This article is by Garrett Higbee and published by BCC
In over thirty years of counseling, I have come to believe that godly friends are invaluable in providing wise care. That’s why I often ask counselees to invite a friend into the process. More importantly, the Bible is clear that one of the sweetest things about friendship is the counsel of someone who knows us and cares for us well (Prov. 27:9). But perhaps you feel intimidated or inadequate to help counsel your friends. Most of us have no professional training, no degrees in soul care. Maybe you aren’t even feeling all that put together and wonder what business you have giving anyone counsel?
The world tells us to leave that to the experts, but the Bible gives us a different perspective. Our competence to minister well comes from our personal relationship with Christ (2 Cor. 3:5), our knowledge of His Word, and our love for others. I am convinced that most wisdom issues are well within the scope of competence of a godly friend. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about friends comforting one another (2 Cor. 1:3-5), bringing instruction (Rom. 15:14), and caring deeply for everyday problems (Heb. 3:12-14). That said, there are times the issues are deep, and the risk is too high, giving us good reason to seek the help of someone well trained in biblical counseling.
Most of us remember a time when a friend came alongside us and said just the right thing, listened with compassion, or cared enough to bring needed correction. At the same time, most of us would admit we still sometimes feel ill-equipped to know what to say or do when a friend is struggling emotionally or spiritually. The question isn’t if you will find yourself in a situation to give advice or counsel to someone you care about; it is how wise or effective is your counsel? There are some simple but highly effective skills I want to share so you can speak the truth in love with more compassion and effectiveness when you encounter a friend in need.
Before I share how to grow in soul care skills as a friend, I want you to consider what kind of friends you have and what type of friend you want to be. Proverbs 18:24 says, “a man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Are you settling to just be among companions, or are you a biblical friend seeking biblical friendships? This means a gospel-centered friendship with no tolerance for gossip or slander, guarding your friend’s secrets while taking them to the Lord in prayer. In other words, you are safe, and you point friends to Christ and His Word. Not just a companion but a confidant who understands that gossip, even in the form of a prayer request, is grievous to the Lord and separates close friends (Prov. 16:28). Start with being a safe person for your friend to confide in. If needed, repent, recommit, and reconcile relationships in your friend group and then strive to grow in going vertical and giving wise counsel.
To help you grow, I want to share what I call the “C.A.R.E. Model,” which we train all our soul care providers in. It is four critical steps of how to approach, care for, and counsel a hurting friend. C.A.R.E. stands for Connect, Assess, Respond, and Encourage.
Step 1: Connect with Compassion
Hopefully, you already have relational passport with your friends to step into hard things. Nothing helps with this like showing compassion. Compassion is best demonstrated in friendship by feeling deeply for the struggle of your friend. Christ was moved many times by the suffering or struggles of a friend (John 11:35). I love the idea of a friend being a co-sufferer like Christ is to us. Perhaps you are more of a “truth” person, and mercy seems hard to muster. Well, then you need to spend more time with Christ and His Word. Think of His mercy and grace toward you, how He is so present and so sympathetic to your weakness and struggles (Heb. 4:14-16). Nothing will help you grow in compassion like seeing your own need and letting Christ and others comfort you.
Step 2: Assess by Drawing out the Heart (Prov. 20:5)
Most of us have been hurt by people assuming something about us without knowing us well, or presuming of our motives based on very little information. A godly friend learns to ask heart-revealing questions and listen to understand, not just to respond. You move from fruit to root issues by discerning what is an obvious unwanted behavior (fruit), to how they think or predominate attitudes (trunk) to what they desire (root). An example of getting to the root is to ask what is going on in their life that is stressing them. Then, ask your friend what they want from that situation. What do they hope for as an outcome? It is important not to jump to conclusions (like Job’s friends). Get beyond the rearranging of fruit—moving past complaints or venting—to getting to motives like comfort, security, pleasure, or control. Then you will be able to bring wise counsel that targets the heart.
Step 3: Respond in Truth and Grace (Eph. 4:15)
Most of us err on one side or another of truth and grace. The key is the blending of the two in our speech and actions. Jesus never compromised truth, but He never compromised grace either. He knew when to admonish and when to encourage, but whatever He did was out of love. We can all grow in this. Which do you need to grow in more? Speaking the truth based on what the Bible says? Sharing truth but wrapped in grace and with a longsuffering attitude? Think of someone who brings the Word of God to you with a winsome and patient demeanor. How can you learn from them? Ask a few friends to give you feedback regarding how you come across. Study the Word, and I would suggest a good book like Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands to help you learn how to minister the Word better.
Step 4: Encourage Abiding in Christ and Community (Heb. 3:12-14)
As your friend gets untangled from a sin issue or learns to suffer in a trial with hope, your encouragement will be so helpful. As a friend, we need to be intentional that we don’t let them fall between the cracks during a vulnerable time or feel like they are struggling alone. That might mean regular one-on-one times, or it could mean pressing them to get more formal biblical counsel. Perhaps you are just a bridge to a small group where they will keep growing and being cared for. You’re there for them (Prov. 17:17), but you are not their main or only hope (Ps. 62:5). Keep growing in these ways and point them to the best friend anyone could have (John 15:13).