Christianity 201

January 18, 2019

Our Need to ‘Fix’ People

The second and third sections today are only quoted in part. You’re strongly encouraged to use the links.

Earlier this week, author Jentezen Franklin wrote:

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea…and it will become calm.” John 1:12 NIV

When Jonah boarded a ship going in the opposite direction to God’s will, the crew discovered there’s a high price to pay for allowing the wrong person into your life. So what’s the point? It’s this: God hasn’t authorized you to be somebody else’s life support system. Especially if they’re running from Him, and using you to do it! With Jesus on board you’ll make it through any storm. But when you allow Jonah on board he’ll turn your life upside down, and before it’s over you’ll risk losing everything. Do you seriously think you can fix your Jonah? No. “The Lord…prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (v. 17).

Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to wake them up and throw them overboard. As long as you keep rescuing them, you get in God’s way. It’s pride that makes us think we can do what only God can do! Look at Jonah—while the crew was desperately throwing stuff overboard, he was sleeping! He didn’t want to be corrected, he wanted to be comfortable! Do you know someone like that? The reason they haven’t changed is because they’re not ready to! Jonah was so stubborn that he stayed in the belly of the huge fish for three days before he prayed. If that had been you, the moment you spotted “Jaws” you’d have been on your knees calling on God, right?

This may be hard to hear, but sometimes the best thing you can do for your Jonah—and yourself—is to throw them overboard and let God rescue them.

In 2014, Jenny Rae Armstrong wrote at Red Letter Christians:

…[N]one of us really know what another person is going through. We’re all in process, and none of us are perfect yet. I remember hearing Brennan Manning speak years ago. He pointed out that that runaway teen turning tricks on the street, who falls asleep with the name of Jesus on his lips, may in fact have made a lot more spiritual progress than a milktoast Christian who came from a happy home.

It’s like Paul Hiebert’s evangelism paradigm, bounded sets vs. centered sets. Maybe one person seems closer to Christ than another, but what is their trajectory? Are they moving toward Christ or away from him? Are they stagnant and complacent?

We should be helping people move toward Christ, not shoving them into the position we think they should inhabit.

Second, it’s not our job to change, convict, or transform people. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

I think parents can be especially guilty of this mindset, because we want to raise our kids well, instill healthy habits and beliefs. But that wears thin after twenty years or so, and attempting to police someone’s speech, behavior, and lifestyle can push them further away,  because who wants to be manipulated and controlled?

We also need to look at our motives for pushing people. While we may worry about destructive choices, oftentimes, a good part of our concern is about how WE want people to live their lives, how their choices make us feel. We’re worried about how their behavior reflects on us, and our attempts to change them are motivated by shame. C O – D E P E N D E N T. We can’t love freely when our self-worth is tangled up in someone else’s free will.

We need to get better at loving people where they are at, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Love should never include disclaimers.

So should we just let people do whatever they want to do, live however they want to live? …

It’s not our job to fix people’s behavior. It is our job to love them, pray for them, and point them toward Christ, in whatever way we can.

In order to do that, we’re going to need to offer a lot of grace. And in order to offer grace, we need to let go of the shame, perfectionism, and fear that drives us and accept that grace for ourselves.

Finally, to those of you in leadership or currently walking alongside a “Jonah,” in an undated article at Rick Thomas’s blog, Fernando Serna writes to biblical counselors, pastors, parents, missionaries, and teachers:

[T]he sting of not seeing results can be even sharper as we are ministers of God’s Word offered into the lives of people, and we expect change and a demonstration of the effective Word of God.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

So, what is the deeper learning and formation made available to us through the pointed experience of limitation and even apparent failure in ministry?

One of the elements that attracted me to chaplaincy ministry is what is called a ministry of presence.

Presence has to do with availability at the level of the heart and mind, deep listening, empathy, connection, coming along side, walking with, and accompanying.

My theology of ministry is informed by Trinitarian theology that accentuates mutual relationship and respectful, non-coercive presence…

My point is that the primary element in biblical counseling and other forms of ministry is to be an agent of God’s presence to the other person, rather than an agent of our own anxious agenda to fix the other person…

…This fix-it mentality has a dimension of coercion and subtle violence that is not of God. It is success oriented rather than Spirit oriented. This requires humility and sobriety on the part of the counselor or minister.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.Mark 10:45 (ESV)

As counselors we are mere servants of the Word, and our measure of success is not the world’s. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has a different logic and grammar…

The Divine Physician is the one who completes, who fixes, who brings to completion the shattered and broken human heart. We have been given the dignity to be called into ministry by the Spirit and to be ambassadors of Christ.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.2 Corinthians 5:20 (ESV)

There is good news here: we do not need to be God! The dignified service God has given us, His sons and daughters, is to plant and water the seed of His Word in the lives of others, and He will give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

This is a liberating message that frees us to be present to others in ministry, not for our sense of accomplishment, but for the love of the Father, whose Spirit will blow when and as it wills, over the lives of the those who He has placed in our path.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.John 3:8 (ESV)