by Scott Mehl
“I can’t.” “I’ve hit my limit.” “It’s just too hard.” “This situation makes me respond that way.” “I can’t help myself.” If you’ve spent any amount of time ministering to others, I’m sure you’ve heard these kinds of statements. They are the statements of the struggling. They are statements of exhaustion and discouragement. And, at their core, they are statements of hopelessness.
How do you respond when those you are caring for express these kinds of assertions? For a counselor or discipler, or even just a concerned friend, these are the types of statements that can quickly stop you in your tracks. They can cause you to put the biblical truth you were prepared to share, back in your pocket. They can leave you wondering whether you have anything genuinely helpful to offer. If the other person has hit their limit, you should probably stop pushing. If they can’t help themselves, then what is the use of your counsel?
Knowing Hopelessness When You Hear It
One of the most important skills for a biblical counselor is to be able to recognize hopelessness when you hear it. None of the statements above are assertions of truth, in fact they are the exact opposite. They are lies that we are all tempted to believe when things get hard, we get weighed down, and our walk with God seems to slow to a crawl. But the truth is…you can. The truth is…you don’t have a limit to what God is doing/will do in your life. It may be hard…but it’s not too hard. No situation forces a particular response. The truth is…you can help yourself, because the Spirit of God is helping you.
In light of these truths we need to be able to recognize the previous statements for what they are: confessions of hopelessness. Hopelessness is common in all of our struggles, it’s what germinates and grows from the seeds of doubt and discouragement. It’s like the dandelions in my yard: they can pop up anywhere, it doesn’t take much to nurture them, and they spread like crazy.
Hope for the Hopeless
Thankfully, as biblical counselors, we are nowhere near as helpless in the face of hopelessness as I seem to be regarding my dandelions. In fact, given that our God is the God of hope, hopelessness ought to be our specialty. No matter what temptation we face, we can have hope that God will not abandon us (Matt 28:20). No matter what temptation we face, we can have hope that God will always give us the strength to resist (1Cor 10:13). No matter what temptation we face, we can have hope that God will redeem our struggle for our ultimate good and his ultimate glory (Col 1:19-20). No matter what the person you are ministering to is going through, there is hope. And God has placed you in their life to remind them of that hope. Hearing hopelessness in the mouth of a counselee, disciple, or friend, isn’t the time to back away, it’s the time to dig in. You possess the only true hope available to them. After all, this is why Christ came in the first place: to bring hope to the hopeless.