A businessman was in a great deal of trouble. His business was failing, he had put everything he had into the business, he owed everybody it was so bad he was even contemplating suicide. As a last resort he went to a pastor and poured out his story of tears and woe. When he had finished, the pastor said, “Here’s what I want you to do, put a beach chair and your Bible in your car and drive down to the beach. Take the beach chair and the Bible to the water’s edge, sit down in the beach chair, and put the Bible in your lap. Open the Bible; the wind will rifle the pages, but finally the open Bible will come to rest on a page. Look down at the page and read the first thing you see. That will be your answer, that will tell you what to do.”
A year later the businessman went back to the pastor and brought his wife and children with him. The man was in a new custom- tailored suit, his wife in a mink coat, the children shining. The businessman pulled an envelope stuffed with money out of his pocket and gave it to the pastor as a donation in thanks for his advice. The pastor recognized the benefactor, and was curious. “You did as I suggested?” he asked. “Absolutely,” replied the businessman. “You went to the beach?” “Absolutely.” “You sat in a beach chair with the Bible in your lap?” “Absolutely.” “You let the pages rifle until they stopped?” “Absolutely.” “And what were the first words you saw?” “Chapter 11.”
Tonight, we continue our current Sunday night sermon series- A Branch From the Tree of Jesse, looking at 7 gifts God gives us, as found in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah 11:1-3, and the impact they can have on us…and those around us. Every week, we are walking through those gifts, unpacking them and seeing what they have to offer us. But first, a reminder about what “the tree of Jesse” means. Jesse was the father of King David. The Tree of Jesse is symbolic of his descendants and, more importantly, the ancestors of Jesus.
Romans 14:1 Accept those whose faith is weak. Don’t judge them where you have differences of opinion.
The first week we considered “wisdom”. The 2nd week, the topic was “understanding”. Tonight, we look at “counsel”. So let’s start where I often start when talking about a specific word- the dictionary. When we were first married, we had a dictionary that would hurt a person…and probably KILL a small child…if it fell on them. It…was…mammoth! And frankly, in that time and place, it got used decent amount- enough that it began to wear out over the years of use and moving. And when i was time to “retire” it, we did NOT buy a new one…because they have this little called “the internet”! So what does dictionary.com have to say about “counsel”? Well, as it all turns out…a LOT!
“1. advice; opinion or instruction. 2. the advocate or advocates engaged in the direction of a cause. 3. to give advice to; advise. 4. to urge the adoption of, as a course of action. 5. to get or take counsel or advice.”
THAT is a mouthful! But the bottom line is that, as a noun, it is advice or instruction. It is also the PERSON who offers the advice or gives the direction. As a verb, it is to either give OR receive that advice. The act. The thing. The person. Keep that in mind as we look at the Scripture that accompanies this series.
Isaiah 11:1-3- A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord– and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears.
It was snowing heavily and blowing to the point that visibility was almost zero when the young woman got off work. She made her way to her car and wondered how she was going to make it home. She sat in her car while it warmed up and thought about her situation. She finally remembered her dad’s advice that if she got caught in a blizzard she should wait for a snow plow to come by and follow it. That way she would not get stuck in the snow drift. This made her feel much better and sure enough in a little while a snow plow went by and she started to follow it.
As she followed the snow plow she was feeling very smug as they continued and she was not having any problem with the blizzard conditions. After quite some time had passed she was somewhat surprise when the snow plow stopped and the driver got out and came back to her car and signaled for her to roll down her window. The snow plow driver wanted to know if she was alright as she had been following him for a long time. She said that she was fine and told him of her dad’s advice to follow a snow plow when caught in a blizzard. The driver replied that it was OK with him if she continued to follow him…but he thought she ought to know that he had finished the WalMart parking lot and was getting ready to head over to K-Mart next!
So counsel can be you seeking advice from someone else. Or it can be someone else seeking it from you. You can be on the giving OR receiving end of it. Tonight, we are going to look at 4 steps that speak directly to the issue of counsel- regardless of on which end of the equation you find yourself.
1. Identify the need for counsel- Is this a simple problem that I can solve on my own? Are there trusted friends that I can turn to? Have I asked for God’s guidance? This step is impacted by our particular gifts and graces. If my car breaks, down I take it to a garage because I barely know where the GAS goes! You, however, may know more about cars and can handle some of the problems that come up. On the other hand, if you need a haircut or style, you go to a professional. Me? Not so much! If I have medical needs, I go to the doctor. If he or she says I need medicine, I go to the pharmacy. Those seem rather cut and dried.
