The Best Question Ever

AndyNthPt.jpgAndy Stanley contends there is one question that, if we ask it each time we make a decision, it will bring clarity to the important questions and problems and dilemmas in your life.

Asking and answering this question could have helped you avoid your biggest regret ever. “You and I have something in common,” Andy states. “We’ve both done some really dumb stuff.” We’ve not planned to mess things up but — this is a wise one — we’ve also not planned not to mess up.  Furthermore, we “are good at deceiving ourselves. Really good” (22).

So, what is the question?

It’s found in his book The Best Question Ever

And this is a book every leader needs to read, and every parent, and every college student…

He dips into Ephesians 5:15-17:

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

The question is this:

What is the wise thing for me to do?

He’s right. That’s the great question to ask.

The problem, as he explains, is that we too often ask the wrong questions. Our question tends to be “Is there anything wrong with it?” Which often leads to this one: “How close I get to the line between right and wrong without actually doing something wrong?” — sex for teenagers, eating, attorneys … used for examples. Then “How far over the line can I go before I experience consequences?” And then we ask this: “How did I get myself into this mess?”

The book explores this question about wisdom to three major areas of life, and it does so with wit and with wisdom — time, money, and relationships.

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  • My 2 Cents

    …off to Amazon…

  • Karl

    I’ve just begun (within the last 2 weeks) to read this book with a group of friends who meet on Monday mornings. I’ve enjoyed and benefitted from several Andy Stanley video series in the past.

  • David B. Johnson

    How about this question? “What would the Jesus Creed have me do?”

  • Wisdom is a great thing. Asking, “What is the wise thing for me to do?” is a way to pursue wisdom. But it can be easy to think that there are acts that are simply and objectively wise. My argument is that wisdom (in generally, and specifically in the biblical tradition of wisdom) is always tied to a particular narrative context. I haven’t ready Andy’s book, but I suppose that’s where the “for me” might come in – assuming it’s not just in the line of modern American emotivism (like “true for me.”)
    Given the story in which I am an actor, the story of God we find the in the bible and the Christian tradition, there are some actions that are wise and some that are not. Some of the things that narrative tells me, “turn the other cheek,” for example, are profound foolishness in the context of competing narratives.
    So here we have a nice simple question and I have to go and complexify it.

  • I would argue that this is exactly the wrong question to ask, but it is a good starting place.
    Yes, the other questions are bad places to start. “Is this okay?” or “Is this over the line?” are definitely wrong, but “Is this wise?” isn’t the right solution. The book of Proverbs is a collection of ways to figure out what the wise thing to do is. Great! The very next book, Ecclesiastes, is (perhaps) the arranger of Proverbs looking back and going, “And what did all that wisdom get me? I’m still going to die. I could still be robbed and all my wealth will go to people I don’t have control over. I’m not actually any happier than the fool who lives his life haphazardly. Yes, wisdom is better than foolishness, but so what?”
    Wisdom is a step up from chaos, but it’s not what we’re called to as Christians. We aren’t called to ask “What’s the wise thing to do?” We’re called to ask, “What is Jesus guiding me towards or calling me to do?” Christianity is not a faith based on wisdom. It’s a faith based on foolishness! But it’s also a faith based on the very texture of our souls, and thus is must be based on relationship.
    Hey, I’m all for getting teenagers to stop and think and act a bit more wise (I teach high schoolers; I know). But getting teens to wise up is only the first step.

  • Matthew R Green,
    I don’t know…James, perhaps more than anybody else, mimicked Jesus’ style and words but in a letter that some call the “Proverbs of the NT.” James prioritizes true wisdom for the Christian.

  • Rick

    I think you and Andy may be more on that same page than you think. He uses Ephesians 5:15-17 (Scot quoted it in the post) to as a basis for his point.

  • Rick

    Sorry, than should read:
    …(Scot quoted it in the post) as a basis for his point.

  • Rick,
    Perhaps, but “the Lord’s will” and wisdom are not always the same thing. God has asked me to do some seemingly foolish things that turned out to be quite good in the long run. To ask what the wise thing is can easily be turned into “Let me figure out what is good here,” or “Let me figure out what God wants here.” But that still puts the onus on us to analyze rather than to walk in the Spirit.
    Maybe the author does a good job of making this point, but just putting out the question is iffy to me. Too easy to end up missing the real call of God to be with Him.

  • Lynne Iannuzzi

    Learning to ask, “How does this look from HEAVEN’S perspective?” has helped guide me into wise-from-God’s-point-of-view decisions.
    I agree with Matthew that not everything God expects of me looks wise to fellow humans; we have examples in the Bible of God instructing certain people to do some pretty strange & foolish things – from the human perspective. But to do less than God required would have been true foolishness on their part; God’s will, plans, and purposes are what matter most in a life completely committed to Creator-God of the Bible. My motives must be guided by my love for God and a desire that HE be glorified, whatever that means for me in the eyes of others here in this very short walk called life through this long dark night of Earth.

  • loved this book, taught a series triggered by it called No Regrets. I highly recommend it.

