We need wisdom to know how to minister to individuals. Often a minister can have strong abilities to preach and teach lessons. But then at the same time be very lacking in their ability to work with individuals by praying with them, and counseling with them.
It takes patience in listening, and waiting on the Spirit of the Lord, to understand how to help people spiritually and emotionally. Too often when it comes to working with individuals, some ministers don’t even know, what they don’t know. They launch forward in their council, without knowing that they don’t even understand the individual’s need.
First of all, to be effective in prayer and counsel, we must understand how the Spirit of the Lord is already speaking to the individual’s heart. We must learn to follow the Lord’s lead, rather than our own. And this takes humility, patience, listening, and time.
Did you know that Jesus was a good listener? Jesus would ask: “What is it you would have me do for you?” So we should ask those we are trying to help: “what is it that you desire help from the Lord in?” The answer from the individual may give us some insights into where their heart is. But not always.
Some questions we might consider in our own mind as we are listening to them:
- Are they making the request purely out of selfishness, or a hidden agenda?
- Is this a request for a real need that they have, or that someone else has?
- Is this a request for help with a spiritual need, that they themselves are trying to understand?
- Could it be that the individual just doesn’t know how to frame the words to describe the request?
A wise proverb that every minister should consider:
“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” ~ Proverbs 18:13
Some ministers don’t take the time to listen. And when they do, they neglect the individual’s need at the least. And at the worst, they make grave mistakes and cause hurt in their counsel and their judgments. And too often, they have no idea what they have actually done.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” ~ James 1:19-20
A minister has to be careful to not judge situations just by how they look. We must understand the reasons why someone has made a choice, or has taken a certain action. And we will be glad that we took the time to understand “why?”
There have been times when I thought I understood a situation, and I made decisions and spoke too soon. And because of this, I had to later ask someone to forgive me. Yes, sometimes a minister may have to ask someone to forgive them.
“A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.” ~ Proverbs 29:11
When he says a wise man keeps it in till afterwards; What is it that we should be waiting for, before we speak?
- We should wait to consider what would be wise to say at the current moment. And what would be better to be quiet about until a later time.
- We should withhold speaking, long enough to consider how it might affect them. Even if what we are about to say is clearly true. Sometimes it is better to wait for the right time. When they are able to receive it.
- We should definitely wait till someone else is finished speaking, to understand completely what they are trying to say. Even if it takes them a long time to express it. Some have great difficulty expressing what is deeply troubling them. And they can also sense when we are becoming impatient with listening to them. And when they sense that, it causes them to close up, because they believe we don’t really care.
- And sometimes, we should take the time to repeat back to the person, what they have just said to us. So we can be sure that we heard it correctly. This shows respect for the one you’re listening to. And our answer will be based on clearer understanding. And they will be more ready and willing to listen to our answer.
It is okay to admit that you don’t know the answer. And when that is the case, you can both agree in prayer together that God would reveal the answer to one or both of you.
Jesus himself waited on his heavenly Father to also give him wisdom and direction.
“Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” ~ John 5:19
If you’ll notice in the scripture above, Jesus is saying: “I follow my father’s lead.” Jesus, the son of God, did not rely on his own thinking and understanding, while he was on the Earth. And Jesus also took the time to listen and understand the questions being asked of him. He did this to set an example for us.
In the Old Testament, there was a time where the prophet’s servant was going to shove a woman aside because of her emotional display, which he thought was inappropriate. But Elisha stopped him.
“And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me.” ~ 2 Kings 4:27
God can hide understanding from us for a time. Sometimes he would choose to do that, to see whether we are humble enough to pray and take the time to wait.
All that has been said so far is important, because a minister will never be able to lead someone to the humble place of repentance, if they have never gained the trust of that individual. And as I said already, some ministers may have a great gift for preaching, but because of their impatience and reliance on self-experience, they are horrible sometimes in their individual prayer and counseling.
