As a former attorney and pastor, I’ve had lots of opportunities to counsel people. Fortunately, I never became a professional counselor, though, because I probably would’ve made myself and others even more crazy than we already are.
Believe me, it’s often frustrating to be a counselor. I simply don’t have the necessary patience.
People ask for your advice but then refuse to take it. In fact, sometimes they do the exact opposite of what you recommend. Remember what happened when people asked Jeremiah’s advice on whether they should move to Egypt? Not a pretty picture (Jeremiah 42:1 – 43:7).
A Naked Offense
One of my biggest conclusions over the years is that most people have some area of their life where they need to get “unstuck.” We’ve all gone through difficult circumstances at one time or another. But instead of “camping out” in our valleys, we need to press on and move through them (Psalm 84:5-7, Psalm 23:4).
This brings back a strange experience I had as a young law student in 1976. I was an intern in the Night Prosecutor Program, which was designed to resolve cases of conflict and divert them from the regular court system.
One day a middle-aged man came and said he wanted to sue a former friend of his…
“It’s sad that you would want to sue someone who had been your friend,” I told him. “Please explain what he did to you.”
With noticeable anger in his voice, the man explained, “The friend betrayed me by sending nude photos to our friends.”
“That sounds terrible,” I said, trying to empathize. “When did he do this?”
I wasn’t prepared for the rest of this man’s story.
“We were serving together in Europe in World War II. As a joke, our platoon decided to take a nude photo of all of us together. My friend sent it back our mutual friends in the states, causing me great humiliation. What can I do to get justice on this?”
I was stunned. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. How could this man carry around a grudge for so long? With all the love of Jesus I could muster, I wanted to tell the man: GET OVER IT!!!
Do you see now why it’s a good thing I never became a counselor? For everyone I meet, I want to help them get over the things that have caused them to get stuck. But, like the man offended since World War II, sometimes the issues are deep-seated and hard to remedy.
Six Ways to Get Unstuck
Fortunately, you don’t have to worry that I’ll ever become your counselor. But at least I want to offer some free Biblical tidbits to assist your efforts to get unstuck:
Forgive, forgive, and then forgive again. Jesus described this as 70 x 7 forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22). In all likelihood, the person you need to give is not be “worthy” of your forgiveness. Forgive anyway. Not just because it’s a Biblical command, but for your own sake.
Sure, this can be extremely difficult. Often we’ve learned to enjoy our offenses, even using them as part of our identity. Yet Jesus warned that unless we extend grace to others, our resulting unforgiveness and bitterness will inevitably cause us to be emotionally imprisoned and tormented (Matthew 18:23-35).
Forgiveness is not just a nice option or superstitious mind game. Rather, it’s an indispensable key for unlocking our prison doors so we can move on.
Recognize that God can use your injustices and traumas for good. One of the most famous verses in the Bible is Romans 8:28. But I honestly haven’t met many Christians who truly believe that God is able to use the bad things in their life for a good outcome.
You’re probably familiar with the Old Testament story of Joseph. Because of the jealous treachery of his brothers, he experienced a long journey of incredible injustice. Yet when he was reunited with these same brothers who had done him such great harm, Joseph announced a remarkable truth: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20 NLT).
Notice that Joseph didn’t whitewash the evil his brothers had done to him. But he rose above it and saw his difficult pathway from God’s sovereign perspective. Although he never would have voluntarily chosen the painful “detours” he encountered, Joseph realized that without them he never would have been able to fulfill the Lord’s prophesied purpose for his life.
Quit looking in the rearview mirror. Just like the man who was still complaining about an event occurring during World War II, many people are stuck because they refuse to let go of the past. While God wants to do NEW things in our life, our focus on the OLD things often cripples us from moving on (Isaiah 42:9, 43:19).
Paul struggled with this at times. Not only did he have to let go of his guilt and shame over being a persecutor of the church, but he also had to repent of his pride at being an esteemed follower of Jewish law. In order to get unstuck from both of these aspects of his past, he came to a life-changing conclusion:
One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV)
Regardless of our past, God is calling each of us “upward.” However, that will only be fulfilled if we are willing to let go of the past.
Take action, don’t just complain. I wish I had transcripts of some of the times I attempted to offer people counsel. Usually our discussion started when they announced some kind of grievance about their life: “My marriage stinks!” or “I hate my job!” or “People in this church never reach out to me!” (Etc. etc.)
You probably think I automatically tell such people my standard line (“Get over it!”). Yet I really don’t. I acknowledge that complaints are often a good thing. So it’s no wonder the Psalms are full of complaints and lamentations.
However, what are we to say to people who continually complain about their circumstances, but never are willing to take any steps toward improvement? Perhaps a good counselor would suggest taking specific steps to improve a troubled marriage, a dismal job situation, a lack of friends at church, or some other issue.
Yet some people seem to enjoy whining more than they enjoy progress. When you give such people homework to improve their circumstances, they don’t follow through. Sadly, the next time you see them, they’re still stuck at the same place.
This may seem harsh, but here’s my philosophy if I would have been a counselor: Don’t keep complaining unless you’re willing to do what it takes to make things better.
Stop the blame-shifting. This follows directly from the previous point. If a guy comes to me complaining about his marriage,perhaps I would offer him some encouragement on steps he could take to improve his troubled relationship. But, too often, the response is, “Even if I do that, my wife will never change.”
Friend, here’s some additional free counseling advice: You can’t really change other people until you change yourself.
Remember the Serenity Prayer? We need to change the things that are in our power to change, but it does little good blaming everyone else for their role in our situation. God is much more likely to deal with the other offenders once our own obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:6).
Start being grateful for what you have. Last year I went through cancer and chemo, leaving me with very little energy. After a while, I became quite grumpy and gloomy about this, mad at God for not giving me the energy I felt I needed.
Thankfully, I experienced a huge breakthrough one day while I was journaling about this. The Lord gave me a clear word of instruction: “Jim, stop focusing on the energy you DON’T have. Instead, start give thanks to Me for the energy you DO have.”
This simple change of perspective was life-changing. As I gave thanks for my energy, even when it seemed woefully insufficient, my strength quickly began to grow.
If you’re like the rest of humanity, there are still some things in your life that you wish you could change. Me too! But let me assure you: Everything will begin to change for the better when you begin to focus on the good things you already have (Philippians 4:8). Gratitude is a powerful, unstoppable force, enabling you to get unstuck and move into a better future.
Now do you see why it’s a good thing I never became a counselor? Although I’m convinced these six principles can transform anyone’s life, I’m not convinced that everyone is willing to take the medicine.
But since I’m not a counselor, I don’t have to worry about people’s response! The ball is in your court.