So we’ve been covering the four systems of encouragement that God has created in the human brain. Our effort, so far, has been to think about how we might activate those four systems in those who’ve left a relationship with God with the hope of encouraging them to return. We’ve covered three so far – the desire for belonging , the desire for competence and the desire for autonomy . The fourth and final encouragement system is service , or generosity , or altruism .
But before we go there, I want to step back from these four for just a bit and take a wider view of them for just a moment. When we talk about these three things – or these four – what are we really looking at here? Well, we’ve seen that God appeals to all four of these elements in us, but what do they mean? And what does it all point toward?
Let’s look at each one of them a little bit and try to understand more of a wider view. When we talk about belonging and how that can impact people who’ve left, instead of a sense of belonging, those who have left sometimes feel alienation or rejection. We saw that those people who feel this way need what we could call reparenting . You’ll remember that we quoted Paul when he said, “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own child.” So our task, if we follow the Biblical queue there, is to foster a sense of belonging by gentle care for people.
When we think about competence , sometimes, instead of a sense of competence, those who have left sometimes feel a sense of spiritual failure, or ineptitude. We saw that those who feel this way need what we termed redirecting toward their gifts that they have been given in order to help others, so that they can feel a sense of spiritual competence.
When we talk about autonomy , instead of a sense of autonomy, those who have left sometimes feel helpless and defiant, because they’ve been excluded and not allowed to participate. We saw that those who feel that way need what we could call reconciling . The barriers to relationship need to be removed and they need to be drawn back through respectful relationship which offers them free choice, or autonomy.
Now I’ve called this fourth element service , because that’s a word from our culture that we are all familiar with. But that little place in the brain that responds to this actually includes more than just serving someone else’s needs. It has to do with generosity or pure giving or altruism – doing things to help other people.
When people don’t have a chance to practice that, when they have been thwarted in their efforts to become spiritual people – to be giving and serving of others – they often become indifferent or distracted by other concerns. It’s as though they give up. They sometimes become focused away from God – usually on self. We have to remember that they are discouraged about spirituality and have given up on God, because of, in many cases, the way others have treated them. They’ve turned instead to things of this life and this world. A lot of times you see people like that all into physical things – into their careers, into their personal interests – and no longer interested in the things of God. So they failed there and couldn’t find a way to belong to Him, or a way to serve, so they seek to belong, or feel competent, or be autonomous or invest themselves in other things. Instead of serving God, they tend to serve themselves.
So we try to reparent those that are alienated so they can experience belonging. We try to redirect those who failed toward using their competencies. We try to reconcile those who feel defiant by giving them some autonomy. And our role in helping those who become indifferent and distracted is to try to redeem them, or buy them back, through good works.
Now how do we do that? It seems rather daunting, doesn’t it, to approach those who have gone way off – who are indifferent, who are angry, who are distracted and draw them back into a relationship? How do we do that? Well, again, God is the One who does that, but He expects us to participate. So how do we do that? Well, we do for them what Christ has done for us. We serve them. We wait like the father of the lost son, looking out at the road, thinking about his son and hoping against hope to see him again. How does that translate into life for us today? I suppose that could mean that when we push the button to check our email, the faces of those that we love, who have left, pass through our minds and, hopefully, we think about receiving something from them. Or we hold them in our thoughts. We pray about them. Maybe we periodically send them an email, or call them or visit them. And if an opportunity comes up to do something for them that they can’t do for themselves, we try to do that. We model altruism for them.
It’s funny how doing good for someone stimulates altruism in them , isn’t it? At least in some of them. You may recall that I told you the story in the first sermon in this series about a young woman who became a prayer warrior for a friend who was in trouble and how he responded to that. Well, she also told me about another fun story. She heard about a man who went to a Starbucks drive-through. (I didn’t know that Starbucks had drive-throughs, but then we live in New Mexico. I guess they do have some Starbucks with drive-throughs.) And as this man paid for his coffee, he paid double, and said to the person at the window, “Use the extra to pay for the coffee of the person behind me.” When that next person came up and learned that the person before them had paid for their coffee, he gave the money he was going to pay to the person in the next window, and said, “Pay for the person behind me.” And he drove away. And seven cars passed through the drive-through doing the same thing before they finally ran into a scrouge – a curmudgian, a selfish person – who overrode the inborn tendency to be altruistic and giving.
Let’s go to Hebrews 10:24. Isn’t that interesting how when we treat other people well, it inspires them to treat other people well also? So that is the answer to the question raised in this scripture – Hebrews 10:24.
