A FRIEND IN NEED--How to Help People Through Their Problems!--By Selwyn Hughes

         Early in my ministry an unkempt & distressed stranger came into my church vestry one night & asked for my help. He shared with me a deep, personal problem; but, having had no counsellor training in the theological college I had attended, & certainly having no innate abilities at helping people resolve their problems, I was able only to say, "I will pray for you"--which I did. The next morning they fished his body out of the local canal. He had been dead, they said, for at least eight hours. After hearing the news I knelt on the floor of my study &, from the depth of my grief, cried: "Lord, make me a counsellor."
         I am convinced that helping people with their problems is the task of every Christian, no matter at what stage he or she may be in the Christian life. If the love of God were to flow through us as it should & reach out to others, then the results would be staggering.      But it takes time & effort & involves us, sometimes, in a good deal of inconvenience.

         In order to effectively help people with their problems, one must have a clear goal. We accomplish only that for which we aim.
         A goal is a clearly identifiable target or objective. A goal is more than a hazy wish. It is a clear "This is what I am working towards." When we lose sight of a
goal we tend to concentrate on actions--like the pilot who announced to his passengers, "I am afraid we are lost, but cheer up, wherever we are going we are making good time!"
         Also, if you really want to be successful at helping people with
their problems, then you must face the fact that God will allow you to go through many personal difficulties so that you can develop a deep sensitivity to the feelings & problems which other people face. One counsellor said to me, "Since I decided to become a Christian counsellor, I seem to have faced more troubles, difficulties & problems than I could ever have imagined!" I pointed out to him that one reason why God allows us to go through deep water is that He wants us to obtain a sensitivity which can then be used in the comfort of others. The Bible puts it like this: "Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God."--2Cor.1:4.

