The blood moon of April 2014 setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Finding the truth in good advice

When was the last time you got really great advice? Did you recognize it when you heard it? For me, sometimes good advice doesn’t sound like advice. Sometimes it just sounds like conversation or a story, but recently a very good friend of mine actually sat me down and had a good long chat with me. And he gave me advice.

For-real advice. That doesn’t happen to me very often, probably because I don’t shut up long enough for people to tell me stuff.

I appreciated what this friend had to stay to me enormously because he’s one of those people who I really respect, but I had no idea how valuable that advice would be a few days later. I actually got the chance to put his advice into practice.

The blood moon of April 2014 setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The blood moon of April 2014 setting at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 19:20.

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
    so you will be wise the rest of your life.

The world is full of people with advice. Have you noticed that? Everyone has an opinion about something, even the things that don’t matter.

An example? I was looking for a grammar rule I couldn’t remember. Do you capitalize after a colon or not? And surprise, surprise, everyone had a different idea and ten sources to back them up. Nobody agreed (but this is English, so I guess it’s not a surprise).

Everyone has advice. So whose advice do you go with? And how do you judge what advice is sound and what advice is cuckoo? Obviously what the Bible says is truth, but if you talk to different people they’ll apply that truth in different ways in their lives. So how do you know what’s right and what’s wrong?

Because maybe you’ve got a friend who has given you great advice in the past. That’s awesome. But maybe you’ve got other friends who have given you advice that didn’t work out so well. Or maybe you’ve even got friends like Job had, those cruel people who were so determined to blame Job’s suffering on him.

I’m not sure I know the answer to this. I just know what I have learned.

Lots of people have given me advice before, but the advice I take has to fulfill two main requirements. One, the advice he’s giving can’t contradict Scripture in any way. Two, the person giving the advice has to be a mature Christ-follower with a history of wise choices. Then, and only then, will I consider taking his advice.

Will I listen to advice from people I don’t know well? Sure, I’ll listen. Because I’ve learned amazing things from people I don’t know well. I’ve been blessed enormously by people I barely know. I’ve gotten to see God work in my life thanks to strangers. But when it comes to my own life, my own personal walk with Christ, it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to change what I’m doing just because someone walks up to me and tells me I need to do something different.

Advice is important. Nobody is smart enough to make it through this life on their wits alone. We all have experiences and we all have learned things along the way that can help others around us, and we should share and we should listen. The more you listen, the more you learn. The more you learn, the wiser you’ll be.

Job’s friends aside, God has put people in our lives who are worth listening to. And listening to them might mean the difference between success and burn out.

So pay attention. Get all the advice you can find because the truth will probably be in there somewhere.

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Get a second opinion

Have you ever tried to start a new project without really know what you’re doing? It’s probably not the smartest idea, honestly, but I know folks who have done it anyway. Leaped into a commitment that was much larger than they expected. But if they would have dug a little deeper, they would have discovered what they needed to know.

That’s the funny thing about taking risks in life. They don’t have to be blind risks all the time because there’s bound to be someone else who’s had the same thoughts and experienced the same problems you have, and if you can find that person, you’ve got access to a treasure trove of information. But what if you don’t like what they tell you? You can’t exactly jeopardize your dreams just because one person thinks you’re nuts for trying it, do you?

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:22.

Plans go wrong for lack of advice;
    many advisers bring success.

I like to go things alone. I’m independent and stubborn, and I like to figure things out for myself without anyone’s help. I have this internal drive to prove myself capable, and for some reason it seems to me like accepting advice or help from anyone else negates any progress I’ve made along those lines.

No, I’ve never claimed to be bright.

That’s why sometimes I struggle with this verse in Proverbs, because more often than not, whenever I go looking for advice about a decision I need to make, the people I talk to discourage me from taking it. Or they don’t understand what I’m trying to accomplish. So rather than being disappointed about what I want to do, it’s easier to just not ask and struggle through the process alone. Maybe that makes me independent, but I think it probably makes me more idiotic than that.

Asking for advice is essential, whether you’re taking a risk or not. Nobody can get through life without wise counsel from someone who’s already walked that road. I mean, you can try to get through life without wise counsel, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll end up in heaps of trouble, and your life will be a lot more complicated than it needs to be. But you need to be careful where you get your advice.

Advice needs to be based on the Bible. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking relationship advice or work advice or child-rearing advice or business advice. Whatever advice you need, needs to be based on Scripture because that is the source of wisdom, so if you are getting advice from somebody that contradicts what the Bible says, you can feel free to ignore it.

