Responding to a Cry for Help by Pam Dewey

You have probably heard the old saying, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail to you." The thought behind this is that many people have very few ways to approach problem-solving in their own lives. And the main way is often to hammer others into submission to their own will. They never think of solving problems with such tools as "cooperation," "compromise," "discussion," or "education."

As Christians, we may prefer to think of ourselves as much too enlightened and full of Christian love to use such a blunt-force tactic. But I think it might be helpful to consider that old saying when we find ourselves in a situation where someone has come to us with a "cry for help" to solve some problem in their own life. We want to minister to them, we want to help them past their pain, we want to "fix" what ails them.

Unfortunately, like that old saying, we may find ourselves looking at such problems as easy to fix—they are just nails that need to be beaten into place with what we think is the Hammer of the Word. We may tend to just glibly lecture the needy person with a few choice Bible passages that seem to address their problem, tell them "Go and do likewise," and pat ourselves on the back for being such a good craftsman. After all, isn’t "the Bible" the solution to all problems?

Yes, in one way it is. But as another old saying goes, "You won't get the right answer if you don't ask the right question." And it has a corollary—you won't get the right solution if you don't clearly understand the problem.

When someone comes to you with a problem, there really is more than one way to approach helping them with that problem. All of these ways are based on the Bible, but not all are a "hammer." And how effective and helpful each way is, depends on the nature of the problem.

Sometimes we really can most effectively help someone by dispensing godly wisdom applicable to the situation in the form of "knowledge" from the Bible or from our own experience and education.

But sometimes people instead are most in need of godly wisdom in the form of the compassion, comfort, and encouragement we can offer to them.

And at other times, people are recovering from trauma, dealing with disappointment, or grief, and we use godly wisdom to sense they are most in need of "cheering up."

How do we know which of these approaches are most appropriate in a specific situation? Here are six steps on how to apply godly wisdom in all situations where you wish to help someone who has a problem.

Step Number One: Listen.

Step Number Two: Listen

Step Number Three: Yep. Listen again.

Step Number Four: You got it—Listen again!

Before we go on to Step Five, let’s take a look at those first four steps. Actually, each calls for you to Listen, but each is really a different kind of listening.

Step One: Listen to how the person describes their own need.

It is not uncommon for a Christian to watch an acquaintance with an obvious problem—perhaps a rough spot in a marriage, a struggle with a serious overweight issue that is destroying their health, or a spiritual crisis—and think in his or her own mind that he or she has "just the answer" to the problem. So when the friend "opens the door" by asking for help related to the problem area, there is the temptation to dash in and smother the person with scriptures on the topic, or bombastic hype on how to "overcome." But this is not addressing the person’s need—it is addressing your perception of the need—as an outsider! You may be totally misunderstanding the situation. Only when you sit back and listen and let the person define their own situation will you be sure that you have the understanding necessary to be a help—rather than just a busy-body.

Step Two: Listen for clues to their emotions and to the context of the past and present in their life.

Specific situations don't occur in isolation—they are usually the result of conditions and circumstances that may have been developing for many years. And most situations that people perceive as problems are not just neutral—they carry with them emotional baggage for the individual that can be a huge part of the problem. Rushing in with a "quick fix" for what you may think is a simple, short-term problem may wreak havoc in the life of a person who has been dealing with a very long-term, very emotion-charged situation.

Step Three: Listen for THEIR explanation of how they HAVE already tried to solve the problem.

Offering a lecture on the importance of "couples counseling" to a friend on the edge of a divorce is going to fall on deaf ears if, unknown to you, they already have gone through numerous, fruitless sessions with their mate and a counselor.

Step Four: Listen PATIENTLY for the prompting of the Lord regarding the PROPER TIMING for speaking into the situation, and for WHAT TO SAY.

When you see someone is hurting, there is a great temptation to want to rush in with a solution—which at times is straight off the top of your head. It may feel like saying anything right away is better than saying nothing. In one way that's true—but what you need to be saying promptly is "I care." "God loves you." "I am praying for your situation." Those aren't an immediate solution, but they are what is most needed "on the spot." Specific advice, exhortation, or admonition can come later. And they need to come according to God's timing, not your own.

Once you have accomplished the first four listening steps in this process, you are ready for the next step.

Step Five: Ask for the wisdom from God to know which approach is most appropriate to the situation.

Do you need to dispense knowledge? Or does the situation most call for compassion, comfort, and encouragement? Or is the greatest need for "cheering up" the person?

If you use the wrong approach, you can really miss the mark. Someone may already know all the "knowledge" you plan to dispense, but instead needs comfort or good cheer.

Someone may have been comforted and cheered up, but still doesn't have the knowledge that would actually help them to come to some solutions.

Someone may have all the knowledge they need, and be cheered up, but need the encouragement to keep forging on through a tough time.

Once you've gathered all the insight you can from listening, and have wisely chosen the best approach to ministering to your friend’s need, you can take the final step.

Step Six: Speak in love and kindness what God prompts you to say.

Editor's note: This was originally run in a previous issue, but some things are worth repeating.

Volume 17 Issue 06 | Notes from Nancy | Women in Christ Commentary | Bible Study Guide | Abundance of the Heart | Exhortation |

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