Deciding whose counsel is acceptable and whose advice is best disregarded can be complicated and achieved primarily through experience. Jesus declared that wisdom is proved right by the actions it promotes. (Matthew 11:19); reinforcing Proverbs’ injunction to, “Listen to advice and accept instruction and in the end you will be wise..” Proverbs 19:20 And “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers,…’ Prob. 15:20 Yet even here, a specific source of instruction and advice is recommended. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” Psalm 32:8 “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayers,…” 1 Peter 3:12 (Quoting Psalm 34:15)
Considering what counsel is may help us know whose opinions, ideas, and direction to accept. Counsel defined by Webster’s as: A mutual exchange of ideas, opinions and advice concerning a desired course of action. A counselor then is one who urges the acceptance of a plan of action derived from varied input, refined into a purposeful course of action.
Doing so means we have to really listen, making a conscious effort to hear, and take heed – in preparation for doing. (Can we hear but not listen? Absolutely!) But we have to be discerning as well, discernment being the ability to perceive or recognize differences, showing good judgment and/or understanding, having a keen perception – being able to recognize right and wrong or degrees of right and wrong; how they fit, their outcome and impact on your life and those around you. In other words, exercising judgment – not a popular concept these days but an essential discipline to exercise. Jesus warning, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Matthew 7:1 But in doing so, He is referring to a critical judgementalism – with very little purpose other than to point out the sins or shortcomings of others while ignoring our own. And while no one should be judgmental, this doesn’t promote a “live and let live” attitude either. The truth is we have to be discerning, we must make judgments between right and wrong; recognizing the difference between good and evil, better and best. This will enable us then to have a basis from which to decide who and what we can or cannot be associated with and appear to condone or participate in. The idea of judgment can be associated with criticism, but encompasses just as much the idea of deciding between one thought or another and developing an opinion or estimate of value and worth. More to the scriptural point, it references our ability to compare and decide; gaining understanding of sinfulness and forgiveness, following either The Way or a way.
Part of growing up is accepting responsibility for what we do and how we do it. We must be willing as well to develop a sensible life’s plan whereby we function and accomplish tasks in an effective and productive manner. We will at times make good and bad decisions. Sometimes deciding between good, better and best is difficult. The gray area between good and bad, right and wrong can sometimes be confusing. Is it sin, a mistake, or merely another option? It is largely up to you who you go to for that advice.
The Bible is full of practical advice on how we should respond in any number of situations. We have to be willing to search its pages, value it’s insight and apply it to our own particular circumstances. Scripture likewise gives vivid examples of the pitfalls of choosing poorly. (See 1 Kings 12) Paul addresses this issue as well in 1 Corinthians 15:33, where he says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” Both warn of the folly in going exclusively to people our own age and experience level for advice and refusing to even listen to anyone else. Because for all practical purposes, they don’t have any more experience in the situation being dealt with than those needing help. Do older people always have the right answers – NO – not always. But at the very least, they’ve experienced more, and hopefully have a little deeper insight into life even if they lived it poorly. In listening to both younger and older advisers we many times are excited and motivated by the different approaches and youthful energy on the one hand and steadied as well as strengthened by the sober advice and caution on the other. Titus 2:1-8 and 1 Timothy 5:1,2 deal specifically with relationships between older and younger men and women; the one directed to give respect, the other to give advice. Not from a condescending frame of mind but out of a loving concern for those who have their whole life to live, working in tandem with those who will make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences but who needn’t suffer needlessly if they will but have the sense to listen to people who know and seek guidance in the right place.
The Apostle Paul assures us through his letter to the Corinthian church that, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13 I really believe this can apply to our experiences throughout life, not only temptation; what we do, which we choose – the good, better and best decisions we must make from time to time. Maybe it could be saying, ‘No experience will come your way except what is common to man. God was there for others, he will be there for you. He won’t let you down or allow you to suffer needlessly. When experiencing a problem or difficulty, he will provide a way through it – sometimes by giving you strength to tough it out, other times by giving you a friend or mentor; someone who has had similar experiences who can lead, advise and guide you along the way.’
This is not an attempt to discount your experience by saying, ‘Been there, done that.’ It is meant however, to encourage you with the knowledge that, yes, times get tough – for everybody. And while it’s true we aren’t all tempted by the exact same things or struggle with the same decisions; we do all experience confusing times and have to make difficult decisions. We really do live similar lives in many ways and there is solace sometimes in just knowing that is true. Much encouragement can be had from realizing that someone else has been where you are and is willing to say, ‘I’ve been there, it’s difficult, but you can make it – I did. Here’s how I did it, maybe it will help you.’
Listen, learn, discern. For from the decisions made today will come the ability and capacity for success in the future; academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually. “How can a young (person) keep (their) way pure? By living according to (God’s) word.” Psalm 119:9; and seeking Godly counsel and advice. In turn, this will go a long way in aiding your endeavor to not, “…Let anyone look down on you because you are young,…” as you “…set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
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