Leading to Water- Give a Man a Fish

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

This, of course, is a very famous proverb. It teaches an important principle about how a person in need is benefited more by improving their faculties than by just improving their immediate situation. But while the principle is obviously true the proper execution of it remains a hotly contested subject.

Some say that giving beggars a handout makes them reliant on an unhealthy system. Others say it is hard for a beggar to care about improving their situation over time when their belly is empty today. So where is the line between teaching someone and becoming their crutch?

Well the problem with debates like these is how they seek a one-size-fits-all solution to a very nuanced problem. Good principles can be applied universally, but the execution of them will always be individual. The correct way to teach Jack to fish will be different from the correct way to teach Jane. Jane might flourish best when learning with a full belly, while Jack might need his hunger to motivate him.

It is better to help people now, even imperfectly, than to wait until you are perfect. Just use your best judgment today and then be ready to adapt your methods as needed.

Leading to Water- Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

COMMENTARY

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He restoreth my soul
He preparest a table before me
He anointest my head with oil
My cup runneth over
I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever
Psalm 23 describes what is the great desire of us all: to feel so meticulously cared for by the Lord, so provided for in all our needs. Each of us should feel that He really is our good shepherd.
But there can be barriers to receiving such opulent care. The Lord cannot be our caring shepherd if we do not elect to be His sheep. And we fail to be His sheep when we are not willing to fully rely on Him.
This might come in the form of depending on the testimony of others instead of seeking out our own. When we believe simply because our parents or pastor believed, then we make them into our shepherd instead, depending on them as an intermediary between us and God. This might also come in the form of saying we do not need anyone. We are our own shepherd, already having all the answers and perfectly capable of providing for ourselves. This mentality pushes away anyone, God included, who might have been a help to us.
Of course friends and mentors are good, and self-reliance is good, too. But each can be taken to an excess. Better to have each built on the foundation of our relationship to God and not the other way around.

Leading to Water- Luke 8:41-42, 51-55

And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come into his house:
For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying. But as he went the people thronged him.
And when he came into the house, he suffered no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden.
And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth.
And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.
And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise.
And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat.

COMMENTARY

There came Jairus, and he fell down at Jesus’ feet, and besought him that he would come: for he had one only daughter, and she lay a dying.
And he took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway.
There is an a lesson in this story that is essential for all parents everywhere. Jairus is already a faithful man, he was a spiritual leader in his synagogue, but when his daughter was in the most dire straits he went directly to the source for help.
Of course it is natural for us parents to want to solve our children’s every problem, to answer their every question, to be everything that they need us to be. But sooner or later there are problems that we will never be able to help them out with. The most important things in life are beyond any mortal power to resolve.
And so it is important as parents that we, like Jairus, bring the savior into the room with our child. Even if we can resolve today’s matter by ourselves, now and again we should acquaint our sons and daughters with the one who can resolve all matters. Then they will know where to go when we are unavailable or insufficient.

Leading to Water- Genesis 37:23-24, 28; 41:38, 40-42

And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;
And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.
Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?
Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou.
And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt.
And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck;

COMMENTARY

And when Joseph was come unto his brethren, they stript Joseph of his coat, and cast him into a pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver
I have already considered the story of Jacob, and how he became an active author of his life rather than having everything handed to him. And this pattern seems to have been an integral part of his lineage. As seen in the verses I have shared, it was certainly the same for his own son Joseph.
Joseph, like Jacob, began his life in comfort and wealth. He had everything that he needed, but then he also lost it all when his brothers stripped him of his precious coat and sold him as a slave to a foreign land. If anything, he lost even more than his father had.

Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled. And Pharaoh took off his ring  and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and put a gold chain about his neck;
But also he ended up gaining more than his father as well. Like Jacob, he ascended by his personal effort and by his reliance on the Lord. From a slave, to a prisoner, to the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. Who else could claim a similar journey? Certainly it was a far different inheritance than the one he would have expected as a child, but it was an inheritance that was truly all his own.
Like these patriarchs, we are not meant to just “inherit” our journey, or testimony, or purpose in life. If there is anything made clear in the stories, it is that God wants us to have an experience that is all our own. Our lives shouldn’t be built on someone else’s foundation. Mine should be rooted in Him and me, and yours should be rooted in Him and you.

Leading to Water- Review of Jacob

Over the past few days I have considered the story of Jacob in the Old Testament, and I have found that it has several lessons to teach. First, though it is important to understand the context of where Jacob begins his story.

