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The approach to soul care that I’m describing here is not a “call to sloppiness,” though it could sound that way. It is a call for faith to speak the truth in love as you depend on the only Counselor (Holy Spirit) who can penetrate hearts and transform lives. My “preparation” to help people began when the Lord regenerated me in 1984. Since then, I have been studying God’s Word. I have hidden some of His words in my heart. I have counseled several thousand people and taught hundreds of Bible lessons. And I also have life experience.
In the most technical sense, I have been in training since I was born the first time. Everything from my past, regardless of it being before or after salvation, is to help me be the person that God wants me to be. The Lord did not begin equipping me at redemption (Jeremiah 1:5; Ephesians 1:4).
There is no place in Christian discipleship for sloppy, haphazard, or unprepared soul care practices. All Christians must study to show themselves approved to God. We should be able to rightly divide the Word of God while practically applying it into the lives of others (2 Timothy 2:15). We should be instant in season and out of season, always ready to bring God’s Word to bear to any situation (2 Timothy 4:2). With these things in mind, I still have no idea what I would say to a person who comes to me for help until that person is in front of me. You may have all the biblical training in the world, but you’ll never know what to say until you’re in the moment with a person.
There was a time when Jesus taught His friends about the dangers of being hauled in before the authorities. He assured them that the Spirit of God would give them the words to say in those painful times.
And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).
Later, He continued His pneumatological teaching when He said,
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come (John 16:13).
I testify to the truths that He was teaching His friends. God’s Spirit has been incredibly faithful to me throughout the years to bring the right thoughts, the right concepts, and the right Scriptures at the moment I needed His illumination the most. Am I talking about some weird Charismatic hocus-pocus? Of course not. I’m talking about living like a Calvinist while studying like an Arminian: I trust God to help me help others while always doing the things I am supposed to do to prepare myself to be a good discipler.
I have simplified how I think about this concept of discipleship. My simplification releases me from over-complicating something the Lord expects all of us to be doing (Romans 15:14). One of the ways I have pared my thinking down is through this idea of prayer and prophecy.
Prayer –While I am listening to the person who has come to me for counseling, I pray, asking God to help me understand what the person is saying. I want to know them, sympathize with them, and sit in their chair (Ezekiel 3:15) while attempting to see what they see. I want to know what they know. I want to serve them thoroughly (Hebrews 13:3).
Prayer is the nonnegotiable essential key to understanding another person the way they need you to know them. When I am not talking to the person during any given discipleship time, I am asking God about that person. This perspective is a crucial element regarding how I serve others. As they are talking, I am pleading with God for His assistance to help the person in the most effective ways.
I need God’s intervention! Honestly, I do not possess the intelligence needed to know how to serve a person well, but the good news is that I know Someone who does know the person intimately well. So I talk to Him, appealing to Him for help (Psalm 103:14). It is as though my mind runs through the Scriptures that He has given me through the years and also the experience He has given me before and after redemption. The Spirit of God leads me as I pray, asking for help for the person sitting in front of me.
Prophecy –As God illuminates my mind, I begin to share what He has impressed upon my heart. That is all I mean by the word prophecy, nothing more. I do not upload the word with Charismatic caricatures or prejudices, whether justified or not. I am not talking about “revelation from God” as though what God gives me is on par with what He gave the Bible writers. That type of teaching would be heresy.
My Baptist brothers have another way of talking about this idea of prophecy when they say, “God laid something on my heart.” They are talking about the doctrine of illumination. I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well on planet Earth today, and He is working in the hearts of men and women, including my heart. He is not only active, but He is guiding us into all truth (John 16:13). I realize there is a level of subjectivity here, but our lack of perfect awareness of what God wants us to do in matters of soul care should not inhibit us from proceeding in faith.
If we were 100 percent assured of what to say because God wrote the words on a piece of paper, our faith would not be in God but the “black and white” facts written before us. Trusting God is not the absence of knowledge, but we must not discount the pneumatic aspect of our relationship with the Lord. You must rest in God’s good work in you, as you have been working out those things through diligent study and other spiritual disciplines. And you trust that what you have to say are the things the Spirit of God is bringing to your mind for the benefit of the person you’re helping.
Give Credit to Whom Credit Is Due – You have to give credit to someone for what happens when discipling. The question is, who gets the glory for what happens? I must give glory to God for how He helps me and those I serve. I believe that God is active in any discipleship context and that He guides me to care for others well. It becomes an integrity issue regarding who gets the credit for the dispensing of sound soul care knowledge. I believe it is the Holy Spirit who illuminates me to speak the way Jesus would talk if He were here on earth.
I Don’t Know Enough to Counsel – Some people object by saying that they have not received adequate training to the depth they feel they should before speaking into someone’s life. What they are implying is, “Rick, you are old and have had more time in the Word of God, academia, and real counseling situations.” Their assessment may be correct. Indeed, I am old, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I have no idea how many people I have met through the years. But my experience, whatever it may be, should not be their primary point of focus when it comes to them obeying God’s command to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).
The woman at the well in John 4 had just met the Savior. She was affected by Him. She went into a nearby town and began to tell others what she knew (John 4:29). Did she wait until she finished seminary before she started to talk to others about Jesus? Did she wait until she bought her first Bible and read it entirely? Of course not. She told others what she knew, and the Spirit of God blessed her effort.
You should be a student of God’s Word. It would be best if you committed your life to this fantastic discipline. And when it comes to helping others, I appeal to you to pray, asking Him for the words to say and that you share those things in faith. You will be amazed at what He can do through you as you humbly depend on Him. But if you’re not serious about God or His Word, your first call to action is to repent before you try to help others. The woman at the well was serious about her relationship with Christ; she was not a careless disciple.
On Making Mistakes – Will you make mistakes? Will you say the wrong things at times? Of course, you will. Nobody counsels perfectly, but Jesus. The real issue is whether you will move forward by faith, trusting God to guide you while knowing that He will take care of you as well as the person you’re discipling.
If you realize you have made a mistake, correct it. Perhaps you can go back to the person and talk about it. But never think that your sincere mistake will be greater than God’s grace in the other person’s life. (Many people have done horrific things to others, like what my dad did to me, but those things were not greater than God’s transformative grace.) If you love God and His Word, you must share His Word practically, according to the breadth and depth that you understand it. God will bless you for this, and you will continue to grow in your discipleship ability while helping others along the way.
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