Counseling and first impressions

You only have one opportunity to make a first impression.  Bad first impressions can be corrected, strengthened, or supplemented so that initial miscues aren’t lasting failures.

As first impressions go, Job’s friends were masterful. 

When Job’s tragic circumstances became known, his friends came immediately to be with him (Job 2:11).  No delay, no mental hesitation, no question.  Their friend was suffering and the immediately went to him.

They came for a good purpose: “to sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11b).  They came ready to weep with their suffering friend (2:12).  That’s not just a good goal, that’s a God-exalting, God-revealing goal.  When we commiserate with the suffering, we are acting like God acts towards the bereaved.

They came without platitudes; they came to sit alongside him without attempting to offer solutions for his unexplainable suffering.  This was a man they knew well and the death of his children, the loss of his possessions, and the presence of unimaginable pain defied answers.  So they wisely sat with him in silence (2:13). 

The first impression of Job’s friends is that they were good friends — the exact kinds of friends that a man wants when he suffers.

And then Job spoke.  And out of the overflow of their hearts, they let Job know what they were really thinking about him and his circumstances.  The first impression of their faithful friendship was shattered.  At best, these men were unthinking, critical, and self-righteous. 

While they came with the goal of comforting their friend, by the end of their time, they were judgmental, harsh, and even slandering his character (read 22:1-11 — you will likely think, “I need to read that again, Eliphaz can’t be saying what I think he’s saying about Job,” but yes, he was dismantling Job’s character by lying about his actions and motives).

After reviewing the barrage of attacks against Job, one commentator summarizes the foolish failures of these three ungodly counselors and friends (I’ve reformatted what he wrote without changing the content):

  1. They did not express any sympathy for Job in their speeches.
  2. They did not pray for him.
  3. They seemingly ignored Job’s expressions of emotional and physical agony.
  4. They talked too much and did not seem to listen adequately to their advisee.
  5. They became defensive and argumentative.
  6. They belittled rather than encouraged Job.
  7. They assumed they knew the cause of Job’s problems.
  8. They stubbornly persisted in their views of Job’s problem, even when their ideas contradicted the facts.
  9. They suggested an inappropriate solution to his problem.
  10. They blamed Job and condemned him for expressing grief and frustration.

Because all of us regularly dispense counsel (advice), we do well to consider these observations.  After (or better, before) we attempt to minister the Word of God to someone in need, we do might examine our own hearts and ask these questions about the kind of counsel we are offering, and what is motivating us:

  1. Am I sympathetic to this person and his need? Do I care that he is hurting?
  2. Am I praying for him? Am I praying for myself — for my own heart attitude toward him and for wisdom to care well for him?
  3. Am I recognizing this person’s pain — even (especially) when he has “complained” about it repeatedly? Or am I dismissive of what he is suffering?
  4. Am I a good listener? Or have I foolishly dispensed counsel without listening (Prov. 18:13)?
  5. When my counselee rebuts my suppositions, do I listen, or do I become defensive and argumentative?
  6. Am I consciously thinking (and praying and planning), “How can I build up and strengthen this weak brother to take the next step (1 Thess. 5:14)?” “Is this a gracious word that is exactly fitted for this moment (Eph. 4:29; Prov. 25:11)?”
  7. Do I suppose that I know the mind and purpose of God in this person’s circumstance (Rom. 11:33-36)?
  8. When I am proven wrong, am I willing to admit my error and repent of all sin that influenced my erroneous counsel?
  9. Are the solutions I am offering my friend not only appropriate, but biblical? Is the advice in accord with faith in Christ and the truth of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17)?  Am I attempting to me novel and innovative in my counsel, or am I attempting to be faithful to the faith (Jude 3)?
  10. Do I allow genuine expressions of godly emotions of grief and anguish without condemning and inciting others to sin?

While Job’s friends made a positive initial impression their foolish counsel left them rebuked by God — something we want to avoid.

So better than making a good first impression, let’s make a goal of making a lasting (godly) impression on our counselees.  Let’s start our counseling by examining our own hearts first to make sure we are fit to care spiritually for others (Gal. 6:1).

Photo by Jess Loiterton on Pexels.com

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