Jacob was born into a rich family and likely lacked for nothing. He even obtained the birthright from his father, and thus all of the luxuries he enjoyed as a son would one day become his very own. His father and grandfather were also very spiritual men, and had no doubt educated him about God and the covenant that he had been born into.

Yet for having had a claim on everything, from a broader point of view Jacob actually possessed nothing. These were Abraham and Isaac’s wealth and blessings just being handed down to him. His forefathers had earned all this, not him. Fortunately, it was not his destiny to just become his father. It was intended that he would find his own self.

And so he was sent out from his home, and his comforts, and his family, and the entire land of his youth. Alone in the wild he made his pillow out of stones and asked God for the thing he wanted most: to just go back home to his father’s house.

But that was not what happened.

God’s intent was that Jacob build his own house. To be motivated in that cause, God led Jacob to Rachel who awoke a powerful love in him. He felt inspired by her to toil and labor for the things his heart yearned for. Fourteen years he served for her, and along the way he obtained for himself large flocks of goats and sheep. These became the foundation of his own personal vocation, a wealth that he had earned rather than inherited.

Eventually Jacob did return to his homeland, bringing with him his great entourage. He received word that his brother Esau was coming to meet him, though, with a large host of men. It seemed certain to Jacob that Esau was coming to kill him and everything that he had. Family, servants, flocks…all of it.

Once again Jacob had a private conversation with God, pleading for the thing he wanted most: that he and his family would be kept alive.

And that was what happened.

Esau’s heart had been softened and he welcomed his brother in peace. Not only this, but Jacob was given a new name from the Lord: Israel. This is a very fitting symbol for how Jacob had truly become a new man. His own man.

His relationship to God was his own. His family was his own. His vocation was his own…. Through the help of God, his entire life was his own.

Leading to Water- Genesis 32:9, 11, 24, 28

And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee:
Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

COMMENTARY

And Jacob said, O God, Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children
Over the past two days I have shared how Jacob entered into a covenant with the Lord in his moment of want and began a partnership with him. From that foundation he gradually accumulated the family, the wealth, and position that would define him. Together with God, Jacob had found himself.
But then, after he had gained so much, he came to a moment where he might lose it all again. Esau, his brother, had previously sworn to kill Jacob, and was now approaching with a battalion of men.
Jacob was in danger of losing everything that he had gained, and not only that, but even of losing the little he had always had, even his own life. In this moment of desperation he once again turned to God and petitioned for help.

And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
And he said, Thy name shall be called Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God.

On the eve of meeting his brother and receiving his judgment Jacob was left in total solitude. He was alone with his fears, and here he had another miraculous encounter with God. This one was a bit different more active than the vision he received in his sleep, though! This time he physically wrestled with the Lord, just as he had been wrestling with his fears.
And while I do not know the exact state of Jacob’s mind, I can personally see how in the moment of great duress I would benefit from a moment of exertion and struggle, a time to get out my fearful energy before the calming reassurance was given.
Ultimately Jacob prevailed and his request for preservation was granted. Not only this, but he grew even more fully into his true identity. He proved worthy of a new name, one that would define both him and the nation that issued forth from him.

Evolving Your Beliefs- John 8:39-40, 52-53

They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.
Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death.
Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?

COMMENTARY

They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father.
Art thou greater than our father Abraham?

A major point of contention between Jesus and the disbelievers was that they perceived his teachings as an attack on their patriarchs. Here they are making an appeal to authority, claiming that their doctrine is derived directly from Abraham. Jesus frankly refutes that claim.
Their position, though, is one that I believe many of us can directly relate to. We often bristle when someone suggests that some of our conceptions of God and morality are amiss, even when the person making that suggestion is God, Himself! One reason is because that accusation feels like a slight against the place where we received our teaching: our childhood home. “Art thou greater than our father?!”
Sometimes God is going to say things that we don’t like. And it might be “your parents were wrong, so stop holding onto their old beliefs.” Even if He’s only saying they were wrong in part, that still stings us.
Or, it might be the exact opposite. He might be saying to you “your parents were right all along, so stop trying to be smarter than them.” Even if He’s only saying that they were right in part, it still stings us.
In the end, people tend to feel very passionately about their family of origin. They either love them or they hate them, they are proud of them or they are proud of having grown past them. In either case they struggle to accept that some parts of that home could be good, and other parts not so much. Sooner or later, though, God is going to come disrupt our personal pride, and coax us toward a higher truth.

