by Laura L. Wood
I didn’t like what I heard, but I knew it was true. My sister told me something years ago that has stuck with me. I told her I had hurt someone’s feelings accidentally by a joke I made. At just the right moment in the conversation, she said, “You’re just joking, but it doesn’t feel that way.” I had never realized the impact my harsh cynicism had on the people around me, but God has used her words to me over and over since that day nearly 20 years ago. God has used people in relationships with others to give godly counsel from the beginning of time. Whether the counsel is well received, hard to hear, or from an unlikely source, God can use his people to powerfully impact others’ lives through timely, loving counsel.
A Spoonful of Sugar
God brought his people out of Egypt with an impressive demonstration of power. Moses must have been on a spiritual and emotional high at that point. A victorious battle, some manna from Heaven, and a lot of grumbling from the people later, and the reality of camping in the desert with a mob of grouchy Hebrew people surely began to sink in.
Enter his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro had been a mentor to Moses years earlier. Seeing what an enormous job dispensing God’s wisdom to all of the people had become, Jethro offered some advice: divide the job between capable, God-fearing men and let them decide the simpler cases, sending the more complicated ones to Moses. Moses quickly and successfully implemented Jethro’s plan.
How many of us in today’s fractured-family society enjoy advice from our in-laws? However, Moses welcomed the advice of his father-in-law and quickly followed it, thus benefiting himself and the people of God. Jethro wasn’t afraid to give the advice. The two of them had a background, a history of mutual respect. And Jethro didn’t just waltz in, offer his opinion with a haughty air, and disappear. When Jethro arrived at the encampment, he praised God for what was happening among the people. Jethro approved of the way God was using Moses and encouraged Moses before suggesting any changes he might make. The relationship Jethro and Moses shared probably went a long way toward making Jethro’s advice welcome.
An Unlikely Counselor
Long after Moses’s death and the Israelites’ possession of the promised land, a series of judges led the loosely-united tribes. One of these judges, Deborah, was a prophetess whose wisdom was well known. At one point, she sent word to Barak, a Hebrew military commander, telling him God wanted him to fight against the Canaanite commander Sisera who had cruelly oppressed the Hebrew people for 20 years. Barak didn’t muster his men and his courage and run to the fight. Instead he sent word back to Deborah: “I’ll do it if you do . . . but I won’t go without you.” Deborah must have laughed. Here she was, a married woman in a time when women belonged to their husbands, and this military man in command of soldiers refused to fight without her!
They later went into battle, and even with Sisera’s army lined up and ready to fight, Deborah had to cry out to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands!” He didn’t make a move without her advice. Deborah listened to God and courageously followed him. God used her wisdom in a practical way to produce a military victory for his people. She didn’t let her lowly status as a woman push her into the shadows, though. She stepped forward and delivered the message God gave her, and received respect for her courage and wisdom. How many of us are willing to listen to God and deliver a message from him, even when it seems risky or contrary to what we want?
The Truth Hurts
Sometimes the truth isn’t easy to accept. Take the story of David and Bathsheba. David not only stole a man’s wife, but he killed the husband in order to cover it all up! Then he went about his business as if nothing had happened. God sent his prophet Nathan with a message for the ruler. Since approaching a king with word of God’s judgment was a difficult and potentially deadly task, Nathan wisely cushioned the blow with a sad story about a rich man who stole his poor neighbor’s only lamb. David was outraged by the story and demanded that the man die for the pain he inflicted on the poor man’s family. Then Nathan said the words that must have devastated David: “You are that man!” David knew then that he hadn’t hidden his secret from God. He immediately repented and accepted God’s punishment. Even encased in a story, Nathan’s words must have been hard to hear, but David, a man after God’s own heart, accepted the truth and allowed God to heal the situation.
Counsel from the Heart
Of course, no list of counselors in the Bible would be complete without the ultimate counselor, Jesus. Jesus spent his entire life building relationships with those who followed him, and those followers hung on his every word. A friend went to a counselor and after several sessions told me, “She says, ‘Oh wow!’ a lot and in different tones of voice, but that’s about it.” Jesus didn’t do that. He didn’t hold back. Jesus saw the very heart of people and their issues, and his words went straight to the point.
When the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him the typical answer of the day: obey the commandments. The man said he’d done all of that. Mark then says Jesus looked at the young man and loved him. Jesus saw his deep desire to obey, but he also knew the man’s attachment to his possessions held the young man back spiritually. Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, wow! Maybe you’ll make it to Heaven.” He said, “Put aside the things that are holding you back and come after me wholeheartedly!”
Jesus didn’t just blast the truth to all of those who came to him, though. He loved the young man. If he hadn’t loved him, Jesus wouldn’t have told him what he really needed to hear. His motivation for sacrificing everything, including making time to counsel those in need, came from his deep love for others. Jesus’ counsel was a mixture of love and compassion, insight and truth.
Throughout the Bible, we find examples of God using his people to counsel others. That counsel may be much-needed and well-received or may come from an unusual source; but God uses those who are willing to listen to him, relate to those around them, and speak the truth lovingly to the ones they know.
Laura L. Wood is a freelance writer in Cincinnati, Ohio.
WISDOM IN YOUR LIFE
Who has God used as a Jethro in your life?
• Did you want to listen to this counsel at first? If not, what convinced you to heed the person’s advice?
• Looking back, how did God improve your situation when you listened to the counsel he brought through this person?
Has God had to bring a Nathan into your life?
• How has your life benefited from confronting your sin?
• Do you have a stronger relationship with that person having gone through accountability together?
How have you been a Jethro or a Nathan for someone else?
• If you have, pray for that person to keep relying on God’s true counsel.
• If not, pray that you would be willing to speak wise counsel if God brings someone in your path.