But you also need to get a second opinion. Maybe that sounds harsh, but don’t put all your trust and focus in one person. Get the advice of more than one godly man or woman in your life when you need to make a decision. If they all tell you the same thing, then it’s a good chance that’s the way to go. If they all tell you something different, then you probably need to do some more praying about the decision you’re going to make.

God created us all with different perspectives, and He put us where we are in life to give us different experiences. Having a group of advisors with varied history, varied life experience, varied ages, varied everything is valuable, as long as the one thing they share is love of Christ and love of Scripture. If you have a group of people to get advice from, you’re more fortunate than you realize; you’re blessed. If you don’t have one, find one. Cultivate relationships with wise people. Learn to recognize wisdom and strive to integrate it into your life, and when you find a wise person, don’t scorn their advice. Listen to it. Consider it. Compare it to Scripture, and make your decision.

Some advice is discouraging because it contradicts what we want, but wisdom recognizes that getting what we want isn’t always what we need.

So if you’re the type who doesn’t like advice, consider learning to like it. It will probably save you heartache and frustration in the future. And if you’re the type who asks for advice, just make sure the person you’re listening is wise according to the Bible and the Spirit, especially if you’re hovering on the edge of a life-changing decision. But don’t just ask one wise person. There is more than one wise person in the world, and even though perspectives may vary, wisdom doesn’t.

Is there such a thing as too much advice? Maybe. But it’s probably better to risk too much advice than to press forward with too little.

Draw wisdom from the wise but leave the plans to God

Getting advice is a good thing. It’s a good idea to surround yourself with wise counselors because you never know when you’re going to run into a situation that you’ve never experienced before. But just because you’ve never experienced it doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t. And getting their opinion on how to handle the situation is invaluable, especially if whatever decision you have to make will affect more people than just yourself.

Everyone has advisors. Everyone has teachers and parents and friends who they listen to. Even in film. Luke Skywalker had Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi and the dubious influence of Han Solo. Jack Bauer has Chloe O’Bryan. Dr. House has his team of diagnosticians in training, although he really only keeps his own counsel.  Maybe Dr. House is a bad example.

Having people you trust around you is important, and having people you trust who are experienced with life is even more important. Because you can draw from their wisdom. It makes no sense to fumble through life and make the same mistakes other people have made and suffer the same consequences someone else has. Because all you have to do is ask someone who went through the same thing so you can know how to avoid the same pitfalls.

Todays’ verse is Proverbs 19:20-21.

20 Get all the advice and instruction you can,
      so you will be wise the rest of your life.
 21 You can make many plans,
      but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.

Get as much advice and instruction as you can. Surround yourself with wise people and learn from them. Learn from their success. Learn from their failure. Learn the right direction to travel and learn how to keep going, whether you lose everything or whether you gain everything (because either one can be devastating).

Get wisdom and then live a wise life.

Even the President has a cabinet of subject matter experts who he turns to when a situation exceeds his understanding. So why don’t we? Because when troubles come our way (if they haven’t already swept you off your feet, they will), we need the advice and support of our closest friends who have already been through the same struggle. And if you listen to their advice and do what they suggest, you have a good chance of surviving whatever circumstance you find yourself in.

I’m making the assumption that our counslors and advisors are believers, students of Scripture, seeking God actively in their life. If you want to live a successful, godly life, that’s the kind of counselor you need (and that’s the kind of counselor you need to be).

Now, that all being said, our focus needs to turn to verse 21. I think it’s funny that it is included in today’s passage because it’s actually a separate thought. Proverbs is full of short little one-liners. Many of them, I can imagine some little merchant saying or some grandma while she sits and darns socks. If you’ve ever watched Fiddler on the Roof, you can appreciate the value of a good (or even a not-so-good) proverb.

But verse 21 is an interesting reminder that no matter how much good advice you get, God’s purpose and plan will remain the same. And no matter how much wisdom we accumulate, God’s wisdom is still higher. And we can plan and plan and plan until our whole lives are just one big step-by-step process, but God is the one with the real master plan and if your plan doesn’t fit with His, your plan has to change. That’s the definition of a master plan.

By surrounding yourself with wise counselors who are familiar with biblical truth, you can gain wisdom and know how to handle the rough situations that life throws at you. But remember that no matter how wise you think you have become, God still knows more than you do.

And when it comes down to it, I would rather follow God’s plan than my own.