Do you know anyone who loves to give advice?
I love to give advice. I especially love when people come to me looking for it. It makes me feel important like I'm an expert. As a pastor, I find myself in lots of situations where I have the opportunity to give advice about a variety of things. It could be family issues, a job change, how to grow spiritually, and many more.
But after giving enough advice over the years, as well as being on the receiving end, I've come to learn that advice, even great advice, is sometimes the last thing that people need. In fact, it can actually be unhelpful, maybe even harmful.
If God is always at work in our lives, and if He's regularly attempting to communicate with us, when it comes to people receiving guidance and advice, perhaps it's better that they receive it from the Lord rather than me. The Scriptures are full of stories and verses that speak to God's ability to give direction in life.
Psalm 32:8 says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you."
Psalm 48:18 says, "For such is God, Our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death."
Psalm 25:9-10 says, "He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant."
Therefore, perhaps our responsibility should be first to point people to the Lord so that they can hear from Him. If I'm quick to give advice, people might be quick to take it rather than seek the Lord for guidance and wisdom.
There's a story in the book of 1 Samuel chapter 3 where young Samuel is living with and serving alongside a priest in Israel named Eli. One evening, young Samuel hears someone call out to him in the middle of the night, and he thinks it's Eli. So he gets up from his bed and runs to Eli and says, "Here I am; you called me."
Eli responded, saying, "I did not call; go back and lie down” (v5).
This happened three times. Each time the text tells us that the Lord was the one calling out to Samuel. However, the chapter opens saying, "In those days the word of the Lord was rare." Which could either mean that whatever Scriptures there were at that time were rarely taught, or that the Lord's direct revelation was infrequent, or both. Either way, Samuel was inexperienced when it came to recognizing the Lord's voice.
This moment highlights three quick insights.
1. Sometimes we need help when it comes to recognizing the voice of God.
As I talk with people about the idea of hearing God's voice, it feels intimidating to them. They were never taught that it should be a regular part of our faith journey. Therefore, they are unsure of what to look and listen for. They are longing for an opportunity to test the idea of hearing from God alongside other people. Which is a reminder that God has designed us to pursue Him in the context of community with others. We need others to help us process what God is doing in our lives.
2. There is a direct connection between knowing the Word of God and one's ability to recognize the voice of God.
It's no surprise that young Samuel has a hard time recognizing God’s voice since the chapter opens with, "In those days the word of the Lord was rare (v1)." If we aren't in the scriptures, it's going to be hard to recognize God's voice. We're not going to have anything against which we can test what we are hearing to ensure that it aligns with God's revealed character and ways.
3. At times, the best thing to do is to resist giving advice and encourage people to exercises their listening skills.
What I love about this story is that once Eli realizes that it's God who is calling out to Samuel, He says to him. "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'" (v9). Eli doesn't give young Samuel lots of advice on what to do. He simply instructs Samuel to open himself up to hear what the Lord wants to tell him. Eli trusts that God will reveal to Samuel something more substantial than what he might be able to teach him.
When we find ourselves in situations where people are trying to figure out life situations or need wisdom on what to do next, I wonder if the best thing we can do is first ask, "What do you think God has to say about that?" There might be space for advice at some point, but maybe it's worth pointing them to the Lord, trusting that God might have a word for them. If we're quick to give people advice, they could grow dependent on hearing from us rather than grow in their ability to hear from God.
Assuming God does have a word for them, our responsibility is to come alongside and help them process their experience. Which is a privileged place to be, because it means we get a front row seat to the work of God in someone else's life. From my experience, this is one of the most amazing things to witness.
When tempted to give someone else advice, first point them to the Lord and trust that He has a better word for them.