“How can I pray for you?”: the one question a non-Christian friend will never ask


Thursday 2 July 2015

At first glance it might seem like Ed Welch is trying to put himself out of business. A professional counsellor, Welch wants to teach others to act in love in “everyday counselling situations” – but he thinks absolutely anything is an “everyday counselling situation”.

“As a professional, I appreciate the wisdom that accumulates with experience, on the one hand. But on the other: professionals are less the answer than people think.”

Welch observes that the primary thing a professional counsellor offers that’s different to, say, a wise friend, is a scheduled time every week. But he also recognises that without a network of supporters around a person suffering hardship, all the professional counselling in the world might not make much of a difference.

“Sure, experts can be wise. But I have experienced how the Lord uses a larger body of people who have more wisdom than they realised.”

“…if somebody is asking you for help, they’re seeing something of Christ in you.”

That’s the basis of Welch’s new book, Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love. In some ways, it’s a simple book for Christians about how to be a friend. But it’s also a challenge to be deliberate in your friendships, for the sake of Christ.

Welch’s basic premise is that we all need help – it’s just part of being human to be needy. “Our own neediness serves other people,” Welch writes. To be able to help others best we must recognise our own neediness. Skipping this step, says Welch, puts humility at risk. We’ll think our job in helping others is to “dispense answers” instead of humbly walking side-by-side with a friend, familiar with their feelings of neediness and the vulnerability of transparency that comes when asking for help.

Speaking with Eternity ahead of his Australian speaking tour this July, Welch said that if someone’s asked you for help, his sense is that you’re doing something right in this space.

“We ask those for help who don’t gossip, who speak well about others when they aren’t around, who show humility in their own lives and who love wisdom,” said Welch. “I would say that if somebody is asking you for help, they’re seeing something of Christ in you.”

Yet being asked for help could trigger several responses. The first is a puffed-up sense of pride: perhaps you have it together more than you think, if someone thinks you’re worthy of helping them. The other is paralysis: what could I possibly do to help this person?

Welch says both responses are ill-founded.

“But that one question: ‘How can I pray for you?’ expands reality so I can see things more clearly.”

“It’s a great gift to be able to know the things that are on a person’s heart,” he says. “But when you see yourself as some sort of expert – as the person who has to give the answer – sometimes we can become really foolish. We lose our footing.”

But thinking we have nothing to offer our friend in need is just as unhelpful. Welch says that instead of feeling paralysed in that type of situation, we should recognise that it’s actually a good way of approaching problems.

“If somebody comes to you and lays out something in their life that’s just really hard and you’re completely dumbfounded about it – to me, that’s perfect. The nature of being a Christian is to recognise we don’t have all the answers. And then to call out to the Lord in our neediness. What a wonderful thing to model to that friend in need.”

Indeed, the key difference between how a Christian friend might offer help to a friend, and a non-Christian friend is precisely that: prayer. “How can I pray for you?” is the one question Welch believes a non-Christian would never ask.

“That question is revolutionary. At one point, the world consists of my problem and it’s this microscopic issue that’s consuming me. But that one question: ‘How can I pray for you?’ expands reality so I can see things more clearly. All of a sudden we find ourselves beginning to scan scripture, because that’s instinctively how we pray. What are the promises of God that are especially relevant right now, that I can call on? I realise that my problems are lived out before God, and he’s the one who helps.”

“Waiting for someone to ask for help seems to miss the way that the Spirit and the triune God moves towards us. We should be asking how we can help.”

The importance and power that Welch attributes to that one question opens up the possibility that maybe “Christian counselling” is not something that need be left to the professionals, like a counsellor or pastor. As Christians, we can all pray.

Unless your church has just 15 people in it, church pastors can’t possibly be the primary helper for those in their churches who are struggling. Instead, Welch says, it’s time for pew-sitters to pay attention.

“Inevitably, the number one person on the ‘help’ list when a person is having a difficult time is a caring friend.” But for all those who do ask for help, there’s plenty more who may never do so, but who need help all the same.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.27.38 pm“Waiting for someone to ask for help seems to miss the way that the Spirit and the triune God moves towards us. We should be asking how we can help. We should notice when something’s not right with our friends.”

If your friend’s problem is overwhelming, we do what comes naturally to us, says Welch: “We start enlarging the number of people involved. A wise person is going to say, ‘I don’t know what to say, but I know somebody else who might be helpful. Why don’t we ask them, together?’

“We can be certain that God will guide us as we do this,” says Welch. “We all have the Spirit, and the Lord sees fit to use all of us in the lives of each other.”

buy the bookEd Welch is visiting Australia this month as a guest of Biblical Counselling Australia, conducting workshops based on his new book Side by Side: Walking with others in Wisdom and Love in Sydney (July 28), Melbourne (July 29) and Brisbane (July 31). For more, click here.


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