We all have difficulties solving our own problems, but we usually feel pretty confident in knowing how others can solve theirs! Some of us are quick to give advice, which is rarely a good idea. We need to go back to the admonition of James to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). That includes giving advice. A dear Christian lady, smiling, told me years ago, “Steve, don’t give advice. If you give advice and the people take it and it works, they will give you no credit. But if they take your advice and it does not work, they will blame you!” Needless to say, she was doing exactly what she said not to do, but she was right. Even when people ask, be careful about telling them what to do. People get pretty defensive when you start giving advice. The experts tend to agree. Both psychologist Greg Hale and advice columnist Jeffrey Zaslow, author of Tell Me All About It, offer points about advice: Tread carefully. Pick a calm moment. Pose a series of gently probing questions. Offer suggestions with the preface, “This is something that has worked for me.” The greatest communicator of all, Jesus Christ, usually combined advice giving with other techniques. One of his favorites was the use of questions. For example, he could have simply gathered his disciples together and said, “You have been with me long enough to realize I am the Son of God and it is time for you to affirm that to the people around you.” But he did not. Instead he used a series of questions, “Who do people say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-16) The disciples have different responses, such as “John the Baptist” and “Elijah the prophet.” Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). This affirmation was a key moment in his relationship with the disciples and he made it happen with the questioning technique. Paul tells us we are not to use harsh words, and advice often comes across to people that way (Ephesians 4:29-32). Don’t give advice freely; seek to help others to find solutions to their problems through thoughtful questions and kindness.
The Lord often taught in contrasts. He demonstrates righteousness by contrasting sheep and goats (Matthew 25). He illustrated faithful churches by contrasting heaven and hell (John 14). He demonstrates a healthy prayer life by contrasting the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18).
Jesus continually wants us to realize that there is a difference in living in this world and living to prepare for eternity. When this contrast seems blurred to us, we need to reevaluate our lives and perspectives on things. If right and wrong actions are not clear, then we are not seeing clearly the contrasts in life. When we feel ambivalent about truth and temptations are not obvious, we need to take stock of how we are living for and serving God. If our value system is inconsistent, we need to do some soul-searching.
Are we building our lives on rock or sand (Matthew 5:14-16)? Are we seasoned with or without salt (Matthew 5:13)? Are we on the narrow or broad path (Matthew 7:13-14)?
Let’s keep life in perspective by looking at contrasts. We need to serve rather than give in to selfishness. We must desire to be pure instead of impure. We want to speak kind words instead of angry words. We want to be gentle and not harsh. We must work to be patient instead of short-tempered.
We view life in a variety of ways, and one way to help us live to serve Jesus is to understand the alternatives of life through contrasts. Learn to think of our Christian walks in terms of contrasts and to keep this world separate from that which we are all preparing for–eternal life.