Home » Biblical Counseling » Following the Holy Spirit’s Lead in Biblical Counseling: A Triperspectival Approach, Part 4


Following the Holy Spirit’s Lead in Biblical Counseling: A Triperspectival Approach, Part 4


[Our blogger for May is Mike Wilkerson. Mike is a pastor and director of Biblical Counseling at Mars Hill Church. He leads the Redemption Groups ministry, wrote Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry, and co-authored a chapter on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in counseling in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling. (The chapter is available as  free download.)]

Here we are at the end of this blog series, coming around full circle to the existential perspective. In the first post, I suggested that “the existential perspective is the most natural frame of reference for understanding the leading of the Holy Spirit in counseling”, but also that “too much emphasis on the existential, without being ‘calibrated’ by the normative and situational, will lead to error.” In this post, we’ll bring all of these threads together and consider how insights from the normative and situational perspectives add important texture to the basic existential intuition that, in a given counseling moment, The Spirit is probably doing something that “feels right” to the Spirit-formed, maturing Christian counselor.

It’s a human person after all—hopefully Spirit-empowered, but nonetheless human—who discerns what “feels right”.

That counselor will have some relationship to God and God’s way of knowing. In other words, he will have an orientation with respect to the normative. One counselor will have a deep knowledge of God’s word and the personally transforming grace of Christ; another shallow. One counselor will have robust, trial-tested, personal faith in God, while another wrestles with cynicism and theodicy. One will be grounded in “the fear of the Lord”, which is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom and insight God’s way (Prov. 1:7; 9:10); another’s basic epistemic commitments may be indistinguishable from those of a non-Christian counselor.

A counselor will have some relationship to and knowledge of the world and the conditions that effect people in general, and his current counselee in particular. In other words, he has an orientation with respect to the situational. One counselor will be well-informed about the bio-psycho-social-spiritual realities that are at play in a given counseling case; another counselor will be uninformed. One counselor will be curious about what makes people tick and what ways of helping are most effective; another will prefer a pragmatic approach—do what works.

Put all of those ingredients into a counselor, add experience, then stir. The resulting concoction is a counselor who discerns in a given counseling moment what “feels right.”

What I mean by “add experience, then stir” is that all of these orientations, personal biases, and knowings are corrected or validated, and then reinforced by many repetitions of experiential learning. A counselor will learn from his experiences either in a kind learning environment or a wicked one. Robin Hogarth in his book Educating Intuition⁠1 explains that kind learning structures are those that, when you do it wrong, tells you “you did that wrong”; and when you do it right, it tells you “you did that right.” Simply, a kind learning environment gives you true, reliable feedback. A wicked learning environment is one that, when you do it wrong, tells you “right”, and when you do it right, tells you “wrong.” A counselor who learns in a wicked learning environment (including feedback from clients, supervisors, and other factors) develops an intuitive sense of what “feels right” that is, in fact, wrong.

It seems that there’s significant overlap between the psychological process of human intuition and a counselor’s sense for the Spirit’s leading. Human intuition, after all, is part of God’s creation; I believe he means to work through it.

Intuition, Hogarth says, is closely related to expertise that is specific to a particular domain.⁠2 The notion of expertise, in turn, overlaps with the Hebrew idea of hokmah, the word often translated wisdom in Old Testament wisdom literature like Proverbs. According to Michael Fox, hokmah is best understood in English as expertise.⁠3 In hokmah, the three perspectives come together. Normative: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of hokmah. Situational: true knowledge about how people work and how to help them. Existential: the loving, moral, responsible application of that knowledge.

So how do we follow the Spirit’s lead in a given counseling moment? In a sense, it’s as simple as going with what “feels right.” But, “feels right” to whom? To one who is growing in Christlikeness, who knows and is being transformed by God’s grace, who walks in the fear of the Lord, who humbly learns—and keeps learning—all that the Spirit teaches him about the creation, who has devoted himself to following the Spirit’s lead over time and has gained a refined sense of it after seeing the Spirit bear his fruit in people’s lives again and again. Basically, to one who loves as God loves.

This conclusion is no surprise to anyone who has studied Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians. In a nutshell: Love should guide your the use of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12–14).

Paul doesn’t tell the Corinthians to stop using their spiritual gifts; he exhorts them to grow in love (1 Cor. 13). He doesn’t leave them suspicious about the work of the Spirit among them; he charges them to eagerly desire the gifts (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1). We too should eagerly desire to see the Spirit’s power at work in our counseling, effecting transformation that far exceeds what we in our limited capacities could ever expect. As we counselors follow him in his work, he will not only transform the counselee, but he will also continue transforming us to love as he loves.

1 Robin M. Hogarth, Educating Intuition, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2001).

2 Hogarth, 23.

3 Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 1–9, The Anchor Bible (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2000), 32–33.



  1. Sarah Groen-Colyn says:

    Mike, I was just able to finish reading your blog contributions and want to give you a heartfelt thank you! I am grateful for how your writing has fed my eager desire to see the Spirit’s power at work in my counseling and ministry efforts! We haven’t met (and I hope we will sometime through this great SCP network), but I still wanted to offer these words of appreciation and encouragement for the important kingdom work you’re doing! Warmly, Sarah

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