The photo attached to this post is of a family friend we affectionately refer to as “Aunt Dorothy”, who has graduated to glory. My wife and I loved listening to her countless stories of her years as a missionary, and learning from her sincere and vibrant relationship with Jesus.
Once upon a time there were a group of incredible men and women who each played a vital role on The Council of Sages. Each one had a very different journey, coming from different areas of the kingdom. Some of them had never formally met one another, yet each one played a role in imparting wisdom and advice in the most important and sensitive of matters. Some were young, some were old, but they all shared one thing in common: they passionately sought wisdom and knowledge. Each one, from the youngest of them to the most elderly, was wise beyond their years.
Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Well it is…sort of. A little while ago while driving, my wife and I were talking about life and ministry. I verbally expressed gratitude for the many people who journey with me through difficult times and very sensitive situations. I jokingly said, “I wonder if they would mind if I called them my Council of Sages? I did try to come up with a more modern sounding name. Foolish people are called fools, but what are wise people called? “Wools” didn’t sound right to me—and “Wise Guys” seemed a bit jovial and too gender-specific. But the more I thought, the more the term “sage” seemed to fit. One definition of the word is “having, showing, or indicating profound wisdom”.
Early on in our marriage, I heard someone on the radio recommend to listeners to go through the book of Proverbs, and write down the many principals it talks about referring to foolishness and to wisdom, contrasting them in two lists. This sounded like a good idea, so I proceeded to follow that instruction (you should do such an exercise yourself sometime). I compiled these two lists, which gave great insight into what it would looks like to live wisely, and what it looks like to live foolishly. One things became overwhelmingly obvious: one of the wisest things I could do was to surround myself with people willing to impart wise council, and to seek their advice on matters that were not immediately clear.
Here are a few of the proverbs I found:
“Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (Proverbs 1:5)
“Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.” (Proverbs 9:9)
“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” (Proverbs 11:14)
“The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
“Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” (Proverbs 19:20)
“Plans are established by seeking advice; so if you wage war, obtain guidance.” (Proverbs 20:18)
I began to intentionally do this—to surround myself with wise people, building relationships and friendships with others who willingly and joyfully offered me their counsel in times of need. I cannot understate the positive impact that this has had on my life. Though some situations just turned out badly no matter what I did, I was safeguarded from a much more devastating fate because of the wisdom these friends provided in those impossible situations. Other times their wisdom helped to bring calm and peace to otherwise wrathful situations.
Since I have lived in several different provinces of Canada, I have come to know people in each of the regions where I lived. When I face difficult situations, or want a perspective broader than my experience offers, I can call or email or go for coffee with different people who have proven track records of walking wisely in the ways of the Lord. Each one is a friend. Each one has played a role in my life. Though I do not have an official governing body or institutional committee called The Council of Sages, these dear and wise friends all help me to navigate the difficulties of life and ministry. They encourage me to stay faithful and true to the ways of God, and give me the gift of their wisdom.
There is an interesting thing about these people whom I have been referring to as “sages”. I don’t think a single one of them would be comfortable with me referring to them as such. I shared this terminology with one of my advisors this week, and his response was to chuckle and say “oh my!” These people each possess a humility that is an example and inspiration to me. Though they might not approve, I want to name some of them here, in no particular order: Ward Parkinson, Pete Fehr, Jordan Doerksen, Peter Doerksen, Charles Koop, Abe Berg, Albert Loewen, Jake Enns, Abe Wiebe, Russell Doerksen. There are quite a few more people that I could name as well. These people are spread across 4 different provinces. Some I go for coffee with fairly regularly. Others I occasionally email or call when looking for wisdom, or sometimes just to visit.
Do you have your own Council of Sages where you can go to for wisdom or advice? Have you cultivated friendships with people where you are free to share your struggles, where you don’t have to hide your imperfections, and where you can ask questions openly and honesty? I’m not just talking about friends to complain to, but rather wise friends who will do more than just listen to you, but will also help you move forward in life and in faith.
I had a conversation yesterday with someone who said that some of her spiritual leaders did not approve of her asking questions. Their church did things the way they did them because they have always done them that way. Questions were discouraged. Blind obedience seemed to be the ultimate virtue. Yet it is in asking questions that we learn. If we never seek, how will we ever find? Of course, there are instances where asking questions serves as a rhetorical tool to derail a conversation, to “muddy the waters”, or to passive-aggressively disagree with someone in an attempt to get their own way. But questions asked from a sincere heart with an honest desire to learn should not be frowned upon or discouraged. They should be honoured, pondered, and answered—even if the answer is “That is a great question, but I really don’t know”. There have been many times in life where I have asked questions of pastors or professors and received such an answer. Though my question remained, their lack of definitive knowledge did not offend me—rather I was honoured by their acknowledgment of my question, and I felt a twinge of pride that I pondered something complex enough that even a university professor who taught on the subject could not answer the question. We all need a place to ask questions. We should all be pursuers of truth and wisdom, and this pursuit will require us to ask questions, and then listen carefully for the answer. And for some questions we may never receive a response that satisfies the question—I have found that sometimes God doesn’t answer my questions as much as He transcends them.
Though the label may be a bit on the melodramatic side, I encourage you to assemble your own Council of Sages, people who are kind enough and compassionate enough to walk with you and listen to you in the midst of your difficulties and failings, but also who are bold enough to disagree with you and help you correct your ways.