Counseling a Despairing Man

I think Scripture is loaded with great instruction for engaging with people in all seasons of life. This post focuses on engaging with a believer during a difficult season in their life.

1. Give them voice

Job 6:26 says, “Do you think you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?” Let the wind blow where it will. Healing comes, in part, through giving voice to the fullness of our pain. Metaphors that push the limits, passionate exaggeration, scandalous theological statements, expressions of doubt, and bold argumentation are the standard language of the man in despair. We see this in Job, Jeremiah, Moses, and the Psalmists. When we encounter a man in this place we often feel uncomfortable. Their statements alarm us. It appears to us that they are losing their grip on the truth. We are tempted to correct their statements and reprove their “unbelief.” Without knowing it we often compound the pain of the despairing man by silencing his voice. If we can understand that this type of expression is a natural and even biblical way of moving through darkness to the light it will help us walk with people in their pain. See this helpful article on the subject: John Piper- When Words Are Wind.
2. Give them time

Psalm 42 and 43 are one unified unit of Scripture. The refrain that runs through these psalms and ties them together is this expression: “why are you cast down o my soul.” It occurs three times throughout these two psalms. The first time it occurs is early on in Psalm 42. The next two occurrences come at the end of both psalms. The interesting thing about this refrain is that the Psalmist is striving to bring himself out of a place of despair. In fact, that is the point of the Psalm. He is calling himself out of the dark place he finds himself. He gives himself every reason to leave the pit and yet at the end of both Psalms he remains there. These two psalms together teach us that the journey out of despair can take time. The suffering man should not be put on our healing timetable.  As we walk with people in this place we will love them much better if we can remember this.
3. Give them grace

1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” The term translated fainthearted here is literally “little souled.” The language communicates a soul shriveled and shrunk by some kind of difficulty or suffering. Those who are crushed and small in soul need an infusion of hope and encouragement. According to Paul, patience is a must as we engage with people in this place. Impatience will only exacerbate their pain. We must take our cues from the master comforter. Recall this word about Jesus, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench (Matt 12:20).”
 4. Trust the indwelling Spirit

Roland Allen was a missionary to China in the early 1900’s. He was also one of the foremost missions thinkers of his time. His work continues to impact missions practice to this day. One of the principles he emphasized in church planting was trust in the Holy Spirit. He believed that missionaries should place their confidence in the Spirit that indwelt new believers to lead, expand, and multiply the church. He understood the significance of the third person of the Trinity residing within a human being. He believed that the Spirit would accomplish what God promised he would in all believers. Like the apostle Paul, he was convinced of the Spirit’s faithfulness: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). I am certain that this principle can help us as we walk alongside hurting people. When we trust the Spirit in other people we can journey with them without anxiety when they are struggling and hurting.