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Being your own counselor

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Earlier on Thursday I tweeted the following: “Decisions made in isolation = decisions made in a vacuum. What is the primary function of a vacuum? Seeking your own counsel mimics that function.” It took me a while to craft a way of describing what a vacuum does (sucks) without crossing the line into crassness by using that word in a way that assesses value or uselessness, and not as what the word is actually intended to mean. What I really wanted to say in that tweet was… “Decisions made in a vacuum really…” Still can’t bring myself to type it. But, I’m sure you can figure it out.

The heart of that tweet though was a concern over how an individual makes decisions. I’m thinking primarily of believers – it would be unreasonable of me to expect unbelievers to follow a biblical pattern of thinking and decision making. It is much more reasonable to expect believers to do so. Yet, too often, believers end up making poor, dreadful, or unwise decisions because of one fatal flaw that is the result of, or compounded by, two fundamental flaws (and I am just as prone to doing the same). The fatal flaw is this – we fashion ourselves into our own counselors. We trust ourselves. We trust our judgment. We rely on our “gut feelings”. We make pro/con lists, and as long as the pros outnumber the cons, we feel pretty good, even if it means ignoring the fewer, but weightier, cons. We internalize our decisions. And internal is generally where they stay.

That fatal is the product of two fundamental flaws that are nearly always paired with each other. Fundamental flaw #1 – we don’t seek God’s counsel. Fundamental flaw # 2 – we don’t seek the counsel of others. Our actions and decisions reveal a heart that says “God, I’m smarter than You and I don’t need Your help, and I don’t trust those people You have put around me.” I doubt any of us would be brazen enough to actually say those words. I don’t doubt that many of us have acted on them.

When we choose to be our own counselors, we have isolated ourselves. We have insulated ourselves against the influence of God and His people. I have lost count of the number of times individuals have approached me with some decision they have made, and when I ask how they arrived at that conclusion, the response is some derivative of “I just felt that was the right choice.” Hmmm. Right choice based upon what exactly? Did you consult God’s Word? Now I recognize that there is no chapter and verse you can flip to and find instructions to move to Pascagoula (if you don’t know your southern geography, that is a real city in the state of Mississippi) or will tell you that you should be an accountant instead of a airline pilot, but surely there are principles at work in Scripture that would lend themselves to revealing God’s will for you, right? What about some of the “smaller” decisions? Getting married, having children, the role of the church in your life, how to spend your money? We nod our heads and agree with the pastor when he reminds us that God’s divine power “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Yet somehow we manage to find the unwritten and unknown exception that our particular situation is, and accordingly determine, for ourselves and by ourselves, that it falls outside of God’s view or attention, so surely we must be the ones to figure it out. Accordingly, we do really dumb things. Let’s attempt to be logical about it – if we say that God is the source of all wisdom, and if we choose to arrive at a decision that does not come forth from the wisdom of God, can it really be anything but foolish? Sometimes the foolishness is not so much in the decision, as it is in the process that led to the decision.

Part of that process involves seeking the counsel of others. Ignoring God’s people is fundamental flaw #2, but it also speaks to the first fundamental flaw by ignoring God’s counsel. It was God who has graciously and generously provided His church to serve in this capacity. You are likely familiar with the body imagery of 1 Corinthians 12. We tend to view that chapter primarily through the lens of spiritual gifts, but it lends itself to this discussion as well. If you are a part of the body of Christ, your decisions have an impact on the rest of the body. (I’m arguing for a use of the word impact that considers both its positive and negative connotations). We’re told explicitly in verse 21 “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.” When we do not involve other believers into our search for answers, we are in fact saying to them, “I do not need you.” Taken to the next step, we are saying “I am smarter than you and can figure this out on my own.” Or maybe, just maybe what we are really saying is “I’m afraid you’ll object to my decision, or offer some insight that is detrimental to what I have already convinced myself of.”

So what should we do?

1.  Don’t trust your heart. Decisions are rooted in desire, and desire is planted in the heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” None of us can trust our hearts.

2.  Seek after God. God says He grants wisdom freely to us if we ask (James 1:5). If we are more focused on Him and His glory and His righteousness, the other things will come (Matthew 6:33). Trust God’s counsel. We’re told in Isaiah 46:10 – “My counsel will stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” The Psalms are filled with the confidence in the surety of God’s counsel. Here is a small smattering:

  • Psalm 1:1-2 – Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of  scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.
  • Psalm 16:7 – I bless the Lord who gives me counsel
  • Psalm 32:8 – I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
  • Psalm 33:11 – The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.
  • Psalm 119:24 – You testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.

3.  Be wary of ignoring God’s counsel, or depending on yours alone. Again, the Psalms are instructive:

  • Psalm 81:12 – So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.
  • Psalm 106:13 – But they soon forgot His works; they did not wait for His counsel. In verse 15 of that same Psalm we get this warning: He gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them.
  • Psalm 107:11 – For they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High

4.  Be humble enough to ask for help in making decisions. Use the gifts given to you through your local church. Believers are expected to             practice the “one anothers.” By not inviting others into your thought process, you are denying them the opportunity to practice what it is they are expected to do

5.  Be humble enough to listen. You could ask in a checklist sort of way – “great, I’ve done that, I’m moving on.” But that would be foolish. Listen. Allow questions to be asked of you. Questions about motives, desires, and biblical integrity are not designed to humiliate you, they are designed to help you.

I’m hopeful that these few ideas will be helpful for us (including myself). I want to make the wisest decisions I can. I can’t trust my heart. But I can trust God and His Word. I will labor with my brothers and sisters to arrive at, not the best conclusion, but God’s conclusion. If I make the right decision on my own, I get the glory. If I make the right decision because I trusted God, then He gets the glory.

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