Has anyone ever asked you for advice? It can be very flattering, but giving wise counsel is one of the most important things you will ever do. This is especially true from parent to child.
What if your son or daughter do what you tell them to do – and you are wrong? You will share in the consequences they reap, no matter how sincere you were when you gave them counsel. Sincerity does not trump the painful results of bad counsel.
If you are unsure of the soundness and wisdom of your counsel then do not give it. Send them to someone else that has an answer or discover the information for yourself, but do not give direction to anyone, and so much more your children, if you are uncertain about what to tell them to do.
I have heard it said that “doing something is better than doing nothing”. That depends upon whether or not you are going in the right direction. The equivalent of that would be, “saying something is better than saying nothing”. That depends upon whether or not you are giving correct advice. Sometimes it is better to be quiet.
One failure we have in giving sound advice is not actively listening to the other person. Perhaps while the other person is talking we are mentally occupied with crafting a response and missing vital information. Maybe it is because we have heard problems of this sort before and tend to pigeon-hole the issue into a prejudicial category. This is a recipe for disaster for those we are advising!
The Bible addresses this type of short-sighted response and warns against it – “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Proverbs 18:13)
Note the emphasis in the verse on “hearing” what is being said. To fail to do so is “folly and shame” to the one that gives the counsel. The reverse is also true – those that listen and respond with truth are regarded as having wisdom and honored by those whom they counsel.
Listening is the foundation of all good counsel. It is impossible to give an intelligent answer without hearing the question and understanding the issue. We are not to jump to conclusions without having all of the facts. An irrelevant reply reveals that you are not only inattentive, but lack wisdom.
Davey Crockett said, “Be sure you’re right, and then go ahead”. To paraphrase him, be sure you’re right before you dispense advice to someone. I’m afraid parents respond much too quickly to their children when they are seeking help and the outcome can be catastrophic to their future.
As a pastor I frequently counsel people. In fact, just today someone asked me about a very heavy and troublesome subject on their heart. I believe I will be held accountable before God for the words that I gave them (James 3:1). Because I am aware of this accountability before God it is not a small thing for me to advise people. What if they do what I tell them – and I am wrong?
One of the most frequent prayer requests that I have of the Lord is that He would grant me His wisdom (James 1:5). Wisdom is also a result of diligent study (Proverbs 2:1-6). Both of these, prayer and study, take time and one must be intentional about them. Wisdom is not an accident, but the byproduct of other actions you have taken in your life. If anyone needs wisdom, it’s Dad and Mom so they can help their children!
Seeking counsel is an imperative if one is to avoid painful and destructive (and unnecessary) consequences. The Bible speaks of both the benefits and the consequences of seeking, or not seeking, advice. Please read carefully the following four truths from God’s Word; don’t let your eyes rush past the words. Let them sink into your heart.
“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” (Proverbs 12:15)
“Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.” (Proverbs 19:20)
“Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.” (Proverbs 20:18)
I believe in seeking counsel and I practice it. Before I bought a vehicle, I asked counsel of others. Before I served in ministries in which I have been a part, I sought counsel. Before I bought our home, I sought counsel. Before I make major decisions about personal health problems, I seek counsel. When I am confused, I seek counsel.
However, I don’t seek counsel from just anyone. I want to know that the person with whom I am speaking has wisdom and experience in the area of which I am needing help.
Many years ago I was about to make a major purchase and we had very limited funds. One person whom I had not sought advice from voluntarily began to give me counsel. They told me to go ahead and borrow the money and trust God to make the payments.
I held this person in great respect, but I didn’t have peace in my heart about their counsel. I didn’t follow it and I’m glad that I didn’t. Several weeks later God met the need without my borrowing any money. Though I feel like they meant well, it would have been better if they had been quiet about their advice. It would have been an economic disaster for my family.
One of the statements I have made frequently in my counseling through the years has been, “Let me think about it”. I don’t want to respond quickly with some empty (or wrong) information. Again, what if they follow through on what I tell them and I am wrong? Giving advice is serious business.
Someone wrote, “You can usually dodge a question with a long-winded answer”. Wisdom is not giving long-winded answers, but giving insight and helpful information upon which to act. Sometimes that insight is given after some prayer, thought and research.
A man was considering starting his own business and he came to me for advice. The first thing I told him was that I had no experience in that area and gave him the name of a well-respected businessman that could give him better counsel. (Just because “Pastor” goes before my name doesn’t mean I am the “answer man” for everyone in the church).
He still insisted on talking with me about starting his business so we had lunch together. I focused on the area that I could help him in the most – how to make sure it was a wise choice. As I often do, I took a paper napkin and used a simple diagram to show where the bottle-neck in most of our decision-making was. His eyes lit up and he responded, “That is exactly where I am in my thinking. This has helped to clarify what I ought to do”.
Now, he still met with the businessman, but I was very careful about staying in an area where I had some knowledge. And it was a help to him. There are times we ought to be quiet in our counseling.
At the end of my Junior year of college I had been contacted by a church to serve on their staff, but there was a problem: I had a year left in school and would have to transfer to a school near the new church to complete my degree.
I made a list of three people that I felt had the gift of wisdom, cared about me, and would not respond with platitudes. (One of them was my father, another a professor in my college, and the other the President of the university I was currently attending). All three of them gave me the exact same advice. I followed it and was glad later that I did.
What does all of this have to do with the family? The first and best counselors in a child’s life ought to be his parents. When they are young the answers are easier to give, but as they grow older the problems they face become more complex. It is imperative that we have adequate information to give wise direction.
When I decided I wanted to marry Paula the first person I talked to was my father and then my mother. Neither of them said, “Whatever you want to do is fine with me”. I remember talking with Dad and sitting on his bed for about an hour talking about finances, why I wanted to marry Paula, how if would affect my schooling (we were married after my Junior year in college), and other issues. Mom, too, had some of the same questions and some of her own, too.
It wasn’t a lecture they gave me, but their ear and their heart. Even after I established my own family I always kept my parents in my chain of counsel. One of the things I miss the most since my father passed away is his wise, practical advice.
Parents, if you aren’t sure what to say, then say so, but don’t just take a “shot in the dark” with your advice hoping it will work! We should make sure that our counselors are wise, but we ought to likewise make sure that our counsel is wise, especially to our children.
One of the marks of wisdom is the ability to be quiet and not offer advice when you aren’t sure how to advise someone.