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Blah Blah Blah…Israel…Blah Blah Blah: The critical need of “checking in”

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<p> For those of us who have the privilege of counseling other people on a regular basis, it is a sobering task to speak words of life and truth on behalf of God to a person who is hurting.  Thankfully, in Jesus Christ we have an example of how we are all to approach personal ministry when we read the following in Hebrews 4:15-16:</p> <p> <em>For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.</em></p> <p> In these verses we learn that Christ sympathizes with another’s weaknesses and then calls those being ministered to and those doing the ministering to draw near to His throne of grace in time of need.  Paul Tripp in his excellent book <em>Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands </em>comments on these verses when he says,</p> <p> “Our experience of sympathy is usually limited to feeling sorry for someone and being thankful that we’re not in the same boat. But sympathy here means to be <em>moved by what has moved someone else. </em>Christ’s sympathy is so strong that our problems become his” (pg. 166).</p> <p> If we are going to be moved by what moves someone else we first need to enter into their story.  In a recent blog entry, Craig wrote an excellent article entitled “Inward Bound” that will help you enter into another person’s story.  If you haven’t read the article yet, I would encourage you to do so.  One of the things Craig emphasized in his article was accurate listening.  He said, “Entering the world of hurt of another is centered on humble, intentional, and accurate listening. ”</p> <p> I would like to emphasize an important aspect of accurate listening, and that is the critical need to check in with the counselee to ascertain what they are receiving from your instruction.  Let me provide you an example.   In a particular counseling case I was counseling a husband and wife, and they had two advocates in counseling with us.  At one point, I felt like a story using the nation of Israel would be helpful in demonstrating how this couple was responding to their trials much like the Jewish people had in the Old Testament.  After sharing a particular passage, I asked the wife, “What did you just hear me say?”  She immediately fired off the following unforgettable phrase, “Blah, Blah, Blah . . . Israel . . . Blah Blah Blah.”  Needless to say we all got a good laugh and I astutely observed she didn’t understand what I was trying to teach her.  In years gone by I would have enthusiastically continued teaching her from the Scriptures assuming everyone was tracking with me the whole time.  Thankfully, I didn’t do that in this instance.  As I have continued to counsel, I have become convinced that it is absolutely critical to frequently check in and ask the counselee the following things: <strong>what did you just hear me say</strong>?; <strong>what are some key takeaways from our time thus far</strong>?; <strong>where are you still struggling?</strong>; <strong>what do we need to still cover for you to be confident things will be different going home?</strong>; or perhaps after teaching a difficult passage following Jesus’ example by asking the counselee, “<strong>Do you believe this?</strong>” (John 11:25-26)?  Again, Paul Tripp provides helpful insight into the importance of checking in when he says,</p> <p> “When you are careful to ask people to define, clarify, and explain, you will avoid many misunderstandings and false assumptions that rob personal ministry of its effectiveness. Remember, you are not seeking to broadcast the principles of the Word in a general way. Rather, in the privacy of this moment with this person, use the Word with focused specificity . . . Because you are eager to contextualize the gospel for this person, you won’t ask her to define, clarify, and explain just once.  You will do it again and again, seeking to avoid subtle misunderstandings and to handle the truth with concrete practicality” (<em>Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands </em>pg. 171-172).</p> <p> If we as biblical counselors are to be effective in personal ministry, it is absolutely essential that we regularly and consistently check in with our counselees to maintain an accurate picture of their understanding.  Personal ministry depends on knowing someone well enough to speak truth into their lives where they are at in that moment.  May God help us to be patient, compassionate, persistent, and caring enough to regularly check in with our counselees so that the words of truth we speak will take root in their hearts and bear fruit that will remain.     </p> <p>                                                                                                                                                                                                             </p> <p> Scott O'Malley</p>

Posted on February 8, 2014