[This the 8th chapter of “How God Guides”… If you haven’t read the Introductory chapters, you might like to do that before proceeding. They’ll give you the spirit of my take on the topic of divine guidance…]
A few years ago the bottom fell out of my life. I lost my marriage, my ministry, my home, my income, and my health all in about three months. Needless to say I was in pretty bad shape emotionally. I had very little objectivity left about pretty much anything. I needed the help of my friends like never before. During the early days of that season I had the very same conversation with two different people in two different cities – people I deeply love and respect – Mike in Santa Cruz and Jean in Pacifica. I said to both of them…
“I’m going to get on a bus, go to Mexico, and stay as long as I want.”
“No you’re really not.”
“I’m not? Why not?”
“Because, it’s stupid and you’re in no condition to be alone for long periods of time right now. You’re too messed up to decide for yourself right now. You need people around you.”
I didn’t go to Mexico or mess up what was left of my then miserable life any more than it already was. Instead, my son and I jumped in the car and drove to Arizona for Spring Training (Major League Baseball’s preseason) and then, on a lark, we visited the Grand Canyon. We cried and laughed and talked all the way there and back. It was extremely therapeutic for both of us, and a much better option than isolating myself indefinitely in a foreign country. My friends knew better than I did about what was best for me at that time. They told me what I needed to hear, not necessarily what I wanted to hear, because that’s what friends do.
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
A fool thinks he needs no advice, but a wise man listens to others. Proverbs 12:15
Pride leads to arguments; be humble, take advice and become wise. Proverbs 13:10
Plans go wrong with too few counselors; many counselors bring success. Proverbs 15:22
Don’t go ahead with your plans without the advice of others… Proverbs 20:18
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked. Psalm 1:1
I do fewer dumb things when I talk to friends first. It’s like God says, “Get to know each other well. Get some advice from one another, and you might just heart my voice while talking to them!”
Other people stand outside the emotion of our circumstances and will usually be more objective than we are about ourselves. They say, “What you see depends on where you’re standing,” and our friends sometimes stand in a better place than we do (a place outside of us) to hear God’s voice. I can’t eliminate bad choices altogether, but I can limit the number of them if I’ll just humble myself a little bit and confer with a friend before proceeding into some new territory.
I do fewer dumb things
when I talk to friends first.
During that same season that I mentioned above, I made a repeated request of the Lord, “I’m messed up in my mind and heart, and I know I’m going to make some mistakes during this process. But may my mistakes be small and seldom (i.e. not huge hairy ones, and not a lot of them).” As far as I can tell, he answered that prayer; and one of the keys to reducing my stupidity quotient to a minimum was that I regularly asked my godly friends for advice before proceeding.
Apollos had been thinking about going to Achaia, and the brothers and sisters in Ephesus encouraged him to go. Acts 18:27 NLT
I think there are good ideas and then there are God ideas. Our godly friends might be able to help us decipher the difference.
It is usually only pride that keeps us from going to others for advice. I’m sure you’re familiar with the rap that men have – that we will drive in circles for hours on the way to our own wedding before we’ll stop and ask for directions. I know that I personally prefer to project an air of self-sufficiency. I don’t like being needy or appearing so. But the fact is that I only know so many things and my physical, emotional, and spiritual condition is sometimes pretty tenuous; so I have to humble myself and glean from people wiser, smarter, and more experienced than I.
One of my favorite passages is, “Jonathan helped David find strength in God…” (1 Samuel 23:16). Jonathan couldn’t be David’s strength, because only God can be our strength. But he could help him find it; he could point David to where it could be found in God. In the same way, we can’t guide each other or lead each other. We can only point one another toward the Lord in order to find the leading he alone can give.
A couple of disclaimers…
Some people are just too lazy to seek God for themselves, and so they go around asking everyone else what they think they ought to do. Getting godly counsel from others is no substitute for seeking God’s counsel for yourself. But some seem to be so insecure about making a wrong move, and so look to others to do it for them even with simple life choices. If someone comes to me for guidance, I ask them if they’ve prayed about it. I won’t be anybody’s first stop. They have to go to him first, foremost, and finally. I might be able to help them sort things out as they’re seeking him, but I can’t do it for them.
Other people tend to be “counsel-junkies.” They run from friend to pastor to counselor gathering up opinions on what they should do with their lives. I don’t know if it’s because they have a serious mistrust of their own ability to make a good decision (even with God’s help) or because they want someone to blame if the plan goes awry.
Some people go to as many people as it takes to get the advice they wanted to hear. I guess they expect counsel to stand-alone as the first and last word on a matter for which they’re seeking guidance. None of the principles I’ve included in this writing serve as the “Silver Bullet of Divine Guidance,” and least of all this one. I mean, come on, just because someone you respect tells you such and such, it doesn’t mean you should run off and do it! I’ve already shared at least a half dozen ways God guides and, as you can see, have quite a few to go. Getting good people’s opinions is just one thing that we include in the mix. We don’t ask people to tell us what to do, but to think and pray with us, and possibly share their objective advice with us.