A Handbook for Helpers
Category: Christian Life & Discipleship
I have often had people say to me that, faced with someone upset or struggling with a deep personal problem, they simply didn't know what to say. Or they were afraid of saying the wrong thing, and so said nothing. They wanted to help but did not feel able to. We've probably all been there at some time. Well, help is at hand. For this book by Peter Hicks is written, as the subtitle indicates, as a handbook for helpers. A helper, incidentally, is potentially any Christian, as is made clear in the introduction. So this is a book written not for 'experts' but for 'ordinary' Christians who want to help others.
The book is divided into two parts. Part 1, by far the shorter, is a digest of sound basic advice. It covers a lot of ground in brief sections with snappy headings like 'Watch out for planks!' and 'Arrange your golden apples with care' (know what Bible verse that is based on?). Peter has certainly given the reader a generous supply of his own golden apples as he draws on his experience and expertise as pastor, teacher and practitioner, summarising in 20 or so pages the main principles and guidelines for helping others.
So much wisdom is crammed into these pages, yet the style is light (but not trivial) and the section is easy enough to read. Not so easy to digest, however; for there is much here for the would-be helper to take on board. It requires much more than a casual browse. Of course, brevity imposes restrictions. Further unpacking of some issues would have been welcome, especially where diversity of outlook or approach exists. Nevertheless, the general breadth and quality of the foundational material is such that, in this reviewer's opinion, these pages alone would be worth buying the book for.
But there are more golden apples to come! Part 2 , the major section of the book, covers a wide range of problem areas, issues and conditions, arranged alphabetically for easy reference. So, helpful material can be found quickly and easily.
Cross-referencing and an index add to the functionality of the book. For each topic a general pattern is followed, though the format is not rigid. Introductory material explains key aspects of the topic. Advice is then given, taking into account relevant biblical teaching, on ways of offering help and support. A section entitled 'What could I say?' (hence the title of the book!) is often included. Here the reader is directed to things to say which are appropriate to the given situation. Finally, further resources are recommended in the form of relevant reading and details of useful support organisations.
All in all, there is a wealth of practical advice and information to be found here, succinctly and clearly communicated. What Could I Say? fills the gap between Selwyn Hughes' A Friend in Need and Gary Collins' Christian Counselling. It offers rather more than the former but is less technical and detailed than the latter. As such, it provides a valuable resource at an accessible, nonspecialist level, for any Christian serious about helping others. Actually, shouldn't that be every Christian? This book is a must.
Chris Jack, January 2001Order from www.christianbookshops.org
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