April 10, 2013

Why We Should Stop Trying to Fix the Poor

When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

So go the lyrics of the famous song by Coldplay. So, often, goes the thought process of many well-meaning Christians who want to work in housing schemes and council estates. We get so swamped by people and their myriad of problems that we can easily become desperate to find solutions for them. This is compounded when our‘advice’ is ignored or doesn’t work and we can slip into spiritual depression. It’s not a terrible thing to want to help the broken but it is a dangerous thing, both for ourselves and those we are trying to‘help’, if we forget that it is only grace that can bring real, lasting change into our hearts and lives.

Consider these verses from Titus 2:11–15:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Paul has been telling Titus to urge his people to lead godly lives that are an example for others to follow. He is to teach what is in accord with healthy doctrine and he is to be an example by doing good in his life (Titus 2:1–10). But, in the above verses, he is to remember that it is grace that saves, not doctrine. We need to be reminded that people will only begin to change when we resist the urge to try to fix them ourselves and instead point them to the grace of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we’re so desperate to see people change that it drives us to distraction when they just won’t follow our simple advice to sort themselves out. Yet, consider the following:

 . . . in many churches advice often masquerades as the gospel. Messages filled with advice to help people improve their lives or turn over a new leaf are in contradiction to the nature of the gospel—news we must respond to, not insight we should consider heeding. Church leaders offering advice and calling it gospel will not develop transformed disciples. Worse, they will confuse people as to the true nature and content of the Christian faith. In churches where transformation is most likely to occur, the gospel is prominent and advice diminishes.

Our job as believers of every ilk, whether we’re planters, pastors, or youth workers is to ‘speak’ healthy doctrine into the lives of those around us. That means constantly pointing them toward grace and letting the Holy Spirit get on with his job. Notice in the text that the grace that save us also works to change us. Grace does not just get us through the door of salvation, it holds our hand and walks us through the trials of life and right into glory.

For those of us struggling in the ministry, it is a great comfort to know that the only thing that is going to transform our communities is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. His work is not reliant on our good intentions, great plans, training programmes, amazing discipleship and wonderful advice. It rests simply on his amazing grace. When we let him take the strain an amazing thing happens—we are freed from the stress of ‘performance’ or getting sucked into the chaotic vortex of scheme life and relationships. It is only by his that grace are we going to win back our communities; one painful, stuttering, chaotic soul at a time.

We press on.