The highway of church history is strewn with the bodies of those injured by Christians who have tried to ‘help people’ and ‘create community’ without having ever faced their own Sin-disease and realized that only God can heal and create authentic community.
Hunger for Healing, Keith Miller
When I arrived in Poland in 1989, it was difficult to make international phone calls. It could sometimes be accomplished from home, but more often you had to go to the post office and have them place the call.
Last week, however, I spent two hours on Skype with a friend in England as we worked on a joint project. We were looking at documents and sites together, each at her own computer, evaluating and making decisions. We passed thoughts back and forth, creating our final product together. It was as good as being in the same room, and the call was free!
In the book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman remarks on the triple convergence of political change, the personal computer, and the Internet, which have brought down walls all over the world in the last few years. Friedman says we now have a world where there are few barriers to collaborating internationally. Anyone anywhere can plug in and play.
Collaborating is powerful. After having lived in a country still controlled by communism, I see today’s easy ways of connecting as a sharp contrast. Collaborating with God in His kingdom work has always been possible, and is even more powerful, but I have not always plugged in. As a younger global worker I had excessive faith in my own instincts and an excessive confidence in my ability to guide others on the road to godliness. Of course I prayed for my ‘timothys,’ but there was a lot of talking and little listening. In my enthusiasm for good growth, I sometimes rushed onto the holy ground of their lives wearing dirty shoes.
Dirty shoes represent the ungodliness of my reactions to immature believers: impatience, frustration, subtle manipulation, and overreaction, all probably flowing from my taking personal offense. After a few train wrecks, I have been learning to practice reflection and journaling as an ongoing prayer dialogue with God for those within my circle of influence. This helps me notice potential sin in my response and deal with it first, THEN deal with the issue in my friend’s life. As I pray, I journal my thoughts and questions, and I listen to the Lord for insights.
For example, I have been mentoring Ela for a few months and have noticed her growing cynicism. It is a cultural trait that really annoys me, so I could react with a sharp rebuke that unfairly reflects my wider feelings rather than just her situation. But as I journal I acknowledge all this, and I ask God to help me understand why she is projecting this attitude. I recall my own not-too-distant struggles with cynicism. As I give the problem this kind of quiet attention, asking for wisdom, God so often hands me another piece of the puzzle. In this case, Ela pours out a story of disappointment with a Christian leader.
At the same time, I notice clear guidance in my daily Bible reading. I have reached Corinthians, and I am struck with Paul’s love for those immature and troublesome believers in Corinth. Yes, he took them to task a few times, sometimes severely, but he also spent a lot of time expressing his delight in God’s work in their lives. Paul realized and shared God’s gladness about those Corinthians.
As Larry Crabb discussed in Connecting, ‘The most powerful thing we can do to help someone change is to offer them a rich taste of God’s incredible goodness in the New Covenant. He looks at us with eyes of delight, with eyes that see a goodness beneath the mess, with a heart that beats wildly with excitement over who we are and who we will become. And sometimes He exposes what we are convinced would make Him turn away in disgust in order to amaze us with His grace. That’s connecting. When we connect like that, it can change people’s lives.’
After all this dialogue with God, I am ready when and if the opportunity comes to talk about the problem. Ready with gentle words to shine a spotlight on the issue. Ready to admit my own struggles. Ready to express my delight in all that is good in Ela’s life and heart. I am able to keep a bigger picture of Ela in my mind: she is not defined by this one issue, and our ongoing relationship does not depend on her agreeing with me about it.
This kind of collaboration with God is exhilarating and far more fruitful than anything I could accomplish in my old self-confident, bull-in-a-china-shop style. The lines are open—just plug in and play!