I participate in a program called Blogging for Books, where I get free books in exchange for a book review. (Actually, as a pastor, I’m not sure that I’m required to post reviews, but I do anyways.) I put up a quick review of Ask It, so I could order another book I was interested in. But I knew I wanted to share more. The original review is here.
But here are the top things I learned or relearned from Andy Stanley’s Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make Decisions:
1. “Is it wrong?” is a very dangerous question.
Andy writes, “Unfortunately, that kind of thinking sets us up for another question that we rarely verbalize or even allow to surface to the level of conscious thought… It goes something like this: How close can I get to the line between right and wrong without actually doing something wrong? The Christian version goes like this: How close can I get to sin without actually sinning?” (page 19, italics are Stanley’s)
I cannot count the times that I have found myself or someone else doing exactly this. How close to having sex can we get without sinning? Our youth ministries so often teach students, “Don’t have sex before marriage,” which unfortunately leads to many doing everything short of sex prior to marriage and thinking, we did good enough. Likewise we ask, how inappropriate of a movie can I watch, how many hours can I spend on my hobby and neglect important tasks, is it wrong to date this person… and so on.
And as Stanley points out these questions inevitability lead to another question “How far over the line between right and wrong can I go without experiencing consequences?” (p. 19-20) At this point we stop caring about pleasing God entirely and start worrying solely about our own comfort. And most of us have found ourselves doing this, especially by asking, “What will so-and-so think?” instead of asking, “What does God think? How can I most please God in this situation?”
With his typical humor, Stanley suggests that all of these wrong questions that all of these wrong questions inevitably lead to a final question: “How did I get myself into this mess?” (p. 20).
Instead, the question to ask is, “Is it wise?” And the rest of the book is dedicated to learning how to ask this question, and how to actually listen and follow through on the answer.
2. What is wise depends on your personal circumstances.
Andy Stanley has three chapters on this, one on past experiences, one on current circumstances, and one on future goals. Each determines what the wise thing for us to do personally. While what is “wrong” is more-or-less the same for anyone, how we wisely interact with right/wrong varies.
There is nothing wrong with me walking down a street that I know has a casino on it. There is nothing unwise about it, either. But for someone who is recovering from a gambling addiction, it is incredibly unwise. Is it morally wrong for a gambling addict to walk down the street? I don’t know, but that’s the wrong question to ask, because…
3. “Every poor moral decision is prefaced by a series of unwise choices.”-Andy Stanley, p. 105
I’ll just quote Stanley again here:
“Think once again about your greatest moral regret. Isn’t it true that your decision to cross a certain moral line was predicated by a series of choices that led to that final and most regretful one? And isn’t it true that you marched right along, justifying every choice with, There’s nothing wrong with…
And you were right. There was probably nothing wrong with most of those preliminary choices. But looking back, it’s all to clear, isn’t it? One “nothing wrong with” choice led to another, until the temptation was irresistible.” (page 106)
It seems so basic after Stanley says it, but I never thought of it quite so simply or directly before. Take your pick of stories… the teenagers that gradually goad each other into shoplifting, any addiction or re-addiction, sexual boundaries being crossed before marriage or even in adultery… Stanley sums them all up in two paragraphs.
4. Time management is a very important/tricky element of walking wisely.
In his chapter, “Time Bandits,” Stanley lists four truths about time that make it both difficult to manage well, and essential to manage well.
- There is a cumulative value to investing small amounts of time in certain activities over a long period.
- There are rarely immediate concequences for neglecting single installments of time in area of life.
- Neglect has a cummulative effect.
- There is no value to the things we allow to interfere with the important things.
Working out and daily Bible reading are two examples. Neither one of these is likely to change your life because you did them once. The benefit comes from investing small amounts of time over a long periods. Health, physical and spiritual, comes from a lifestyle, not one day in the gym. It requires wisdom to see the long-term benefits and plan for them, and it takes wisdom to overcome the temptation to skip. Since a single day of skipping the gym or devotions may seem to have negative consequences, it is tempting to skip a workout or a devotional time. It requires wisdom to see the long-term harms of skipping and the long-term benefits of being consistent. In many ways, wisdom is synonymous with delayed gratification.
5. Seek help!
As Stanley points out, no athlete rises above the need for coaching. Every successful athlete, regardless of their sport or level of achievement still seeks out coaches. And yet in most areas of our lives we are resistant to help. Too often we look down on those that go to therapy, or at least think, “It’s okay for them, but I don’t need that much help.” We avoid asking our parents for help, we avoid asking our pastors for help, we avoid asking anyone for help because we are afraid AND because we don’t stop and ask ourselves THE QUESTION: “Is this a wise thing to do?” How often have you found yourself thinking, “If only someone had told me…”? Did you ask someone and really listen to what they had to say? Perhaps like me, you have sometimes found yourself asking, “Why didn’t I listen?”
When looking for someone to give you wise advice, my friend Shane Stacey gives three pieces of advice:
- Find someone older/more experienced than you. (i.e. If it’s a dating/marriage question ask someone that’s been married for a while, not a high school student with 3 weeks of dating experience. It seems obvious, but guess who I and every other teenager went to for advice?)
- Find someone who you respect/admire, someone who resembles who you want to become.
- Ask someone who doesn’t have a stake in your decision. (I.e. Don’t ask your friend who’s going to that party if you should go to, don’t ask the military recruiter if the army would be a good fit for you, etc.)
As a last word, I appreciate how in the end, Andy Stanley reveals that wisdom is ultimately about our relationship with God. Wisdom is about about being with God, and then seeking counsel from God and truly listening to His response. Ask Him.
Brandon Ray Boulais