How Not To Influence Friends (A Seminar From Eliphaz of Teman)

For the most part I have learned to roll with the responses to my blogs and books. But I have to admit that some responses bug me. Recently I wrote an article on the Five Stages of Church Woundedness. The post was in response to correspondences with a pastor friend but the gist of the article was intensely personal. I dialed up Crosswalk and read this response from a reader.

I’m a bit skeptical about the premise for this article. The pastor was so hurt? What happened? Perhaps this pastor overreacted emotionally. Was the criticism warranted? All criticism isn’t just mean. . .maybe his behavior had something to do with his “being hurt”. Why does he sound as though he lacks maturity? Grace is his answer. . .what’s the alternative to preaching grace anyway? Legalists haven’t hurt this pastor too?
What happened? That would be none of your business. Maybe you would be convinced if I told you the whole story but that would betray his confidence placed in me. I am saddened and dismayed by comments like this. That kind of judgmental questioning with no information is exactly what my friend was talking about. People preachin’ grace and questioning his maturity without knowing a thing about him.
I agree that grace is the answer. And grace allows my friend to be angry, hurt, sad and questioning and know that there is NO condemnation in Christ. Nada. Zip. None. Ever.
I used to be quick to pull the judgment trigger. The buddies of Job taught the original seminar of how not to deal with a friend going through adversity. There are so many lessons to be learned in this remarkable story about suffering, trials, our response, and about how to be a friend. As all of you literate readers of this blog know already, it was Euripedes who said that “real friendship is shown in times of trouble; prosperity is full of friends.”  That is the hard lesson that Job learned. Everyone knows the story of Job. He was a godly man with occasionally toxic friends. But perhaps we have a lot to learn from those friends. Today’s seminar is courtesy of Eliphaz from Teman who smugly said….
Think! Has a truly innocent person ever ended up on the scrap heap? Do genuinely upright people ever lose out in the end? It’s my observation that those who plow evil and sow trouble reap evil and trouble. Job 4:7-8 (MsgB) 

Do not assume that someone going through trials is at fault for their difficulties. And do not assume that they are not at fault. Allow God to handle both of those duties. Eliphaz proclaimed that it was his “observation” that you reap what you sow. That is a principle that is often true but we know from God’s Word that Job’s trials were unrelated to sin or evil in his life. Eliphaz jumped to an incorrect and hurtful conclusion before knowing the facts. Listen first. Allow wounded and hurting friends to express their frustration and pain. This goes against every natural instinct that most of us possess. I am prone to want to jump in and fix the problem. God is teaching me to listen, pray and allow the Holy Spirit to direct my words and actions.

When you are with a brother or sister going through deep trials  I would suggest using any one of the following three strategies.

1. Be empathetic and listen.
2. Be empathetic and listen.
3. Be empathetic and listen.

I devised this strategy specifically for me because my previous program consisted of only one step.

1. Loosely hear a few sentences and then impatiently solve their problem with some vaguely appropriate verses while dramatically sharing my own personal story that far exceeds their puny little problem.

I can assure you that the results of that strategy were not stellar. In my defense, the three step plan above takes a lot more caring and work. 

 The next lesson from Eliphaz…

So, what a blessing when God steps in and corrects you! Job 5:17 (MsgB) 

I am pretty sure that Job was not quite at the “I’m thinkin’ what a blessing this is” phase of his ordeal. While he remained stubbornly faithful to the Lord and did not sin against Him, Job was angry, frustrated, bitter, bewildered and downcast about all the anguish he was going through. In other words, Job was human. His trust in God was supernatural, his roller coaster ride of emotions was normal.

The truth that God can use every circumstance for ultimate good is a foundational promise of our faith. However, it is often difficult if not impossible to understand that truth during the turbulence of the trial. When I fly I know intellectually that those big bumps and shudders are caused by disturbances in the air and I will surely survive it. But realistically I just want to get through the turbulence and back to smooth air. Then I can intellectually consider the aerodynamics of clear air turbulence. So it is with the turbulence of life.

Focus on being empathetic. You don’t need to offer answers and try to explain things that are often without explanation. Back to the question in the response to my article.

What’s the alternative to preaching grace anyway?

That is easy. Living it.