  • Rick

    I am with you on that. And although I have not read the book yet, I have listened to Andy’s sermons for many years, and know his idea/definition of “wisdom” is probably not something found apart from God’s will.
    He is big on the fact that we can see a large portion of God’s will through clear principles taught in Scripture (“wisdom”), and sometimes those principles may seem like foolishness to the world. He is not shy about telling his own stories about similar circumstances (and struggles) to what you described,
    “God has asked me to do some seemingly foolish things that turned out to be quite good in the long run.”
    Finally, you stated,
    “Too easy to end up missing the real call of God to be with Him.”
    Andy regularly stresses the importance of that relationship with God, and our abiding in Him. Again, I have not read it, but I imagine Andy again stresses that relationship throughout this book.

  • Sue

    Are you kidding? You are kidding, right? I can think of a couple of dozen situations right off the bat in which this question wouldn’t help bring clarity at all. I’m with #5 Matthew. Ecclesiastes is called “wisdom” literature, too!

  • Rick

    What do you think Paul is getting at in the Ephesians passage then?

  • I made a comment a couple hours ago that seems to have gotten lost in moderation.

  • Pat

    Good question to ask, but only if you’re a reflective person. If however, one is not and never gives a second thought to their actions or motivations, it won’t even enter their mind to ask this question or any other that would seem to indicate that they were possibly doing anything wrong. So, I think it begins with one’s moral compass. Once you get that in order, then you will begin to live in such a way as to ask “what is the wise thing for me to do?”

  • Sue

    Rick, I think I get what Paul is saying. Understand what God’s will is, be filled with the Spirit, avoid the list of sins he mentions in the previous verses. These things will help you live a godly life.
    What I DON’T hear Paul saying is, “If you ask ‘What is wise?’ you will avoid regrets,” which is the point Andy Stanley seems to be making.
    We are finite and complex creatures. We make “wise” choices without having full knowledge of the future or of all of the potential consequences. Life isn’t always just or fair. Evil sometimes wins this side of heaven.
    Or take a scenario such as this one. The “wise” course of an action for a company facing bankruptcy is to downsize, to eliminate jobs. If the company doesn’t, it will go completely under. Yet the person in charge of deciding where to make cuts knows that this will create enormous hardship for the people who are let go and carries the burden of that for a long time. “Wise” decisions can sometimes carry a lot of regret!
    Also, I believe living without regret has more to do with an attitude we purposefully cultivate. It is not necessarily the direct consequence of right action. Perhaps it is more often the consequence of having learned to live in the light of God’s grace.

  • Matthew Green (#5):
    FWIW, it is possible to integrate the various areas of righteousness: law, wisdom, and grace.
    Jesus, for example, called people to stop being corrupt with the permission of Torah (a concept later expounded on by Nachmanides) and to weigh justice and mercy above legal satisfaction of commandments. Yet he called for commandment keeping as well (integrated, not one over the other) in Matthew 23. The same applies to wisdom. Let’s say law is basic, wisdom is a next step toward living out the good, and the way of mercy/grace/justice is the highest step in an integrated life of goodness.
    Derek Leman

  • pam

    Wow – fascinating mix of responses here. Just shows we all define ‘wisdom’ in different ways. I would describe wisdom as being in line with God’s will and exploring the complexities of the situation with the guidance of the Spirit. The process of sanctification is all about building our awareness of God’s view of reality, His work in His Kingdom… developing wisdom
    This is a great question. The questions we run on are SOOO important and drive all of our behaviors. Most of us don’t stop to examine what they are in order to shift them
    Matthew – I agree that this is a great question to start with. To me it leads to a deeper question: what are the disciplines, attitudes, behaviors and distinctions that build our awareness of the Holy, allow us to see God at work around us and recognize wise choices? What develops our ability to have our Father’s eyes, heart, and soul?
    Sue – I would not say it is always the ‘wise’ course of action for a company to downsize when facing bankruptcy. I have known many wise leaders that have made difficult and wise choices (ie, cut in pay for all management for a couple of years) to take care of the people in the company first. It came from people recognizing their responsibility as business leaders was not to the company, but to the people.
    Pat I would propose that their is no wisdom without some sort of reflection. Spiritual disciplines and prayer are about reflection, and they tap the deep reservoirs in our souls where wisdom is nourished. All of my work in spiritual formation has taught me that wisdom comes from an action-reflection loop that deepens our walk. If we are only about action, we are not going to learn, if we are only about reflection we won’t do anything from which to learn.

  • Rick

    Well said.

  • Sue

    Or how about a teenage unwed mom giving up her baby for adoption? I’m sure many people reading this blog, especially those who have adopted or those involved with crisis pregnancy centers, would consider that the wisest choice for the teen mom and for the baby. Yet I can’t imagine that teen mom never having regrets about the decision. She may eventually come to a place in her life where she doesn’t regret the decision, and yes, if she had considered the wise choice in the first place she would have never gotten pregnant (assuming she was in a situation where she had the power to make a choice.)
    My point is that a life without regrets doesn’t always naturally follow from making wise choices. To say that it does is overly simplistic.
    Asking the question, “Is this a wise choice?” is a great question, one that should be asked frequently, but it isn’t going to insure that one’s life is completely free of regrets.

  • Rick

    I doubt Andy would say there will never be difficult, complicated situations.
    However, the value of this particular question is in the fact that it will help with a large percentage of situations, especially before things get to more complicated stages.

  • This might help a little but Andy’s point is more nuanced than just asking what is the wise thing to do. If you listen to him speak on the subject the full context is; “in light of my past experiences, current circumstances and future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?”
    This fuller context shows Andy’s teaching here gives consideration for the “messier” callings of life and that his question is not just about making what are seemingly smart choices, but being true to what God has called us to do.