3 Principles for Helping Others When You Don’t Know How

we’ll never know all we need to do or say

A couple came in when one had just learned the other was having an affair. We talked, cried, and wondered if there was any hope for this marriage.

As we continued to talk, I realized they needed someone with more expertise than me.

After talking and listening for an hour or two, I gave my recommendation. I told them, “I’m a pretty good country doctor but I think you need heart surgery on your marriage. I’m not a cardiologist. I’m going to do what any good doctor would do. I’m referring you to a counselor I use and to whom I have referred many people.” I gave them Phil Pistole’s phone number.

After that, I thought of the analogy I’d used. When my father had bypass surgery, his general practitioner checked on him often while he was recovering from heart surgery. He wasn’t trained in cardiac surgery but he cared about my father.

Why shouldn’t I do the same thing with this couple? I told them I’d be checking with them during their counseling. I made “house calls” once a month during their time of recovery from this trauma.

Here are some things I learned from that experience that’s been a model for me.

  1. Realize I’ll never have all the answers to all the problems people have. This shouldn’t be hard to admit. No doctor knows about every illness. When he encounters a condition he doesn’t understand, he refers his patient to a specialist. For serious cases, he may suggest getting a second opinion.
  2. Continue to compile a list of people who can help me and others in all areas: Bible knowledge, physical challenges, emotional difficulties, financial advice, family issues with husbands, wives, children, in-laws, addictions, etc. I may need to ask for time to think and research someone who will help. Make a good referral to someone with proven expertise. Provide the phone number. Generally, it’s good for the person needing help to make the call. Give directions to the person and how much he or she charges. State how much help you or the church will provide if needed.
  3. Follow up, working with everyone involved. Make regular contact with your people. Pray for them, with them, and in private. Even though I don’t know how to deal with this issue, I still care and need to continue to communicate that to my friends.

I shouldn’t be ashamed to admit, “I don’t know.” The first beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NKJV). [tweetthis]I’ll never have all the answers to all the problems people have.[/tweetthis]

The combination of not knowing, helping someone find someone who can help, and continued concern is a good demonstration of compassion.

What have you done to help people when you didn’t know what to do?
Please comment below.

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4 thoughts on “3 Principles for Helping Others When You Don’t Know How

  1. Jerry, great thoughts as usual. Humility is key here. As a young preacher I tried to plow through many situations feeling I was able, and equipped to help anybody anytime, any where. Now, I have pretty good instinct on those situations where I can be helpful, and those which require more expertise & training. I still feel “inadequate” when I can’t help, but I am very comfortable saying so. We preachers are great talkers, not necessarily great listeners. Jack Exum used to speak of one who wished to have the faith of Abraham, the leadership of Moses, and the heart of David. Then he would remind you that it took three Bible characters to have all that!

    • Jeff,
      Good view from your history. Growing up is hard to do but it also rewarding when a little wisdom come with age. I like the observation on Abraham, Moses, and David.

  2. We started our “Developing Your Gift of Compassion” class this past Sunday. I shared a story of my trying to help someone that I was ‘way under’ qualified to help. I encouraged class members to be able discern between those they can and cannot help. It takes humility and honesty and maybe the counsel of a third party. Even though we may have the gift of compassion and want to help everyone, sometimes, it’s better to refer them onto someone who is qualified to help. Thanks for your words of wisdom, Jerrie. Trav

    • Travis,
      Thank you for the comment.
      I am glad you are having a practical class on effectively serving others. Often we teach people they should be helping others without equipping them to do it well.
      Keep up the good work!