         Worriers, perfectionists, compulsive talkers, workaholics, overeaters, recluses...I am sure these "types" can be found in your circle of friends just as they can in mine. And the study of their behaviour is intriguing. A friend of mine says, "I've been fascinated with people ever since I came across them." No two people are the same &, although they may sometimes behave in strange & unpredictable ways, as one Christian puts it, "every person is worth understanding."
         Even in the church some people's behaviour is difficult to understand. Why, for example, does Beryl become so devastated by even the slightest criticism? Why is John unable to handle a close relationship? What makes Fiona invariably take the opposite view to everyone else in her group? Human behaviour is not the result of a chance occurrence. There are
reasons why people behave the way they do. Behind the attitudes & actions of our friends & acquaintances there is a history of experience which determines their behaviour.
         Dr. Clyde Narramore, a well-known writer & Christian counsellor, says, "All behaviour is caused--& the causes are multiple." Keep this statement in mind as you read through this. It can become a significant key with which you can unlock the mysteries & complexities of human behaviour.
Physical factors. It might seem an unnecessary statement to make, but nevertheless I am going to make it--everyone has a body. I haven't seen anyone without one, have you? And no body functions perfectly. Due to Adam & Eve's violation of God's purposes for their lives in the Garden of Eden, every human being born into this World is subject to sickness, disease & infirmity. Some of these physical problems arise from inherited predispositions to certain sicknesses; others from injuries, accidents, climate, lack of vitamins, or environmental factors. Sometimes a physical problem, such as glandular imbalance or nerve impairment etc., may give symptoms which to an inexperienced person appear to be emotional or spiritual difficulties. It is important to recognise this, otherwise you might find yourself trying to help a person with what appears to be an emotional or spiritual problem, but which is really rooted in a physical disharmony or disturbance. Sometimes more exercise, better food, vitamins, proper rest or proper living can miraculously clear up what were thought to be spiritual problems. This isn't always the case, but it can happen.
Emotional factors. Man is much more than a physical being with needs for food, water, air, light & warmth. He is a personal being &, as such, has personal needs. And unless these personal needs are met he will not function adequately as a person.
         What then are these needs?
Every person needs the assurance that he belongs.--That he is desired, wanted & that in his absence he is missed. The search for a feeling of belonging motivates much of human behaviour. It begins to make itself evident from the moment of birth. We begin life as a tiny, helpless infant, under the care of loving (or otherwise) parents. Our parents have the sovereign power of giving or withholding, loving or not loving, hurting or helping.
Every person needs to feel a sense of personal worth & to feel valued.--Not so much for what he does, as for what he is. As we grow a little older, beyond the first year of life, a second basic need becomes prominent--the need for self-worth. If, for example, our parents (due to their own imperfections & lack of understanding) failed to convince us that we were loved by them irrespective of the way we behaved, then this impression would most certainly have a bad effect on our self-image. We develop our self-image in accordance with our parents' impression of us. If when we looked into their eyes we saw the attitude, "I love you only when you behave well, do well in school, or come up to my standards," then we tend to form a picture of ourselves as valuable not so much for what we are, as for what we do.
         Experts have long observed that if a child is not sure of his parents' love, then he will settle for the next best thing--attention. The way in which he attempts to get this attention will differ from child to child. With some it will be achievement, with others it will be rebellion. When such children come to adulthood they will go through life seeing their value more in what they do than in what they are--unless they have matured enough to understand what has been happening to them & take the steps to correct it.
Every person needs to feel a sense of achievement.--That he is successful in at least one major aspect of life. Every human being is motivated by a search for a sense of achievement & fulfillment.
         Achievement is vital to a growing child & is crucial to his identity as a person. If this need is not met then the child will probably develop into an adult who is overcome by constant fear of failure.
Spiritual factors. The greatest need of every individual is to have a personal relationship with God. Human beings are spiritual beings, & their personalities are never fully developed until they come to experience an abiding faith in God. Just as our physical & emotional needs cry out to be met, so do the needs of our spirits reach out to be fulfilled. When we surrender to Jesus Christ in salvation we discover in Him the potential to meet our every spiritual need. But spiritual fulfillment comes not merely in one initial encounter, but through a daily relationship with Him in the power of the Holy Spirit.
         All behaviour is an attempt to meet certain needs, & the motivation to meet these needs is tremendously powerful & strong. The crying infant communicates his need for physical comfort & food. The rebellious teenager is not just trying to make everyone miserable, he gets some satisfaction from his behaviour.
         If you wish to understand human behaviour, you must ask yourself, "What need is this person trying to fulfil by his or her actions?" If you can answer that question, & answer it properly, then you are on your way to an understanding of the problem.

