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The Lord brings people into our life who struggle. Walk with the Lord and you will have opportunities to minister to people. Someone comes to you with a problem. Now what? How do you help the person? Here are four steps I was taught, in order, to help him or her out.

First, get involved. Paul says, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

A person comes to you with a problem. What do you do? Put this in perspective. The Lord decided it was time for you to minister to your friend so He orchestrated your friend to come to you for help. Helping people requires time, sacrifice, energy, and effort. It also requires compassion, kindness, mercy, grace, truth, and patience. Get busy helping your friend by getting involved with him.  A very important nuance here: you did not go and get yourself involved in a mess you were not invited too. “Like one who takes a dog by the ears Is he who passes by and meddles with strive not belonging to him” (Prov. 26:17). There is a difference between being a busy body and helping when asked!

Second, gather information. Your friend presents the problem. Before offering advice or solutions, are you sure you understand the problem? Can you rephrase the problem in your own words and have your friend say, “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about!” There is nothing worse than giving advice to the perceived problem and not the real problem.

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” Proverbs 18:13

So ask questions. When you have asked questions, ask some more questions. When you have gathered much information on the problem, then summarize the problem to your friend.

What kind of questions do I ask? Ask questions probing the heart, motives, and provide clarity. If your friend says something not making sense, ask for clarification. Be patient and listen. Never hesitate to say, “That sounds odd, can you clarify?” Listen more than you talk.

In a conflict remember your friend is giving you his side. He will think he is right. He may be, but he may be wrong too. Also, in a conflict situation, you can only help the person you are talking too. You cannot counsel the other party involved through your friend. You can only counsel your friend. A husband comes to me about his wife. I cannot counsel the wife through the husband. I can only tell him how he needs to respond in a way that honors the Lord.

Before you give hope and counsel, determine what kind of problem and where the person fits into the situation. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells us of three different kinds of people and the type of help he or she needs: unruly, fainthearted, and weak. Each one receives different counsel. But no matter what the problem is and how the person responds, “Be patient with them.”

Third, give hope and instruction. If a person is a believer, remind him of the Gospel and show him what the Bible says about the situation and how we are supposed to respond to the situation. 

However, if the person is an unbeliever, the only thing you can tell him or her is the Gospel. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” If someone does not fear the Lord then you cannot provide any biblical wisdom. Therefore tell the person the Gospel — the hope we have in Jesus Christ, His death on my behalf, his resurrection, and the hope of eternal life in Him. Point out the problem is really sin but God has a remedy for the problem.

With the believer, your counsel really begins. First, use the Bible. It is His Word for our edification (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Make sure the instruction is biblically accurate (2 Timothy 2:15). Finally make sure it is biblically appropriate to the situation (1 Thess 5:14).

God changes people and He provides hope to us. Make sure a person knows there is hope! God is conforming believers into His image and this can be a slow process. But He who begins a good work in people, He will complete it! (Phil 1:6)

Fourth, give homework. This is important. Give a person study material, prayer requests, and actions necessary for the situation. Our goal is help change thinking and living. Guide the person in necessary steps to do so. Provide biblical material to study, memorize Scripture, write out how to live out the Word in situations. The person should start discerning the situation biblically and know how to respond biblically.

These are very brief (probably too brief), but this is a good starting point and grid to help people in ministry. This list is not just for “trained professionals” but for born again believers. If your faith is in Christ, then you need to plan on doing ministry. It is a part of our calling (Eph 2:10). Prepare yourself now to help others.