Iron Sharpens Iron
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 15:22 ESV
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17 ESV
To experience the full impact of commitment to doing life in community with a small group of Christians requires an equal commitment to vulnerability and a willingness to seek and follow counsel. Our Today’s Treasure verse reminds us of the value of counsel, but such counsel is useless if pride stops us from submitting to the wisdom of others.
When I was asked to write a book on encouragement, I bristled when my husband told me I needed to cut back on other responsibilities if I accepted this opportunity. I loved those responsibilities and felt obligated to continue doing them. He advised me to ask a trusted writer friend for guidance. She also told me to cut back on other tasks and cautioned me that writing a book requires hours of isolation and to consider carefully if I could tolerate that loneliness. The wisdom of the one who knows me best (my husband) and a friend further along in the writing world broke through my pride and I reluctantly followed their counsel. I sometimes longed to take back those responsibilities, but they were right. Saying yes to writing meant saying no to many other enjoyable activities.
Many small groups fail to create a safe place where we can air our struggles to make a life-changing decision, to forgive, to serve, or to understand God’s plan for marriage. Instead, these groups avoid the messy places of life and stay at a superficial level. Creating a safe place takes time and commitment to honesty and humility when we don’t like the counsel. Yet we learn so much when we observe others doing the “one another’s” of Scripture: forgiving, serving, loving, offering hospitality, encouraging, bearing each others burdens, extending compassion and acceptance. I often leave such intimate gatherings strengthened to “go and do likewise”.
A mother struggling to love her errant child asked her small group to pray that her child would stop a specific activity. A mother ahead of her in parenting quietly responded, “Instead of praying for him to stop this activity, pray for Jesus to transform his heart. Ask the Lord to show you how to love your boy in ways that are authentic and will touch a part of him, as Jesus has touched you. Also pray and ask the Lord to show you where you might need to repent of harsh words or condemnation. Ask the Lord to give you faith to trust Him with your precious child, to do what only He can do – turn his heart toward Jesus.”
During the next gathering, the mother of the prodigal reported that she at first she resented the counsel of her friend, but she had committed to accountability to this group. She wrestled with her own need to spell out for God how to reach her son and how she wanted her son to behave according to her definition of Christian living. She realized she had lost sight of her son’s need for Jesus. Agonizing in prayer, she repented of pride and the need to control and dictate to God how to love her son. Tears and lamenting for her child left her empty and spent. Then she rested in God’s sovereign love and released her son to God’s perfect love. Months later she told her group that she could see no change in her son but her understanding of God’s sovereign love transformed her from a worrying mother to a watching mother.
Community that works includes vulnerability and a willingness to seek and seriously consider the counsel and life examples of members of that group. If your small group continues to do life on a superficial basis, pray about how you can help create a safe environment where members can freely share struggles with the expectation of hearing sometimes difficult counsel. Perhaps the place to start is with your own life.
Oh, Lord, sometimes we don’t realize how much we need one another in the mundane moments of life. And sometimes our pride blocks us from receiving the very thing for which we prayed – godly counsel. I pray for any reader who is refusing to humble herself to godly counsel, that your Holy Spirit will break down prideful walls and open her eyes to the sweet gift of forgiveness and grace.