I was recently reminded of how when you talk to someone, it affects the effectiveness of what you are trying to say. When you try to talk to someone who is discouraged after trying to do “the right thing” and failing, anything instructional is often hard for them to receive. They feel like, “Great, here is something else I won’t be able to do.”
Other times you might talk to someone who is desperate after trying to do “the right thing” and failing. They can be like a sponge wanting to know another way. However, their desperation can lead them to quickly dismiss instruction if the results are not as prompt as their emotions demand.
There are many other dispositions with which you might talk to someone who failed and equally as many dispositions after someone succeeds. But the point is, what has just happened “before” affects how they listen. If you pay attention, that can be a real advantage to building trust as a counselor.
For the first person mentioned above, acknowledging how hard it would be to hear “one more thing” you “should have done” would be very encouraging. They would at least know that whatever guidance they receive next would be from a person who understood them.
The second person would benefit from having someone speak to the “pace” of their desperation before speaking to the content of their struggle. Unless this happened the wisest counsel would get lost in the intensity of their “try anything” to “fix it now” mindset which is retention-light and even weaker on perseverance.
I think this is a dynamic we have to be particularly aware of for those believers who sincerely try to please God and are facing a significant struggle of suffering (an intense struggle not caused by their personal sin). At this point, sin has the advantage of talking second.
Sin (here used as a personification that might be negative influencing friend or an escapist habit) can listen to the hurts of the believer and express compassion for their plight. All of the questions raised are questions against (even if only from confusion) the Christian faith.
Sin can respond with the momentum of these questions at its back. It has the advantage of swimming with our emotional current. The thoughts and emotions of the suffering believer are set us to receive what sin has to say and offer.
This is why we must be able to not only give answers but respond to a person. In cases like these, the response will be more soul-winning (used in terms of discipleship more than evangelism) that the content of our answers.
I think this dynamic is equally relevant when we are talking to broken unbelievers. In these cases, all of the previously discussed advantages of sin are working for the Christian faith. The broken unbeliever is asking questions that are against the old life (looking for a new life).
We can now respond and listen to their hurts and express compassion for their plight. We have the momentum of sin’s broken promises at our back. Their thoughts and emotions are looking for something more solid that what they’ve known.
In many ways, the principle is simple – and therefore easy to forget. We must listen and not lose the person in the topic of the conversation. A conversation happens between two points in a person’s life. We must read the momentum if we are going to effectively influence the direction of the ship.