Calloused Hearts- Mark 9:23

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

COMMENTARY

If thou canst believe, all things are possible
The father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief

I love this example of a father being open and honest about his lacking. He truly wants to have more faith but he just doesn’t. And Jesus is able to work with that. In fact, by waiting to perform the miracle until after the man had made this vulnerable request Jesus was able to heal both child and father.
Sometimes the best prayers I’ve offered have been along the lines of “God, I really wish I didn’t feel so spiritually closed off right now…but I just do.” Rather than trying to push through the spiritual barrier alone or pretend it isn’t there we can call it out directly. We can bring it onto the table so that He can start working with us on it.

Calloused Hearts- Matthew 15:32, 34-37

Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
And Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few little fishes.
And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.
And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.

COMMENTARY

I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way
And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled
Yesterday I shared about a spiritual retreat where my heart reached its saturation point and had difficulty absorbing any more of God’s love. Spiritual connection is fulfilling, but at the same time it can also be emotionally and physically draining.
And while we seek to “bridle passions” and “master the flesh,” we are not meant to become ascetics, ignoring or abusing our physical forms. Jesus showed a great attentiveness to the capacity of the multitude gathered around him. They came to be spiritually fed and they received that. But the long duration had left them faint and he was sensitive to their need for physical revival, too.
It is a good thing to fast, to make physical sacrifices to embolden the spirit, to seek out spiritual experiences that fill us to the limit on a regular basis. But there is wisdom in resting after we have been filled and letting that rapture settle within us.

Leading to Water- Summary

This study reminded me of my desire to raise children who reach their full potential. Like many parents, I feel the strong inclination to solve all of my children’s problems and answer their every question. Of course, in infancy and early childhood this is essential, they cannot survive without such complete care. But one of my children is now at an age where he is able to assume responsibility and resolve some issues on his own. I find myself wondering what the right balance is of giving him answers versus staying quiet so he can find them on his own.
But this study isn’t only for those in a mentoring position. It is also ideal for those of us who are still coming into our own. Through this study I have also become more aware of crutches I am leaning on, ones that I should have let go of long ago so that I could walk more confidently.
This study was helpful to me from both the perspective of a guide and a pupil. And I imagine that I am not the only one who falls firmly under both categories. There are important lessons in this study for all the different hats we wear. Here are the main principles that came up while I was reviewing the subject.

The Purpose of Mentors

Mentors are a good thing. God made us to be social beings and also imitative beings. Our desire is to be part of a community and to model ourselves after others, and this is by divine design. We therefore ought to seek out the best mentors we can find and learn from them all that we can.
By this approach we are augmented with greater strength and wisdom than we, ourselves, possess. Not only this, but over time we can assimilate that greater strength and wisdom into ourselves, becoming a more full and capable person than we were before.
To a point.
Eventually there is a limit to what any mentor can teach us. If we rely on them continually they will eventually shift from being our support to our crutch. The best teachers therefore push their pupils out of the nest so that their growth isn’t forever stunted. From there it will be up to the pupil to seek out the true source of knowledge and strength. There, alone with God, the student will truly come into their own.
1 Samuel 17:39-40- And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
Genesis 37:23-24, 28- 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.

The Greatest Gifts Man Cannot Give

No person that spends their time just imitating another person will ever reach their full potential. None of us was made to be the perfect carbon copy of each other. I can never be another person as well as they already are. The fullest version of a person I could ever hope to be is my own best self.
And by that same logic, no earthly mentor is able to take us all the way to being our own best self either. Our best self is not their own self, and thus they can only show us so far down that path before their vision falls short.
We require a mentor that is on a higher plane and can see exactly what our full potential really is. We require someone who was walked every step in our own shoes and fully understands where we are and how far we can go. We require a being that can assume the very guise of our best self and show it to us as an example to follow. In short, only God could ever help us to know ourselves perfectly.
Matthew 19:17- And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
John 5:19- Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

God Must Be Met Individually

And of course, no mentor can give us their relationship with God for our own. Only we can make that connection. In fact, of all the areas where a pupil might use their teacher as a crutch, this is the most dangerous. If the pupil’s every spiritual whim is catered to by their mentor they might not ever see the necessity for getting any closer to God. They might stunt themselves in this most essential piece of development.
As I shared in my last post, even Jesus’s disciples couldn’t fully come into their own until he had departed from them. Peter had attested that he would follow Jesus to the very end…but he was not supposed to spend the rest of his life as a follower, he was meant to become a leader. And there wasn’t any space for him to do that while Jesus still filled that role.
It is a hard thing for a mentor to stop shielding the pupil they love. It goes against their caring nature to let a student feel the full force of neediness and failure. But for many of us, maybe even all of us, it is only when we are exposed to the elements that we come to realize our dependence God and begin to seek Him in earnest. And from that all good things follow.
John 16:7, 20 (NIV)- But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

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.