The following scripture is one example that I have found works very well with leading an individual to a life in Christ Jesus. It is found in Isaiah 55:6-9
 Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
It is most important to sense how the Holy Spirit is speaking to the heart of the individual. And so sometimes we must ask: “what is the Lord saying to you now?” And we must explain to them, when the Lord is speaking to you, that is the time when he is near, and that you can find him. We have no guarantee of a later time, so we need to respond to him now.
 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
God is watching how we are responding to him. And when God reveals to us that there is something wrong in our life, it’s time to forsake it and leave it behind. When we do this, we are returning towards God’s way. And additionally, we will begin to realize that the way we have been thinking and making decisions, must now change!
 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
To start down the path of God’s way of truth, the sinner must personally sense how much greater God is than them. And how much wiser and higher, that his ways are than theirs. Not that they would seem unreachable, but rather that they may seem so much better! And in awe of God’s glory, they would begin to respect him in all their decisions of life.
So as a minister, we must learn to sense where the individual is in their comprehension of God, and how they stand before him. Is the individual sensitive to the Spirit of God pricking at their conscience? How are they reacting to God when he speaks to them. Not how are they reacting to you, when you speak to them. There is a difference. And what is more important, is how they are reacting to God.
In Psalms 51, we read the words of an individual who has become keenly aware of their sinful condition before God. By their expression of what they feel deeply inside, we can clearly see how the Holy Spirit has been dealing with them. And so in this psalm, there is a lesson that helps us to sense the same work of the Holy Spirit dealing with others.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.” ~ Psalm 51:1-3
The sinner has a sense that their soul, and what is in it, is wide open and naked before God. There is nothing to be hid, so they are confessing it all. And they feel this reality so intensely, that they are crying for relief.
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.” ~ Psalm 51:7-9
The dirtiness of sin is felt right into their inner being, and it feels like their bones are breaking. And they desire to be made clean. They want the joy that they used to have in their life, in a prior time. And that is not possible as long as God sees their uncovered, naked sins.
They are not wanting a religious covering for their sin, so that they can hide from the face of God. They are being honest, and are acknowledging before God their hopeless condition. They are convinced that their remedy is only through God’s mercy, and the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ, for them.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” ~ Psalm 51:10-11
They realize that the very spirit they have within is ugly. And only God’s Spirit within is the right spirit. And while God’s Spirit is dealing with their soul need, they feel the urgency to respond now! So they are pleading with God to not take away his Spirit, and leave them. (In Genesis 6:3 it states “My Spirit shall not always strive a with man.”)
“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” ~ Psalm 51:12-14
With true restoration of the soul, comes a vision for the spiritual needs that others have. This is another evidence of the Holy Spirit truly working within the individual. If they truly have received salvation’s mercy, they will have a movement within their soul towards the need for other lost souls to be saved. And this will manifest itself in different ways, depending upon the individual.
And so at the same time, even though people have been around church for a long time, we need to recognize when there is a lack of response in them to the Spirit of God. When church attendance and church programs have become their righteousness, rather than God himself. And they are no longer responding to the Spirit of God, but rather they are responding to the expectations of others. And they are living a life of self-satisfaction, within “church.”
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” ~ Luke 18:10-14
The Pharisee’s prayer was not reaching God, and moving God on the throne. His prayer was “with himself.” In one sense, the words of his prayer were right. He was thanking God for all the blessings he was receiving for his life around “church.” He was grateful that he was not behaving like the sinner.
But notice that the sinner was just recognized as someone to avoid. The Pharisee had no burden for this poor publican. The publican was praying alone. There was no one to pray with him, nor counsel him. He came to church alone, and he left church alone. And it was only the mercy of God’s Spirit that reached him. Otherwise, he was on his own, even though he attended “church.”
May the Lord help any of us that claims to be a minister of the Lord, to be able to be led of the Spirit, in how to pray with and counsel others. And may we have the patience to recognize how God’s Spirit is speaking to the individual, before we would try to speak to the individual.