When I first got out of college I worked as an exterminator in North Houston. During one of my calls, I visited a house, where I saw the biggest wall crack I had ever seen. The plaster was separated by nearly an inch. The crack ran from the floor to the ceiling and across the room. I asked the owner about the fracture. He responded by pulling up the rug and revealing a large crack in the slab of the home. As the crack worsened, the walls began to come apart. This was a problem that could not be solved with simple patchwork, because filling the cracks with plaster wouldn’t address the real issue of a broken foundation. Without repairing the foundation on which the walls are built, the problems would only get worse and eventually, the whole structure will come crashing down. Often, folks develop problems in their lives. These problems appear like cracks in the walls of their family life or careers. Sometimes, they attempt to patch up the fractures with quick solutions. Other times, they try to ignore issues as long as possible, hoping that it doesn’t get worse. Regardless of the response we choose, the condition of the foundation on which our lives are built will determine how effective our solutions are.
I write a weekly marriage and family advice column entitled “Patching Cracks,” which is published in the local paper. The good people who run the local paper have blessed me enormously by allowing me to write for them. The endeavor has been a huge blessing in my life and has prompted me to spend time considering the difficult dynamic that exists in the world of church work as it relates to the issue of helping folks deal with their personal problems, serving the needs of the world, and the gospel message of Jesus. As Christians, it’s important to consider this dynamic and keep it at the forefront of our minds because it is easy for preachers and teachers to lose their way in this area. In addition, offering help with personal problems may meet their immediate felt needs, but knowing Jesus is a far more important need that everyone has.
The toughest part of the balance is keeping in mind that the Bible is not a “self-help” book. It was not written as instructions for helping you achieve your best life now. It’s easy for pastors to mine through the scriptures and present life tips to help people overcome their depression or believe in themselves enough to accomplish their dreams because the Bible is a book that is imbued with divine wisdom. Many pastors have made a great living and built ministry empires by simply serving congregations milk shake teachings skimmed from the surface of the Biblical texts, and all too often, taken out of context with unintended meanings attached to them. Dealing with problems in our lives by simply using the scriptures as a guide for sticking bandaids on cracked walls may be effective in the short run, but it can never solve the larger problem of a cracked foundation.
The Bible’s actual purpose is stated pretty clearly by Jesus: You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39) Plainly put, the scriptures exist to tell us about Jesus. The Old Testament points forward to His coming. The Gospels tell the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The rest of the New Testament tells of the growth of the church and instructs believers how to live as new creations in Christ, basically pointing back to Him. This isn’t to say that the Bible doesn’t include some very useful information for managing conflict, financial advice, or parenting suggestions. However, any implementable advice that can be gleaned from the Bible needs to be handled in context of Jesus’ saving work. Otherwise, forgiving my enemies, praying for those that wrong me, learning to give my wife grace, or any other life tip is like plaster slathered into a wall crack that is caused by a disintegrating foundation. Effective and lasting life change is the result of being made new in Jesus, not simply picking and choosing the teachings that seem like they will work for us. This is the message of the gospel. Jesus, who is God, came to us as a man and was punished for our sins by dying on the cross. We are forgiven for our sins and spared from their eternal consequences by making Him our Lord. This means that we live for Him. When this happens, we die to our old selves and are made into new creations. We are spiritually brand new. The rest of life is then building our lives on Him and His teachings. In this sense, the scriptures were never intended to be self-help. They tell us how God helps us.
Coming to a place in our lives where we submit to God’s remaking our lives is no small thing. Most people would rather work on solving their own problems than consider submitting to God to solve them for us. The first step to managing our life problems is learning to submit to God.