         What then are the basic skills a person needs to learn in order to become an effective people-helper?
Be a good listener. There's an old saying, "Enemies talk--friends listen." And this is basically true. One of the most useful ways you can communicate care & concern for a person who is in trouble is to listen intently, & attentively, to what he or she has to say.
         Doctor Paul Tournier, the famous Swiss medical doctor & Christian counsellor, says: "It is impossible to overemphasise the immense need human beings have to be listened to...in most conversations, although there is a good deal of
talk, there is not real listening. Such conversations are no more than a dialogue of the deaf."
         It's not easy to be a good listener. Most people, when confronted by a friend who is in trouble, want to talk or offer advice. But how can you do that until you have truly listened? We all like to give advice, but sometimes being listened to is what a person needs most.
         The best definition of listening I ever came across is that given by Norman H. Wright, who said, "Listening is not thinking about what
you are going to say when the other person has stopped talking." If we try to figure out what we are going to say when the other person has finished speaking, then we're are in danger of automatically tuning them out, & we may miss a vital phrase or statement.
         Demanding as it may be, it is our Christian responsibility: "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear (a ready listener), slow to speak, slow to wrath."--James 1:19.
Accept people as they are. One hurdle, which some Christians find difficult to overcome when seeking to help a person with a problem, is the ability to accept people as they are. Sometimes when listening to a person share a problem, they find themselves thinking, "How is the World did he get into a mess like this?" or "Why doesn't she just snap out of this depressed mood?"
         Unless we take steps to eliminate these condemning attitudes, we will not be able to offer our best. Critical thoughts, whether we realise it or not, will affect the tone of our voice or the expression on our face. This will in turn seriously impede our ability to be an accepting person.
         We must learn to hate the
sin without hating the sinner. As we listen to a person's problem in an accepting atmosphere, a relationship develops. As the relationship grows, the inner problems can be dealt with later--& dealt with more effectively, because the person has found in you compassion & understanding.
         But how do we keep from developing critical attitudes? This used to be my big hang-up when I first started counselling. One day I shared my difficulties with an older minister who said, "That used to be my problem, too--& this is how I overcame it." Reaching into a desk drawer he took out a stone & a rusty nail. "I keep these here," he said, "for a special reason. The stone to remind me of the text, `Let him who is without sin...be the first to throw a stone,' & the nail to remind me what a Friend did for me a long, long time ago on a hill called Calvary." Since then, whenever I counsel anyone, I say to myself, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
Empathise with hurt feelings. There can be no real communication between human beings until they relate to each other on the level of feeling. In other words, you can know a person's thoughts, idea, values, judgement & opinions, but until you know how the person feels you are still standing on the doorstep of his life, instead of sitting down in the living room. This identification with his feelings is called empathy.
         The way to a man's heart (& for that matter, a woman's also) is not through the stomach, but through the feelings.
Be careful what you say, & how you say it. When we have listened attentively to a person's problem, the time comes when we are expected to make some verbal comment on the situation. At this stage, what exactly do we say & how do we respond properly to a person's problem or predicament? A lot depends on the situation, but here are three general guidelines:
         a.) Reflect a genuine interest & concern. Proverbs says, "Ointment & perfume rejoice the heart, so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel."--Prov.27:9. Show real concern for the
person, not merely the problem.
         b.) Reflect back to the person a summary of the problem as you see it. One way to be sure that you have heard correctly, & also to give assurance to the person that you have understood what he has said, is to repeat back to him a summary of his problem.
         c.) Don't give advice--help the
person think the issues through. You may have a clear solution to the person's problem, but remember that if you solve a person's problem for him he will probably return when something else goes wrong expecting you to solve that problem too.
A wise use of questions. A mistake many people make when attempting to help a person with a problem is to ask too many questions. If you ply a person with too many questions he will conclude a.) that counselling is simply the answering of questions &, b.) that once the questions have been asked & answered then he will be given the solution to his problem. This puts an undue pressure on a counsellor & should be watched right from the start.
         Try to ask open-ended questions--those questions that can't be answered with a single word, such as "yes" or "no".
Watch your body language. Dr. A. Mehrabian, in his book "Silent Messages", discusses the importance of non-verbal behaviour in human relationships.
         Dr. Mehrabian claims that the actual
words we use to communicate any given message make up only 7% of the communication process. The tone of voice we use to convey the message makes up another 38%. But the biggest part of the whole is made up by non-verbal language, the look in our eyes, the expression on our face, or the way we position ourselves bodily. This makes up a startling 55%! So it's not just what we say, but the way we say it, that counts!
         If we are to communicate effectively with those we are trying to help, we must realise the power of non-verbal language. Take the eyes, for instance. If we really care about people we should look at them when we minister to them. If we continually look away when talking or listening to them, the message they get from our non-verbal language is that we are not interested, or that we are embarrassed, or indeed that we do not agree with them & are unwilling to consider their viewpoint.

         If up to this point you have read through this systematically, one thing should by now be quite clear--God uses
people to help people. The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead is an excellent example of this principle.
         "Jesus therefore again groaning in Himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, & a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto Him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up His eyes, & said, Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me. And I knew that Thou hearest Me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that Thou hast sent Me. And when He thus had spoken, He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand & foot with graveclothes: & his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, & let him go."--John 11:38-44.

