Have you ever given advice to someone knowing they were going to do the exact opposite of what you were telling them to do?
It happens to me a lot, although I guess it’s fitting. I’ve certainly ignored my fair share of good advice and faced the consequences. But as I’ve matured in my faith, I’ve discovered a simple truth. It’s usually less painful to learn from other people’s mistakes than it is to learn from your own.
Ultimately, it’s a faith issue. You see, faith is really the same as belief—not just belief on an intellectual level—an active belief. When we ask someone for their advice and don’t take it, we’re essentially saying, “I don’t believe you.” Or maybe we do believe them on some level, but not enough to take heed to what they have to say. And many times, we know the bad things that will probably happen but we still do our own thing anyway.
It’s more difficult in the short term to believe someone else’s wisdom, but it’s usually a lot less trouble in the long run. I don’t necessarily buy the notion that the only lessons that stick with us are the ones we learn for ourselves. Certainly we remember those lessons better, and we get a little more “street cred” when talking to others about certain issues, but why would we insist on going through problems when we don’t have to?
Christianity is not built on the premise, “Seeing is believing.” (Sorry, Thomas.) That’s the way the rest of the world operates. We Christians are in our element when we’re required to believe something before we see it. In John 20, Thomas refused to believe Jesus was alive unless he saw Jesus for himself and touched his wounds. Thomas was eventually satisfied and came to believe, but it wasn’t exactly a leap of faith for him. It’s easy to believe Jesus is alive when he’s physically standing right in front of you!
Biblical faith is defined in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.” (CEB) At the risk of oversimplifying it, faith is believing God—or taking God’s word for it. But if only it were that easy. Trouble is, God doesn’t just speak to us through Scripture and through the Holy Spirit. Often he uses other Christians, occasionally he uses an unsuspecting nonbeliever, and sometimes he speaks to us through the ones we really don’t want to listen to: our relatives!
That leads me to another point—the closer we are to people, it seems like the less we want to listen to them. That’s why I like to also get advice from solid, reputable Christians I don’t know very well. And it’s why I read tons of books. I’ve avoided making many mistakes by reading about the mistakes others have made. Books are a relatively low-cost way of learning at someone else’s expense!
Jesus told Thomas, “Happy are those who don’t see and yet believe.” Many translations also use the word blessed. When we exercise Biblical faith (believing before we see) we move heaven and receive blessings. I’m going to add my own corollary to what Jesus said... Happy and blessed are those who come to a place where they’re able to learn from the mistakes of others. We’re not meant to learn everything through our own successes and failures! Christianity has a group component! We’re supposed to build on what those who came before us learned and on what we learn from Christians around us. That’s how we reach new heights in Christ!
Do we seriously need to duplicate the same mistakes Christians make all over the planet, generation after generation? How inefficient is that?