Wise Counsel in Friendships

Few people would say they regularly go fishing in the Mariana Trench (the deepest oceanic trench on earth, located in the western Pacific Ocean). After all, an attempt to fish in water whose depth extends beyond thirty-six thousand feet would seem an impossible task. Yet, Proverbs 20:5 teaches us “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (ESV). 

When we sit down over coffee with a younger believer or walk with a new mother or advise a confused friend, we are fisherwomen in deep waters. Such a reality sobers us, humbles us, and invites us into deep dependence upon our Triune God. 

In a world where poor advice is cheap and ubiquitous, God invites us to speak words of truth and love (John 1:17). In a world full of saccharine sweet but empty counsel, God commands us to “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29 ESV). In a world full of short-sighted advisors, God calls us to give advice which has the eternal as its backdrop (Psalm 90:12). 

A Bit of Advice for Advisors

As we seek to offer wise counsel, these four pieces of advice will serve us well as advisors. 

1. Remember that your friends ultimately need the God of all wisdom, not your wisdom, so pray often.

It can be easy as advisors to lean upon our own understanding or experiences; however, the Scriptures bid us to point those who are seeking advice to trust in the Lord with all their hearts, not to trust in us or our experiences (Prov. 3:3–5). When people come to us for advice, it can be tempting to want to fix the problem, answer the conundrum, or untie the knot ourselves. However, to be wise counselors, we must learn to receive and accept the tensions into which we are stepping. 

When people ask for my advice, I have learned to bite my lip and listen long before I speak. And when I do speak, the first thing I want to say is, “Why don’t we start by asking the Lord for His wisdom as James invites us in James 1:5.” As regularly as possible throughout the ongoing conversation, stop and ask God for wisdom together. This helps to continually detach the advisee from your wisdom and back onto the God of all wisdom. A posture of prayer places both advisor and advisee in humble dependence with open hands and uplifted eyes (Psalm 123:1). 

2. Remember that hearts are deep waters, so ask questions. 

James reminded the early church to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19) and His advice still stands for us today. When people come to us for advice, they are asking for other sets of eyes to help them see their problem or situation from different angles. They are bravely and humbly admitting their blind spots and biases and, in a sense, asking to borrow your eyes. We can help them to see from other perspectives and angles by asking insightful and probing questions gently. Consider asking some of the following questions:

  • What information do you need to gather to make a wise decision? What is the timetable for this decision?
  • Whose voices are loudest in your life right now concerning this decision? How can the voice of the Lord (as known from the Word of God) become the loudest? 
  • What fears are you experiencing around this decision? What truths does the Word of God speak over those fears?
  • Are you feeling pressures regarding this decision? If so, what are they and from where are they coming?
  • Have you been talking to God as much as you are talking to others about this decision?
  • How can you more frequently invite the Lord into the entire process, remembering that He is as concerned with how you make this decision as He is with the decision itself?

3. Remember that decision-making is a process, so keep checking back in. 

As tempting as it can be to want to settle the decision at hand in one sitting, we need to let the decision-making process be a process. While we don’t want to draw something out needlessly, we also don’t want to rob our friends or advisees of the intimacy that comes from wrestling with God. Simple decisions require simple processes. We don’t need to pray for hours about whether to add guacamole to the burrito. However, the more complex the decision, the more complex the process. In a culture that loves instant gratification, as advisors, we can remind our friends that God is not in a rush. He is not flurried or worried; He sits in the heavens and does all that pleases Him (Psalm 115:3); He is the blessed controller of all things (1 Tim. 6:15). 

Decision-making can feel overwhelming. As such, we can help provide regular checkpoints on important decisions by circling back with our friends and giving them practical goals to achieve before each checkpoint. Taking a mile-long journey and breaking it into laps helps make the process feel more doable and enjoyable. 

4. Remember that they need faith, not clarity. 

When making decisions, it is easy to forget that God is far more concerned with us having faith than full clarity. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6). Once the information has been gathered, wisdom has been sought, and prayers have been prayed, God still requires us to walk by faith. We will never have all the information we want. We are finite beings trying to comprehend God’s infinite wisdom. Every decision requires faith at the end of the day. To say yes to a job opportunity requires as much faith as to say no; to say yes to marriage requires as much faith as to say yes to singleness. The righteous must live by faith (Rom. 1:17). Remind your friends that our God is absolutely trustworthy and reliable (Psalm 18:30). He works all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). 

Step in with Confidence

It can be overwhelming to fish at the trenches of human hearts, but God has not left us without wisdom, as advisors, friends, and mentors. He has given us His living and active Word with its scalpel-like precision (Heb. 4:12–13).His precious and very great promises fill our supply bag with everything we and those we advise need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). He has filled us with His indwelling Holy Spirit who reminds us of all that Jesus has spoken at just the right time (John 14:26). 

With the Word and the indwelling Spirit, we can step confidently to the edge of deep hearts and draw out deep purposes. 

About the Author

Aimee Joseph

Aimee Joseph

Aimee Joseph is the author of Demystifying Decision-Making (Crossway, 2022) and has spent many years directing women’s discipleship and ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and in Campus Outreach San Diego. You can read more of her writing at aimeejoseph.blog.

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