“Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.
May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word. I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause; but I will meditate on your precepts. May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes. May my heart be blameless toward your decrees, that I may not be put to shame” (Psalm 119:73-80).
Consider the Source
Mention to a group of five people that you’re looking for a new car, getting a haircut or looking for a job and you’ll get twenty opinions. Everyone has an opinion and is ready to share it. One of my pet peeves is people who gush advice long before it’s ever requested. This may be why I’m hesitant to ask other people’s opinions! When I do ask for other people’s thoughts on a subject, I’m not willing to accept just anyone’s opinion; I consider carefully the qualifications of the person I’m asking. I’m not likely to ask my mechanic for hair-care tips; neither am I going to seek out my hair-dresser’s opinion on the best grade of oil to use in my car. (Though, come to think of it, my hair-dresser might actually have good advice on that!)
I did an informal survey of my friends on Facebook and asked: “What is the worst advice you have ever received.” I got answers ranging from relationship advice to “Try it; it tastes just like chicken!”
One friend responded: “Follow your heart.” That struck a chord of clarity in me. It’s such a clichéd morsel of advice, but something that so many swallow whole without considering what they’re taking in. “Follow your heart—it will never lead you astray.”
God’s Word tells us “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). My heart wants to live free to do as it pleases. If I followed my heart, I would likely eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and I would willingly live off of my parents or other people’s charity because my heart lazy is by nature. If I followed my heart, I would be concerned with only my wants, my needs, my desires, my time. The human heart is saturated with self-adoration and in its natural state there is no room for anyone or anything else.
The advice of the heart will always be self-serving.
The psalmist starts this passage out with the verse, “Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.” Who better to ask for guidance than the One who created us, the One who knows us better than we know ourselves? Psalm 139:9–13 says, “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for the darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” In essence, “You, Lord, are with me wherever I go, I cannot hide from your sight—not even in the dark. You know me inside and out, and You always have.” It is hard for my little mind to wrap itself around the truth that God, the Creator of the universe, is with me always and that He is willing to lead me through everything that life throws my way.
This is one of the many reasons why the writer of Psalm 119 is so very passionate about God’s law. His law, His Word, is God’s roadmap to life. How do I get along with my family? “Honor your mother and father.” My friend got into trouble at work and asked me to cover for him, what do I do? “Do not bear false witness.” I’m stressed out and tired—I need a break. “Remember to keep the Sabbath holy.”
With such clear instructions for living the abundant life, why do so many people—even those who claim to be Christians—ignore the Bible? People give a wide variety of answers to that question: the Bible is not relevant; it was written thousands of years ago—who knows if it’s really accurate; the Bible is only one of many places to look for guidance. Many answers to one question—none of them is accurate. The reason so many push the Word of God aside is because it contradicts everything our hearts tell us. The Bible tells me to place others before myself and God before others. The Bible tells me not to complain and argue, but to work together with my brothers and sisters in Christ and to love even those who persecute me. The Bible tells me to follow the example of Christ by seeking humility above the respect and admiration of others.
But what about MY opinions? What about what I want? What about MY desires? The Bible tells us that those things are secondary to the overall purpose of love. The Bible also tells us that God is our provider and that He will bless those who follow Him. We can relax because He will take care of us completely. The “need to be me” is a stubborn and sometimes overwhelming force inside of us. Yet, God calls us to submit to His plan and to follow His voice above all others. When we do, we gain a peace that nothing else can offer. We gain wisdom and insight that is based on truth rather than whims. We gain a closeness to our Creator that cannot be manufactured.
So often, the bad advice we follow—whether it’s from well-meaning friends and family, or from our own selfish desires—leads us places we wish we had never gone. We’ve all had experiences in our lives that we wish we could go back and change. The beauty of following God’s advice is that it never leaves us feeling ashamed. The writer of Psalm 119 ends this section with a prayer: “May my heart be blameless toward your decrees, that I may not be put to shame.” Essentially: Help me to follow your lead completely Lord—no regrets. That’s a prayer I whisper regularly—and one that God is faithful to answer.
Have you ever followed bad advice and later wished you hadn’t?
Read Genesis 3:1-7. What advice did the serpent give Eve?
What did Eve do after taking the serpent’s advice?
Read verses 8-19. What was the result of bad advice and two people choosing not to listen to God, but to follow their own desires instead?
Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20. Moses is getting ready to “retire” from leading Israel. What is his advice to the people of Israel?
Rewrite his advice and his warnings in your own words.
Question for personal reflection:
Ask yourself two questions: Whom do I turn to for advice first? When someone asks me for advice, what is my first response? If your answer isn’t God’s Word, ask yourself, Why?
“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15)