This past December’s BCC retreat addressed a number of provocative counseling methodology questions. As I reflected on these questions, I wondered if there was a single theme that captures what we’re after in our counseling approach. I believe 1 Corinthians 14:1 is helpful: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” Much of what we aspire to in our methodology is summed up in those two commands: “Pursue love and speak prophetically.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us that the counselor’s loving character, demeanor, and approach to people are primary and essential for gospel ministry. Paul summarizes by saying, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
This reminds us that we are called not only to share, explain, and apply the gospel of Christ but also to demonstrate its reality through our love for our counselees. How will people believe in a gracious Savior if I am impatient? How will they trust in his Word if I am trying to sound wise and talk too much? Although we are not the gospel, our Spirit-filled attitude, words, and actions can actually attract people to Jesus and the gospel.
Question: Do you pursue love with the same intensity that you pursue knowledge or skill?
Pursuing love is challenging but not controversial. Every Christian believes this is an essential part of Christian living and ministry. Not so with prophecy. Here we encounter at least three different understandings:
- Cessationist–The gift of prophecy ceased with the close of the New Testament canon.
- Charismatic–The gift of prophecy continues as a Spirit-imparted spontaneous word from God to a particular person or group (Often seen as non-revelatory and not authoritative like Scripture).
- Many Evangelicals–The gift of prophecy refers to preaching.
I want to steer clear of needless controversy and avoid two extremes: over-spiritualizing and neutering what Paul is commanding us. Prophesying must mean something because Paul ties it in with pursuing love and commands us to earnestly desire it. Paul says “the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). Doesn’t that sound like exactly what we want to do in counseling? Here’s my biblical counseling definition of prophesying: A Spirit-inspired word that wisely interprets Scripture, circumstances, and the needs of people, and then directly applies gospel truth in order to:
- Build faith
- Encourage hope
- Arouse love
We might say that to prophesy is to speak the right word at the right time to a person or group.
Biblical Example of Speaking Prophetically
I believe this kind of “prophetic” speaking is exactly what we aspire to in counseling. For an example, look at Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:68-79:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace
Notice that Zechariah’s words are:
- Completely Scriptural: They abound in messianic promises and scriptural allusions.
Question: Are our minds and hearts and counseling Scripture-saturated?
- Personally relevant: Zechariah sees that God is fulfilling all his redemptive promises to his people through the births of John and Jesus.
Question: How well do we discern what God is doing and saying to this person on this day?
- Deeply hopeful: God knew that defeating the Romans would not satisfy them forever the way knowing the salvation of Jesus would.
Question: Can we help counselees see the difference between their temporary earthly desires and their eternal kingdom desires?
- Transformational: The goal of redemption is that “we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
Question: How can you help counselees understand that God’s purpose in their lives is not just to change their circumstances, but to free them from every obstacle to fearless, holy, loving service?
While we will not be inspired infallibly like Zechariah, by the power of the Holy Spirit we can speak in a scriptural, relevant, hopeful, transforming way. These kind of loving prophetic words are guaranteed to build faith, encourage hope, and arouse love in those we counsel.
Join the Conversation
Who in your life has pursued love and/or spoken prophetically (the right word at the right time) to you? What was the result in your life? What can you learn from them and apply it to others?