Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Sometimes we need input from others to make the best decisions. Knowing when and who to ask requires careful discernment.

This post looks at two issues: why we need input, and when to seek it. The next post will explore from whom we should, and should not, seek wise counsel.

When to seek counsel

Some participants may be a bit impatient with the posts so far. They want the ‘silver bullet’ or the ‘magic potion’ or whatever for making the right decision right now. I have focused intentionally on the big picture for discerning God’s will. This focus is on decision-making and the will of God for all of life, meaning all the areas of your life, and all the days of your life.

It may be helpful to review or summarize our journey to date.

After stirring the pot with some questions and challenges (“Decision Making and the Will of God), we identified God’s will—His desire—for every human being, including you: “God’s Will for You.”

The next post encouraged you to be living in God’s Story. To live in God’s Story we need to learn His Story. We learn that Story by the frequent and intelligent reading of the Bible: “Getting Started in Discovering God’s Will.”

We then got a bit negative in “Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?” In that post, we exposed some approaches to divining God's will that we may use, consciously or unconsciously. These approaches (almost) border on the magical and avoid the necessary, often difficult, process of discerning God’s will.

The last two posts focused on the kind of life that leads to living in God’s will: “Rethinking the Search for God’s Will” and “Three Keys for Discovering God’s Will.”

The big picture

The big picture equips us for the journey we call life. It is my conviction that discerning God’s will for your life is not so much about choosing a car, a college or a course of studies, a spouse, a job or a house, as much as living in God’s Story.

If we look at the big picture using the metaphor of a journey, our posts to date have touched on three crucial elements:

  • Destination – God’s goal for us: becoming more like Jesus Christ.
  • Direction – God’s path for us: knowing and living God’s Story as revealed in the Bible.
  • Devotion – our love and dedication for God in which we experience His will.

These elements are what God really cares about for us. How our choices move us forward in this transforming and God-exalting journey is what is important.

I remember a preacher earnestly advocating that we should pray for God’s guidance in purchasing something as simple as a pen. Maybe, but I’m not convinced.

My understanding is that God recognizes and honors our free will and He is extravagantly generous. So, as one writer put it, it’s more like this:

If you’re a sheep in God’s pasture, the fence is the boundary established by God’s word. The Shepherd doesn’t kneel beside each sheep and say, “I want you to eat this blade of grass, then that one.” No, He spreads His arms wide and says, “Enjoy!”

When should we seek wise counsel?

It’s taken a while to come to this question: “When should we seek wise counsel?”

My response is, enter on the transforming journey with God. It is always good to be asking about the destination, direction, and devotion of that journey.

What you do not want to do is ask another person, no matter how wise, to make your decision for you. It is your choice to make.

This approach is confirmed by Bruce Waltke in his helpful book, Finding the Will of God, where he writes:

“… He guides us through the wise counsel of others—but note that this comes after guidance from our own desires. You must develop a heart for God personally, not merely rely on someone else having a righteous heart.”

If you are on this journey, living in God’s Story, you will be able to discern whether the time is right to seek wise counsel. At this point, you may not be satisfied with this—but that’s my answer for now.

Some may be tempted to think that you should never ask others for their wise counsel. Let’s look at a few reasons why you should be open to the input of others. 

Why seek wise counsel?

Although there are other reasons, I’m giving you two: your need and biblical example.

First, is your need for wise counsel. Ronald Heifetz states: 

“The lone-warrior model … is heroic suicide. Each of us has blind spots that require the vision of others. Each of us has passions that need to be contained by others. Anyone can lose the capacity to get on the balcony, particularly when the pressures mount.”

Although in a different context, Heifetz’s advice still applies. His reference to “the balcony” is a metaphor for standing above the “dance floor.” Wise counselors can offer that larger, or higher, context for better perspective as well as identify your blind spots and other limitations. 

Second, there are numerous examples in the Bible where people benefited from wise counsel. The opening of the book of Proverbs gives us this gem, confirmed by many others (1:5): 

“let the wise listen and add to their learning

and let the discerning get guidance” 

We’ll look at a few biblical examples of listening, learning, and discerning later.

 As an aside, when it comes to the New Testament (NT), the occurrences of words translated as “counsel” or “advise” are rare compared to the Old Testament. For instance, the only occurrences of counselor (Greek: sumboulos) is Romans 11:34 and its verb (sumbouleuō) in the positive sense of “advise” is Revelation 3:18. That led me to wonder why.

The New International Version of the Bible translates the Greek word, paraklētos, as “Counselor” in John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, but other translations use “Helper” (ESV; NASB; NKJ) or “Advocate” (NET; NLT; NRS). These references are to the Holy Spirit. The word paraklētos may better be rendered in a wider and more literal sense as “called to one’s side” or even “one who appears in another’s behalf” (BDAG). This broader understanding could include (subject to context) an advocate, nurse, mediator, comforter, intercessor, helper, and counselor. This raises the intriguing involvement of the Holy Spirit in counseling, direction, and related ministries. Perhaps more on this in another post. 

Click here to let me know what you're thinking after reading this post.

In the next post, we’ll deal with those from whom we should, and should not, seek counsel.

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