“I see your problem. Here’s what you should do!”
I admit this is my initial thought when I listen to someone. As they pour out their heart, I need to remind myself that I am not in the “problem-solving” business, but in a “help-people-grow-in-Christ” ministry. By remembering the three components of Henry Cloud’s growth model – grace, truth and time – I can use a holistic approach for transforming personal issues into Christ-like character development.
When sitting across from someone, I imagine myself having three “cards” I can play. Cards to respond to everyday questions. Cards to accelerate personal growth. The “grace card.” The “truth card.” The “time card.” In a card game, the lead card establishes the suit (hearts, diamonds, etc.) and sets the tone for the whole hand. I will play all three cards at some point because all three cards will be needed. But which card should be played first? My answer has changed through the years …
The Truth Card
When I started spiritually building into the lives of others, I easily played the truth card first.
Got a problem? “Here’s your deep-seated issue.”
You don’t see a problem? “Let me tell you your problem!”
Of course, I always meant my counsel in love because Paul says, “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:13). But, eventually, I learned the hard way that leading with the truth isn’t always the best move. Yes, the truth will set people free and you will use the truth card eventually. But if used too soon, this card usually brings more destruction than construction.
The Grace Card
I then swung the pendulum to grace as my lead card.
“It’s okay – Jesus still loves you.”
“There is a lot of forgiveness available.”
Grace is received well, especially when the person across from me is heartbroken and torn-up from their sin. But I eventually realized that the conviction of sin that the Holy Spirit brings wasn’t always present. Often times, somebody got caught or made a mistake or owned up to a recurring issue in accountability. But without soulful remorse, my words of grace became empty platitudes. Am I here just to make people feel better? If I lead with the grace card in these moments, it seems like we’re not reaching God’s idea of “life-changing” growth.
The Time Card
Over the years, I’ve started asking this question when I meet with a someone: “God, what are you doing in this person’s life?” I enjoy the pleasant small talk – and even the discussion of difficulties. But I want to go deeper. And digging deeper sometimes takes time.
What does it mean to use time as the lead card? Not every issue needs a dose of reality and a theological statement (truth). Not every issue should be covered with a reminder about Jesus’ atonement along with a hug that says, “You’re a beloved child of God.”
Instead, I’m learning the art of asking deeper questions … what’s the “issue behind the issue”? Is there sin to uncover? After some probing follow-up, if the person isn’t showing signs of awareness – nor signs of heartfelt connection to the issue – perhaps this is not an area where the Holy Spirit is working in their life. God will not miss His opportunity for growth. I don’t need to force it. Another chance for change will be there in the future – but maybe not today. Meanwhile, I’ll maintain the relationship and keep searching for that moment of growth. It always comes … over time.
About the Author: Dennis Leskowski launched the campus ministries at Western Michigan University and Grand Valley State University and has been a team leader there for the past decade. He is also the Director of Marketing for Cru’s Summer Missions. He and his wife, Amy, live with their three kids in Kalamazoo, Michigan.