Before I continue, I would like to make a few things clear:
- I value very much the advice of wise people. (With an emphasis on “wise”.)
- I value very much the encouragement and guidance of a prophetic word.
I say these because I want to remove any potential accusation that I don’t like listening to wisdom nor respect supernatural insight. I do like listening to wisdom, so much so that I like to make sure, as much as I can, that whatever it is I am listening to is actually wisdom. And I do get amazed by supernatural insight, or what seems like supernatural insight. It amazes me so much that I don’t take the words for granted and take the time to see how they sync up with the Bible.
This helps me from falling for the lazy response of just accepting what someone else says. It doesn’t matter who said what, it is beneficial to validate before accepting.
When it comes to Christian beliefs, the validation comes from one primary source: the Bible. No word of knowledge, no prophetic insight, no pastoral advice, nor papal edict can counter (or should counter) Biblical teaching. Given that Christians believe in the Bible being God’s Word, we should be very careful with statements that claim to be from God, but cannot be validated using the Bible. This is why I personally have never felt comfortable using the phrase, “Thus sayeth the Lord…” to start out what really is a personal opinion on scriptural matters. “This sayeth the Lord” claims divine authority. A simple, “Here’s how I see this” claims personal perspective. If I claim divine authority, I better make sure that my claim is backed-up by the Bible. I would never use, for example, the president’s authority for something I am not sure is really authorized by him, even more, I will be very careful to say, “These are God’s words” since God is way beyond a president and His words are to be treated with more reverence.
This is true for theological interpretations and ideas as well. Sometimes, I’ll give my opinion on something and find that I’ve offended some very religious people, who come back at me with concepts like Calvinism, Cessationism, Continuism, Dispensationalism, Arminianism,God’s Perfect Choice-ism, and Spiritual Authority-ism. Frankly, I’m not an expert on these “Christian-isms”, even though I’ve probably read on them more than most, an exercise I find to be more confusing than clarifying. Here’s what I found while studying church history: a bunch of highly fallible men and women (not too different from you and I) making their best interpretations of the Bible and the world using the available data of the time, with views being refined as data improves, and a common ironic result: a church split.
Here’s what you’ll find over and over:
A small group of people passionately cling to a message and a mission, that group grows into a formidable group, that group tries to institutionalize themselves, with their growth comes a slowing down and weakening (though the leaders won’t notice this because of the sheer size), they find their institutions under attack by new ideas, new methods, new interpretations, and new people, they try to defend themselves by entrenching themselves in their beliefs (particularly by putting up dogmatic institutions), these lead to hard stances on issues instead of consideration, which leads to division, and which in turn leads to splits, and, despite their efforts, they cease to become the force they once were, surrendering this to another group, which was once a small bunch of people as well.
If you want to know how Jesus and 12 disciples have become a confusing range of Christian denominations, study church history. You’ll probably find what I found.
This is why I like to cut through the confusion of interpretations and “isms” to a very simple concept: Love God with your body, soul, and spirit, and Love others as yourself. I don’t need to get distracted with the discussions about the “elect” and the “saved”. It is hard enough to be self-less, to be humble, and to be truly prayerful, why complicate it with debates on things that have never been nor will be settled by men?
Ultimately, God is looking at the fruit of my life not whether I took the right position on these religious debates.
And what is my life’s fruit made of? Is there love? Is there goodness? Is there faith? Is there kindness? Is there self control? Do the spiritual virtues exist in my life? Am I loving towards my neighbor? Do I actually help the poor or do I just pity them? Do I actually improve the lives of others or do I simply complain about how hard life is? Do the results of my life show Godliness?
With these in mind, and with a clear goal to show God our love with the fruit of our lives, I would like to share some simple points on receiving and giving insight and advice:
- Loving God with your mind is beyond knowing dogma and theological interpretations. Loving God with your mind is about pointing our thoughts towards what is noble, lovely, kind, praise worthy, and Godly.
