I Will Give You Some Advice, and God Be With You

I’ve written about body, soul, and spirit. The Bible implies that each of our lives is comprised of these three realms. But the framework goes even farther. These three realms also account for the different priorities we follow and the different choices we make.

Here is what I mean:

1. We make emotional choices. We follow feelings or impulses founded on, say, increasing our pleasure or defending our turf. Or—this is the most common of all—we follow feelings or impulses aimed at maintaining our comfort. The emotions that arise within us tend to focus on the body.

2. We make rational choices. We choose actions and objectives based on what we think we would like to attain, and we make plans according to the best of our ability to analyze and anticipate. The thinking mind is the driver of the soul.

3. We seek to obey the will of God. Here, God makes the choice and we who believe seek to follow in it, even though what we follow is a mystery. God leads, because his knowledge and aims surpass our understanding. The means by which God moves us is through his Spirit animating our spirit.

This framework makes several things clear.

That second realm above is in tension between the other two. Rational thinking is both the saving grace and the impediment to the quality of our choices. It is a saving grace when rational thinking saves us from our emotion-driven course. It is an impediment when logic’s limited viewpoint stops us from pursuing what the Spirit would have us do. In following a leading from God, wrote Oswald Chambers, “there is no logical statement possible when anyone asks you what you are doing.”

Yet in this very tension, you can see the error we are prone to make in seeking God’s will—or at least the error I am prone to make. While the movement of the Spirit does defy logic, not everything that defies logic is a movement of the Spirit. Most of the time, the choice I have imagined to be “God’s will for me” was in fact just my own emotional bias or yearning dressed up in spiritual clothes.

Far from being emotional, in fact, the revealed will of God would actually be supra-logical. His plan would do logic one better. If you or I ever succeeded at following in his mystery without missteps, then we would see the Creator’s hand working through us to realize life, wholeness, and freedom along a surprisingly elegant path that was hidden from what our logic was able to foresee.

Along the same lines, good advice is also both a saving grace and an impediment. Sound advice from another can save me when feelings blind me, and logical advice from another can help me when I am formulating a logical plan. But advice can be dispiriting when the Spirit is advancing, because the well-intentioned giver of this advice invariably presumes to imagine what the outcome “ought” to be.

This explains the Bible’s seemingly conflicted perspective on seeking advice. According to Proverbs 15:22, plans go awry without counsel. But when Paul was trying to figure out the meaning of his conversion, he reports, “I did not immediately consult with anyone” (Galatians 1:16). Instead, he let the implications of his being called by Christ work through him for three years before he spoke with another apostle (1:18). Even in this meeting, the Bible does not record how much or how little Paul revealed.

How, then, do we give advice? How do we receive it?

I think I see a model in the way Jethro spoke to Moses in a scene out of Exodus. In this scene, Moses was wearing himself out by spending all day listening to his people’s complaints. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, thought he saw a better way.

“Now listen to me,” Jethro said in Exodus 18:19. “I will give you some advice, and God be with you.”

He then proceeded to teach Moses about delegating some of his responsibilities, to better preserve himself for the mission God had for him. It was the right counsel. In giving the advice, one man who was following God spoke out of the best of his judgment to another man who was following God, and divinely liberating instruction flowed through what was said.

God be with you. In the ways that you and I give advice, we should always be willing to say this. In the ways we hear advice, we should always submit to this expectation. As givers and receivers of good but limited human counsel, let us always hope that the best of our wisdom, and perhaps even something better than our own understanding, will find its way into what we hear and say.