By: Pastor Jamey VanGelder
I was sitting in my office one day when there was a knock at the door. A young man was standing there asking if he could talk with me. He took a seat on my couch and I listened to his story. He had grown up in the church and at one time had a relationship with Jesus. However, life choices and circumstances had hardened his heart and he was now living a life of sin and was completely miserable. So – being the compassionate person I am – I said, “Wow, that really stinks. So what are you gonna do about that?”
The young man was a bit taken back because he was hoping, after hearing his sob story, I would give him some counsel or a big hug and tell him everything is gonna be ok. Or perhaps I would give him a hand out or find someone who would take care of his needs. But, what I saw so clearly was that he was not taking responsibility for his own choices. Could I have lead him in a prayer and gotten his sins forgiven? Sure, but without a real change of attitude towards his choices, that prayer for forgiveness would simply be a band-aid on a truly significant issue that eventually would destroy him. For some reason there was a disconnect in his thinking. Until he saw that his own choices were producing the reality he was living in, there was no way of helping him out of it. No matter how many times he would be rescued out of his circumstances he would continue to make decisions that put him right back in bad situations.
So do you know what I did??? I made the conscience choice to leave him in his pain and misery. I reassured him of the love of the Lord and made sure there was a bridge for him to cross when he was ready to change his life. The meeting ended and he left my office. It would be one year and six months later that he would completely return to the Lord. And that was all on his own. When I asked what the reason was that he came back to Jesus, his answer was simple. He said, “I was sick of the pain and I remembered how good it felt to be forgiven and clean.” It was pain that finally turned him around.
Walking this life with Jesus is much like driving down a highway with guard rails on both sides of the road. One of the guardrails is Godʼs Kindness and the other guardrail is Pain. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 2:4 that it’s Godʼs kindness that leads us to repentance. The word repentance simply means to change one’s mindset. So, as we’re driving through life and we begin to drift off course towards one of the ditches, Godʼs kindness begins to buffet our choices. He demonstrates such kindness that you simply change your mind about leaving the path of righteousness and choose Godʼs ways over the world. After all, why would you choose the ways of this world when God is so good and kind to you? Many mistake Godʼs kindness as approval of choices they are making. Often this is not the case. He may be trying to get you to change your mind about some of those choices.
The other guardrail is Pain. When Godʼs kindness doesnʼt change our minds often the results of our poor choices will produce enough pain to cause us to want to change. Pain can be an amazing tutor. Does this mean that God is causing the pain in lives? Absolutely not, He is not the one causing pain. Truthfully, the world doesnʼt need His help in causing pain. It does a good enough job without Him. Sin and poor choices bring pain all on their own.
So how does one apply these ideas? Well, as a pastor I have the opportunity to talk with lots of people in pain. Many times the only reason they want to talk is because they are in pain and they want help out of it. Also as a parent of six children I get the opportunity to guide my children through this life. I often face the decision to rescue people out of their bad choices or empowering them to face consequences. I have found that rescuing people from circumstances produces instant results. The pressure is gone immediately, however many times they will be back to my office within a few short months facing even bigger issues.
Empowerment can be a longer process but results in long term health and wholeness. I have heard this saying so many times that it has become almost cliche. “You should not work harder on peopleʼs problems than they are willing to work themselves.” Practically this means that you may need to leave people in their pain long enough for them to truly want to change. It can be hard as a parent to make this choice, but love is more than instant help. It means raising them towards long term health.