Laying Pavement (and Other Matters of Discernment)
Aug 05, 2018 04:29PM ● Published by Bonnie Lyn Smith
I was on a texting thread one morning sitting outside in my backyard as I heard the paving trucks pull up. The street sweeper had just blown through, preparing for fresh pavement to be deposited in long charcoal-colored strips down my side street. The familiar smell of macadam (that’s a word we grew up with in Pennsylvania…if you look it up, it will enhance your vocabulary) was wafting up the slight incline to my gazebo. And I could hear the pavers yelling to each other from megaphones as they rode the smoothing equipment down the street. My question to my friends on our text chat was this:
“Is there a cancer risk if I breathe that? Should I go inside?”
I don’t consider myself particularly paranoid about cancer-causing agents, but with my late father’s long history of seven separate cancer incidents (five unrelated types) over four decades, I didn’t want to stress my genes beyond what they could handle.
The response was blunt and direct, and in this case—very helpful:
“Are they wearing HAZMAT suits or masks?”
Um, no, they were not. Okay then, carry on.
The point was, the pavers could be trusted. If they did not take precautions with regard to what they were doing, I could trust that it was not necessary for me to do so either. After all, they were the experts.
Whom do we regularly look to as the experts in our lives?
- The pastor?
- The generation or two above us?
- More seasoned marriages or parents?
And what is it about them that gives us confidence to trust following their lead?
Take a minute and consider this. I think we all need to take inventory now and again.
Sometimes we invite people into our lives who truly have authority to speak to certain areas—but what they speak on and where their wisdom comes from make all the difference in the world.
1) Do they share our personal faith in Christ?
Proverbs 9:10, ESV
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
2) Are they spiritually disciplined? What do I mean by that?
- Do they regularly consult God’s Holy Word and apply it to their lives?
- Are they prayerful?
- Do they seek biblical counsel for themselves?
- Are they invested in fellowship with other believers (attend church and/or Bible studies, submit to biblical teaching on a regularly basis, etc.)?
- Do they regularly come to the Lord’s Table for repentance and confession?
3) Do their lives reflect people trying to follow God, albeit imperfectly as all of us at times?
Before those of you currently of non-faith or another faith take this in a way I didn’t intend, I want to say how much I value advice and counsel from friends outside my faith. Often it gives me a new angle or approach, which I in turn then take back to my God and ask about. I truly believe He can speak to us through others—even those not of our faith. But—at the end of the day, those of us who seek the same God, Jesus Christ, look toward the same authority to answer our bigger questions. That is more along the lines of the heart of this article.
The following are other questions that are important to ask:
4) What is their reason and motivation for offering counsel to us?
5) Have we invited them in to offer feedback, or did they assume that role on their own?
6) Do they display humility and grace, or pride and legalism?
7) Are they gentle, but firm, leading like Jesus would, confronting with love and solutions?
8) Can they be trusted with our confidence, or are they gossipers?
9) If we are bringing them a significant issue, have we given them a full picture, or have we been selective in what we share?
10) Are they genuine, and are they committed to keeping us accountable?
11) Where does their authority come in to be the appropriate counsel?
12) Are they self-controlled in their daily lives, or do they speak or act without applying a God filter?
13) And most importantly: Have we prayed and asked God if we have His peace to open this issue up to their wisdom?
The question could be asked as to what “appropriate counsel” consists of. Let me give you some examples from my own life:
- Healthy married couples (or widow/ers) for marriage advice
- People with experience in parenting or guardianship for parenting questions
- A fellow special needs parent for that specific category
- Someone with a history of loving and making healthy choices in family-of-origin interactions for those questions
- A spiritual leader (Sunday School teacher, Bible study leader, pastor, ministry leader, elder) for struggles of a spiritual nature
It’s no different in our jobs, right? I wouldn’t go to a cobbler to tell me how to edit. Or a computer programmer when I need a mechanic or a plumber.
Many people want to offer us well-intended advice, but if they lack the authority, they aren’t the ones to speak into that particular area.
We could easily flip this, right? I have no business telling another parent what decisions to make for his or her fatally ill child. I should not tell my engineer husband how to do his job. I would be wrong to tell my bus driver friend how she should drive that huge vehicle better. A pilot would not ask me how to fly his or her plane. I cannot tell someone who has lost a spouse how or when or not to remarry. I should not tell an equine veterinarian how to birth a horse.
Yes, these may seem ridiculous, but so is letting other people pave our roads without the necessary common ground and authority.
But, like the pavers on my street this week, if they know what they are doing and have laid that pavement before, I can trust them. I didn’t have to get a HAZMAT suit on.
So, I ask one more time:
Who paves the road ahead of you? I sure hope it’s my Lord Jesus, because He’s the absolute best!, but who do you allow to speak to your heart when you find yourself needing a gauge to measure against? If they are not qualified or have taken a place in your life where they do not belong, do not be afraid to have them take a few steps back to make room for those whom God has chosen.
I leave you with these amazing “wisdom verses” from His Holy Word.
(For more analysis of Proverbs 4, kindly refer to 10 Ways to Recognize Safe Counsel.)
Job 12:11-13, ESV
“Does not the ear test words as the palate tastes food? Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.”
Proverbs 4:1-27, ESV
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
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.
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.