An Analogy from Maths:
My 12 year old, Davy, has Down Syndrome and one of the challenges that he faces with that diagnosis has been learning delays. This year he has finally clicked onto adding single digit numbers. (It feel sooo good to even be able to type that!) Maths for him has been hard. He has struggled over the years to make progress.
My younger son, Daniel, (9) loves to help his brother(12). Deep down, he loves to see him succeed. This was clearly demonstrated the day I set Davy some math questions and headed outside to hang the washing. When I came inside I was surprised to see that Davy had completed his work…and even more surprised to see that his work was correct. All of it. Hmm. Not to be discouraging to Davy but that didn’t quite ring true for me.
After a bit of investigation I got to the bottom of his success. Davy had asked Daniel for help. Daniel had wanted to help Davy succeed. So Daniel had told him the answers. Both boys seemed quite happy with this arrangement. Davy was excited. He got all the answers right, with almost no work. Daniel was excited. He saw Davy succeed. Win win right?
Is the answer really the point?
Needless to say I had to sit down and talk to Daniel about how much “help” that really was. Ultimately, the point of the lesson was not for Davy to get the right answers. Ultimately the point was for Davy to do the work, which would help him to learn and practice the skills. Mastering these skills would help him move on further in his maths. By telling Davy the answers, he had cut out the part of the lesson which would have really helped him to grow and develop.
I have been thinking a lot about the nature of Christian discipleship lately. This analogy from our daily life seems to have a lot of relevance to this. So often, as we come alongside others, whether they be friends, church “family”, our children or even in online forums, we are tempted to skip to the end in the discipleship process. We hear their struggles, the issues they are wrestling with and we jump ahead. We just want to get them to the answers. So we share the answers we know. “Aha!” we think, “I went through this and God taught me so much. I have the answer! This is what you need to do!”
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the “answers” are the point in the Christian life.
So many books are sold today which jump to the “answers”. I did a quick search of “…..God’s Way” and the number of books with that title is amazing! I am not saying that all books or programmes with that title are wrong. I just know, from some I have read, that they tend to have one particular method which, if followed, will make life easy. And that makes sense doesn’t it? If we can just figure out “God’s Way” (the right answer), then we will succeed. We will have God’s blessing and life will be easy. Right?
Often, very godly people have written them. People who have learned these ‘answers’ by walking through difficult times, or serving ‘in the trenches’ for many years. Often these ‘answers’ have been found by diligent study of scripture and the principles God has given in His Word. Often, the answers being offered are not wrong. They just aren’t the point.
The dangers of teaching answers in discipleship:
When Daniel left Davy that day, with all the right answers , he left him with no tools to figure out the right answers the next day. Davy was no closer to ‘knowing maths’. He was no more a ‘mathematician’ than he was before his lesson.
Daniel could have taken the time to work with Davy and help him actually figure out the answers. Or, he could have encouraged Davy to go back to previous lessons, spurred him on to persevere and put into practice the things he had learned. Or he could even have encouraged Davy to ask me for the help he needed to understand better. Any of these options would have helped Davy to take one more step closer to actually changing.
When we give people the ‘answers’ we remove from them any need to actually draw near to God to find those answers themselves. We remove the need to depend on God rather than themselves in their day to day life. We remove all the lessons they would have learned about who their God is, how He works in the life of His people, how to persevere through times of waiting…..
Empowering people to walk in their own relationship with God:
There is power in that understanding. Power in realising that some of the lessons God wants to teach us have more to do with the process of learning to trust Him; learning to go back to Scripture ourselves and find His principles; learning to apply His Word to our lives, in the ways that make sense for us and our families. Sometimes the journey through the lesson teaches us far more than just the answer at the end. Often it will deepen our relationship with God is a way that the ‘answers’ never could.
There is also power in realising that walking with God, unlike maths, does not always have just one right answer. Sometimes the answer God leads you to is not the one He asks another person to follow. I am not advocating a type of situational ethics or changeable truth here. I am just recognising that in areas of practical life there can often be many methods to implement the principles God gives us. (This is a subject I would like to turn into a series sometime so I won’t go further in this post!)
Lead people “to” the answers “through” Christ.
I have often said that my response to a book will ultimately decide if I will recommend it to others. If a book leaves me feeling guilty and like I have a list of things I have to DO…”Here are the answers, now just go and DO them” …then I am wary about passing it on.
If a book leaves me excited about how my life can change in particular areas if I get to know Jesus more…or I am left with a deep desire to grow in my faith in God and to see that impacting the way I live… then that is a great book. Ultimately, a book like that will lead me “to” the answers…by leading me “through” Christ.
So what are the implications of this for the way we walk alongside others? Is it okay to share the answers God has revealed to you, either through experience or good teaching? I think that there is a place for sharing answers, sometimes they are needed in a situation. There is also a place for sharing how God has led and upheld us through difficult times and decision making. However, I also think that we should step back much more often from jumping straight to our own answers. We should be starting by pointing people to Christ and His Word. We should be encouraging people to see the principles which apply to their struggles. We should be supporting people to take these principles back to God and seek His help and grace to know how to apply them in their lives.
This is not always easy or welcomed. In the past I have been told by at least one person,
“I don’t want to know the principles! I just want to know WHAT to DO!”
Often I don’t know myself exactly how to help a person discover or apply the principles of scripture to their situations. The challenge is always there for me to know God’s Word better..to be walking with God more closely myself.
Is the temptation of teaching answers or methods in discipleship real for you? When you face struggles or decisions do you look to others to tell you the answers? Do you agree that it is important to step back and help people genuinely grow in their own walk with the Lord rather than just DOING the right thing?
I’d love to hear your thoughts today,
Hugs and prayers