Fighting Dependence!

Ever have something that started out great go sour on you?

My read through the Bible discussion group was a classic example of this.  From the start it was obvious the Lord was at work.  When two sisters joined while we were in Leviticus and then ended up not only hanging in there but becoming Christians I was blown away!  Even as we dove into the minor prophets the discussions were incredible and life change was occurring all over the place.  I thought, “If God is doing this much in the Old Testament, I can’t wait to see what He’ll do as we discuss the New!”

But as we dove into the gospels everything changed.  “I don’t get it!”  I shared with a friend, “We aren’t having the great discussions we use to have.  People seem to have stopped making application to their lives.  I don’t even know if doing this is benefitting anyone anymore!”

After inquiring further about what we did when we got together, my friend stated, “You need to stop answering questions.”

I was shocked!  But you know he was right!  When I followed his advice, great discussions resumed, people started making life applications again, and I learned soon as an answer is given discussion is killed.  What’s worse, it shifts the focus of the group from going to the Scriptures seeking to hear what the Lord wants to say to them, to reading with a questioning mindset.

You see, at that time I didn’t know as much about the Old Testament so as we read through that we were all on fairly equal footing – we just accepted there were some things we weren’t going to get this go round, so we read for what we could understand, listening to hear whatever the Lord wanted to tell us.

But when we came to the New Testament, I’d done a bunch more study on this and often knew the answers to their questions.  And the more I answered, the more they started focusing on what they didn’t understand when they read, rather than on what they did understand and what God wanted to say to them through it!

So when they showed up for our “discussion group” – well at that point it became more of a “let’s go hear how Debbie will answer this” group.  Without me intending, the focus shifted from God to me.

You see, the Bible is the Living Word.  It’s the only book you ever read with the author right there with you any place, any time you sit down to read it!  And I don’t care if you study it full time every single day of your life, there is always more to learn!  Questions can be good if they get you to slow down and spend more time observing the passage, especially if they get you interacting with the author!  But if all you do when you read is come up with a bunch of questions which you ask another person to answer you miss out on the best part – relating with the author and having your life change as a result.

Whether we are leading a Bible study or meeting one on one with someone there is a vital need to fight dependence – I don’t want those I’m meeting with to become dependent on me.  Instead my job is to help them grow in depending on God!

To do this I have to remember I am a facilitator, not their savior.  I know that may sound like a no brainer, but I’m sad to say it can be so easy to slip into seeking to be the latter.

Trust me, it’s a huge ego boost when people are hanging on your every word, as well as seeing lives change as a result of doing what you suggest.  And it sure can be fun to show off what you know – especially when it impresses people!

But imagine if you were in Kindergarten and the teacher answered every question?!  You could ace every test … and never learn a thing!

Now the purpose here isn’t to encourage you to never answer a question!  But it certainly can be wise when investing in others, to ask, “Is our time together spurring them to depend more on the Lord or on me?”  Being aware of the danger is half the battle!  The rest is dying to ego!  This is a battle and often one that rages subconsciously.

But love seeks what’s best for the other person!  Is it ever worth it when we fight against people depending on us, and fight instead for them to depend on the Lord!  Even if it requires sometimes leaving questions unanswered…




The Wisdom of Questions

If someone came up to you and asked, “What do I need to do to get eternal life?”  how would you respond?

Would you dive in sharing the bridge or another illustration?   Ask them if they’d like to start reading through the book of John with you? Share your personal testimony?

At different times I’ve done each of these.  But here’s the crazy thing… that’s not what Jesus did!

He responded with a question!  (Matthew 19:16)

In fact, if you read through the gospels, nearly every time Jesus is asked a question, he responds with a question!

Not only can this help to clarify what the person is asking, it also engages them in dialogue, drawing them into the conversation.

This is not only helpful when doing evangelism, but especially when discipling someone.  There’s a fascinating  verse in 1 John 2:27, “But you have received the Holy Spirit and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true.  For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true – it is not a lie.  So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ.”

Once someone has entered into a relationship with Jesus, she has His Spirit living within her.  And God’s Spirit is so faithful to do what He’s promised to do – to teach us… if we’ll listen.  Over and over I am amazed at how true this verse is.

As I grasp the reality of this I realize my main job in discipling someone is not to teach her, but to come alongside and encourage her to remain in fellowship with Christ, to help her learn how to place herself in a position where she is able to hear what God wants to teach her and to help her learn to persevere in doing this.

A great way to do this is to ask questions – and teach her to ask questions.

The first question I ever ask before meeting with someone is of God, “What do you want me doing with this woman today?  How can I come alongside her and join in with what you’re doing?”

Then I seek to start our time asking questions about how she’s doing.  I recently met with a precious young woman who wanted to learn about forgiveness.  When I asked how she was doing she started to weep and share some painful things she was wrestling with.  It quickly became apparent learning about forgiveness was not the main reason the Lord brought us together.  When I asked, “What lies do you think the enemy is trying to get you to believe right now?” what followed was one of the most amazing one on ones I’ve had.  And I mostly listened!  Then together we considered the truth God gives in His Word to combat those lies.  And yes, we ended up in the last ten minutes talking about forgiveness as it tied in with what she was struggling with but do you see?  Without asking questions I so easily could’ve missed out on what the Lord really wanted for our time!

