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Why I stopped trying to fix people

November 03, 2016
Benjamin Spalink

One of the things that has become abundantly clear to me in nine years of ministry is that my ability to change people is actually rather minimal.  Coming out of seminary, I was naively eager to fix people with my M.Div tucked firmly in my belt. It's humbling to realize 1) you need fixing just as much as anybody else and 2) trying to fix people isn't a great strategy (it's oftentimes hurtful) and 3) there's actually not much you can do for broken people anyway.  It's actually much easier to love people if you can simply accept them as they are, warts and all. The problem isn't that people aren't in need of healing and restoration.  It's that God's providential work and special circumstances (usually trials) often come together in places and situations beyond our control to bring about these changes.  We don't change people. God does.  Probably the most effective thing we can do as pastors or lay leaders is simply to walk alongside people lovingly, offer lots of encouragement (I think one of the most underrated spiritual gifts in existence), and try to keep the focus on what God is doing in their lives and ours.

Having realized that "fixing" is the wrong approach, the other thing I've realized is that encouraging the spiritual disciplines is probably one of the most important things I can do.  No amount of sermons will make any difference on your congregation if your members are not seeking God on their own. Remember the line about giving a man a fish vs. teaching a man to fish?  Advice and instruction is for spiritual infants and fosters unhealthy dependence on you.  Spiritual disciplines lead to adulthood and dependence on Christ.  Without regular patterns of rest, prayer, silence and meditation, scripture reading and worship, you will simply stay the same.  You will not grow in your walk with Christ.  You will not be attentive to God in your life, you will not be present to God and you will struggle to hear his words of love and direction for you. No prayer life = no growth.

Does this sound to you a little bit like "works-righteousness," like you have to actually do things in order to earn God's grace?  No. It's not.  You don't have to.  God still loves you even if you have no prayer life (more than you even know).  We're not talking about salvation per se, but your appropriation of salvation into your actual day-to-day life now.  Disciplines are what Foster calls a "means of grace." They are part of God's gift to you because they amplify the experience of his other gifts - the Spirit, peace, trust, sanctification, etc... They're avenues and channels that create space in your heart to enjoy the bounty God wants to give you.  Too bad many Christians only scratch the surface of God's war chest of treasure. They're too busy doing and achieving to allow the gifts of the Gospel to sink beneath the surface.  This explains why many Christians are busy, distracted, competitive, insecure, depressed, over-driven, unhappy, anxious and scared.  They know God loves them, but they don't spend any time in his presence.

You probably agree with me, but the struggle is actually doing it. There's a gap between belief and behavior.  I know eating whole fruits and vegetables is good for me, but my daily habits (pizza, burritos, hamburgers, etc...) overwhelm my knowledge, keeping me in a pattern of unhealthy behavior.  What's needed?  New patterns of behavior that can gradually change my abstract "knowing" into actual knowing, that is, knowing and behaving that are aligned.

If you're interested in learning more, there's two books I'd highly recommend. One is called, "You Are What You Love," by James K.A. Smith, a great book on the power of habit and daily "liturgy" to form and shape our hearts. Another one is Peter Scazzero's "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality," which lays out a vision for combining emotional health and contemplative spirituality to foster genuine spiritual transformation that addresses the beneath-the-surface aspects of our whole selves.

Bottom line? Stop trying to fix people. Love them. Accept them and encourage spiritual disciplines instead.

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Comments

Jeri

November 17, 2016 5:36 PM

Great reminder, and the same truth can be applied from "trying to fix" people to "trying to convert" people. Only God can bring people to Christ - I can't force it in anyone through my words or deeds. The most powerful thing I can do as an individual is to show my testimony in a tangible way (through acts of love and being Christ-like) and to verbalize it through courageous yet humble sharing, and not as some intellectual persuasion or clever debate.




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