Proverbs 15:22 says, ‘Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.’ There is no doubt that the advice and counsel of wise Christians can be extremely helpful to us when facing awkward decisions, but an additional difficulty comes if we receive conflicting advice. What do we do, then?! When making choices, it isn’t always possible to please everyone, and we can be thrown into further confusion if the advice we receive is contradictory.
Sometimes, the conflict comes because we are asking for advice when we have actually already decided what we want to do and are therefore not inclined to listen to any counsel which contradicts the plans of our own heart. But sometimes, we genuinely do want the advice and counsel of others, but are confused when this leads us in totally opposite and mutually exclusive directions!
Paul faced the dilemma of conflicting counsel with regard to his journey to Jerusalem. He felt compelled to go there by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:22), but throughout his long journey there, he met with people who strongly urged him not to go there (see Acts 21:4, 12). He heard prophecy from a respected church member (Agabus) which indicated the unfavourable outcome awaiting him in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:10-11) Yet he persisted in heading towards Jerusalem despite all who urged him not to. Was he simply being obstinate? How does this situation help us in our own moral dilemmas and difficult decisions?
Firstly, we must remember that God will never contradict Himself, even if we need discernment in understanding what He is saying. Secondly, we must learn to differentiate between prediction and prohibition. Paul was under no illusions that going to Jerusalem would mean a comfortable outcome for him. He knew that the Holy Spirit had warned him of hardships and prison (Acts 20:23), so Agabus’ prediction that he would be bound by Jewish leaders and handed over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:11) was no surprise to him. He repeatedly told others that he was prepared to die for the Lord and that his personal safety and wellbeing were not his highest concern (Acts 20:24, Acts 21:13). We should not be surprised to find that this answer was difficult for those who loved him to accept; similarly, no advice that is ever given to us will be completely impartial or without personal emotion and involvement, and these elements must be weighed in our response. No one person has a monopoly on truth and each one will be working through difficult implications in the advice they give.
The advice of others is often helpful and crucial in allowing us to work through the implications of choices and to see aspects of decisions which perhaps would otherwise be invisible to us. At the same time, each decision we make must be ours alone and must reflect the inner conviction of what God Himself is saying to us. It’s all too easy to be swayed by reason and advice; sometimes, we must remember that what God calls us to do does not make rational sense and does not guarantee easy outcomes. Paul continued on his journey to Jerusalem not because he was simply being awkward or because he was a masochist; he continued because he was convinced that this was God’s will for him. There can be no substitute for hearing the gentle whisper of God and knowing the personal leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit in our decisions.