Dear Friend, I some ways I’ve been working on this letter all my life. I’ve particularly been concentrating on it for the last dozen years. That’s the length of time I’ve become concerned, critically concerned, about the way religious people have gone about relating to nonreligious people. I’ve met so many well intentioned people who’ve come to feel they’ve done more harm than good – even though they’ve tried so very hard. I understand because I’ve been there myself. We usually refer to this as evangelism (although this term does not occur in the Bible). I myself have gone to see people with the intention of talking to them about Christ. However, as I stood there, knocking on the door, in my heart I was silently hoping they wouldn’t be at home! It’s the same feeling you may have about the people you see every day on the job and in the neighborhood. I can understand the young person in high school who wants to relate meaningfully to the other students. There’s a struggle going on inside. I now see that we’ve talked so much about “being a good influence” when we should also have been thinking about what it takes to have the courage of a fighter who is alive in the world, whose life is a quickening power in the lives of others. Why does this all seem so difficult? It doesn’t have to be, you know.
Perhaps we should back away for a moment and ask again what it is we’re trying to do. All of us are trying to grow. That’s what Christians are trying to do and that’s what our neighbors are trying to do as well. And so the question is, how can we help both ourselves and those around us to grow into the kind of persons we all need to be? If we can answer this, we will be helped and we can be more helpful to others. Growth, you know, is a natural part of life. Our problem is, we don’t understand the process of growth as well as we should. A Jewish teacher once observed that if you stand in front of a tree and watch it incessantly, to see how it grows, and how much it has grown, you will see nothing at all. But, tend to it at all times, prune the runners and keep it free of beetles and worms and – in good time – it will come into its growth. Human beings are like that, if people are given a way to overcome their obstacles, if they are being nurtured, they will begin to thrive and grow. But it is not right to examine people every day to see how much has already been added to their stature. Timing is critical to growth and development. Even if you are the one nurturing the growth, you don’t determine the time schedule. All you can do is respond in an appropriate way. (A poet once said no good farmer ever harasses the soil!) In addition to proper timing, an approach to the whole is necessary. Water, sunlight, soil, all are essential to a plant’s growth. You would never be very successful with the plant if all you did was water it! If bugs got on it, you watered it! If it needed more sunlight, you watered it!
We’ll never be very effective if we think all people need the same thing in the same way. It’s sure not enough just to get some information down pat and then proceed to “lay” that information on everyone we meet – whether they’re ready or not. We know that’s not the way growth occurs. And isn’t that what we’re talking about – growing people? Nurturing, quickening, enabling them to have the right environment, the right care, the right attention so that they can grow to be all they were meant to be. That’s what we’re trying to help people to accomplish, aren’t we? So here’s where we tart: We begin by doing for another person whatever that person need. This means listening to the other person to find out what is most needed. The attention must be on the other person. Some people will be in critical need of more self esteem. Jesus was a master at dealing with people’s problems in his area. He knew how easy it is for us to get down on ourselves with guilt and failure. He continually saw people’s richness and potential and He was always gently bringing this out. Has this ever happened to you? Didn’t it feel good? Other people you meet are going to have physical needs that deserve attention. Some are concerned about their families. Others about death. Some have religious questions. Jesus always started by sensing what each one needed and responded to that –even if nothing else happened. But the amazing thing was, things would happen in people’s lives that would open them to ever-increasing new opportunities for growth and understanding. And that’s when Jesus gave them the help and encouragement and information they needed. As they needed it. And they grew. The impact was massive . . . and it has not stopped to this day. Back then, people who wouldn’t respond at all to the current religion of their day responded to Him with great enthusiasm. In our day when people
still seem unwilling to respond to organized religion, does it mean they aren’t interested in growing? Perhaps it only means that people perceive organized religion as primarily focused on itself and therefore people look elsewhere in hopes of getting their needs met. An old Indian teacher put it this way: The greed for fruit misses the flower. Do you see his point? There is a law of growth in the world that can’t be isolated without causing real damage. Once you appreciate the way people grow, it’s amazing how quickly things begin to happen. I hope you have a great week.
Your Friend, Landon Saunders
Key Biblical Concepts 1. Think about the way God planned his reach for human beings. Think of the time span. Develop a sense of long-range planning. 2. Jesus’ view of reaching people included both “sowing and reaping.” What is the difference? What is a “sowing” ministry? Describe it. What are some activities you’ve done that would qualify as “sowing”? Can you do the work of “sowing” among a greater number of people? Explain this. 3. Do you know of a good example of a strong “sowing and reaping” ministry? Can you describe what such a ministry would look like? Would it be worth a group of people gathering on a regular basis over a period of time to study this and submit ideas for how this could take place? 4. The following biblical passages provide a background for understanding the dynamic of working effectively with people. a. Mark 4:26-29. This parable shows how to enable another person to grow; it requires and understanding of the seed, the earth (receptacle), God’s mystery of producing life, patient sense of timing, looking for signs of growth, knowing when to reap. b. Galatians 6:1-10. This says we do reap only and exactly what we sow So keep doing good and trust God for the right results. c. Other passages: Look at the way Jesus worked with all kinds of people and situations. Mark 3:1-; Luke 7:11-17; 18-23; 36-50; 10:25-37; 17:11-9; Jon 3:1-21; (ad 7:50-51; 19:39); :1-42; Chapter 9.