Friday, 10 July 2009

Helping Each Other #2

On Sunday I looked at ways in which we are slow or reluctant to be honest about our struggles in our Christian walk (Helping Each Other #1).

It was written from the point of view of the person struggling… and so today, I’d like to think more about how we can help others when they reach out to us – or perhaps, before they even do.

Kinda sounds obvious, but listening is crucial. It helps the person talk through what is going on, enabling them to express how they are feeling, and what’s going on in their life. Listening shows that we genuinely care and love them, that we want to understand and that we want to help.

It doesn’t mean just sitting there, empathetically nodding our heads… but as we listen, so identify with them, help them to see that they’re not alone, that they are not the only person in the world who is struggling in what ever area it might be. That’ll either be identifying with them from our own personal experience, battles, struggles and temptations – or perhaps (not limited to) back to something like Hebrews 4:15-16 – Jesus understands, he’s taken on flesh, he is not unable to sympathise!

Also, as we listen, we should be wanting to understand what is going on. This will no doubt mean asking questions - sensitively and appropriate to the situation – to ensure that we are not simply making assumptions about what is going on in their life… for example, you know a couple who have been dating/courting… and one of them comes to you and says, “last night we did something – it was a big mistake”… now, we could be hearing “we slept together”… or for others, the big mistake might simply be “we started kissing on the sofa”… actively listening, by asking thoughtful questions, albeit sensitively, will help ensure that we are hearing correctly, and so better able to respond in a meaningful way.

I wonder if we’re often slow to do this… I don’t know why we might be… but here’s a great couple of paragraphs from “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands” which encourages me to keep doing it – I recommend a read of it:

“Asking good questions is vital to helping people face who they really are and what they are really doing. As sinners we all tend to recast our own history in self-serving ways. We hide behind the difficulty and pressures of the situation or the failures of others. We look for external explanations, not internal ones. We are more impressed with our righteousness than we are horrified at our sin.

Because of this, we all need people who love us enough to ask, listen, and, having listened, to ask more. This is not being intrusive. This is helping blind people to embrace their need for Christ. It is helping people to see the foolish ways they have lived for their own glory, and the subtle ways they have exchanged worship and service of the Creator for worship and service of his creation.”
So, actively listening is not just to ensure we’re not hearing something different to what is being spoken, but also to help the person to work backwards, to help identify the root issue… that brings me to my second point.

Help them to think
As we actively listen to someone, so we want to help them think through what is going on, biblically. What is it that sparks an action, a reaction, a line of thinking etc etc.

The heart is the factory of idols, and we’re quick to believe the devils lies… so by actively listening, we’re wanting to help them think through 1) what idols are they worshipping; or 2) what lies are they believing.

We’re trying to help the person identify answers to such questions on such areas… to then be applying Gospel truths themselves, into their own life… to equip them to help themselves.

Point them in the right direction
Having thought a bit about the lies believed or the idols worshipped, so we can think about how the Gospel speaks into those situations, and help fill the Gospel armoury for when the battle comes again. Not that we’d expect change (or at least complete change) to happen overnight… but over time… and so we’d be looking to offer some accountability on what ever issue the person is struggling with – loving them enough to ask how it’s going, to be patient, still quick to listen, quick to understand, and lovingly continue to speak truth applied into the persons situation – but all the time, helping them, to help themselves.

Will we do this?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Helping Each Other #1

Been thinking a bit, recently, about the kind of things that can stop us being honest about how we’re doing in our Christian walk. This afternoon I want to think about the kind of issues that mean we keep quiet about the real struggles we’re experiencing!

In the first instance, there is of course one place to go for the deepest comfort, Hebrews 4:15-16: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need” [ESV]

I don’t want to play down the large part this has in answering our question… and have blogged on that passage as a result of speaking on it recently at a CU (Drawing Near to a Sympathetic High Priest)… But is that the end of the matter? It should certainly be shaping our thinking and prayer life. Yes it’s where we should start and come back to time and time again… but there are most likely areas of worked out practice that must surely follow!

We don’t like to admit weakness
Our pride is a funny thing – it gets in the way of so much! Even our own felt needs at times! I know just how much of a struggle it is to admit to someone some area that I’m struggling in or failing in. The fear of intimacy, of being known for who I really am, is a big stumbling block in asking for help – both from God and from friends. It can be easy to generate an external “persona” – worn on the outside yet not representing what’s true on the inside. If we’re all lulling ourselves into the sense of feeling that we’re all doing fine, it’s easy being a Christian, we’re all loving the Gospel and winning the fight against the world, the flesh and the devil - then raising our hand and saying “it’s really hard!” is tough to do in this context. Maybe we feel our reputation simply won’t let us be honest about how hard we find it. These are all things that compound the problem, as people really have no idea how someone is truly feeling - so how will they ever be in a position to help? That leads me to my next point.

We don’t like to be served
I know this might raise a few eyebrows… “we’re not called to be served” I hear you cry! I know that, really I do… but maybe such a response is part of the problem too! In asking for people’s help, are we not then asking to be served? Whether it’s talking about the issue, praying together, or something more practical… so we are asking for help… we’re asking to be served. Again, our pride doesn’t want us to feel weak, to feel a reliance or dependence on others… and so we don’t ask for help when it’s the very thing that we need. Again, maybe a fear of intimacy is a bit of a root cause… as we’re open and honest with others, so it leaves us open and vulnerable… it leaves us open to being unintentionally, or intentionally, let down by the people we open up to – and that can hurt! Though even here, we’re reminded of Jesus’ closest friends i) falling asleep during the moment of great sorrow for Jesus ii) running away from him when he’s handed over to be killed. Yet, Jesus loved them, and treated them not as they treated him!!! We must follow such an example – see people as Jesus sees them, no matter of the kind of behaviour that might be reciprocated in our reaching out to others, or opening up to others! It can take time, effort and energy to build such friendships – especially in London where “local parish” doesn’t really exist. The hard thing also, is that London has a high turnover – so it can be hard to keep building such friendships when year-on-year such friends head off elsewhere (times marked with joy and sadness alike!). But a caveat, a danger about being served: we mustn’t let it take priority of that of our great high priest being the one we totally rely on, and who will never let us down. We must be careful that we don’t come to rely on anyone else but Him!

We don’t like to have an unfilled diary
Random point here, perhaps, but I’m aware of times, even in the past term, when I should have made time to meet up with people who have been struggling! Yet my diary is often so filled up in advance, that making time for such occasions that arise without warning, has been rather difficult, and so catching up has been put off by 1, 2 or 3 weeks. The ministry we’re involved with can be intensive, with talks to prepare, small groups to lead, and regular 1-2-1s… but perhaps we need to be less diary-intensive… give ourselves some free blocks where we can be available for friends in need. This is just a thought at the moment – but it’s one I’ll be chewing over more!

So, we give off false impressions, we don’t like to admit weakness, we don’t like to ask for help, and we’re all perhaps a bit too busy when someone does ask for help! It maybe starts to breed a culture where asking for help becomes the extra-ordinary, rather than the ordinary.

What will we do in response?

(see also the follow-up post here)