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Godly Counsel

Quaker business meetings are (when everyone gets the vision) extensions of Quaker worship. The disciplines needed to listen to God in worship should extend to hearing God speak through the counsel of others. When this happens, people should be able to arrive at a wise decision as a group. What follows are some Jesus Christian thoughts about how to make good use of the counsel that others can provide in helping us to make good decisions, both as individuals and as a group.

Some of us have problems with knowing how to take advantage of the counsel that is so freely available to us when we are living and working in a Christian community. Often we limit ourselves to only two options: unilateral decisions, or endless arguments.

Actually, these two options are pretty much the same, because they both come from an inability to truly listen to what others are saying.

There are two important concepts which can help us when seeking Godly counsel. One is imagination, and the other is openness to direction from God.

Imagination is the ability to visualise something that is not physically visible. When solving problems or planning projects, you need to imagine yourself (and others) putting any given plan into action. As you imagine this happening, you will discover problems that could arise. You should also be able to imagine potential achievements that could come from various proposals, including ones that did not come from yourself. You can imagine how a proposal will affect others besides yourself, and what further changes may occur as a result of a proposal.

Imagination can act as a form of "counsel" within your own mind. You can more or less say to yourself, "Let's try Plan A, and see what happens." And then, when you have imagined what could happen as a result of trying Plan A, you could say to yourself, "Now let's not try Plan B, and see what happens." In each case, it may take discipline to see both the benefits of the plan and the risks. But by disciplining our imaginations, we can learn to do that.

When you have learned to trouble-shoot like that, you will begin to see the benefits of having others around to remind you of things (from their imaginations) that you may have overlooked in your own thought projections. There may, for example, be a Plan C (or even a Plan D) that someone else comes up with, and sometimes it's hard for us to discipline ourselves to see the benefits of another plan, i.e. one which has not come from ourselves

Together you will be able to create a much more complete list of potential problems and possible solutions. By combining your various imaginations, you will be able to get a more accurate picture of just how likely (or unlikely) various problems are to occur. You can make alterations to plans, or even consider abandoning one plan altogether, in exchange for another.

When we approach plans with a team spirit like this, we will be able to maximise success and minimise failure. We will almost certainly be more successful in whatever we do, because we will be less likely to polarise during discussions, with one faction becoming blindly committed to one plan, and the other faction becoming blindly committed to an opposing plan.

The other important ingredient when seeking counsel from fellow Christians is to be consciously looking for God's direction in it all. When we bring God into the picture, it means that we are saying that we are more interested in finding the truth than in scoring points for our own project or plan. We are saying that we want our finite opinions to take second place to eternal values and goals.

It is so easy to forget the big picture and to become committed to a lesser goal. But constantly calling on God for direction means that you keep your mind open to radical changes which will enable you to more effectively reach a goal which is bigger than your finite understanding and bigger than the particular plan or project that is being discussed.

Quaker business meetings are called "meetings for worship for business" because they stress the need at times to withdraw completely from any discussion and to "centre down" on what the Spirit is saying. As a result of these quiet moments, a completely new approach may appear, which resolves conflicts and gets everyone working as a team once again. This is a good lesson for us to remember in our decision-making.

Who could say how many bad decisions have been made because people became obsessed with some smaller goal – such as one that they thought would impress their immediate human leadership! But when we ask God for direction, we can blast right through all the barriers to growth that legalistic service to human leadership entails.

The best that any human leader can ever hope to achieve is to get you to follow God. If you do that from the start, then God himself can take the lead role in counselling you. He can show you things that not even your imagination could have grasped.

So the next time you have to make an important decision, remember to ask others for counsel; listen to what they are saying; and use your imagination to see how it could succeed or fail. And all the while that you are doing this, keep asking God to show you if there is something that you have missed.

You won't necessarily come up with one perfect plan, but you will be more balanced in your decision making, because you will have been able to consider a wider range of possibilities before having made your final decision.

And what is better still, you will have found enough alternatives to give you plenty to fall back on if/when your first choice shows signs of not being adequate.

(See also Advice for Counsellors.)

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