“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8
In our last post we talked about sharing our story and how it fits with the big picture of the gospel. Let’s talk about how we can help non-Christian friends see how their story might fit into the gospel, because it’s not uncommon for our non-Christian friends to come to us with a problem.
Let’s say your friend Betsy shares with you some of the pain of parenting their teenager. Betsy’s teenage son is, in her words, “gone.” He has checked out of family relationships and responsible adult behavior. Pretty much the only kind of communication there is at home is yelling and crying. Betsy and her husband are broken hearted, but are responding in different ways. Betsy’s husband is spending all his time at work, withdrawing from the chaos and confusion. Betsy feels alone and abandoned. She has turned to alcohol to dull her pain. Betsy alternates between despair and anger: at her son, at her husband, and at the God she knew a little bit about growing up in church.
If this were a Christian friend, you’d likely start to think about how to counsel Betsy out of the rich context of the gospel — reviewing themes like sin, God’s power, hope, prayer, Biblical truth. When our non-Christian friends come to us with problems like Betsy’s, it may be harder to think of her the same way. But I suggest putting together in your mind counseling and evangelism in perhaps a new way.
I don’t mean that you should tell Betsy that she needs Jesus, and believing in him will immediately fix her problems. Instead, slowly and sympathetically, begin to unveil the themes of the gospel in a way that speaks into her story. Maybe something like this:
- Thank you for telling me about your problems with your family. It means a lot to me that you would share this.
- Can you tell me even more? Tell me how this started, what you really wish would happen. How do you feel about yourself through all this chaos.
- You may feel unloved in this situation, but I’d like to say that you are very much loved and cared for by God and other people. And I’d like to help you see that.
- As a Christian, I see a pattern in life where pain and suffering leads to humility and brokeness for many of the people involved. But if the humility leads to crying out to God, then there can be blessing on the other side of that valley. It’s the way of Jesus’ life and death…and resurrection.
- I’ve also seen, not just that pattern of Jesus’ life, but also the power of Jesus working to heal people’s lives.
- I’d like to help more if I can. Can I pray for you? Can I suggest… [someone to meet with; another meeting, etc.]
Help others see how the gospel story connects to their story, their pain, their questions.
If you want to explore more, I suggest Alasdair Groves’ article, How Do You Counsel Non-Christians?