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A four-step model for caring for a hurting friend

There’s a special sort of awkwardness that comes from not knowing how to be there for a friend in need. But that time of shared grief and presence is extremely important to a friendship. In this month of focusing on what it means to be comforted by God, it is good to turn biblical wisdom to caring for others as well. Garrett Higbee shares about the importance of standing by others in their hard times in this excerpt from the CSB Life Counsel Bible:

Helping a Hurting Friend

The Bible says quite a bit about the ministry of friendship. This article is designed to equip those who have a heart to help their friends, families, small-group members, and fellow Christians when life gets hard. A godly friend with a caring heart, a listening ear, and a Bible in hand can be a profound help to a friend in need.

Caring for Your Friends Biblically and Effectively

Everyone in the church can be taught to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). This counseling and discipleship plan centers around what some call the C.A.R.E. model: Connect, Assess, Respond, and Encourage. Understanding and practicing each of these elements will enable members of the body of Christ to more effectively come alongside one another and carry each other’s burdens, thus representing Jesus to each other (Gl 6:2).

Connecting with Compassion (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Prayer is the place to begin these intentional meetings with struggling friends. Prayer creates a safe place to get real and establishes each person’s mutual dependence on God for help with a troubling situation. You can then ask questions that move from general check-in with your friend to focusing on relational and spiritual concerns.

Once you have prayed and probed a bit, the next challenge is to consider your approach to their struggle. Consider your tone, share some of your testimony, and consider timing when asking questions. Different struggles call for different responses. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 exhorts us to meet each other in specific ways according to the need of the moment, whether it is to encourage, help, or gently admonish.

Assessing the Risk and the Root (Proverbs 20:5)

When trying to help, the biggest hindrance is to misdiagnose the problem. Two steps are critical to an accurate assessment. First, we need to understand the risk in the situation. How severe and urgent is their need? Second, we need to understand the root issue. Before you begin to give advice, ask God to help you and your friend uncover the heart of their struggle:

1. What is going on?

2. What were you thinking and feeling?

3. What did you want (or want to see happen)?

4. How did you respond?

5. What were the consequences of your response?

In Scripture, when the word “heart” is used, it usually means the mind, will, and emotions. Your assessment should target the heart, not just behavior or circumstance. Good questions will help reveal these things. Poor assessment leads to poor counsel. Poor counsel is worse than no counsel.

Responding with Truth and Grace (Ephesians 4:15)

When someone shares a struggle, most of us have a tendency to jump right to giving our opinion or maybe sharing a favorite verse. Sometimes when a well-meaning friend comes on too fast or too strong, it comes across like a judgment: “Susan, you are just a people-pleaser.” An accusation hardens the heart; a good question pricks the conscience.

Responding with a rush to judgment will immediately put your friend on the defensive rather than encouraging them to consider the potential validity of your words. Don’t set yourself up as better than your friend; instead, come alongside them with an apt word of encouragement born out of prayer and love. Have a plan or a heart-targeting Scripture passage to help ground the advice in God’s Word before a move to action.

Encouraging Them toward Christ and Community

In his classic book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer states, “The more genuine and deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.” Your counsel to a friend must strive for more intimacy with God and more authenticity with others. There might be some season of distance or tension, but real friendship is resilient (1Sm 18:1).

Encouragement means equal measures of truth and grace. While we are all part of the priesthood of believers (1Pt 2:5), we want to usher our friends to the throne of grace and not to some horizontal absolution of sin. A good friend—or should we say, a godly friend—knows there is a time for discretion and perhaps, a time for uninvited intrusion.

Pressing Forward to Love Like Jesus

Helping a hurting friend is a very Christlike endeavor, but it is not always easy or even appreciated. We don’t help our friends in order to gain favor with them or with God—we minister to them as a reflection of Christ’s love and compassion, in response to the care he has shown us. Let’s be communities full of true Christian friendship known by our love (Jn 13:34–35).

The excerpt above has been edited for length. Order the CSB Life Counsel Bible to find the rest of the article and more biblical counsel and encouragement.