Counseling People You Don’t Like

23 Aug

We all know that for whatever reason there are always going to people God calls you to enter into a relationship with, that you don’t initially like.

And, I realize, like is a funny word.

“You don’t like. “

It would be easy to miss what I am talking about.

I just mean, really, people, you don’t feel a natural affection for. There are people you immediately are drawn to, and there are people, if you are honest, you immediately, aren’t. There are people, you don’t enjoy being around, almost from the start. You are not inclined to be for them. You don’t tend to think positive thoughts about them. You don’t want to spend a lot of time listening to them. For some reason, they annoy you. Without even trying sometimes, they are difficult for you. They are not interesting to you. Your initial instinct is to feel like you are a little better than them, and to write them off, and to be hard on them.

And, in terms of counseling and helping people that, right there, can be a real problem.

That can be a real problem, that lack of affection, because how you feel about a person matters, as a counselor. And you can, underline the word feel.

Obviously, I am not saying it is important that we are immediately able to say, oh we have so much in common, let’s just go on holidays together, with every single person we meet. And I am not saying we will ever get to the point where every single person we counsel will be easy for us to know how to relate to.

I think, that’s part of living in this fallen world. I think, that’s a struggle we have as a part of being fallen. But, I am saying how you feel about the people you are counseling matters.

What’s more, you have a responsibility to work on how you feel about them. If you are going to help them, of course, but not just if you are going to help them, if you are going to honor God, as you counsel them. God wants you to be emotionally invested in people to the point where you sincerely rejoice when they rejoice and weep when they weep (Rom. 12:15), where their interests become yours (Phil. 2:1-4), where your heart is soft toward them and they know it.

 Whether honestly you like them, initially or not.

One of the words the Bible uses to describe the deep concern for people I am talking about, is the word compassion.

Biblical counselors should be characterized by compassion.

For all kinds of people.

For, laid back people, uptight people, rural people, city people, clean people, dirty people, religious people, irreligious people, rich people, poor people, black people, white people, our attitude towards all of them, should include, compassion.

One place we see that is in Colossians 3.

In Colossians 3 Paul explains the difference the gospel should make on the way believers treat other people, and after telling us we have to put away certain ways of relating to people that we practiced before we were converted, including things like anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk, Paul goes on to tell us as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, we need to put on compassionate hearts. And, the word Paul uses for compassion has to do with feelings of sympathy and he says we are to have these feelings of sympathy for other people deep down in the innermost parts of our hearts. As people who have been shown such compassion – to be chosen! to be set apart! to be loved by God! – one of the distinguishing characteristics of our new life in Christ is that we should be clothed in compassion ourselves.

And Paul, himself I think, is an example of what that looks like.  

 It’s easy to minimize the importance of the way we feel about people, especially people who are different than us, because feeling compassion for them, sympathy with them, is so hard, and we can almost feel like, you know what, as long as I am telling them the truth, then who cares how I feel, and yet when you look at the way the apostle Paul ministered to people, you see, very quickly, he never would have been content with that.

He cared deeply for people and he let them know it.

Compassion, concern, interest, affection, wasn’t something he just told others to feel.

He lived it.

He felt it himself, down deep.

I actually get a little embarrassed sometimes by the way talks to people. You can take what he tells the Philippians. He says, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you with all the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:7,8) And yearn is a pretty intense word. I can’t imagine using it to describe my feelings for anyone other than God and my wife. Yet Paul did.  And this deep affection for people impacted the way he ministered to them.

That’s the thing.

He cared for people, and he didn’t keep his feelings hidden away in his heart, either.

He let them spill out all over the people he was serving. He says to the Thessalonians, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thess. 2:7-9) It is not every man’s way of relating to people that can be compared to a nursing mother. And if you compared most men to a nursing mother they might take it as an insult. But not Paul. He was happy to remind the Thessalonians of how his love for them produced such gentle and tender care. He loved people, and he was not afraid to let them know it.

And I am just convinced, that really, loving people like this, is not an option.

If we want to serve Christ as biblical counselors.

There needs to be tender care. There needs to be concern. We need to work at feeling deeply for them.

Whenever you read a call to love in the Bible, you are reading a command that requires you to compassionately care for others. I know, obviously, loving people is more than tender care, and more than concern, and more than feeling deeply, but it is certainly not less, and that’s really the issue, for me when it comes to counseling people you don’t like. Because, counseling people you don’t like, is a silly way to put it, really, because it is not about liking them, it is about loving them, and yet, I put it like that, because I think sometimes we excuse away a lack of love for others by describing that lack of love, as, us just not liking them, it doesn’t sound as serious, and yet, I am wondering, how can we love someone, without actually, really being interested in them, and without actually caring for them, and without actually feeling compassion for them.

That’s not called love, that’s called pretending.

And biblical love is much bigger and better than that.

Here is how Peter puts it. He says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22) In other words, one of the reasons God saved you was to enable you to love other people in a way that is real. Sincere. And he uses a number of terms here to help us understand what that sincere love looks like. Take for example the word brotherly. You are to love other believers like family. And then there’s the word for love, as well. It’s agape, and the greatest example of agape love is the sacrificial example of Jesus Christ, of course. He loved you by going to the cross in your place. Which means again, while loving others like Jesus loved you is going to require more sacrifice than simply being interested in their good and caring for them like family, it is going to require at least that. Then there’s the word earnestly. You could translate this, “love one another strainingly.” Peter wants us to flat out work at loving others. You are to make a priority of pursuing something far beyond casual relationships with others, of working hard at developing family-like relationships, of making a habit of sacrificing for other people’s good, of thinking about ways in which you can express Christ-like love to others and of being bothered and concerned when you don’t.

And most importantly, you are to do all this from the heart.

Which may be where Peter actually places his greatest emphasis. Notice how he repeats himself. “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Which means it is not enough to say the right thing or even do the right thing, you need to work at feeling the right thing. Sincere love requires compassion, concern, interest. If you are going to be the kind of person God wants you to be, that He saved you to be, you need to do more than just look like you care for the person you are speaking to, you need to actually care – and if you don’t, you need to make a priority out of becoming a person who does.

Which is part of why honestly, again, why I am talking about counseling people you don’t like.

I just think it’s going to be difficult for you to be helpful to others if you aren’t serious about obeying God’s commands yourself, like the command to be compassionate, like the command to love, and yet when you feel an immediate dislike for someone, it’s tempting to give yourselves excuses, for not being compassionate, for becoming an answer man, for not following Paul’s model of ministry, for not being loving, for not seeking their interests above your own. It’s very easy to give ourselves a free pass, when it comes to people, we don’t naturally gravitate towards and I see this all the time, when it comes to cross-cultural relationships, honestly.

And I am saying, that lack of concern creates a lot of problems.

First of all, of course, it’s dishonoring to God.

Which is the biggest problem.

Because, you claim to represent God and you are not caring about the people He’s brought into your life and that’s pretty serious.

Obviously.

But not only is it dishonoring to God, it’s also unhelpful for people.

Practically. Speaking. Compassion. And a concern for people is important.

In all of life, but especially when we are counseling, because in counseling you are trying to apply truth to specific situations, and that’s difficult, and so often, involves correction and rebuke, which is hard for people to take, and we all know how much more difficult it is to take, rebuke and correction, when it is coming from someone you aren’t convinced cares about you.

Or to put it the way we are putting it, likes you.

Even if they are telling the truth.

If you don’t think they like you, they care about you, it’s hard, even for godly, mature people, to hear, or take that.

So what do you do?

We’ll talk about that next time.

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