- Be very careful with claiming “Thus sayeth the Lord”. That’s serious business. And be very careful with receiving a “Thus sayeth the Lord” without validating with scripture. It will guard you from spiritual fatalism and spiritual weirdness.
- Get advise from WISE people. Wise isn’t necessary nice. Wise isn’t necessarily conventional. A teacher isn’t necessarily wise despite the title. A pastor isn’t necessarily wise despite the tile. A prophet isn’t necessarily wise either, not is a small group leader. Look for people who will help you bear good fruit.
Who is wise then? Who should we listen to? Let us end this post with some practical tips on who to listen to:
- Listen to people who have achieved results in the area you would like to improve on. This is super simple. If you want to be a better basketball player would you go to a chess player? Of course not. This is why I’m surprised when married men go to their single guy friends for advice. Or when married women do the same thing. Or when students would rather listen to their peers than experienced people. What do they know? Instead, look for people whose lives reflect the results you admire.
- Listen to people who have skin in the game, and even better, who have skin in your game. For example, I pay close attention to what my board tells me in business way more than to the praises or criticisms of random people. My board tends to be more scrutinizing. Why? They’ll lose money if I botch things. So they take me seriously. While it’s much more comfortable for me to bask in the compliments of others, their comments are worth much less than the words of my board. In the same way, the words of your spouse should be worth more than those of others. They have so much skin in the game. This isn’t to say everything they say is right. It is to say you pay close attention to them more than random insights or random news. This is why I like to surround myself with people who are invested in me, and I like to listen to them. This is also why I hardly ever go to these special talks or special dinners for traveling evangelists or wise men. In my observation these tend to lead to pop-wisdom. Nice sounding, but ultimately impractical in our specific contexts. I find that pop-wisdom gets in the way of real wisdom. Why would you listen to the “wisdom” of someone who gains nor losses nothing from his words over those of someone who is consistently with you, knows you better, and makes your life possible?
- Listen to people who know you. Sometimes, when I write, I’ll get a message from someone saying he or she wishes his or her parents had my perspective, or that their spouse were more open, or their boss. Frankly, while I am glad my ideas are causing people to think, I don’t think my perspective should quickly trump the perspective of someone who knows you better. Why? Because they know your context. For example, what if I see a person who wants to lose weight and I say, “Run sprints!” then their doctor says, “Don’t! It’s dangerous!” If that person listens to me, discounting the doctor’s advice, that person takes a risk. Maybe he has an enlarged heart. Maybe his foot is injured. Maybe there are conditions specific to his context that make my advice not just useless to him but actually detrimental for him. But you see this kind of behavior over and over, youth who will listen to their leaders more than their folks, spouses who will listen to their leaders more than their spouses, and employees who will listen to life hacks more than their managers. The context you’re in matters greatly. Listen to people who know your context.
Sometimes, when reading through old posts, I see things I said that make me cringe. Ideas I was so convinced were right then, but were actually either very specific for that context or not right at all. When I see these, I am at least comforted by the fact that my blog is littered with disclaimers, me blatantly saying these are own opinions. I’m not so worried about being wrong. I am wrong a lot. I am worried about a verse that has never stopped haunting me since I first read it:
“Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”
– Proverbs 30:6
In many ways we are seeing this around us. Many popular Christiani-sms falling away. Even in my own journey I’ve moved away from many of the interpretations taught to me, allowing my perspective to be refined, and becoming more in awe of God in the process. At the same time, I am more afraid of making flippant claims.
God’s Word is serious, and we need to be careful with how we treat it.
Here’s the good news, and it comes just one verse before the one I just shared:
“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”
– Proverbs 30:6
I love that verse. If you have pop-wisdom you will have easily-popped security. If you have the word of God, not needing to embellish it with popular perspectives, you will have a shield. I don’t know about you, with everything I face on a daily basis, I want a shield. #DB