June 15, 2012
In Praise of
 People Who See
Us Dynamically

They Are God's
Special Agents
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This article is adapted from my recently-published Reach Beyond Your Grasp: Embracing Dreams That Reflect God's Best for You -- And Achieving them.
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FOR SOME TIME I’D BEEN STRUGGLING to ride a two-wheel bike without training wheels, but with no success. I kept repeating the same ritual—pedaling a few yards until the bicycle began to tilt, then putting my foot out to break the fall. My problem wasn’t inability but lack of confidence. A bike has to be moving at more than a snail’s pace to stay upright. But I was frightened to pedal fast enough to give it the needed thrust, afraid I’d wipe out severely.

My dad was convinced I would learn to balance, and kept reassuring me. His confidence gave me the hope to try and try again. With his help, I was able to enjoy the fantasy of conquering the two-wheeler for brief periods of time. Dad would hold on to the bike’s seat and run alongside while I peddled furiously. We’d make good headway for a block or two until he got winded. I was adamant about one thing, though: he wasn’t to take his hand off the seat. I kept reminding him again and again.

One day he decided to trust his own judgment. After ambling through several hilly blocks, we came to a level stretch entering a new development next to our neighborhood. I began peddling hard and picked up a head of steam. The momentum felt great, and I turned my head to smile at dad. Only then did I realize that he hadn’t been holding the bike at all, but was standing with arms folded a block back, grinning from ear to ear. I had accomplished my first solo bike ride without knowing it!

My victory with the two-wheeler came for a single reason: my father believed in me more than I believed in myself. He kept encouraging me to try, then took his hand off the bike at just the right moment, so I’d discover for myself that I could do it. He believed in me to the point that I succeeded.

It was one of those landmark childhood experiences that I now look back upon as a parable to my life, for it reflects something I’ve often experienced. At important turning points there have been those who, like my dad with the bike, have seen my potential better than I have. Their confidence, encouragement and wise counsel have inspired me to move ahead. It’s humbling to realize how dependent I’ve been upon their help.

I suspect you’ll say the same about your own experience. When we think carefully over our life, we usually find the same pattern: God has used people with high expectations of us to prod us forward at many critical times. Their help has been vital whenever we’ve been able to reach a personal goal or take an important step of growth.

It’s a near-necessity for most of us when we embark on a major dream or goal to have those special friends who believe in us, and help us find the heart to press on. We’ll probably need those who advise or coach us as well. And depending on the nature of any goal we set, we may need a more formal program of training or education to get us from here to there. But that program is simply an organized means of drawing on the help of people in accomplishing our goal, and if we’re fortunate, people who are positive about us and see our possibilities.

Facing Our Need for Supportive People

Many of us underestimate, often greatly, our need for supportive people. We may assume that, as Christians, we should learn to depend solely upon God at all times and never count upon others’ help. The rugged individualism of our American culture, too, drives us to think that we’re more mature if we can solve our problems, resolve our decisions, and accomplish our goals with as little help from others as possible.

Scripture does teach that God often helps us directly, apart from anyone’s assistance. Yet it never encourages us to presume upon this happening. Here God takes us through an interesting odyssey in the Christian life. On the one hand, he wants to teach us that he is all-sufficient to meet our needs. From time to time, he puts us through experiences to teach us that we can draw our strength from him alone, and shouldn’t lean unfairly on other people. Yet he also wants us to understand that he has made us social creatures, and that he frequently uses others to provide us with encouragement, motivation, direction and support. As soon as we learn the first lesson, it seems, it’s time to learn the second!

When Moses began leading Israel , he first had to learn the lesson about depending upon God alone. God needed to wean Moses of an unhealthy dependence upon Aaron as his personal spokesman.

But in Exodus 18, we find the situation has changed radically. Moses isn’t depending enough upon the help of other people. The Israelites are well into their journey through the desert, and Moses is booked to the teeth with responsibility. On a typical day he “took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening” (Ex 18:13).

Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit him then. Shocked at how overextended Moses has become, Jethro admonishes, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Ex 18:17-18). He urges Moses to share his responsibilities with capable leaders from among the people, and suggests a process for doing so.

Moses follows Jethro’s advice and delegates many tasks. The steps he took to share responsibility probably added years to his life, and certainly increased the quality of his life and leadership in many ways.

