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A Letter from the Associate Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Who Are You Listening To?
May 16, 2019

When I was taking Old Testament Survey in college, I encountered the curious and ultimately tragic story of Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12.  Rehoboam has just become king of Israel, and the whole of the Israelite assembly comes to him and tells him, in essence, that if he treats them gentler than his father did, they would serve him faithfully. Rehoboam's first impulse is to go to his father's advisers and they tell him the following: "If you will be a servant to this people by answering them and speaking good words today," they replied, "then they will be your servants forever." (1 Kings 12:7, CEB)  So far, so good right.  But then Rehoboam decides to ask other people their opinion.  Now, seeking other counsel and advice isn't a mistake in and of itself. But you need to think carefully about the source.  Here's what happened next:

The young people who had grown up with him said to him, "This people said to you, 'Your father made our workload heavy; lighten it for us!' Now this is what you should say to them: 'My baby finger is thicker than my father's entire waist! 11 So if my father made your workload heavy, I'll make it even heavier! If my father disciplined you with whips, I'll do it with scorpions!' (1 Kings 12:10-11, CEB)

Rehoboam decides to ask his old buddies, who had a lot to gain by being friends with the king, and the advice was the opposite of what others had told him.  But in the end, it's their advice he took.  Why?  Why would he do that?  Well, we don't know for sure, but I suspect that he took the counsel of his friends because it was what he wanted to hear.  It was self-congratulatory and self-affirming.  But, it will come as no surprise to anyone that following their advice into action did not go over well, and in fact, led to an all-out rebellion and ultimately the division of Israel into Judah and Israel.   It was a disaster.  And why?  Well, Rehoboam listened to the wrong people.

The year I graduated from high school, Baz Luhrmann released a song entitled, The Sunscreen Song, and he put it this way: Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.  Advice is a form of nostalgia dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.  While there is much in that song that is really funny and even insightful, above all else that line has always stuck out to me, specifically the first line "Be careful whose advice you buy." We can certainly say that Rehoboam wasn't careful about whose advice he bought and he paid a high price for it.

So how do you know whose advice to buy?  As a young pastor, one of my mentors told me the following: "Be sure to find people who will tell you what you don't want to hear, but the things you most need to hear." I'm being candid and transparent, the most transformative advice I've received is advice I didn't want, didn't like, and perhaps didn't even agree with at first.  Some of it was painful, and at some points even felt hurtful.  But it was what I needed to hear.  But even more than that, I have to adopt a posture and an attitude that was willing, open, and ready to receive advice I didn't want to hear. It's one thing to ask for hard advice, it's another to hear it and put it into practice.  Am I perfect at it?  No, hardly.  But, it remains true that it's what I needed to hear.

A few years ago I had occasion to serve on staff with someone who is an eight on the Enneagram.  If you know anything about the Enneagram, you know that eights, nicknamed the challenger, can be a real handful to work with.  He'd have this phrase, "I'm going to be real honest with you," and every time he said it, I would get all tense because he was about to say something that might be offensive.  And sure, sometimes it was.  But you know what I found over and over again?  He wasn’t wrong, and those who were willing to heed his counsel usually found it worthwhile.  He’s become, for me, one of the people who will tell me what I need to hear, even if it’s not what I want to hear.

It's always easy to go to people who will tell us what we want to hear. It's safe, comfortable, and affirming.  And it goes without saying, that sometimes that kind of advice and counsel is precisely what we need.  But if we only listen to the advice that we want to hear, well, we can just look at what happened to Rehoboam. So, who are you listening to?  Are you only listening to people who tell you what you want to hear?

The Rev. Brian R. Wallace, Associate Minister

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