Resistance seems like an odd thing: someone asks for counsel but then doesn’t listen to it. It sounds like a straightforward case of hard-heartedness. But there may be other reasons why counselees don’t listen.

Here are two.

1. Counselors offer ill-suited counsel

Counselors can put forward biblical counsel that is not the most relevant to the person. For example, you might emphasize anger when the real struggle is fear. In this case, the fearful person will not invest time in any Scripture on anger no matter how persuasive you are.

As a variation on this theme, some counselors determine that instruction is the order of the day rather than encouragement and comfort. I remember speaking to my wife about a particularly difficult day. When I was done, she gave some very good advice. As I reflected on what she said, I realized that I was not going to follow through on it, and I wondered why I was so . . . resistant. Her counsel was good, but somehow, it missed something. As we talked about it, I understood that I was not asking for her advice; I was looking for her encouragement and comfort, her partnership and companionship. Hard-heartedness, then, was not the primary issue. Her advice was just out of synch with what I was implicitly asking.

2. Counselors offer ill-suited applications

Counselors can also confuse biblical teaching and the application of that teaching. The two are not the same. For example, to love one another is nonnegotiable; it gets to the very heart of our response to Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. There are, however, an infinite number of applications of this or any other teaching.

Let’s say that a husband and wife genuinely want to grow in love for each other. You then apply the command to love by advising the wife to make a special meal or the husband to take his wife out for a dinner date. That sounds good, and it might work for your marriage, but the application might not fit their situation. Perhaps the wife doesn’t cook, or perhaps the last time the husband took his wife out for dinner the marriage needed weeks to recover from the ensuing debacle. Too often, our applications of biblical truth are suited more to us than to our counselees.

A better approach is to agree on the relevant biblical counsel and let the other person deduce some applications. Or perhaps you could work on the application together. (For more ideas about this, see “Effective Homework in Counseling” by Robyn Huck.)

We can all resist hearing what we need to hear, of that there is no doubt. But humility leads us to consider how the problem could be our own clumsy counsel.