What a Broken GPS Taught Me about Counseling

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I was recently on a day trip with my family and I pulled out my phone to find directions to our next stop. We had a general idea of where we were going and knew it should only take us a few minutes to get there, but when I looked at the map on my phone it showed over 4 hours of driving time. A closer look showed that the destination was correct, but my location was being shown as several hundred miles from where I actually was. The instructions were accurate, but they were useless to me because the map did not know where I was. To give good directions, you must have an accurate understanding of both the destination and the starting point.

As frustrating as that mistake might have been while I was traveling, it is even more frustrating when it happens in other areas of my life. You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all had that one friend that freely passes out the one-size-fits-all advice without a proper understanding of the facts. Think of the young man struggling with pornography who is told “you just need to repent” or the depressed housewife who is told to “find joy in God.” What about the faith healer who tells the cancer patient to “have more faith” or the overwhelmed young mother who is told “treasure these years.” There’s nothing wrong with any of that advice except for the fact that it isn’t what those (real life) individuals needed. Many churches are filled with those who – like Job’s friends – have all the right answers to all the wrong questions. It can be frustrating and hurtful when someone tries to offer instruction or advice when they’ve obviously misunderstood where we are in our lives.

Fortunately, for those of us who are following God, He promises a different kind of guidance. In Psalm 32:8, God says “I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with my eye on you, I will give counsel. God’s counsel is always given in perfect knowledge of both destination and starting point. He knows where He wants to take me, but He also has full knowledge of where I am. He doesn’t just paint a picture of a beautiful destination and wish us luck getting there on our own. He doesn’t pass out generic instruction that works for some. No, He formulates a plan for my life that has me in mind.

This fact should bring great comfort to me in my own life, but it should also challenge me as to my own counsel toward others. Just like God takes me into account when He is guiding me, I must take the specific person involved into account when I am advising or counseling. It takes more work and it is messier, but that’s what God models for us. As a church, we must be willing to get down into the messy reality of each other’s lives and do life together before we can propose useful solutions. I am so grateful that my Father in heaven knows me and guides me accordingly. His wise and gracious counsel challenges me to do the same for others. I don’t want to be like that dysfunctional GPS that passes out good directions from the wrong location.

 

Photo By {{{1}}} (Flickr: ♥ my NDrive GPS) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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