When someone comes in for counseling it is usually motivated out of a sense of hopelessness. Their hopelessness is generally caused by a combination of biological, psychological, social, spiritual, and environmental issues that surface as a maladaptive behavior or cognitive distortion. When these individuals turn to people for help in solving their issue (behavior or thought pattern) they are often given a solution that does not address the complexity of the person and usually begins with a statement that says just do or stop doing whatever you are doing that causes the problem. While stopping the inappropriate behavior or thought pattern would help get rid of the symptom of the issue, but it does not address the heart of the matter or the complexity of the individual that has been scarred from their suffering.
If we desire to respond to people in grace and go beyond focusing simply on the symptom of the problem we must be patient and approach the individual with love and a listening ear. Before we can offer any advice or counsel we must get to intimately know this complex individual created by God and in his image. It is very easy to quickly jump to a conclusion on a matter of symptoms that we see someone displaying rather than taking the time to get to the root of the matter. We prejudge and conclude the matter much too early and often can end up causing more pain to the individual than good. In order to help people through these complex issues we must understand what things look like from their perspective and then help direct them to understand their suffering through the perspective of God’s Word and the community of the church.
A LESSON FROM A DONKEY
Paul reminds the believers in Corinth that they cannot know the mind of a man. Therefore we must inquire into their mind through gracious investigative questions and active listening ears of patience. The story of Balaam’s donkey adds great insight to the potential damage and shortsighted approach an individual can have when going through a complex issue. In Numbers 22:22-35 we find Balaam taking a journey that God does not desire him to take. As Balaam continues on his journey, with his faithful and noble steed, the donkey begins to behave in a way that causes Balaam to become angry. He responds by beating the
donkey. This occurs three times causing the donkey to finally drop down in the road and refuse to move. Balaam continues every time to respond by beating his donkey senseless. What takes place next has to be one of the most weird and confusing things any one has every experienced. “When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”(Numbers 22:27-30 ESV).
Balaam does not even appear to have been stunned by the fact that his donkey is speaking to him. At times when we are in a rage or going through an issue we are not so aware of potential clues that God may be giving us. The donkey was trying to communicate something to Balaam every time she steered him off of the path, but Balaam was not interested in trying to understand what was happening. Instead he was simply attempting to accomplish the goal he had already set out to do. Counselors and people who are honestly seeking to help someone can often respond to the person going through suffering in the same way Balaam is responding to the donkey. Rather than listen to what they are saying they beat the person senseless with verses and principles that usually begin with “just do this” statements and do not take the time to try to understand why the person is continuing in this self-destructive behavior or thought patterns. Balaam is so outraged with the donkey that he even talks about killing the donkey if he had a sword. Here we see Balaam reacting to the situation emotionally and allowing his emotions to control himself. As a believer we do not want to allow our emotions to overpower the Spirits voice in our lives. A reaction is simply driven by emotion while a response is guided through the patient listening to the Spirit’s direction and choosing to respond in a means that glorifies God and does not accomplish our self-serving desires or a false sense of righteousness.
God chooses to open Balaam’s eyes and let him see that the reason his donkey kept running off of the path was because there was an angel with a flaming sword waiting to strike Balaam down. When God chose to reveal this to Balaam his response is immediate repentance and a change of heart to respond in a way that glorifies God rather than responding in a way that is self-serving. It is interesting that God’s grace to Balaam was extended multiple times. Balaam had a number of opportunities to change his heart and actions, but it took a patient donkey and a gracious God to finally help Balaam see the faulty thinking and behavior that he was choosing to enslave himself with. This should provide direction and hope for those who are seeking to help individuals suffer through their complex issues. If God was able to use a donkey then he can definitely use you! We also note that it was not through the donkey’s ability that he was successful, but rather it was when God opened the donkey’s mouth and Balaam’s eyes that progress was made. This is evidence once again that God is the means and the solution to meeting our problems. His means is through grace and his solution is hope in God’s promises and faithfulness to us.
SIMPLISTIC OR SIMPLE
Perhaps that sounds a little simplistic for the issue you are going through. While the truth can appear simplistic I guarantee that it is not. The truth is simple yes, but not simplistic. The difference is that simplistic implies a lack of effort to accomplishing the end result. Our hope was not accomplished simplistically it was through the humbling and suffering of God’s Son on the cross that grace was made available to the world (John 3:16). He bore our sins as they were nailed to his hands on that cross (Col. 2:14). It was by his stripes we have been healed (Is. 53). That is not simplistic. He chooses to bear the pain and punishment of our sins so that we would not have to. He dealt with the complexity of our problem, our position as sinners in the presence of a holy God, so that He could offer a simple means to resolve the complex issues we face. A simple truth that requires child like faith and brings with it the power to fill a void in our lives that no person, technique, or object could ever fill. That is Grace. That is the doing of God. That is putting our suffering in perspective to his suffering and ability to save us.