Treating the symptom, or the disease?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really have a big problem with just treating the symptoms of an illness sometimes. If I’m sick with something simple like allergies or a cold I don’t actually care what is going on inside my body, I just want to feel better.
But that’s stupid.
This post is part of the series on Challenges To Our Faith.
We started a series last Sunday at church about Challenges To Our Faith and talked about the difference between our faith (what we believe and trust in) and our faithfulness (the actions our faith prompts us to take).
And the question came up….In our churches, do we typically deal with the symptom (lack of faithfulness) or disease (lack of faith)? Now I don’t know about you, but the vast majority of the time what I see is that we tend to deal primarily with the symptoms of weak faith.
Have you ever seen church discipline being implemented against someone who stops attending worship services? I have. And while I believe that it’s the right step to take, I also believe that what we’re doing is treating the symptom rather than the disease.
We’re responsible for helping our brethren when they struggle spiritually. Galations 6:2 reads Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. If you check the context of this verse you’ll see that Paul is actually talking about spiritual burdens. We’re often quick to bring food to sick brethren or visit the shut-ins, but it’s a lot less comfortable to really deal with each others’ most personal problems.
So we take the easy way out and focus primarily on the outward issues, the tangible lack of faithfulness that we can see. And by then it’s sometimes too late.
So what can we do to fix this problem? I can think of a few things….
- Make difficult conversations more common. Part of the reason these personal, awkward conversations are so awkward is because we never have them. Americans are notorious for avoiding conflict with the people we care about. If you want to avoid telling your crazy aunt that you don’t like the cat sweater she gave you, fine. But in our churches we have to have conversations that make us uncomfortable. And those conversations will be easier to have if we’ll just have more of them. Be willing to address challenges to our faith when we see them, before they get too bad.
- Have an understanding spirit when people come to you and address your sin. I’ve made it a personal goal to have only one response when people come to me and tell me that I’ve wronged them or am doing something wrong. If I don’t agree, I just reply “OK”. Substitute “alright” or “thanks for coming to me” or whatever. But in that first moment when someone’s nerves are on edge and they don’t know how you’ll react, and your nerves are on edge and you’ll probably react by doing or saying something stupid, just reply with “OK”. Give yourself time to think about what they’ve said and later have a conversation about how you feel. But if you knew that your brother would absolutely accept your concern for his faith without argument, would you be more likely to talk to him when you see his faith being challenged? Of course you would.
- Understand what’s at stake. If we really saw sin for what it was and if we really understood and acknowledged the consequences of sin in our lives….we couldn’t help but talk to our brothers when we see them begin to stumble. No amount of uncomfortableness or potential hurt feelings could hold us back. If we truly love our brothers and sisters, we’ll do our best to help them through challenges to their faith BEFORE they become challenges to their faithfulness.
- Know your brethren. If you’re just someone that they see a few times a week for a few minutes after services, your brothers aren’t going to come to you for help when they’re facing challenges to their faith. And if we really get to know our brethren like a family should, we’ll notice changes in their perspective that’ll tune us in to the fact that they might be struggling spiritually. Maybe before they even realize how much they’re struggling.
We can do a better job of dealing with a lack of faithfulness in our churches if we do a better job of dealing with a lack of faith in our churches. It’s a tougher job because a lack of faith is harder to identify and it’s harder to convince someone that they’re suffering from it. But if we can figure out how to do this we’ll be stronger, we’ll have stronger churches, and we’ll have better examples for our kids to see and bring them to Christ.