A Surety of Truth- John 5:31-32, 34, 37

If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.

COMMENTARY

If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true
We have considered how all mortals have a perspective that is subject to bias, how each of us is destined to make flaws in our judgments, and how we believe things that are simply false. Thus, if my testimony comes from my own understanding, then it is not much to rely on. An “Abe Austin original” is not worth much at all. If ever I do manage to say something that is true or wise or edifying, it will be because it came from some other source.

But I receive not testimony from man: but the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me.
As we saw in the first verse, Jesus himself felt that a testimony which emanates only from the self is extremely suspect. If it was only his own claim that he was the Son of God, then that argument wouldn’t hold water. Anyone could say that, and in fact many of the insane have.
But Jesus is not the witness of his own divinity, and he did not ask his disciples to just take his own word for it. It is very significant that his witness of truth came from without himself. It came from the only sure and flawless source: God.
It might seem a bold thing to call out God, Himself, as the witness to the truths you speak, but it is the only testimony that will ever carry weight. It becomes less bold of an idea, though, when we realize we aren’t invoking Him to back up our truths, we are invoking Him to back up His own. If we don’t feel that we can call on Him to stand behind what we’re saying, then maybe what we’re saying isn’t actually from Him, and we should reconsider its validity.

Our Own Reality- Moses 1:9-10, John 4:9

Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.

And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.

COMMENTARY

How is it that thou askest drink of me? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans
The woman at the well had an understood reality: that Jews hated the Samaritans, and would have nothing to do with them. Thus her confusion when that reality was disrupted by Christ’s willingness to converse with her.
However this was just the beginning of the new realities that she was about to become acquainted with. For as we see in the next verse, Jesus then began to open her mind to the notion of living water. This is a reality that she struggles with initially, confusing it with a literal water, and not a spiritual nourishment. Bit-by-bit Jesus has to guide her through the first steps into this strange new world.

Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed
After his encounter with the Lord, Moses found his reality disrupted as well. Each of us is by default well acquainted with the reality of earth life, in which man is the highest form of existence. And while the reality of earth life is real, it is not the only reality that is real. There is also a heaven, a God, and in that broader reality man is a very small thing indeed.
Like the woman at the well, stepping into the greater reality might be awkward at first. Like Moses, we might find that doing so requires accepting uncomfortable facts, such as our own nothingness. But the greater reality is real and it is greater. It is only to our own benefit that we make the transition.

For Our Own Good- Ruth 1:16; John 13:15, 14:15

And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
If ye love me, keep my commandments.

COMMENTARY

And Ruth said, whither thou goest, I will go; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God
Ruth was not a Jew by birth, but she so loved her mother-in-law that she wished to remain with her always, and to even transform herself to be like her. Though the law of Moses had not applied to her previously in life, now she was electing to live under it.
And this is natural. Whenever we find a mentor or model that we want to be like, it is an obvious step to start mirroring their behaviors. If they became the way that they are by following certain practices, then it stands to reason that adopting those practices might cultivate some of their personality traits in us as well.

For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you
If ye love me, keep my commandments

Jesus, in fact, encouraged this sort of emulation, indeed his whole gospel is hinged around it. When he set his example, he did it deliberately. He behaved the way that he did for the express purpose that others could learn from it and follow suit. This is an incredible thing. Most of us set our example thoughtlessly, and may or may not actually advocate for each practice that we demonstrate. “Do as I say, not as I do.”
For that reason, we should take great caution in whose light we choose to follow. But when we do find a worthy source, when we do have a clear outline of what practices have made them what they are, when we are certain that these principles will also make us into the sort of person we want to be…then we have truly found a pearl of great price, and it is worth giving up all our old practices to receive it.

For Our Own Good- Mark 9:23-24, Ether 12:27

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

COMMENTARY

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
The father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Yesterday we discussed how each of us is weak in our understanding of some commandments, but strong in our understanding of others. One commandment is that we should have faith, which apparently was an area where the father in this passage was weak. His reaction to this failing, however, is a wonderful example for how each of us can face our own realizations of weakness. He acknowledges what strength he does have, what strength he does not have, and then ask for help between the two.

I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and if they humble themselves, and have faith, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
In a non-shaming way, we need to acknowledge that our inability to see the meaning in certain commandments is a weakness. But having these weaknesses is no mistake, in fact our weaknesses are given to us intentionally. Strange as it may sound, we are designed to be somewhat broken.
As we learn from this verse, though, the reason for this design is because when we heal from our brokenness we heal back stronger than if we had always been whole. If all of us had a perfect understanding and commitment to the commandments right from the get-go, we probably would live more obedient lives, but we would not develop our reliance on God and His grace, which is of even greater value.