I’ve never been mistaken for a comedian. I like humor and I try to be funny, but that’s just it… I try. Most of my jokes are very dry and when people eventually get them they moan more than laugh. All of that to say, I am venturing off of my “home turf” with this analogy.
I believe there is a common mistake that is made by both young comedians and young counselors – they jump to the point / punch line too quickly.
Think about it. It’s your first night on stage and the only reason you’ve been given a microphone is to make people laugh. There is an intense sense of felt-need to say something funny. Every second you spend building the story of your joke is another moment your confidence fades. You can tell that everyone in the room can sense how uncomfortable you are.
The rescue plan seems simple—fast forward to the punch line. But the timing is off and the people are just ready enough to know that what you said was supposed to be funny. There is a slight chuckle, but not enough to bring life back to the room or confidence to your routine. Now when you back up and try to come at the joke again it is less funny because the surprise element is lost.
Counseling is not that different. You’re sitting down with a stranger whose only reason to come see you is for relief and direction. There is an intense sense of felt-need to say something profound, or at least helpful. As you listen you are searching for something biblical to say. It is obvious you are searching instead of listening and the discomfort becomes contagious.
The rescue plan seems simple—fast forward to a truth statement. But the counselee is not ready and relevant truth comes off as cliché and canned. There is a sense that God’s Word could be useful, but there is not enough trust or awareness to carry the weight of God’s Word where it needs to go. Counseling continues, but each subsequent “answer” still feels more generic than cutting to the heart.
In light of this reflection read Proverbs 25:11, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
The same word could have been un-fitly spoken and its value would be much less; not because it would be less true, but because its impact would be greatly reduced.
This is why no counseling approach, including biblical counseling, will ever be a recipe. We cannot create an equation that says, “This problem requires these truths in this order.”
So what is the take away? We are not just trying to discern what to say in counseling. We are trying to discern when to say it and how to best prepare an individual to receive the truth that would comfort their suffering, give direction to their confusion, reveal their sin, reinforce their perseverance, etc…
This requires patience on the part of the counselor. This patience requires a belief in the power of incarnational living to accompany a belief in the power of Scripture. The Bible ties the effectiveness of Jesus’ ministry in large part to His ability to relate to who we are (John 1:14; Hebrews 4:14-16). The Bible also speaks of Jesus coming “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4; Eph 1:10).
As we seek to counsel, let us mirror these attributes of the One we are seeking to represent. Let us take the time to get to know the world of our counselees, even if this creates an awkward time of uncertainty about what direction counseling will take. As we enter their world, let us be as concerned with the counselee’s preparedness to receive God’s truth as we are with our faithfulness to deliver it.
Ultimately, we are not trying to be funny or liked. But we know that we use an instrument that is sharper than any other (Heb 4:12-13), so we take our time in the conversational environment of counseling to seek to be sure that the powerful words we speak are “fitly spoken” and, thereby, have their full value / effect.