Here’s a little unsolicited advice that I recommend you hear. Be very careful the advice you give. I know you probably see the irony there. But I have a very deep rooted reason for this post. If I gave all the examples I have experienced directly or witnessed first hand, it would be about as big as the book Systematic Theology. If you don’t know that book, Google it. You’ll understand.
What happens when someone wants to come to you and gripe about a situation? If you’re like most people, and this someone is your friend, you’ll listen, nod your head in agreement, and move on about your day because you were just ready to get them to shut up. Sometimes they may say something that triggers you and you’ll be jumping on their ship of agreement and support because you project something you experienced into their situation. That’s dangerous. Very dangerous.
Sometimes people may want to come to you and start a vent session about something you are also burdened by. That’s the fuel on the fire that both of you are experiencing and it can turn into a gripe session where you’re really hammering away at the person, place, or thing that you’re frustrated by. Equally dangerous and considerably more risky about feeding and breeding an unhealthy situation.
I refer to both of those as advice because typically, somewhere along the way, one or both of you start feeding commentary into the discussion. This usually takes the form of agreement to what someone is thinking as a course of action. Or it is you providing, albeit often well-meaning, help in making a decision. But, sometimes, if not most of the time, you shouldn’t do that. There are two verses in scripture that I want to focus on here. The first one is Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a person who listens to advice is wise. This might seem contradictory to what this post is about, but it isn’t. It pairs well with the second verse, 2 Timothy 4:2-4 – …preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a person who listens to advice is wise.Proverbs 12:15 (NASB)
…preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and will turn aside to myths.2 Timothy 4:2-4 (NASB)
Yes, we are given instruction in God’s Word that we shouldn’t rush into things without wise counsel. The problem is the passage in Timothy. We know all too well who we should go to that will give us the advice we WANT to hear. We know who we should turn to in order to reinforce our position and support us in our attitude. It’s kind of like searching the internet to support your position on something. If you search for something in a way that reinforces your position, guess what you find? But, if you search for something in a way that combats your position, same result… you will find what you look for.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched, participated in, been guilty of the gripe session about someone or something with people I think are like-minded and it always ends the same way; I feel vindicated in my opinion and we are all unhappy in the end. I know something about being able to do that may seem therapeutic, but it’s really not. I’ve also witnessed and been guilty of the “uh huh, yeah…oh yeah, I know… oh that’s terrible…” type of agreement with someone when they are upset about something and letting it out. Sometimes, I may really agree with them. Other times, I may not understand at all what they are saying but in the back of my mind, that’s the easy way out… agree with them. Not good. In doing so, I’m basically reinforcing whatever negative thing they are thinking without helping them objectively analyze it. I’m also not doing what I should in those times; pointing them to prayer and the Word so they can use a much better guide than me to navigate whatever they are going through.
That may not seem like a huge deal to you. But, let me give you some examples. The wife that is struggling in her marriage. She comes to you (ladies – men, don’t counsel women on marriage woes, it’s dangerous at best) and wants to just gripe about all the things her husband does that she doesn’t like. You want to be supportive, or you just want her to stop talking, so you nod and agree or dare I say it, sympathize with her. Oops, you just reinforced her emotional state that she should get a divorce. You don’t have full context for her situation. You’re only hearing her side of things. You just encouraged her down a road that destroyed her family. That probably wasn’t your intent.
What about the well meaning conversations you get into with people about big decisions in their life? Well, they are coming to you to get advice, so you should tell them what you think, right? I say wrong. If you are so spiritual that you have an utterance from the Lord, or if they are making a decision and the options are clearly not something that lines up with scripture… yeah, you probably SHOULD speak up in those situations. Most of the time, that’s not the case. Usually, it’s you listening and offering them well-meaning advice because you want the best for them. It can also be the same as the friend that just wants to gripe, you just want them to shut up so you nod and agree. That can lead people to make decisions because they think you’re reinforcing them in how they are talking about opportunity. But, again, you don’t have full context. Not only that, but you don’t know God’s will for their life.
I remember someone leaving the last church I served at and coming back a year later and having a private conversation with me. All he could say is that it’s so healthy in other places. He counseled that I needed to get out of the pit and go be happy and healthy. I remember it made me really angry. I had been praying for that opportunity and the right one hadn’t come along yet. So, that in a round about way made me feel like I didn’t deserve to get out of the terrible situation I was stuck in. Now, having been given the opportunity, a the right time, God’s time, I can see how much better off I am that God chose the time for me to leave, and not me making the decision based on a well-meaning friend.
So, what are you supposed to do? I’m glad you asked. That’s what I think you should do. Ask questions. Ask questions and point people to scripture to help them make their decisions. If I’m ever talking to someone considering divorce, I will always direct them to what God says about divorce and ask them the questions that will make them look at their marriage and the decisions they have to make through the eyes of the responsibility they have in God’s Word related to their marriage. If someone is looking for a life-changing decision and advice for such, I will always point them to God’s Word and what wisdom it holds for making those decisions. And usually the best thing and the best method for doing that is asking questions. Not reinforcement questions that support what they are saying, but questions that make them objectively examine the decision they need to make.
So, be careful about the advice you give. Solicited or not. And realize that you are giving advice, even if you’re just nodding and saying yes in nonsensical ways. You surely don’t want to encourage someone down a road that will destroy their life, their family, their marriage, or their career. You also probably aren’t out to point your friends or family down a road that may take them away from something amazing that God has in store for them. So, please head this unsolicited advice. If you don’t, you may just do more damage than good even if that’s not your intent.