I am not a professional counselor but I have a strong sense of empathy for the emotions of others. I like to help out when I can and I have had the tremendous privilege of being able to assist friends and family carry the burdens life provides. I have learned a few methods from these experiences and if I may be so bold I would like to share with you some things to consider if you find yourself in these situations.
The scripture that guides me in providing ministry to those in turmoil comes from Jeremiah 29 in the first letter he wrote to the new Jewish captives of Babylon. Jeremiah was aptly named the gloom and doom prophet in that for over twenty years he had one message and no converts. He preached of the imminent need for repentance to avoid judgment from God. His message year after year went unheeded and about 597 B.C. the empire of Babylon invaded taking many of the Jewish people captive. After two Jewish uprisings, one by Jehoiakim and one by Zedekiah, the armies of Babylon completely destroyed Jerusalem, leveled the temple and taking most of the surviving people into captivity.
Jeremiah’s letter to these people is a perfect example of how to minister to someone in distress. This is a complicated and serious commitment for someone to take on because to fail in providing helpful ministry at a time like this could not only cause further turmoil to the situation but falter an already shaky faith. Let’s begin with understanding two things Jeremiah does not do.
We can see first that in writing this letter he is not one of the captives. While this may just be a fortuitous event for this examination I think we can learn something vitally important. Jeremiah in keeping himself separate from the situation avoids the danger of lost perspective. He is able to see more clearly by keeping himself out of the state of captivity. As a minister or counselor this is very important. You can not get into the sinking boat with the person you are working with, your job is to either pull them out of the boat or teach them to row for safety.
Another thing he does not do is say “I told you so”. If ever there was a man that more richly deserved the self vindication of those four words it would be Jeremiah. He tried for decades to get these people to change their hearts and ways, even at the risk of his own life. But at no time in this letter can we observe any self edification from him. This is truly a good example for us to follow.
In examination of the things Jeremiah does do we can start with how he addresses the current situation they are in. In verses 1-5 Jeremiah sends them what I call the “Don’t make it worse” message. He instructs them to take wives, build gardens and to seek the peace of the city. Jeremiah is concerned for the immediate needs of his beloved people and first wants them to reach for some level of stability in this crisis.
He next moves into the message of “This is not then end of things”. Jeremiah has the gift of prophesy so can be more specific in time tables as shown in verses 10 and 11. He can state the limit of 70 years of captivity for his people but we can also benefit from this teaching. Jeremiah wants them to know that as bad as things are today, and they are very bad, they will not last forever. There is hope and a future that is part of the provisional plan of God for them. For the Jews 70 years was required to fully purge the rebellious spirit and lifestyle from their society. Only when this had been completed could God begin the restoration of their lives. For you the counselor the goal is to let the person in your care know that God has a plan, but it is dependant upon their willingness to accept it. But like Jeremiah focus on the hope of the future not the work needed to get there. You will have time to do that after the initial crisis is over.
The third stage of this example can be summarized as “Get your eyes on where you are going not where you are”. In verses 12 – 14 Jeremiah begins to lay out what the future will look like and how the relationship with God will be with the Jewish people. He provides to them an optimism that in their current situation is unbelievable. These people have lost everything; they have suffered the death of family; the loss of their temple, city and their freedom. In their state of despair and hopelessness Jeremiah offers them a glimpse of a future filled with promise.
To conclude this commentary lets review the pathway of Jeremiah in the administration of ministry to the Jewish people in crisis and how this can guide you in the role of Counselor or Minister.
Become part of the situation, be part of the solution
Pass judgment or berate people because of the mistakes they make
Advice them to not make their situation worse than it is.
Teach that there is a plan and this situation is part of but not the end of it
Put your eyes to the future and see the hope and grace to come.
I believe if you can offer these messages of hope and encouragement in ministry then you can be an affective minister for those in need. Lastly I will caution anyone that finds themselves in this situation to pray constantly and with a partner. You will need more than ever God’s wisdom and strength when helping others.