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I’ve envied people who knew (as children) what they wanted to be when they grew up—and then became exactly that. I envied their clarity and confidence, because my own sense of calling hasn’t always seemed so clear.
Do you ever feel more like the latter, too? These days, discerning our callings can feel more difficult than ever.
Why is that?
Well, in general, we as women now have an unprecedented assortment of career, ministry, and life options. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean there is more competition for our clarity—and more potential for confusion.
Plus, social media and blogging have made it possible to access (and absorb) pieces of advice from our favorite ministries, celebrities, mommy-bloggers, CEOs, Bible study authors, and…you get the idea.
So not only do we have advisors in our actual communities, but our virtual ones as well. This abundance can leave us feeling overwhelmed, especially when we read, hear, or receive conflicting advice.
It’s exciting that God does give us opportunities to yield to Him and be conduits of godly advice. However, Scripture’s also clear that wise counsel can prosper us—but that not everyone with an opinion will have a wise opinion.
For example, in Genesis it was the seemingly barren Sarah’s advice to her husband, Abraham, that he should commit adultery with another woman—in order to produce the son that God promised the couple.
This is where discernment comes in.
To help you weed out the wisdom from the folly, here are seven questions to ask when someone gives his or her input about your calling:
1. Is his or her advice in agreement with the Bible and the wisdom it provides?
To understand if a person’s advice matches God’s heart, it helps to know how his or her words measure up to His Word.This doesn’t mean you have to memorize the entire Bible before you’re “allowed” to seek counsel from a parent, friend, mentor, or pastor.
But I would encourage you to take his or her advice, grab your Bible, and test their input against Scripture before you act on it. Good counsel isn’t necessarily godly counsel, and the Bible can help you know which is the case.
2. Does the advice match your own discernment of the Holy Spirit’s leading?
I’ve known—and currently have—some great, godly role models…and yet no matter how great they are, the fact remains that they’re still human. I’ve learned—through a few bouts of idolatry—that wise counsel is still no reason to quench the Holy Spirit.
In other words, the presence of good counsel isn’t a reason to take a leave of absence from personally seeking to hear God. Continue to cultivate sensitivity to His voice, and if a piece of advice contradicts the Holy Spirit’s leading, skip the person’s tip.
3. Is what they’re suggesting even legal?
Sometimes people mean well, but they’re misinformed. For (melodramatic) example, if your mentor agrees that your calling is to be a doctor, but recommends that you just skip medical school and start making house calls…yeah, that’s a fast track to Lawsuit City!
(The point here is to do your homework.)
4. Have they taken the time to listen to you?
Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” One way to know whom to listen to about your calling is if she or he has taken the time to listen. I’ve observed and experienced times where a good-intentioned mentor, family member, or ministry leader has been quick to issue “canned” advice.
I don’t think they were ill intentioned, but if you aren’t careful, taking the advice of a hasty counselor can be like taking the prescription of a doctor who diagnosed you—without listening to the explanation of your symptoms.
5. Is there fruit in their lives, in the area for which you’re seeking advice?
Status symbols do not automatically mean there’s spiritual fruit. For example, just because a woman has a wedding ring on her finger does not automatically mean she’s qualified to give wise counsel to single women called to become wives.
On the other hand, you better believe I’m going to give more weight to financial advice that comes from experts like Rachel Cruze and Dave Ramsey! Why? For several reasons, including this one: There is fruit of wise, godly financial stewardship in their lives.
6. What can you discern of the motive behind their advice?
Sometimes people’s advice to us—isn’t really for us. Throughout Scripture (and history beyond the text) we see that God’s calling on a person’s life can be risky, sacrificial, or seemingly crazy (in the world’s eyes).
Our 'arks' may not involve sawdust and a smelly menagerie—like Noah’s—but what a help to know that criticism can mean we're on the right track!
In which case, it’s helpful to know when to not listen to someone, because he or she is speaking more from a place of their own insecurity, fear, complacency, rebellion, or just…ignorance.
In my case, there have been times since publishing my personal testimony that I’ve encountered harsh criticism or seemingly helpful (but compromising) advice that would mean abandoning the ark I was called to.
7. Is what they’re suggesting just a flat-out terrible idea?
When a piece of advice is plainly foolish, there’s no need to hyper-spiritualize your decision-making. For example, I’m one of the many American students with school loans. So I’ve made the personal decision to not add the risk of consumer debt by having credit cards.
And when I get a credit-card offer in the mail or at a store register, I don’t take a knee and pray about it. I simply say “no, thank you,” or run that letter through the shredder. Sometimes I’ve needed to respond with the same simplicity, if counsel about my calling is plainly counterproductive.
As a final word of liberating encouragement: There is no shame in not taking someone’s advice. You are ultimately responsible for your choices, and you are the steward with whom God’s entrusted your calling.
And like Peter said in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than human beings.” (Even at the risk of displeasing someone in our lives.)
Even well meaning people may give wrong advice. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people, but it does mean you should exercise caution with someone whose advice repeatedly proves to be questionable.
Your Turn: How have these suggestions encouraged you, or what would you add? Share in the comments now, or let’s chat over tweets!
Rebecca Halton is a professional writer and creative entrepreneur, as well as the adultery-fighting author of Words from the Other Woman. One of her favorite times of day is when she’s empowering, engaging with, and encouraging other writers, bloggers, and authors on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.