With a Bit of Help From my Friends audio (4MB)
Well, we’ve come to the end of our series on Decision Making, so let’s have a quick quiz. What have we learned about making decisions in our lives? First of all, who do you rely on to guide you through your life?
If your answer was God or the Holy Spirit you’ve started well.
Next question: What is the primary means by which God promises to guide us? I hope your answer was through his word; through what we find in the Bible?
That leads to the next, and much more important question: Have you resolved to make reading your Bible a priority for your life? Have you worked out that knowing that God has given us his word to guide us is of no use unless you actually take it and study it?
Next Question: What happens if you get it wrong? Does that ruin God’s plan for your life? This one’s a little more difficult isn’t it? All of us get worried at one time or another that we’ve blown it with God. Some of us have made such terrible mistakes that we think they’re irredeemable. Yet we know that God promises to overlook our weakness. In fact he tells us that his power is made great in our weakness. So there are no mistakes that we can make that will limit God in bringing about his plans for us. God is sovereign over all things, including our mistakes.
Here’s our final question: Apart from knowing God’s will and waiting for the prompting of the Holy Spirit to show you the right path to take, what else can you do to make sure you make the right decisions?
Well, you may remember when I began this series, one of the things that God desires of us in decision making is to exercise wisdom, so I thought we might have a quick look at a couple of things we find in the book of Proverbs, which will help us if we’re having trouble with a particularly tough decision.
Proverbs 12:15 tells us: “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice.” One of the worst things you can do if you’re trying to make a difficult choice is to think that only you could know the answer; or that your choice must be the best; or that you know better than anyone else. That’s the way fools think. Wise people listen to advice. Wise people seek out wise counsellors to get their opinion.
Proverbs 19:20-21 reminds us that good advice and wise instruction will help us in the future because they’ll help us discern what God has in mind for us: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future. 21The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.”
Again Proverbs 20:18 says: “Plans are established by taking advice; wage war by following wise guidance.” How many battles have been lost because a commander thought he knew more than his officers who were out in the field.
I read an article a couple of months ago about an Australian General who was renowned for leaving the command post to go out and see for himself what was happening on the battlefields and talk to his officers about the battle. There was one occasion when he was in a strategy meeting with the British Generals and he told them they were making a mistake. When they asked him how he could know that, he said, “I was just out there and saw the situation for myself.”
Of course the effectiveness of getting advice from others depends on who those others are. Proverbs 13:20 warns “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.”
There’s no shortage of people around who’ll tell you what to do. Everyone has an opinion if you ask them. But they’re not always wise opinions. Sometimes it depends on where they’ve got their opinion from. So be careful.
Prov 14:7-8 warns us to “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not find words of knowledge. 8It is the wisdom of the clever to understand where they go, but the folly of fools misleads.”
In the Bible Reading we just heard Moses does just this and ends up much better off than he was before. He begins by listening to one person’s advice but in fact what he ends up with is a whole new group of people who will become his advisors. Let’s think about what happens in that account.
Moses is sitting in the seat of judgement hearing all the various complaints that people bring to him. You can imagine the sort of complaints he’s be asked to rule on: they’d vary from the petty complaints of someone who’s been annoyed by their neighbour’s dog or had a tent set up too close to theirs, to more serious charges of injury or theft or even murder. The people are standing around patiently waiting for his judgement and it’s taking all day. Moses doesn’t have a moment to think, let alone relax. Maybe to start with he’s pleased to be the centre of attention but by now it’s probably rubbing off.
If you’re one of those people who find it hard to delegate and who enjoy being so important that you have to do everything you can probably relate to this story of Moses. It’s very tempting isn’t it? You know that if you do it it’ll be done right, whereas if you ask someone else to do it they’ll probably make a mess of it. And even if they don’t mess it up they’ll probably choose to do it differently to the way you’d do it.
Well, Moses Father-in-law, Jethro, has just arrived from Midian, bringing Moses’ wife and two sons with him. He sees what’s going on and he can’t believe it. He asks Moses what he thinks he’s doing and Moses explains that he doesn’t have a choice. He’s the victim of what’s called “the tyranny of the urgent.” People are coming to him to ask for God’s guidance or judgement and he just can’t send them away.
Well, Jethro is a wise man. He tells Moses he’s going to kill himself if he keeps this up. And not just him. He’s going to drive the people to distraction waiting for him to hear all their cases. Then he gives him two excellent pieces of advice:
The first is to get his priorities right. Yes he’s the one God talks to, so his main responsibility is to bring their pleas to God and to make sure the people understand what God wants of them. So he says: “You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do.” That should be his first priority.
Then he says “You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” It’s so obvious isn’t it? There were over 600,000 people in the camp. There was no way Moses could deal with them all. What he needed was a number of levels of administration to deal with all the issues that that number of people would generate. But why couldn’t he see it? It seems obvious to us doesn’t it? It only took Jethro a day to work it out.
But you see Moses was too close to the issue to see it clearly. Sometimes you need to stand back and look at an issue from the distance. Moses needed someone like Jethro, who understood his inner motivations, who could see from a distance what was going on, to point out what he was doing to himself and his people.
That’s why we need to ask others for their advice. We need to find those people who know us well and ask them what they think. As clever as we may be, as well adjusted and self aware as we might be, there will always be someone who sees us in a way that we can’t see from our own perspective. It’s like listening to yourself on a recording. Have you ever done that? I remember when I was in primary school and we were recording a sound track for a puppet play. I couldn’t believe that I sounded like I did. I was sure I didn’t sound like that.
I think I’ve got used to it now but it still doesn’t sound like me when I listen to a recording of one of my sermons.
That’s just a small example of how blind or deaf we can be to what we’re like. That can be both positive and negative of course. Some people have such a poor self image that they imagine they’re much worse than they really are. Those people need to listen to the positive feedback they get from their wise friends.
And all of us need to listen carefully to the advice of those who know us well. Not that we’re asking them to make the decision for us. We should never do that. That’s just passing the buck. No we need to take responsibility for our own decision making, but never without listening to wise counsellors.
If you think about it Moses might have reacted quite differently to the way he did, mightn’t he? He might have told Jethro to mind his own business. After all, Jethro was a foreigner, a Midianite, so what would he know about leading God’s people? He might have gone on the defensive since Jethro was once his boss but and now Moses had risen to the top. But he doesn’t does he? He listens to his father-in-law and follows his advice. He has enough humility to see that this is wise advice. That’s a lesson for us, isn’t it? If you ask for advice listen to it with humility.
Finally, we need to ask more than one person for advice. Even if that person seems to be very spiritual and godly, the Bible warns us to check what we hear by listening to other wise people. 1 Cor 14:32 tells us that the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets. That is, when a word of prophecy is given it needs to be checked against what other prophets have said. 1 Thess 5:20-21 says: “ Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good.” So get a range of advice before you make your decisions. This seems so obvious, doesn’t it? But how often do you see people doing the opposite? It’s crazy isn’t it? You wouldn’t buy a second hand car or a house without getting an expert’s advice on its quality or suitability, yet some people will make major decisions, that could affect the rest of their life, without asking anyone else for advice.
So think about who you might ask for advice next time you have a big decision to make? Who is there in your life who’s a godly and wise person; who’s full of the Holy Spirit; who understands the mind of God and therefore might be able to give you wise advice? And make sure you listen to them with humility even if their advice is different to the way you were thinking, because they may be right.