Heb. 10:24 – Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works. I think that some of us – maybe all of us, as a church culture – really haven’t thought much about this scripture. “Let us consider one another.” Let’s think about people that have left, and think about how we might stir up love and good works in them. Let’s think about how we might stir them to love God again. The King James doesn’t say to “stir up.” It says, “…to provoke them to love and good works” – to “ incite them to love and good works.”
One of the ways that we do that is through altruism – through giving and taking care of them, and trying to help them. So one of the things that we can do to help others who have left us is we have the chance…. And we’ve talked about this already, because really these four elements are inter dependent – not in dependent of each other. They are mutually complimentary and they connect to each other. But I was thinking about my friends, Guy and Jennifer Swenson and the Camp Outreach that we attended with them last summer. Ever since that camp Guy has been on a railroad track with only one destination. He’s really zeroed in on helping those who can’t help themselves. He talks about it all the time. He thinks about it. He was so galvanized by that experience.
If we invite those people who’ve gone way off to help us help those who can’t help themselves, we are touching them in a very special place. We’re stimulating something in them that’s powerful – something in them that tends toward goodness and toward reconciliation.
We’ve been taught in the church – at least in our culture for many years – that human nature is evil and rotten and bad. And it is true that there are parts of human beings that are not the best. All you have to do is listen to the news at night to realize that, but turn with me to Ephesians 2, and verse 10. Let’s learn something else about the way we are.
Eph. 2:10 – It says in Ephesians 2:10, For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Now, Paul said this to a Gentile church. These were people with no tradition in the law of God.
In another scripture – in Romans 2:5 – I’m not going to turn over there – Paul said that the Gentiles had the law written in their hearts. It’s built into people. We just read the scripture that tells us that we were created for good works. What’s so exciting to me is that now we have the brain research to show where that happens in the brain. We’re starting to see how the law is written in our hearts and where it is. They can see it in the imaging equipment.
So, let’s talk about that. We are born for good works. And we have certain parts in our brain, where, when we do good do works for people, it encourages us. It’s amazing! So what is the significance of all that? Let’s talk about that a bit. If you’ve been listening carefully to this series, and you’re inspired to begin looking for people who have left and a way to help them, then you’re brain is being activated in a very specific little place. And your effort that you’re putting out is not for yourself. You’re planning to give your time, and your heart and your other resources to help someone else that might not know they need help, or might not even want it. It’s not for you. It’s for them. It’s pure service. It’s altruistic. It’s just Godly love. And as you get more involved in this effort, you’re going to be feeling more and more deeply involved in, and a part of the church, and a part of God.
Why of God? Well, if you think about it, God is all four of these things, isn’t He? Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” So, how do you think that makes God the Father and Jesus Christ feel? Do you think there’s a sense of belonging among them? “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” God said of Jesus Christ. Jesus and the Father love each other. They’re deeply committed to each other. They belong to one another. So when God invites us to feel a sense of belonging to the church and to Himself, what He’s really doing is inviting us to feel the same way He feels, and to take on that same state of mind that He has. Isn’t that interesting?
Let’s think about competence. Let’s look at Hebrews 7, and verse 24.
Heb. 7:24 – But He – talking about Christ – because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a high priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens. Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him. He is fully competent to save all of us. So, when we use our spiritual gifts like we’ve been told to do – our spiritual competencies that God has given us – so that we can perform competently in the church, He’s inviting us to feel like Jesus Christ feels and like He feels. Of course, we can’t approach how they feel very closely, but we can still get on the same page with them. And there’s a part in our brain that’s designed for that! When that starts to happen, a lot of good things start happening for us, as well as for other people.
Turn with me to Philippians 2, and verse 5.
Philp. 2:5 – Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance of men, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow – of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. So, when we read this scripture and we learn that Jesus was voluntarily assuming the likeness of a person, and that He voluntarily let go of His role as God and became a bondservant in the likeness of men, and humbled Himself – that’s something He did, not something God did – and became obedient, even to the point of death. That’s talking about His autonomous choice to sacrifice Himself for us, isn’t it? He had that choice to do that. It wasn’t something that He had to do. It was a choice He made. And we know that He can look back with great satisfaction, knowing that His decision is going to save us all, and that He can reconcile us all back to Himself by that autonomous act. Jesus didn’t have to tell God that He came to play. He knew that Jesus came to play. And He was allowed to play. And when we exercise our autonomy to make Godly choices and are stimulated to love and good works, when we exercise our autonomy to move toward God and to help others to move toward God, we, too, feel the way Christ and the Father feel about that. So they are inviting us into their own state of mind – “the mind of Christ,” Paul said – “Christ in us, the hope of glory.”