But we are often less likely to look for counsel on spiritual issues, relational or emotional issues. When my career is not fulfilling, what do I do? If my marriage is in trouble, if my kids are having problems, if I’m in the midst of great emotional struggles…do I seek counsel? Our nation was built on what I call Bootstrap Theology- pull yourself up by them, that is. Spit on it. Rub dirt on it. Walk it off. Boys don’t cry. Buck up. We’ve all heard it before…and it tends to seep into our soul deeply enough that we fear we will be perceived as “broken” or “weak” if we need help. Don’t misunderstand- there is power and affirmation in a level of self-sufficiency. The danger is that, in the long run, a shortcut is not always a short cut.
God is always walking this discernment path with us…if we will seek Him wisdom AND pay attention to it. He doesn’t always guide us to someone else to help get through it. Sometimes He enrolls us in His own special “training program” by design. There is intentionally nobody around to hand the ball to- and He equips us to carry it into the end zone ourselves.
Insisting on doing it ourselves can become destructive if we’re doing it because we’re not willing to humble ourselves and ask for the counsel we need. There’s a point when being self-reliant turns into being self-absorbed- prideful. We all know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Are you just recycling old solutions that don’t work? Is it time for a fresh perspective? Is there a problem you’ve struggled with for years without any resolution but instead just a recurring cycle of failure and defeat? That’s a sign that it’s time to seek counsel. Are you facing an important decision that seems to require more expertise than you have? That’s a sign that it’s time to seek counsel.
2. Identify the right source for counsel. Seeking counsel isn’t enough. You need the right kind of counsel if it’s going to make a difference. There is truly a passionate search for spiritual answers in our society. And that’s awesome. But the truth is that not every source of counsel is actually…you know…helpful. Some are seductive. Some are misleading. And some are downright destructive. And society and the media are more than willing to tell us what we should do. In both subtle and not so subtle ways, they recommend the “next best thing” through TV, movies, the internet and other media. I’m often amazed at the counsel some folks will seek as an answer to their problems. Their kids are giving them trouble, so they go to someone whose kids are totally messed up and ask them what to do. People having trouble with their marriage go to someone else whose marriage is in the dumper and ask them what to do. If you can’t grow a decent field of corn to save your soul, it’s probably not the best choice to go to you for counsel on farming. Many of my seminary professors had the same story, “I pastored a little, TINY church out in the middle of nowhere for three years…it didn’t go very well. Now…let me teach YOU how to pastor a church!” To quote that great theologian Pete from the movie Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?, “That don’t make no sense!” If you’re going to seek counsel, then find someone who’s had some success in the area. Seek counsel from somebody whose life reflects both godliness and competence.
3. Evaluate the counsel that’s given to you. Even though you have carefully selected someone’s counsel, you still have to take responsibility for your own decision. It doesn’t mean you should just do the part that you WANT to do. It doesn’t mean that you should approach the whole process with that attitude that you’re just wasting your time. You should approach it intending to hear the counsel…and be ready to act on it. But there ARE some yardsticks that any advice should be able to pass before you implement it. First, it has to be consistent with the nature and teaching of God. No matter how reasonable someone’s advice might seem, if it contradicts God’s Word then it can’t be right. The end does NOT justify the means. It needs to reflect God. And that’s why we should be in worship regularly. That’s why we should read the Bible regularly. That’s why we should be involved in Bible Study. Those things are not just things we just do to fulfill our religious obligation. They are preparation for wise decisions and Godly living.
Now, if you already know what God wants you to do…then be like Nike- just do it. It’s wrong-headed dangerous to seek someone else’s counsel when God has already given you a clear picture. If you already know God’s will about something, you don’t need to ask anybody else for advice. You might share it with others, seeking confirmation. But if God speaks…listen.
4. Implement the counsel you receive. You can navigate the first three steps to perfection. You can recognize your need for counsel. You can seek out godly, competent counselors. You can properly evaluate their counsel. But if you don’t actually do anything about it, then the whole exercise was for naught. Once God speaks, it’s our responsibility to obey. You can’t just consider what God is telling you- you have to act on it. Somebody’s opinion is one thing. It’s not always a BAD thing, but often an opinion and a dollar will buy you a Coke out of most machines in the country. It’s quite another thing to receive a God-breathed direction, either directly from Him or through someone else.
Proverbs 2:14-15 Many good things come from what a man says. And the work of his hands rewards him. The way of a foolish person seems right to him. But a wise person listens to advice.
Is there a decision or issue in your life that requires you to humble yourself and ask for counsel? You’ve tried all your solutions…over and over…and they simply have NOT worked? Recognize your need for counsel. Seek wise counsel. Evaluate the counsel you receive. Then…do it. And throughout, make God the foundation upon which you build your decisions…your life.
Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
Tomorrow- Last of the Big Spenders!