew Job was ready to gird up his loins and receive some stern and direct counsel. It worked, and Job experienced transformation.
Also, remember that God grants repentance (2 Timothy 2:25). Knowing this should relax your soul and slow your tongue because this situation is ultimately in God’s hands. People are different; people need care according to who they are and where they are, not who we think they should be or where we wish they were, even according to other people we know or historical figures we find in the Bible. I know you know this, and I’m preaching to the choir, but a good reminder does not hurt. An unchanging friend needs our love through care and discernment. Sometimes our friends need our admonition. Most of all, they need our friendship.
I do not know how the “42 chapters” of trouble will play out for anyone, including your friend. They may never come to the place of seeing what Job saw or responding the way Job did (Job 42:5-6, 10). They may always be angry with the Lord. I have family members who went to their graves as bitter souls. We must not have an ideological worldview that aligns with utopian values. Our world is fallen, and all the creatures therein are messy. Everything will not end well for everyone, including those we love the most. Maybe in fifteen years or so, they will make some improvements. Perhaps there is a face-plant in a hog lot in their future (Luke 15:16-17). These possibilities are God’s secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29), and He will not reveal them to us because it would ruin our faith, knowing the outcomes. We must become comfortable with a bit of mystery while guarding our hearts against fixating on how we believe things should be (James 4:13-17; Matthew 6:34).
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).
Patience is always our primary need when we serve our stuck friends (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Soul care is some of the most laborious and tedious work, especially when the individuals we love don’t seem to want to change—or when they are stuck and though they would like to change, they just can’t. Paul talked about the caught person in Galatians 6:1-2. Perhaps he would like to extricate himself from his trouble, but his sin has captured him, or what we call an addiction today. There was a time when he could manage his vice, but now his vice manages him. One thing that makes our work difficult is not being the ones who control the change process. We are the Lord’s water, boys and girls, faithfully watering and sowing while asking the Father to provide the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).
In this way, it is similar to parenting or any other relationship. We keep on plowing, keep on watering, keep on sowing, and keep on being patient. Be encouraged. Live with the future expectation of the Lord restoring those you love (Psalm 23:3). It may come while you work with them. It may not. Most of the change I have seen in my counselees came after the counseling ended. The counseling season is an artificial window for change to happen, and that is not how change happens. Transformation is not a formula but a gift God gives when He wishes. If they have any theological moorings, they probably know the Lord is good, He was there in their suffering, and He is working a good plan for their lives. I had limited awareness of this truth when my pain was most prominent. But I could do nothing to change my thinking or the hurt. I had to experience it through painful perseverance; God had to take me on a dangerous journey, and no amount of counseling would change that.
No matter how often I cried, my pain and circumstance never changed. Finally, out of sheer desperate torment, I blurted out my anger to the Lord. I don’t recommend this because it’s unbecoming of Christians, but it did happen to me. I was so mad. If you or any other person had shown up during that time, there would have been nothing you could do for me other than be my praying, caring, persevering friend. If you dropped those Job one-liners on me, oh, my! I’m unsure how that would have gone, but I have an idea. I could not change. I was stuck. That was a long time ago. In time, the good Lord did that silent work in my soul and softened my hard heart. He made me ready to receive the good word. The residual effect of that suffering lingers today but in a different way. The good Lord turned my captivity from bitter hopelessness to a ministry that helps people. I’m glad you are there for your unchanging friend. In some small way, I’m pleased that I can serve them through you. That, my friend, is what makes all the suffering worth it.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).