Advice Is Not Prayer


Intercessory prayerYesterday, I wrote about praying instead of sharing indignation in public (“View from a Glass House“).

Today, I want to add to that by discussing perhaps the oddest behavior I’ve seen in people who supposedly profess Christ, especially those who are male.

Whenever men share prayer requests in a group, a curious thing often occurs. If the prayer time is an hour, men will spend 55 minutes giving advice on how to fix the problems mentioned in the prayer requests and only about 5 minutes actually praying. This is especially true in all-male small groups.

Now, we know men are by nature all Mr. Fix-It. The universal joke among married women is that husbands immediately want to jump in and correct any problem the wife mentions, when all the wife wants is someone to listen. To men, listening to the problem doesn’t solve anything; doing something about it does.

The same thought process seems true in prayer time, as the mentality of “no point in listening further, we know what to fix” becomes “no point in praying, because we have just the answer for the problem.” In fact, about the only time men jump into praying about a prayer need is when everyone is stumped as to a practical solution. Prayer becomes the tragic admission that we guys didn’t have a bright idea this time.

Advice is not prayer, though. And if God is God—and He is—He may have a solution through prayer that is far above and beyond any man-made advice we may offer. In fact, I wonder if we sometimes settle for the good through man-made advice when we could have had the best wrought by God through prayer alone.

It has taken me several decades to realize I don’t have a clue, but God does. When someone comes to me with a prayer need, I stifle any pretense of offering my “wisdom” and just go for prayer. If during prayer God brings sound advice to my mind, I will share it. But prayer must be trusted first and not second.

We say that prayer is the most powerful action in the cosmos we Christian can take, and yet we treat it as a pathetic option of last resort.

When a Church Is Filled with Judges, Busybodies, and Advice-Givers


A great verse for today:

“…they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t.”
—1 Timothy 5:13b (NLT)

If you stand up in the bathroom at church, you’ve probably been to a men’s prayer meeting. Men share prayer requests and look for other men to call down God’s help for their situation.

Well, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. In actuality, when men share prayer requests in an hour-long prayer meeting, they give each other advice for whatever the problems might be and spend a grand total of 57½ seconds praying about those requests—no matter how many requests were made in total.

The ladies, on the other hand, suffer from the same problem, except in a far worse form. Amplified YammeringMen tend to keep their mouths shut unless asked for advice. Women, though, sometimes go barging into other people’s lives with their “godly wisdom,” whether it is asked for or not. To their credit, women do a better job with prayer requests, bumping up the men’s 57½ seconds of total prayer time for requests to at least a minute and a half.  😉

Life is hard enough as it is, but to have judges, busybodies, and advice-givers deluging us with their man-made wisdom isn’t helping anyone. If anything, all it accomplishes is either to upset recipients or lead them down dead-end paths that eventually have those recipients questioning God’s direction  (when they should have been questioning the advice-giver’s qualifications to speak).

I believe God offers us the best way:

1. If we are prone to be an advice giver, whether prompted or not, we should stop. No one needs our man-made advice. Undoubtedly, wisdom that comes from the minds of humans will fail. God says it will, so that pretty much settles it. In short, we’re not as smart as we think we are.

2. Chances are, we don’t know enough of what is happening behind closed doors to say anything about another person’s situation. Only God knows what a person truly needs. Instead, just listen and withhold judgment and advice (then consider #5 below).

3. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” applies to judgments and advice. Would we want to hear what we are about to share? Probably not. Then best keep quiet, especially if our advice is unsolicited.

4. In contrast to failed human wisdom, God provides perfect solutions through the spiritual gifts of word of knowledge and word of wisdom. My experience is that they are rare, but they are the only type of “advice” that is truly godly. If we are not given such a word, then we should keep still. If we are, we should not be afraid to share it gently and with tact. And also remember: Chances are, you and I were not the ones chosen to deliver that message. If we were, then we need to be humble about it.

5. Most people don’t want our judgments and advice. What they do want is us and our time. It is one thing to tell someone they need to do such and such. It is far different to actually help them do it. (Personally, I have no respect for people who tell others what they should be doing yet will not lift a hand to help them do it.) If we are not willing to help see our advice through, then we should not be giving it. All the advice in the world is nothing when compared to being there in person for someone else. Talk is cheap; walk is priceless.

In the end, talk less, listen more, and walk beside people who need help. That is the way of the Christian.

Socks for Christmas


It’s a cliché to say that one of the benefits of aging is wisdom, but the older I get, the more I realize that being clichéd doesn’t make something less true.

One of the things I’m slowly learning is that God uses even that group of people who drives you nuts. You know, the ones who are doing it wrong in your estimation, whatever the it might be. Their way is not your way, so they naturally irritate you.

The Church of Jesus is overrun with people who give advice. They seem to be the mature ones who have it going on. They always have a sure word in season and out. Problem is, most of the time it’s out of season, especially when you’re in the middle of the worst battle of your life and they come around with their Scripture hammer and whack you upside the noggin.

Do these folks ever lend a hand to help you? No. Do they let you cry on their shoulder? No. Don’t they just really hack you off? Heck, yeah.

What we don’t seem to have enough of in the Church are people who DO lend you a hand and let you cry on their shoulder. They’re the compassionate ones. Their eyes mist up when you tell your story. They’re the first ones on the phone to you when the grapevine distributes your bad news.

Everybody should be in that compassionate second group, right?

Well, you would think so.

But what I seem to be finding out is that while the compassionate group is nice, folks in that category aren’t always the best at helping you get out of your rut. A shoulder to cry on is swell, but it may not be enough a few months down the road. Odd as it may seem, the advice-givers may have the advantage here. You know, the one’s who you were about to strangle when they brought their aloof “I’ve got the answer to everything” attitude into the midst of your agony. Truth is, they may actually have something worth hearing. The other truth is that you may not have been in a place to hear it when they first dumped it on you. You needed compassion more than advice. Compassion has its limits, though. Cutting to the heart of the matter, it may also be true that the cause of your pain is your own stupidity, and while a shoulder to cry on is nice to have, sometimes a brain is really what’s needed.

Ideally, the Church would be filled with people who are both advice-filled AND compassi0nate. But if my own experience bears witness to what is normal, I’d say those rare people are just that—exceedingly rare. Most of us are going to run into an advice-giver or a compassion-giver but almost never both in one person.

So the next time you feel like the world is ending and some advice-filled sage comes up to you, drops his load of wisdom on you, and bolts, don’t get riled up because he didn’t hold your hand and say, “There, there, call me anytime, even 3 a.m. Better yet, I’ll come over tomorrow.” Uh, Mom...not what I had on my list...And if you do find compassion with those who will weep with you, don’t expect that they’ll have answers to your dilemma or a good word in season. They may not. Your personal diamond may be the rough-looking rock, and you don’t see it for what it’s worth.

And if you do stumble across person number three, who has both realities going on, recognize that you received a rare gift in the midst of tough times, that highly sculpted and polished stone

In other words, whichever kind of person God sends your way, be appreciative of the gift, even if it’s not exactly what you asked for. Remember, when you were young and green, Aunt Ida’s handknit wool socks seemed like a lousy gift Christmas morning, but when your feet were cold, they were exactly what you needed.