How to give good advice
When a fellow believer is struggling with their in-laws, navigating a difficult work situation, or when I encounter a differing political view on social media, I arrogantly want to jump in and deliver clarity and truth.
Unfortunately, life isn’t that simple. We aren’t just a verse away from a change of heart. Leading with love calls us to do life differently than our natural inclinations.
We aren’t just a verse away from a change of heart.
The Bible and the truths contained in Scripture are soothing and applicable. But used out of context or in the wrong situation, those same verses can be cold, harsh, and even harmful. We need to have hard conversations, but how can we give good advice?
Five Tips to Remember When Giving Advice
1. Share what’s true and real.
The best we have to offer anyone is what we have of Christ already in us. In Luke 6:45, Jesus says, “...for his mouth speaks from the overflow of his heart.”
The value of our advice depends on our source, and God’s Word is the source of all truth (Psalm 119:160, Psalm 19:7). If our wellspring of knowledge is filled with inspirational quotes or worldly wisdom, we are at best wasting time, or worse, steering someone in the wrong direction.
The best we have to offer anyone is what we have of Christ already in us.
We cannot offer good advice if there is little truth in us (John 17:17). The ability to give good advice starts long before someone asks our opinion. We grow in wisdom and understanding as we consistently spend time with God and read the Bible.
We also should be careful not to overuse common verses or apply them errantly. For instance, Romans 8:28 promises that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. But this verse can feel more like a curse from a distant, callous God when wielded in the initial raw moments of a tragedy.
In a letter to a young pastor, the apostle Paul tells him to know the Bible and to not be ashamed of it. But Paul also reminds this pastor, and us, to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
2. Pray before, during, and after the conversation.
Without the Holy Spirit leading, our best advice has little chance of being helpful. Thinking before speaking is good advice, but praying before speaking is even better. Even in the middle of a conversation, we can silently ask the Holy Spirit to intervene and speak through us with what He wants us to say (Luke 12:12).
Prayer is getting to know our Shepherd to recognize His voice (John 10:27). The best preparation for giving good advice is time praying about what to say, when to say it, and how to speak in love, as well as asking the Lord to prepare the heart of the receiver.
3. Listen more than you speak.
Today, my 4-year-old made me a “special drink” (some scary concoction that may or may not have been edible), but instead of appreciating her efforts to bless me, I focused on the mess and waste — mom fail.
So often, we want to grab the words we just vomited out and shove them back into our mouths. No amount of apologies can undo the damage of our words.
James 1:19 says to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Listening not only safeguards saying inappropriate things, it allows time for the Holy Spirit to work in the speaker and prepare the heart of the listener to receive. It helps us say the right thing in the right way at the right time.
4. Empathize, don’t sermonize.
How many times do we say the right thing in the wrong way or at the wrong time?
For instance, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is true (Philippians 4:13). But equipping my child with that verse and throwing her in the deep end before she learns to swim is stupid. Yet, we do this all the time when we share verses out of context without regard to context. The results can actually be harmful by distorting someone’s view of God, his Word, and Christianity.
Giving good advice often stems from having earned the right to speak into a person’s life. Knowing the ears we’re speaking into before tossing confusing doctrine down them is a good, general practice for every Christian. Empathize first, and wait for the best time to give good advice.
When in doubt, tread carefully. Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent.”
5. Be bold when the time comes.
Giving random advice is easy, but desiring to give good, godly advice is hard because it challenges both the giver and the receiver in the process.
Part of life with Jesus is learning to navigate hard conversational waters. We aren’t called to take in Bible study after Bible study without doing anything with the knowledge we acquire. Following Jesus is more like running a race — it’s an active endeavor (1 Corinthians 9:24).
The Bible encourages us to spur one another on toward love and good works, which doesn’t happen by osmosis (Hebrews 10:24). The best friendships and relationships help us grow closer to Jesus. Like iron sharpening iron, a good friend who gives good advice will boldly tell us what we need to hear (Proverbs 27:17).
So once we’ve patiently listened, prayed over, and sought wisdom from Scripture, it’s time to act. Whether there is a gentle prick inside that moves us to share our story or a knot in our stomachs urging us to speak truth to a wandering friend, we have to activate the courage through the Holy Spirit to open our mouths and trust Him to guide us in the conversation (Psalm 81:10).
Giving good advice takes courage. So remember, the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is alive in us enabling us to do hard things.