         I used to wonder, when I read this passage, why it was that Christ, whose Word brought Lazarus from the dead, did not use that same power to roll away the stone or to rid him of his graveclothes. It seems perfectly logical to me that if Christ could raise a man from the dead, then He could by that same power cause his graveclothes to fall away from him. The fact that Christ turned to those who were standing around & told them, "Unwrap him & let him go" illustrates a profound spiritual principle. God alone can give a person life, but He often uses others to bring about liberty in life.
         I know many Christians who have the life of God flowing through their being--but they don't have much liberty. They are wrapped round with the graveclothes of damaged emotions, unhealed memories & repressed hurts. And it is to such people as these that Christ points, when we commit ourselves to be counsellors, & says: "Unwrap him & let him go."
         In order to help people experience liberty in life, we must learn to use the power available to us in God's word, the Bible. Psychological insights which are in harmony with Scripture are fine, but the
greatest power to set men & women truly free is the power contained in God's eternal & errorless Word! Jesus, when addressing His disciples on this issue, said, "If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, & the truth shall make you free."--John 8:31.32.
         Of course this does not mean that we should throw large chunks of the Bible at people without first endeavouring to build a relationship, to empathise with hurt feelings, & to become sensitive to their personal needs.

         How do you react when confronted by someone who is facing a serious crisis? Do you respond to the situation positively & confidently? Or do you mutter incoherently, stumble for something meaningful to say, & finish up like an Arctic river, frozen at the mouth?
         All of us, at some time or another, come face to face with friends, relatives & acquaintances who are caught up in crisis situations, life-shattering events which can leave a person stunned & bewildered. What do we say & how do we help those who are overtaken by such disasters?
         The plan I want to share with you for helping a person in a crisis is something that anyone of average intelligence & sound Christian conviction can effectively use & apply.
A--Achieving contact. A person caught in a crisis will feel confused & helpless. To compensate for these feelings, a person will sometimes withdraw into a state of unreality. As you talk together he may alternately look away from you & stare at you as if he is not seeing you. This is because he is caught in what some people call "a sensory overload". To understand this concept of overload, think of a situation in which you struggled to find an answer to a problem or to recall some fact that kept eluding you. You probably closed your eyes or stared at something without really seeing it in order to keep the visual stimuli from overloading your mental circuit & interfering with your thought processes. A person in a crisis will therefore tend to look at another person without really seeing him, or stare at an object that does not require any mental processing. This is why some people who are depressed & feel down, actually look down & gaze at the floor. The first task of a counsellor is to break through this disorientation & make contact with the person. There are several ways in which this can be achieved.
Make contact physically. If I find myself standing by someone who is in a state of crisis, I take him firmly by the arm, steer him towards a nearby seat or chair & say, "Let's sit down here for awhile & talk this matter over." This simple physical action, if done firmly, deliberately & confidently, helps the person feel that for the moment, at least, someone else is in charge. When I have got the person seated I try to establish eye contact too.
Make contact verbally. When I have succeeded in making contact with a person physically, my next goal is to make contact verbally. More often than not a person in a crisis will increase his rate of speech & allow words to tumble out in a disjointed manner. At this stage a counsellor can say, "Please slow down because I want to understand what you are saying."
Make contact emotionally. This means making contact with a person's feelings. It involves walking alongside the person rather than leaping ahead to find a possible solution. I feel it necessary at this stage to make clear that in this first stage of counselling, achieving contact, it's not important to search for a solution. This is the mistake many beginners make when attempting to counsel a person with deep problems. They try to start giving answers before they have really understood the problem. People want to know how much you care before they care how much you know.
         The most valuable lesson I have learned in counselling is that it is almost impossible to understand a person's problem until one is able to empathise with their hurt feelings. You can comprehend a person's thoughts & analyse his behaviour, but you will never truly understand him until you know how he feels. (
Editor: Put yourself in his place!)
B--Boiling down the crisis. This involves focusing on the major issues that brought about the crisis. Here again, I am not interested too much in finding a solution, but more in gathering facts.
         In boiling down the crisis, a counsellor's first task is to get the facts. He must ask questions until all relevant factors are understood. Emotion has to be separated from reality, generalisations from specifics. Sometimes a person will omit, exaggerate, forget or simply misinterpret things. A counsellor has to drive his mind like a bulldozer through all the difficulties, separating the facts from the theories & putting them on one side for later attention.
C--Correlating the issues. I believe my most important task as a Christian counsellor is to enable a person to evaluate what has happened to him from a Biblical perspective, & to learn to see life from God's point of view. Over the years I have developed a simple 3-point Scriptural strategy, which I share with the person at this stage. There is no greater instrument for pulling a confused mind back into clear focus than the Word of God. The points are:
         1.) God is on the throne! I attempt to show them that no matter how bad the crisis may appear to be, Jesus is right there in the centre of it.
         2.) His grace is unfailing! God supplies a steady stream of grace to cope with whatever life brings us. Sometimes a person says, "I can't cope with this", or, "It's too much for me to bear." Although you will sympathise with his feelings, you must bring him face to face with the fact that however he might feel, this is not what God says. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 God says that He will not allow one of His children to be tested above or beyond his ability to bear it.
         3. Praise God for the problem! Here I like to read to the person James 1:2-3: "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience."
         When a person can be brought to genuinely praise God for his problems & to see them from God's point of view, as
growing points & not groaning points, then all bitterness & resentment will flow out of his spiritual system. When this happens, it will not be long before healing takes place.

