During my last year of college, I was completely overwhelmed. I was stressed and worried all the time. The semester loomed ahead like a giant mountain I could not climb. Not only was I taking 20 credit hours, doing a counseling internship, and working part-time, I was also planning my wedding hundreds of miles from where it would take place.
A local Christian counselor visited campus once a week to meet with students. One of my professors suggested that I meet with her. I presented the counselor a list of all the things I was doing and explained how overwhelmed and stressed I was. I left the session with another list. She gave me advice on ways to manage my time more effectively. She suggested healthy coping skills and recommended that I get sufficient rest. She even discussed the importance of a support system and encouraged me to reach out to close friends.
These were all helpful suggestions. They were good things for me to do. But one thing was lacking: she never pointed me to Christ.
Problem with Good Advice
When our friends share with us their problems, we often give them advice. It’s one of the characteristics of friendship; we share with one another ideas and solutions that have helped us with our own problems. Whether it is a helpful tip on budgeting money or how to manage our busy schedules or ideas on ways to get a child to sleep better at night, we love to share advice with one another.
We are quick to make a solution into a savior.
The problem comes when our advice sounds no different from the advice a counselor from another religion or even no religion at all would give. If an atheist would suggest the same child-rearing techniques or a Buddhist the same stress-management strategies as we do, then there is something missing from our counsel. Even though truth is truth no matter who says it, the advice that followers of Christ give ought to point to the source of all truth.
True wisdom and knowledge cannot be found apart from Christ. Colossians 2:3 tells us that in Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Christ is wisdom made flesh. “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).
In addition, giving advice, no matter how helpful, apart from the truth of Christ can often encourage a recovering Pharisee to add your suggestion to an already long list of things to do to make life work apart from the grace of Christ. Our idol-producing hearts are quick to take any helpful advice and put all our hope in it. We are quick to make a solution into a savior.
In the case of my counseling experience, I simply exchanged one list for another. I followed my counselor’s list to a “T.” I dutifully checked everything off. But in the end, I felt no better than before. I was still exhausted and overwhelmed because I needed to hope in Christ, to know that he was enough for me. My heart needed to hear that Christ cared about the burdens I carried. If he had gone to such great lengths to rescue me from sin and death, would he not also be with me in those struggles? How could I not trust him to strengthen and help me during that stressful season? What I needed was to trust, rely, and rest in the grace of Christ, not in my time-management skills.
Giving Christ-Centered Advice
The practical tips we so readily give to our friends won’t necessarily work for them. Though a financial management system may have rescued your family from debt, it may not work the same way with your friend. While the sleeping system you used with your children helped them all to sleep through the night at a young age, it may not work for anyone else.
But the wisdom of God’s Word is always beneficial. No matter the situation, reminding friends of who they are because of what Christ has done is a life-giving, soul-refreshing truth worth far more than a thousand how-to books. Reminding them that they are esteemed more in the eyes of God than the sparrows he never fails to feed daily is a truth they can cling to when finances are tight. Pointing friends to the God who made them, who redeemed them, and works in them in the midst of their stressful job, is wise, lasting, and true counsel. Speaking the truth to friends about the God who rules, reigns, and cares for all the details of their lives gives real hope in the midst of an uncertain future.
I’m not saying we should never give practical advice. Share your helpful ideas on getting children to do their chores or how to choose a good school or ways to balance the family budget. But don’t give advice apart from wisdom incarnate, Jesus Christ. Don’t give your advice as though it is the savior your friends need to make life better. Rather, point them to the Savior. Only in Christ do we find real, lasting, and life-changing wisdom