What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!  Proverbs 4:7 (NLT)

What is the best advice you have ever been given?  Recently I heard an interview where that question was asked of a nationally known leader.  It caught him off guard and gave him serious pause.  After a long silence he said, “Gosh, that is a tough question…ah…I can…I can put maybe in the top five…in terms of something someone once told me that was like wow…ah…”  Then he proceeded to mention the name of a person and tell a story about the outstanding advice he had been given.

It was such a great question that it got me thinking immediately about how I might answer it.  In fact it was so intriguing that I grabbed a pad and pen, sat downn in my favorite chair and began to write my own top five list of the best advice I have ever been given.  Over the course of the next quarter of an hour I ended up noodling an ever growing draft of thirteen items.  It was a very rewarding and revealing exercise.  You might be similarly rewarded in seeing what would make your list.

Several things struck me about the process.  It forced me to go to the file cabinet of my life and chronologically from childhood on, thumb through all the file folders labeled with names of people who have greatly influenced me. 

1.  The best advice in our lives does not all come from sources we readily imagine.  While some people’s folders were much thicker than others because of the years I’ve known them and the sheer volume of our interactions I was surprised to find that not all of them were people with whom I had a close relationship.  Some were people I did not even know personally.  In fact I discovered that more than half of the great advice I was coming up with came from books I have read or messages I have heard, in person or by recording, from people I didn’t really know or had never met.  Most of their file folders were very thin, but in terms of impact, the few things I had filed in each of them warranted a red file and they were worn from being pulled so frequently.

2.  Some life changing advice is more caught than taught.  It was curious to me that most of the great advice drawn from people with the really thick folders did not come through their words so much as from the example of their lives.  That was the most impacting thing I learned in the process of coming up with the best advice I’ve ever been given.  Initially it befuddled me a bit in not being able to think of specific “advice” encounters where they had dispensed some memorable wisdom.  But then I realized there were wise choices I have made and critical courses of action I have taken in life based on their faithful example over the years rather than their words spoken in a moment.  It certainly underscores that some of the best advice we receive in life from those closest to us comes more through their modeling wisdom than speaking it.  

3.  Memorable advice is often as much about timing as it is about content. What I noticed through the process of identifying great advice was that it came at formative and critical times in my life.  We are much more open to receiving advice and valuing it when we are most aware of our need to have it.  And when it comes from people we respect and trust we are much more likely to put it into practice.  The mark of great advice is that it comes when we are most teachable and works when it is acted upon.  A great tip for parents by the way – look for teachable moments.

4.  The last thing I discovered about my list of the best advice I’ve ever been given is that I could not help but acknowledge that God was ultimately the source of all of it.  In a few select cases, the advice I recalled came from my time alone with God when He spoke personally to me without the agency of another human being.  And remarkably all the other files I ended up pulling came from the same file drawer.  And that drawer was labeled “Wisdom from God.”  All the people who I found had dispensed such great wisdom into my life at its critical junctures were simply God’s instruments of blessing.  For those gifts I found myself giving Him praise.  It is amazing how the Holy Spirit, known as the Comforter and Counselor, can use so many different means to speak into and direct our lives.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?  What people are in your advice givers hall of fame? Why not ask the Holy Spirit to help you and take some time to go through your life’s file drawer of great advice?  You’ll be surprised what you find and it will provide a chronology of God’s gracious intervention in shaping your life.

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