The same is true of this last element – that of altruistic service toward others. Christ died for us – an altruistic act – and when we act altruisitically, sacrificially – when we do that of our own accord – it causes us, in a limited way, to feel like He feels. And we will know, more than ever, if we do those things, that despite all our weaknesses and all our sins, that we are reconciled to God, which is the result of altruistic love on His part. It’s nothing that we can do to reconcile ourself to Him. It’s what He does for us. So that’s the model for us as we reach out to people.
As we think about applying these four areas of encouragement to encourage others who have left, we’re also practicing the values and the states of mind of God. We’re attempting to be Godly when we do these things.
Turn with me to I Corinthians, the third chapter and verse 16.
I Cor. 3:16 – Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? By practicing these four things – even imperfectly – helping others belong, by exercising our God-given gifts, by making Godly choices, by serving others from a pure heart – we go where God lives. We go where God lives.
Turn with me to Mark 2 and verse 28.
Mk. 2:28 – Then one of the scribes came, having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that he had answered them well, asked Him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is Hear, O Israel, the Lord of God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second like it is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. So the scribe said to Him, Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth. For there is One God and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. Now listen to what Jesus said about what this guy said. Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, You are not far from the Kingdom of God! Wow! This man wasn’t one of His disciples. He was a scribe. But what He was saying is, “You’re really not far from the way God thinks about things.” And we’ve seen that these four elements that are built into us – that encourage us, that stimulate us to be different – to be spiritual, to be Godly – are also a part of the mind of God. So when we practice those things, when we work at redeeming people and reconciling them and restoring them, we’re getting on the same page with God. And we’re not far from the way He thinks about things. See, those things are going to last forever. They’re going to be a part of the universe. They’re going to be considered forever. As we exercise toward other people these things, we also are going to be strengthened. We’re going to become more like God and more on the same page with Him. I can’t prove it, but I have a sneaking suspicion that that is what may be the most encouraging part of all this to those we approach.
I want to tell you a story. A woman brought her seven-year-old son to me for therapy some time ago. She was a Mexican immigrant. She could scarcely speak English. He just looked like a little doll – really cute child – great big smile and big brown eyes and a very open face. I was shocked to find out that this smiling little, beautiful child was causing all sorts of problems at school. He was fighting. He was pushing kids. He even choked one child. He couldn’t sit still in class. He couldn’t focus on his work. He was having nightmares. At home, at times, he was intensely oppositional. I started questioning her about what was going on. She explained that her husband for quite a long time had been spending more and more time over at his mother’s house. Finally, just a few months ago – or previous to our discussion – had left her and her son and was now living at his mother’s house. This poor lady was beside herself. Her life was coming apart. She broke down and cried in my office. I asked her how long she and her husband had been at odds. She said, “Oh, for a long time.” And I said, “And how long has your son been having trouble sitting still and focusing?” She said, “From the time he was two-years-old.” I asked her if she could get her husband to come in for a session. She said that she would try.
The next week he was there. So there were the three of them in my office. When I had them all together, I explained to the parents that even though they didn’t fight openly, their son was very much in tune with their feelings. And he knew that they were not happy and it was making him feel afraid. He was worried about who was going to take care of him. He worried that, perhaps, he was the cause of their problem. And it bothered him so much that he was having trouble focusing. When he needed to concentrate, those things would come into his mind because he was concerned about them. He didn’t know why. The fact that he was having nightmares was a sign that he was in deep trouble. Now that his father had left, he was missing his father. His behavior had become worse – a desperate attempt to tell us that his feelings were worse, too. He needed to draw attention to how angry he was and how guilty he felt. So he was showing everybody how it feels to be a little boy whose father leaves him, and who worries about who is going to love him, and who worries that he’s the cause of the problem. I explained all this to her, and while I was doing it, she, in a very detailed way, translated my sentences word for word to her husband. And as she did, they both looked very sad. And at the end of that session I referred them to a couples’ therapist that spoke Spanish.
The next week all three of them were there again. I asked for a report on how he was doing. She said that not much changed. So I started seeing the little boy for part of each session by himself. When I did I paid close attention as he played with the toys and drew me pictures of houses and trees and people. I smiled a lot at him and looked into his eyes and approved of everything he did there. After a few session like that, his misbehavior began to lessen a little bit. He was still acting up and he was still somewhat oppositional at home, but not as bad as he had been. While we were together alone, he told me that his father had taken him to the gym. See, his father is a boxer, and the little boy wants to be just like daddy, right? So he’s interested in boxing, too.
