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Counsel or Coercion?

By Craig von Buseck Contributing Writer -- When I was in high school, my father gave me some advice that I will never forget. He said, “Read books and learn from them. All of the achievements and mistakes that a person makes in a lifetime can be learned by reading their book.” Dad also said, “Learn from the mistakes of others, you don’t have time in your life to make them all yourself.”

Seeking godly counsel is like reading a portion of the book of someone’s life.

No one is an island to themselves in Christ. We all need to seek out and listen to the wisdom and experience of godly men and women who have walked farther with the Lord in life than we have. There are a number of people who would qualify to give us godly counsel: Christian parents, a pastor, a cell group leader, a professional Christian counselor, a youth group leader, a Sunday School teacher, another mature leader in a church, or a trusted and mature Christian friend.

When seeking godly counsel, it is important that we maintain an attitude of humility. James says, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (4:6). As believers, no matter how long we have walked with God, we must remain open to the input of others. One of my former pastors used the metaphor of a ladder when speaking of godly counsel: “You may be on the fifth rung of the ladder in your life, and this man or woman of God is twenty rungs up above you. They have felt and experienced those twenty rungs, and they can give you advice based on that valuable experience.”

The apostle Peter gives us an excellent blueprint for how relationships are supposed to work between spiritual leaders and their followers:

The elders who are among you I exhort.… Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.
—1 Peter 5:1–6

Peter’s blueprint for spiritual leadership flowed from the relationship he had with Christ. Peter was a shepherd to the early church, and he passed Jesus’ instructions on to others, including the admonition for young people to properly submit themselves to the godly leaders placed in their lives.

The apostle Paul spoke of the need for spiritual fathers and mothers when he wrote, Though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers (1 Corinthians 4:15). There is a difference in relationship between an instructor and a father. A father can be an instructor, but an instructor is not a father. A father cares deeply for the overall well-being of the spiritual child, not just that the child has learned the lesson.

This is the kind of person that a Christian should seek when looking for godly counsel — a spiritual mother or father in the Lord.

Wait on the Lord

Sometimes when the people we trust as counselors have a check in their spirit about the guidance we are sensing, it is an indication to wait until the Lord has made His will more clear to us. We may sense that God is saying to go one way, while our parents or pastor are sensing that we should go another way. In the end we may find that neither way was God’s plan, but that there was a third alternative that we were to follow. By waiting we allow God to reveal His perfect will to us at the right time. And God is honored by our willingness to trust Him and humble ourselves while we wait for Him to open the right door.

Mistakes of the Past

Many sincere Christians have made mistakes while seeking godly counsel. Trying to find the Lord’s will for our lives can be a tricky business. Disappointments in guidance do happen, especially when people step out erroneously, basing their decision on a vision, dream, or prophecy without receiving the input of others.

Some people reject godly counsel altogether, saying, “I can hear God perfectly well by myself.” They willingly walk away from the safety that is only found in the multitude of counselors.

This is dangerous ground. It is very easy to fall into self-deception. Because we are emotional beings, our feelings can sometimes interfere with our reason. God gave us a mind to help us to make rational decisions. Sometimes we want something so badly that we ignore what makes sense just to fulfill our fleshly desires. At other times we are so emotionally involved in a situation that we can’t come to a rational decision. One day our heart is saying one thing, and the next day it is saying something else. At these times we need the help of others to sort through our feelings to find God’s plan for our lives.

Another word of admonition: Don't seek counsel from someone who is in the middle of a similar struggle! For example, a person who has been hurt by other people in the church probably can’t give you good counsel on finding a church of your own, at least until they have sorted through and resolved their own issues.

Avoid Manipulation

Another mistake that some Christians make in seeking counsel is giving in to what I call “manipulative personal prophecy.” As we said earlier, the apostle Paul tells us to “not despise prophecies,” but to “test all things and hold fast what is good”(1 Thessalonians 5 20–21). This statement implies that not all things are good when it comes to personal prophecy! Some people allow their own interpretations of what they are seeing in the Spirit to influence how they deliver a personal prophecy. The Christian, particularly the new believer, needs to be on their guard when receiving a word of prophecy — especially when it comes from someone who knows and understands their circumstances. It can be very easy for a person to move from sharing a word from the Lord into sharing his or her opinion on a situation “in the name of the Lord.”

Sometimes this can simply be the result of an immature believer’s giving the personal prophecy, someone who hasn’t learned to separate the leading of the Holy Spirit from their own interpretation of the word. At other times, however, the motive can be more sinister. There are those in the church who have used personal prophecy as a manipulative device, simply to get other people to do what they want. That is why it is important that a person not rely solely on personal prophecy in making decisions. Again, a word of prophecy is only one of the seven keys of God’s guidance, and should be tested and weighed against the other keys in the process of making any major decision.

Beware of Immaturity

There are also immature leaders out there who may have been in church their whole lives but are still babes when it comes to the things of the Lord. A person’s title does not necessarily indicate their level of maturity in Christ. You don’t want to seek advice from a counselor whose pride will be puffed up because they are giving you advice. Be careful to make sure that the counselor you seek doesn’t have some hidden agenda. Some people get their ego stroked by advising other people, or even being considered an elder in the church. Again, the Lord will give you peace when you are in the presence of a godly counselor, and you will have a check in your spirit if you are not.

A final warning in the area of counsel is to be on guard for manipulative leaders. Be careful to avoid the pastor or spiritual leader who is caught up in what is called spiritual abuse.

While the Bible makes it clear that we are to properly submit ourselves to the leadership in the church, dictatorial leadership is never condoned by this command. Only Jesus Christ is Lord over our lives. No man or woman should assume that role.

There is clearly a biblical call for proper spiritual authority in the church, in the community, and in the life of a believer. We need the input of other believers in our lives. We need to seek the counsel of mature godly believers, especially in major decisions. But as believers we have access to God’s throne through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no need for a priest or minister to take the place of Jesus as Lord over our lives. We look to Him for guidance in our decisions, and then we seek confirmation and clarity from other brothers and sisters on what we sense the Lord is saying — we don’t seek their permission.

Send me an e-mail with your comments.

I go into much greater detail in how to hear God's voice through godly counsel in my book, Seven Keys to Hearing God's Voice. Order your copy from Shop CBN

Read Craig's ChurchWatch Blog

Other articles and interviews by Craig von Buseck

Adapted from Seven Keys to Hearing God's Voice. Used with permission. © Hensley Publishing.

Craig von  Buseck

I want to hear from you. Share your testimony of how you have grown to know the voice of God. Are you having trouble discerning God's voice from the other things you hear? Did you know that you could hear God's voice? Send me an e-mail with your comments.

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