Personal Promises- Summary

Many believe in God, but true spiritual vocation does not begin until one knows Him personally. I wanted to use this study to explain why this is the case, and to convince any reader that they can and must seek this personal relationship with God.

We are immensely aided in this quest by the fact that the greatest being in the universe has this exact intention for us as well. It’s not like we have to convince God to be our friend. And if there are obstacles that are preventing Him from coming into our lives, He will work tirelessly to bring them down.

This is why people so many say that coming to know God was simply being a process of tearing down their walls and letting in the light. It’s already there reaching out for us, we only have to receive it.

No Person Can Replace the Need For God

My wife and I are expecting our second child, and I have had some concerns for how this will affect my relationship with our son. I do not doubt that my capacity for love and devotion to him will remain intact, even while cultivating the same for the new child. But there is simply no getting around the fact that my time for him will diminish.
We are finite beings with limited physical resources. When new dependencies are added, all others must necessarily receive less of those resources. That is just the way of the world.
Already I am incapable of meeting my son’s every need, and as my resources stretch thinner and his needs grow deeper, I will only become more so. Any person who has had any position of authority is well acquainted with this inadequacy, and they will realize that their real duty is simply to point their followers to the true source. Like Jairus, we must bring the Lord to our children, so that He can do for them all the things that we cannot.
Exodus 18:17-18- And Moses’ father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.

We All Need God in Different Ways

We may try to chart our own course, following general guidelines and generic rules, but that will only take us so far. Eventually we all run into very personal, and very specific spiritual needs. And even if our highly specific need is already answered in the scriptures, we will still need a personal touch just to show us where it is!
Even outside of receiving guidance, we also need to be seen and heard. Yes, knowing God’s will is important, but we also need to know His love. We need to feel the reality of being His child. Being told by a preacher that we are His child is not enough, we need Him to tell us that we are.
In short there is not a single one of us that does not need God to come personally in our hearts. We were never meant to follow His shadow, or to only hear secondhand the wonders that He has done. He wishes to reveal Himself to us directly.
Psalm 102:1- Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee.
Matthew 11:28-29- Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Scriptural Stories Give Us Hope For Connection

The presence of God was never meant to be limited to the prophets of ancient times. The miracles of God were never meant to cease with the Kingdom of Israel. The scriptures and the accounts of the miracles in them were not given to tell us what God theoretically could do. We have those records to give us confidence that He will do the same for us.
We often say that we are inspired by the stories of Jesus healing the sick. But “inspired” does not mean just to be made to feel good, it means to be motivated, to be stimulated, to be given a vision to reach for. We should read about the blind seeing and the lame walking and say “well then why not me, too?”
Counting on God to show up for us can be a frightful thing to do. The fact is, if we vulnerably reach out and find nothing there, that would be a very crushing experience. There’s no shame in admitting that.
But the stories in the scriptures tell us that we should dare to hope. Yes it would be crushing to learn that no one was there to meet us. But there was someone there for Bartimaeus. And for Jairus’s daughter. And for the man sick with palsy. And for Mary Magdalene. And for the widow with the cruse of oil. And for Daniel in the lion’s den. And for the army of Gideon. And for the Israelites fleeing across the Red Sea. And for so many others. He will be there for you, too.
Malachi 3:10- Prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

The Lord Sees You- Life Example

My dearest spiritual experiences have to do with the times that I felt the Lord was seeing me directly. Though I may try to appear as an entirely self-dependent adult to the world, in my heart I am still His child and I still crave His awareness of me.

Growing up I was the fourth child of nine. Though each one of us has always been a distinct individual, it was still hard to not feel labelled as “another one of the Austins.” In fact people still mistake me for one or another of my brothers even today. Any time I reached a milestone in life I had already seen brothers and sisters get there before me. Every accomplishment I achieved had already been exceeded by one sibling or another. I always felt that I was distinct, but I didn’t feel recognized as such.

If nine children seems like a lot, how about the billions of our Heavenly Father? And yet, remarkably, God has never treated me like a “one of.” In many interactions He has reiterated to me that I am “His only.” By which I mean that while He may have many children, I am the only me that He has. I am the only me that He will ever have. And He holds me precious because of that.

Though in the scriptures we hear Him promise blessings to all His children, in my experience He makes a point of delivering those blessings individually. You don’t receive His spirit because you are “one of” anything, you receive it because you are you. Never forget: though the rain may shower us all, the drops that fall on you are individual, they touch no one else.