         Doctors of medicine classify certain ailments as "occupational diseases". The miner, for example, is prone to lung disease. Surprising as it may appear to some, the work of Christian counselling has its occupational diseases as well. Not everyone succumbs to them, & not all are attacked, but it is imperative that we know where the dangers lie & be on our guard against them.
A sense of superiority. There is a danger in all callings & professions of being superior & overbearing, but such an attitude always seems especially heinous when it creeps into the ministry of people-helping. Unless one is careful, the insights gained concerning the way people think & behave can contribute to a sense of superiority arising within one's soul. I remember being counselled as a teenager by a man who had great experience in counselling, & who was widely known in the area where I lived for his expertise & skill. Never, as long as I live, will I forget the negative impression he made on me. His sense of superiority infected his whole manner, & he talked down to me in a way that I bitterly resented. The language he used, psychological words & phrases that I had never heard before, went right over my head. His judgement on my problem came over with such a hardness that I cried. He did not see the courage with which I stood up to other problems in my life. The man was learned, experienced & highly trained. But he was utterly out of touch with life, & utterly unaware of it.
         If, during your counselling experiences, you find that there arises in you a sense of superiority--then squash it the way you would squash a harmful bug.
Jumping to conclusions. When I first started counselling as a pastor, a woman came to me complaining bitterly about her husband. She told me he was mean, cruel, unspiritual, unloving & a rogue. My immediate reaction was this--just wait until the next time I see him, he will certainly get a piece of my mind! When I met the husband later I told him exactly what I thought of him. He listened patiently, then told me the situation from his point of view. I remember being taken aback, for I realised that I had made my first big mistake--I had jumped too hastily to conclusions. Every one of us describes events, circumstances & problems as we see them--from our own point of view. In counselling we usually hear one side of the issue--the speaker's. More often than not this is only one side of the matter. In some counselling situations, particularly marriage counselling, one needs to get the views of others who are involved so that the picture can be brought into its proper perspective.
Seeing truth as something only others need. Here a peculiar peril of the counsellor appears. It is the peril of sharing Biblical truths & principles by knowledge rather than by experience. A head knowledge of facts & theories is no help to someone with a heart problem.
A sense of failure. Not all counselling sessions end successfully. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we just don't seem to get anywhere. At such times a counsellor must be on his guard not to allow a seemingly unsuccessful interview to rob his spiritual peace. Jesus knew what it was like to have a counselling session produce no results. The rich young ruler, when confronted by Christ with the fact that his riches were the main focus of his life, turned & walked away. A counsellor can share, explain, pray, read the Scriptures, warn, admonish, encourage & direct, but he cannot make a person obey.
Personal admiration. Another of our occupational diseases is the danger we are in from people who admire us because they have gotten the Lord's help through us in our counselling. We can understand it happening, but we must not encourage it.