When I’m having a shared quiet time with someone I’m helping her learn to ask, “Where do you want me to focus today in your Word, Lord?”  “What do you want to say to me through this?” and “What difference do you want this to make in my life?”

You don’t have a daily quiet time to “be a good  Christian”  or to earn God’s favor.  You have one because this is an incredible way to learn to listen to the Lord and remain in fellowship with Him, so when He wants to teach you something you’re picking up on it and developing the discipline of responding and doing what He teaches you!  I cannot stress how radically life changing this is!!!

Now while I initially may “teach” them what I do, note the focus is on them showing up to learn from the Lord.  This helps them grow in their dependence on Him and not on me!

I need to be careful because it can be a heady thing having someone ask for your advice or ask you how to do something.  My pride loves to demonstrate what I know.  It’s so easy for that to kick in without me even realizing it and suddenly a one on one becomes a monologue.

But you know, when I take time to ask questions that really helps save me (and the woman I’m meeting with!) from this!

Plus it’s amazing how many times when I respond with a question I discover what she really is asking is rather different from what I first thought!

Good question asking is a skill.  It’s so much easier to “tell.”  But I have been amazed at how much more effective it is when my questions help people discover on their own the answer the Holy Spirit is giving them.

The good news is this is something anyone can grow in!  So I’m asking God for the grace to be more like Him in this.  And as I do, what a difference it’s making in my discipling!

It’s War!

One of the most important questions you can ever ask when starting to meet with someone is, “What’s your story?”

And make sure she knows you don’t want the reader’s condensed version!  You want as many facts as she is comfortable sharing.

What has brought pain into her life?  Where has she struggled.  How has the Lord been at work bringing her into a relationship with Him?  And since?  Has she ever dabbled in the occult?  Or been sexually involved with someone?

These questions can reveal key things so helpful to know at the onset.  But be sure to ask gently and respectfully, and make it clear it’s ok for her to only share what she is comfortable telling.

If she has experienced severe wounding or abuse, if she’s had any prior experience with the occult, it can really help to know this not just so you can help her move forward, but so you can help prepare her for ways the enemy might try to intervene and interfere in your relationship.

Remember discipleship is about spurring people on to grow!  The enemy does not want this!  And it seems the greater his hold on someone formerly, the more desperate he will be to thwart your attempts.

I once met with a woman who had supported herself working as stripper and who had repeatedly been deeply wounded relationally as well as sexually assaulted.  The story of how the Lord reached out to her in love drawing her to Himself was absolutely amazing!  When I met her she was so eager to grow!

Yet about a month after we’d started meeting, when she heard a mutual friend share how she’d just learned the Bible says sex before marriage is wrong – she was so upset!  This was the only type of love she’d ever known and as a brand new believer she was not ready to give this up!  Right away she started withdrawing from fellowship and not being available for us to meet.  It broke my heart… how I wish I’d known to give her a heads up in advance.

While the enemy can’t keep someone from entering into a relationship with Jesus, he is so cunning in his subterfuge and efforts to undermine and interefere any way he can with her growing – which very much includes constant subtle efforts to destroy her relationship with whomever is seeking to disciple her.

It is vital you be ready for this and if possible, beat him at his game, by forewarning the woman of ways he may try to attack.

You see, when someone has traumatic or occultic experiences in her past many times there are strongholds that still remain, that need to be addressed.  This is why it’s vital you ask a person to share about her past with you, so you can attempt to prepare her for the battle that’s sure to erupt.

Too many times people read “forgetting what lies behind and pressing on towards what lies ahead…” as if there’s no need to address past wounding and strongholds.  But remember verses need to be read in context!  And in this context Paul is talking about his past achievements, not wounding!

Now people may not be willing to be open about this until they know you better – that may be one of the ways the enemy has already been at work encouraging them to build walls around their heart.  But it sure can help if you at least ask ~ and if you’re willing to share about painful things you’ve been through too!

This is why when I begin meeting with someone I will often start telling her my story first, sharing deeply about my past.  That sets the stage for her to realize here’s someone willing to be real, willing to be honest with me.  Someone who cares enough to reveal even the pain she’s been through.  And I do this after praying, asking the Lord to guide my sharing and help me speak only what’s helpful for building up the person who listens.

Then I ask her to share her story in depth – can this help launch your time in a powerfully bonding way, even if there aren’t deep issues.

But if there are, be sure to encourage her – God is a God of hope!  Nothing is too difficult for Him!  He is able to take the ugliest scars and bring beauty out of them, but there really is a battle going on and the enemy is going to do whatever he can to get her feelings hurt and try to get her to pull away from you.

If you can point this out from the getgo and encourage her, “If this happens, if I do anything or say anything that hurts you, please come to me and let’s talk because I don’t want the enemy messing with us” and warn her to be on the lookout for ways he might try to isolate her from other believers too ~ can that ever help you beat him at his game and thwart his purposes to destroy your relationship!