How can a desire to pour into someone else's life for the sake of the gospel go wrong? The desire certainly isn't wrong. But our prone-to-wander hearts and our crafty, disguised-as-an-angel-of-light enemy can distort God's good design if we aren't sober-minded and watchful. Here's how you can tell if a mentoring relationship is beginning to veer off into the ditch of neediness.
Jesus is our Bread of Life, our Living Water, our Pearl of Great Price, our Light, our Resurrection, our very Life. The greatest danger to our souls is that we might abandon abiding in him, following him, and finding our joy in him. Therefore, the best gift a friend can give is a commitment to fight for our joy in and communion with Christ. Conversely, the worst distortion of friendship arises when a friend encourages us, consciously or unconsciously, to place our affections elsewhere.
Though we have more access to the Bible than any generation before us, most Christians still have never read it all. The abundance of biblical access, on smartphones and bookshelves, generally hasn't resulted in an increased personal knowledge of the Word. And yet our generation speaks very authoritatively about God and the Bible.
Lack of knowledge plus authoritative opinions: This is a dangerous combination.
An orphan comes into a world of sorrow before he is able to comprehend what he lost.But in the tragedy there is an invitation: Who will volunteer to make the orphan's grief their own? Who will step in to parent the parentless? And within our hearts we have found an unrelenting and determined answer: "Send us! We will go!"
While we may be aware of our tendency to look to spouses, children, money, food, careers, and houses to find fulfillment, many of us have assumed friendship is immune to the same kind of temptation. But idolatry is always dangerous to our souls, no matter how harmless the idol may seem at first glance.
I prayed. I believed. I trusted. I hoped. And in the end, I was disappointed. This December, like many before it, God's response to my prayers is no. No, your son will not be home by Christmas. No, that baby in your womb will not live. No, that marriage will not survive. Dashed hopes and unfulfilled longings are familiar companions to my holiday celebrations. I know I am not alone. For many, this month will be as full of heartache as it is of joy. Deferred hope feels like coal under the tree, a confirmation that God has passed over you to shower His blessings on someone else this Christmas. But disappointment in December may actually be due to God's kindness.
For as long as I’ve been in church, I’ve known that sexual sin is a guy's struggle. Lust, sexual fantasies, pornography, masturbation. These were all things common to man, not common to woman. So what was I to do when my mom's Victoria’s Secret catalog arrived, and I secretly ogled over the pictures wishing I looked like those women? Or when I replayed intimate and sexual scenes from Titanic in my head? Or when I discovered certain parts of my body felt great when touched in a certain way? A Christian girl ought not to deal with such things. But the truth is lust is a temptation common to humanity, not just men. Lust is a desire for something that isn't yours to have. And plenty of women, myself included, have lusted for the pursuit and intimacy of a husband way before it was ours to have.
Are we giving food too much glory? The Bible gives us the overarching concept that food is a symbol of a greater reality. Our need for daily sustenance, all the delightful flavors, the satisfaction of a full stomach after hunger are all pointing to Jesus, our Bread of Life, our Living Water, our New Wine, our fullness of joy and complete satisfaction.
There are two ways we can elevate the symbol above the Substance: celebrating the pleasure of food above Christ or celebrating the power of food above Christ. The former sees food as the ultimate satisfier and the latter sees food as the ultimate healer.
As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" John 9:1-2 Suffering produces an insatiable desire to blame. Surely there must be some reason why this poor man must suffer all his life without sight. We hunger and thirst for some impetus for it all.
Why are we so bent on finding fault? Partly because we hope to prevent future suffering by finding the cause. Just like you may avoid spicy food if it once gave you heartburn. Partly because if the sufferer is to blame, we can accept the hardship as a legitimate recompense to sin: "She deserved that," or "I had it coming." If someone else is to blame, we at least have someone to take our anger out on.
So how does Jesus answer the disciples inquiry about the cause of the blind man's life of suffering?
Jesus doesn't tell us of a world of needless suffering. There is a reason, but it is one that we have had no category for at all: suffering for the sake of the glory of God.
Grief is the recognition that something has been lost forever. It forces us into an awareness that we have no control to change or fix the situation. What is gone is gone and can never be regained, at least not fully. Grief is an emotion we don't gladle welcome. We keep it at arms length pretending it will go away if we wait long enough. And sometimes it does, but are we really better off for avoiding it?
Is God important enough to us that we'll do whatever it takes to hear Him? In 1 Kings 19, God revealed Himself to Elijah not in an earthquake or fire but in a "low whisper" (v. 12). How can we hear this gentle whisper of God unless we quiet the noise of our lives? To have a listening prayer life, we need to learn to wait in silence on God.
I can still feel the shame of being caught sneaking Oreos to my room as a kid. Though not the first time, it embarrassed me to know someone else had seen the grip food had on me. Over the years, I looked for ways to be alone in the kitchen to sneak more handfuls of goldfish or one more spoonful of Nutella. Gluttony became a familiar and unwelcome companion. I assumed I just had bad habits that needed to be reformed, but God made it clear that I was an idolater who needed forgiveness, a slave to sin who needed a Liberator.
"Will you disciple me?" Whether you've asked the question or received it, rightly defining this concept is important. Is a mentor someone who sins less than the mentee? Is discipleship showing someone how to be a better Christian? A better person? Is it formal, like a tutor sitting across the table from a student? Is it casual, like an apprentice working alongside someone more experienced?
While there is value in discussing the nuts and bolts of formalized meetings versus life-on-life rhythms, what topics to study, and what goals to set, that is not the approach I will take here. Instead, I want to present you with three metaphors to describe the role of a mentor in discipleship.