Assume personal responsibility for the way you are. A major step on the ladder to effective Christian living is to acknowledge that it is not so much what happens to you as what you do with it that matters. People blame society, their parents, & even God for what happens to them, forgetting that with the right inner attitudes every setback can become a springboard, & every stumbling block a stepping stone. We are not responsible for what happens to us, but we are responsible for the way we respond to what happens to us.
Forgive everyone who has ever hurt you. No one can afford to carry a grudge. It takes too much toll. A Welsh proverb says that you chew on your own tongue when you chew on resentment. As long as we harbour an unforgiving spirit we cannot expect to climb out of the pit of discouragement & despair. This is a principle that Jesus made clear in His Sermon on the Mount. "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."--Matthew 6:14,15.
         Many Christians find it hard to recognise & identify resentment as an evil thing, because it is so skilful in justifying itself. People believe that if resentment is justified they may legitimately hold it. Indeed, some would go as far as to say they
ought to hold it & that it would be foolish & weak not to hold it. It is not the naturalness of resentment that is important, but the poison that flows through the emotion. Legitimate or not, it is a parasite in the mind!
Avoid self-pity. It would be hard to exaggerate the dangers of self-pity. That a man should look so long & intently at his troubles that he becomes a martyr to them, is one of the most distressing conditions into which a human being can fall.
         The secret of overcoming self-pity is a mind that is centered on God & on His Son Jesus Christ. With this attitude all the hard disciplines of life can be accepted with courage &, through God's Love, be turned to advantage. To moan about life's seeming misfortunes dishonors God by implying that He is mismanaging His World & doesn't care about what happens to His creation. Begin to unselfishly turn your sensitivity to sympathy & compassion for others. Radiate good cheer, thrust your shoulder under someone's else's burden, & learn of the joy that comes through serving the King of kings.
Meet every situation that comes your way with praise. Listen to what Paul said in 1Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks." Even though we may not like the circumstances in which we find ourselves we can legitimately praise God for them, resting in the knowledge that ultimately all things work together for good to them that love God!
         When we respond to all of life's situations with praise & gratitude to God, it prevents our spirits from becoming soured & enables us to see life from the
Lord's point of view!


--By Eileen Mazer

Confession may be good for the soul, but according to researchers, it may be even better for the body.
         James Pennebaker, Ph.D, & Robin O'Heeron of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, talked to a group of surviving spouses & found that
those who confided in others had fewer health problems than those who kept it all in.
The strain of not confiding emotional burdens of any kind creates a great physiological stress," Dr. Pennebaker told us. "Not surprisingly, nonconfiders had more stress-related health problems. But they also had more everyday ills, too, like colds & flu.
         "Of course," adds Dr. Pennebaker, "
who you confide in is important. If your confidant is in the same social circle, it might make things awkward. A spouse isn't necessarily the right person either, since you may hurt his or her feelings.
Therapists, rabbis or ministers are good to talk to because they are trained to be supportive & nonjudgmental. Sometimes a stranger--someone sitting next to you on a plane--can be a satisfactory confidant."
         You don't have to limit your confiding to the spoken word, says Dr. Pennebaker. "
Writing about your trauma can be just as effective. Best of all, it's never too late to unload. We've studied people who had traumas 20 to 30 years ago. Those who had never confided in anyone suffered substantially more health problems than those who had confided, even if confiding occurred many years later."


         NEW YORK (AP)--A survey of 74,000 readers of the Ladies' Home Journal shows "macho" husbands get only a "good" rating in love-making, while the "traditional" or "new-style" men win the "excellent" ratings.
         But the biggest problem most of the women confessed was that macho or not, their husbands don't make love often enough.
         The unscientific survey also showed that 70% of the women are secretly pleased when men whistle at them on the street, & 87% say they are not above admiring the men on the street. The group, the magazine added, includes women 80 years old or older.
         The magazine said women who describe their husbands as "macho" are also the only ones who report their husbands enjoy pornography. "They are also the ones who don't pitch in with housework & childcare", the Journal reported. "And interestingly, the wives of the macho men say they don't want their sons to grow up to be like Dad..."