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10 Ways to Recognize Safe Counsel

Oct 01, 2017 05:25AM ● Published by Bonnie Lyn Smith

There are people in my life who have earned the right to be blunt, honest, offering constructive criticism and feedback, and I receive it because of history, trust, love, and mutual understanding.

On the other hand, there are other folks who regularly cross that line and yet have not earned that place in my life or space in my head. I may love them deeply, but they speak from insecurity, negativity, and/or a lack of self-control. They are not voices God wants me to let in. 

Along those lines, I frequently tell my children:

“People who put you down do not deserve space in your head and heart. Be kind but don't engage. You are worth more than the voices of insecure speakers in your life—and I am too.”  

It’s a hard call at times, isn’t it? We should be open to feedback, but some folks are not healthy enough to offer it safely.

Know what I mean?

As I “grow up” in Christ, I am learning more and more that there are some voices I need to shut out and others that should be let in. I am growing in the discipline of asking God first: “Lord, she is saying this. Is this true? Is it from You? Should I take heed or put through Your filter and discard?”

God loves us so incredibly as a parent that He wants us to hear correction safely, gently, and with grace. And voices that don’t reflect His tender care need to be checked in with Him. For that matter, all voices do. Sometimes I have been caught in the web of someone’s honey offering when really they were simply waiting to build trust so they could crush it with unkindness. 

Because we lack the ability to see other people’s motives, we must consult God and trust in His protection.

One of my favorite Proverbs on this topic is the entirety of Proverbs 4, a beautiful message written from King Solomon (son of King David) to his sons. Consider the wisdom here. There are at least 10 amazing guiding principles in the way the father counsels his children. Verses are listed in order and are set apart with italics.

1. I love this! Do you see what he is doing here? He first establishes his authority to speak into their lives.

Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching.

2. He speaks of legacy and family history. He reminds his children that listening to their parents is wisdom and has been passed down from generation to generation.

When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me,

"Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. 

3. He encourages seeking wisdom and taking counsel.

Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.

Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. 

4. He positively motivates. There is a reward for valuing wisdom.

Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her.

She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown."

Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many.

5. He reminds them that they are equipped. Don’t we all need this reminder?

I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.

When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble.

Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.

6. He honestly presents the obstacles. He speaks caution. Evil is real, and there will always be people lined up to lead them astray.

Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil.

Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.

For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.

For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. 

7. He offers hope and direction.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.

The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.

8. He extends practical application.

My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.

Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.

For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.

9. He deals with the heart issue and the importance of guarding the heart. 

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

10. He presents clear instruction in self-discipline.

Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.

Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.

Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.

Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil. 

You know who else instructed His children in the very same? Jesus. Yes, generations later, Jesus offered His disciples (then and now) this exact counsel.

You see, not every voice should be let in. We should always ask God and put it through the wisdom filter of Proverbs 4.

For example, I had someone on my unsafe list offer me unsolicited advice that came out more as a negative voice. I didn’t hear love in it. I heard the voice of emotional damage. And yet, sometimes, and on very specific topics, God tells me to receive wisdom from her. So, to avoid confusion, I can ask myself the following, as I also ask God:

  1. Does s/he have established authority in my life in this particular area?
  2. Is there something of a legacy about the instruction? Is it wisdom worthy to pass on to the generations?
  3. Is s/he encouraging me to seek wisdom or counsel, or just speaking out of turn?
  4. Is s/he positively motivating me? A voice of encouragement?
  5. Does s/he equip me?
  6. Is s/he forthcoming about the obstacles and risks?
  7. Is s/he informed with hope? Does s/he offer next steps?
  8. Is s/he prepared to help with the application of the advice?
  9. Is s/he someone who has the best interest of guarding my heart? (Or is s/he part of the obstacle?)
  10. Does s/he model and encourage godly behavior?

I don’t know about you, but I need this filter often. And with all the voices out there speaking negativity out of brokenness or harmful intentions, the wisdom of Solomon keeps me grounded in the safe refuge of a loving heavenly Father who minute-by-minute speaks peace into my heart through His precious Son Jesus.


Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.

She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.

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Opinion, Arts+Culture godly counsel healthy boundaries negative voices seeking counsel wise counsel healthy counsel seeking wisdom equipping Proverbs 4 wisdom of Solomon wisdom safe counsel

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