Advice on Getting Advice

Proverbs 1, and MANY other Scriptures, practically begs us to seek out wisdom and understanding. Here’s what Solomon has to say:

To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, 3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; 4 to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, 6 to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

People are generally desperate for new and relevant information. We want to grow and succeed. We want advice for situations that bother us. Check out the local bookstore and you’ll see huge sections with all sorts of “self-help” and “how-to’s”. Check the Facebook feeds and you’ll see “Life-Hacks” for many things that don’t even need to be improved. (Do we really need to cut a cake with dental floss? Is a knife that hard to operate?) This is all evidence that there are many people looking for advice and MANY people willing to play the role of “Expert In The Field of Everything” who are more than willing to give it.

Here’s what I’ve learned about finding good advice:

When it comes to the Bible’s cry for us to gather wisdom and discernment, it seems to me that there are basically four kinds of people in the general population,:

1. There are those who simply don’t seek wisdom nor growth. As the hip-hop lyrics say, “You can’t tell me nothin’ ”. This is true for many across all gender, racial, and socioeconomic lines: Some people refuse to listen to anything anyone has to say. They know everything and they are always right. These unfortunate individuals almost always eventually stall out in their lives and their relationships.

2. Next come the people who will seek wisdom and insight from anywhere. They’ll listen and try practically anything from practically anybody. Ask social media. Ask your stylist. Ask your Mom (usually a good source!). Listen to the infomercials. If it’s on Dr. Oz, in a book, or a Google result, then it must be true or at least worth trying. This group is constantly moving and changing, many times they start new things or try new things that actually help, but it’s also a group that can constantly end up with a drama-filled life and in all sorts of crises. Simply look at a few internet threads for marriage advice and you can quickly see how listening to everyone could get you in all sorts of trouble.

3. Then there’s a type of person who looks to a much smaller group for wisdom. They want advice, they know that you can’t listen to just anyone, so they surround themselves with a handful of people who they will consult and trust. If you’re not in that group, they ain’t listening to a thing you say. Often, this group consists of people who love them and support them, or perhaps benefit from the friendship, and will often only tell them what they want to hear. They have a support system who doesn’t love them enough to tell them hard stuff, but will give them guidance nonetheless.

4. I’ve noticed a fourth group and this group consists primarily of people who have built a life that is interesting, secure, and impactful. They often have both worldly success, spiritual success, and relational success. These are the individuals who realize one of life’s most important secrets: You’re only as good as your mentors. These men and women understand that we MUST learn from the success and failures of others. We cannot afford to listen to the masses. (Side note: Jesus once said that there is a broad road that is traveled by the majority that leads to destruction, but a narrow and less-traveled road leads to life. The majority isn’t always right!) They may have a few close people who they trust greatly, but more than anything they are looking for people who are good at the thing they want to learn about. If they want marriage advice, they consult with people who have long and flourishing marriages. If they want parenting advice, they look to people who have grown children who are well-adjusted. If they want prayer advice, they look for spiritual giants. If they want financial advice, they find people who seem to be secure. If they want business advice, they’ll look for successful business owners. And so on…  This requires humility and intentionality, but the payoff is huge!

This is a practice I will desperately try to instill in my children. You must learn from the success and failures of others. Be very careful who you listen to! DO NOT look for advice from people who don’t have any obvious success in whatever it is you are seeking. There will always be plenty of people willing to drag you down with their faulty thinking! If you have friends who have lives that are in shambles and in constant drama with broken relationships, LOVE THEM, but for God’s sake and your own DO NOT follow their advice! Have an inner circle, but look beyond them to others with success and understanding. Make sure you’re inner circle doesn’t consist only of people who stand to benefit from their friendship with you. Do not surround yourself with yes-men and women who will just tell you things you want to hear. Look for people who are out of your league. Ask them for a few minutes of their time and learn from them. There’s a real tendency to stick to people who are like us, but we can best learn from people who are far ahead of us in any given arena.

You may get burned a time or two, but at least you’re following a map that makes sense: one that was given to you by someone who has actually been to a place you’re trying to get to! More often than not, if you follow a plan that has worked for someone else, it will probably work for you too.

What do you want to know? Where do you need to improve? Go find someone who is where you want to be and ask how they got there!

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