Walking in the Valley of the Shadow, Part 4


A third thing I have been learning about ministering to people who are hurting, is that it is important to be praying for discretion and discernment; because sometimes listening is more helpful than speaking. A text that illustrates this well is Job 2:11-13 (NIV).

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him [Job], they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job had lost his wealth, his children, and was terribly ill. So shocking were his circumstances, his loss, and his appearance, that when his friends saw him, all they thought they could do was to join him in the ash heap and sit in silence. When we are giving care to people who are in pain, especially major pain, it is very wise to speak less and listen more. If only they had continued in that course of action and just let Job bare his soul! In typical male fashion, they attempted to solve the riddle of his affliction by interrogating him for the sin in Job’s life that brought this tragedy about. They thought they were helping him and defending God’s honor in doing so. But the opposite was true! God says to them in Job 42:7-8 (NIV)

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”

This is a very sobering passage for those of us who find ourselves in their place. We may think we are bring very helpful when in reality we are making things worse. This is why it is so crucial to seek discernment and discretion from God when caring for hurting people.

Discernment is having perception or insight into a particular situation. Discernment helps us to recognize good from bad, right from wrong, and true from false. On the TV show NCIS (and virtually every other crime show), one of the tools that the investigators use to find clues is a special flashlight with an orange filter attached through which you look at what the flashlight is shining on. The combination of light and filter lets you see things that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Like that special light, divine wisdom brings discernment and insight into people and situations that ordinarily we might miss. We need discernment to know what God wants us to say or do.

Proverbs 5:1-2 says, My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of in-sight, that you may maintain discretion. Discretion is the wisdom to know when to speak or act and when to hold back. I find myself asking God for discretion a lot when I am talking with hurting people.

In response to part 3, Michelle (a rape/suicide survivor whom I am friends with) made this comment:

Actually these scripts [i.e., Psalm 13:1-2, Lamentations 5:20, Job 3:20-26, and Matthew 27:46] when presented right might be very helpful when the victim is ready to hear. When they start asking why these might be good. Once they get to understanding god didn’t do this to you. This is normal to ask and feel. When they reach a point of really searching for the answer not just asking the question knowing even these great men questioned why. In the end knowing you’re not alone in the question nor in receiving no direct answer could be helpful.

Michelle hit the nail on the head noting that these or other Scriptures “might be very helpful when the victim is ready to hear” (Italics mine). If they are ready, those Scriptures can be very powerful. If they are not ready to hear, you are better off not sharing them at that time. How are you going to know if they are really ready to hear? You need discernment. How do you know when it is right to share Scripture, ask questions, share your opinion, or just listen? You need to have discretion. Do not forget the warning of Job 42:7-8! There is a time for speaking and there is a time when you need to hold your tongue no matter how tempted you are to open your mouth. God will make it clear what the right thing to do or not do is. Be listening to Him for discernment and discretion. The truth of the matter is we need to remember that we are care givers, not cure givers. God wants us to give care. He alone can bring the cure.

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