What would a counseling prodigy look like? Math prodigies race calculators in complex math problems at the age of seven. Athletic prodigies show coordination and intuition about game strategy at age four. Technology prodigies can make their parents VCR quit blinking “12:00” at age two (without shorting the circuits by pouring their soggy breakfast cereal in the flappy door).

In his presentation at the CCEF “Not Alone” conference, David Powlison drew attention to the teenage Jesus who demonstrated an astonishing knack for the skills of counseling even as a youth.

“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46-47, emphasis added)

The first thing we notice Jesus doing is sitting. At this young age he was already self-aware of his unique role to change the world (Luke 2:49) and he was with the religious leaders – those one might assume would be part of his work and we learn later would be his opposition. But he is not in a hurry.

Even as these leaders began to be impressed by him he does not get in a hurry (Luke 2:51). Jesus is willing to sit with those with whom he wants to have influence.

What does he do while he’s sitting? He listens. What does he do when it’s his turn in the conversation exchange? He asks questions. There is a great deal of honor being shown in these interactions. More than information is being gathered; rapport is being built.

Notice that there are two things that amazed people. The first thing that amazed them was his understanding; not his answers. There must have been a depth to the questions he asked and the way he contextualized people’s concerns that caused people see themselves and their situations in irreversible ways.

In light of this new understanding, simple answers could have profound impact. Why do I assume his actual answers were simple? Because I do not think teenage Jesus would have given more complex counsel than adult Jesus.

  • Deal with anger before it becomes rage by addressing the heart (Matt. 5:21-26)
  • Keep your word and if more than your “yes” is required you’re in trouble (Matt. 5:33-37)
  • Revenge never works, so love your enemies instead (Matt. 5:38-48)
  • Pray like God cares and not like you have to impress him (Matt. 6:5-13)
  • Invest in the things that last and your character will be transformed (Matt. 6:19-24)
  • Worry is a bad use of your time because it saps the present without changing the future (Matt. 6:25-34)

If Jesus were explaining the Trinity or the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, surely somebody would have been taking notes and we’d have clearer answers to those questions today.

It was the things that Jesus did before his answers that caused his counsel to “amaze” those who heard it. It was the things that Jesus did before his answers that made his counseling stick so that people would actually follow it.

We will never be the Son of God with ability to see into the hearts of those we counsel, whether it’s formal counseling by appointment or informal conversation with a friend. The effectiveness of our counsel will always, ultimately, be dependent upon whether our friend allows Christ to give him/her a new heart by embracing Christ’s death on the cross as their source of life and hope.

But there is much in this interaction of Jesus the teenage counseling prodigy that we can learn from and apply to our relationships to increase the impact we have on others in the midst of the hardships, struggles, and life transitions.