On week four I continued listening to him with geniuine concern and attending to him, showing by my body language and words, and every other way that I could that he was worthy of my attention and respect. On week five they all came back to my office smiling. Father had returned home. So there were no more incidents at school or at home any longer. We decided it would be prudent to continue for a few more weeks just to reinforce the restoration that was taking place. It was a very upbeat session.
As they were leaving, the mother gave me a great big smile and a hug. Then she said something that was really curious to me. She said, in a big effort to communicate through the language barrier, which had been hugely frustrating for all of us, “You have a good charisma.” And I was thinking about how she would come to that conclusion. (And I’m not intending to boast. I know there are plenty of people who don’t feel so positively disposed towards me – and sometimes for good reason.) But in therapy I often have the opportunity to direct Godly love toward other people. And I think that is what she was reacting to. I think that when we love others in that serving, Godly way, it encourages them to be better people.
I mentioned – I think it was last time – that there was a man who had stopped coming to church and he suffered a lot of damage in a storm to his home. Some of the people that used to attend church with him came over, never said a word about church, helped him fix his home up, and that was the loving act that drew him and his family back into church again. When we love others in that serving, altruistic, Godly way it encourages others to be better people. I think there’s something about being the temple of God and going where God lives that comes out of us and that other people see. I think, when that young woman that I mentioned in the first sermon in this series prayed for her friend who quit and called him every so often, I think he had to know what she was doing. And he had to know that she was loving him in a selfless way. And I think that love is what encouraged him. I think it encourages all of us.
So when you think about it, these four things really are just simply a way to talk about Godly love. See, the thing that is so exciting to me is, we’re learning that the tendency for that is built into us. It’s built into us, but it has to be stimulated. It has to be stimulated. We would all, figuratively, go to hell in a handbasket except that Jesus Christ made that decision to sacrifice Himself for us. So, we get to play that part in helping others.
Before we finish up with these four, I want to talk to you about something else. When we think about these four things that people need – and the four reactions that we get when they don’t get them – it becomes obvious that there is something different that we must do for different people, because there are different problems. So what does that mean when we encounter a young person who has left. Well, it means that we need to listen to their story. Do we hear about alienation and rejection? Does somebody say, “I could never seem to please anybody no matter what I did. I was always the one that got blamed.” I’ve heard people say that – adults! So, if we hear that, then we know that they need to feel from us a sense of belonging and inclusion, because they didn’t feel like they belonged in the church. They need to be reparented . (Now, remember, we said that anyone could reparent anyone else.You can even reparent yourself.) So we’re not talking about an authoritative tone or stance, but simply being gentle and soothing and caring, like Paul said he was – gently caring for them as a mother nurtures her own child.
If we hear people expressing feelings of failure related to church….. “Everybody was always emphasizing being on time, and being dressed just right, being quiet during the sermon, smiling a lot when I was a kid…. I just never seemed to be good at those things.” That’s a direct quote from somebody – an adult remembering what it was like to be a kid in the church. Well, those people need redirecting – gentle redirecting. They need to be encourged to use what they’re good at to help contribute to the church, because they never felt like they were good at anything.
Do we hear frustration and defiance? “I’ve had it up to hear with all the control and exclusion. I came to play and they wouldn’t let me.” When we hear that special frustration that comes from being spiritually constricted, we know they need something different than what those other first two might have expressed. We know that they need reconciling . We can show them that we’re not trying to control them, and at the same time, want a relationship with them – a respectful relationship where they get to play, where they get to be autonomous. In studying Pam Dewey’s Each One Teach One course, we learned about this just recently here in Albuquerque, didn’t we? That we have to listen for the need.
Do we hear distraction and indifference? Is all the talk about things and other pursuits? When we try to talk about church things they tune out and they’re indifferent to it? Those people need redeeming . They need to be served and loved and drawn back with bonds of love.
So, it’s very important to understand where people are coming from and to listen for the need. Listen for what’s happened to them. Try to help them express the feeling that they have so that we’ll know what to do. So what people talk about to us helps us to understand what they didn’t get that they needed and what we can do that would be most helpful to them. It’s a clue for us. We need to listen for their state of mind in these four areas – the four areas of encouragment – or in their case, maybe, dis couragement. Their words tell us what to do next. That will encourage us, because it always feels good when we know what to do next, doesn’t it?
Well, all right. That concludes our coverage of the four areas of encouragement. The next presentation on this series will be the last, and in it, we will discuss the most powerful reclaiming stategy of all! Be sure to listen for it.