The passage teaches us two lessons about our need for others’ help. One is the importance of letting others share our burdens, and of drawing on their help in many areas. The other is our need for the enlightenment God provides through other people. What I find most striking about the incident is this: Moses communicated with God more closely and directly than anyone in the Old Testament (Ex 33:11, Deut 34:10). God often gave Moses explicit guidance, and even revealed to him in exacting detail the directions for building a sanctuary in the desert. Yet God didn’t give Moses any direct guidance about how to manage his time and priorities, or about the need for delegating responsibility. It was left to a trusted friend, Jethro, to offer this critical advice.

We learn that vital insight and inspiration needed to realize our potential may not come directly from God, but from supportive, dynamic-thinking people whom he inspires to help us. If we don’t open ourselves to their help, we’re likely to live beneath our potential. And we may fail to enjoy some of the most welcome provision God has for our needs.

Finding People Who See Us Dynamically

How, then, should we go about finding supportive people, especially when we’re embarking on a major dream or goal? Each of us has among our acquaintances and potential contacts far more opportunities for supportive relationships than we normally imagine. Here are some suggestions for finding them:

Begin with prayer. Our need for supportive, dynamic-thinking people is so close to the heart of God’s concern for our life that it’s clearly an appropriate topic for prayer. Pray regularly that God will bring you into contact with those who believe in you, and who inspire you to realize God’s best for your life. Mention this concern daily in your devotional time, and from time to time pray about it more extensively.

If your need for affirming relationships is significant, don’t hesitate to take an afternoon, a day or longer for a personal retreat to express your need to God. Be sure to thank him for the supportive relationships he has provided you in the past. Ask him, also, to help you understand any changes you can make that will better help you find these relationships in the future. Then move forward in light of the insights you’ve gained.

Take inventory of your relationships. Carefully think over your friendships, family contacts and other acquaintances. Is there someone you know who by instinct thinks positively about you, gives you good counsel, and inspires you to meet challenges? Is this person open to a closer friendship? If so, you may want to give more time to nurturing this friendship and drawing on this person’s strength. As much as possible, give priority in your social life to those who see you dynamically.

By the same token, if some acquaintances are outrightly unaffirming and belittle your dreams, avoid contact with them as much as possible. Take control of the time you spend with people, and maximize that spent with those who encourage you.

Teachers and coaches. I’m often fascinated at the bond that can develop between us and a teacher or coach, especially one who’s training us in a talent we’re eager to develop. I’ve seen so many cases where a teacher has seen a student’s potential far better than the student has, and by optimism and skillful instruction has inspired the student to heights he or she never thought possible. Often the side effect is that the student grows more optimistic about life in general.

A dynamic bond can sometimes develop in a short period with a teacher we’ve never previously met. It happened the first night for my son Ben, in sixth grade, with a most unlikely candidate—a 74-year-old hearing-impaired drum teacher with several disabled, arthritic fingers. On Thursday nights for the next five years, Johnny Smith, a retired Washington , D.C. jazz drummer, worked magic with Ben. In a tiny, makeshift basement studio, Smith taught with the aid of only several cheap drum pads, a few homemade wooden cymbals, and an ancient hi-fi system with distorted speakers. He not only taught Ben invaluable techniques but, most important, constantly assured him that he could master the drums, and praised each small step forward. Smith’s impact was such that Ben was a highly-skilled drummer by high school. He then majored in music and percussion in college, and today teaches high school band.

The magic, though, can occur for us at any age. My mom had a late-blooming success with landscape painting. It started when, at 63, she took a painting course at a local women’s club. Her teacher recognized a latent talent and encouraged her to take painting seriously. For many years, she studied under this gifted instructor, who inspired her on with his confidence. In time, she won a number of women’s club awards in landscape painting.

I don’t mean to imply that anyone can count on becoming the next Buddy Rich or Grandma Moses just by sitting under the right teacher. Each of us, though, does have areas where we’re far more capable of blossoming under a qualified instructor than we typically think. If you have a skill you’re eager to develop, pray earnestly, ask around, and see if you can find a gifted teacher who will work with you. Then take the risk—sign up with him or her for a course or private lessons. Give the teaching process a fair chance, and see how it goes. In some cases, the impact of an inspired teacher can be thoroughly life-changing.

The healing help of counselors. Professional counselors, by their training and often their temperament, naturally focus on seeing people dynamically. Counselors can benefit us in a variety of ways—from clarifying our thinking in decisions, to helping us better communicate, to helping us resolve deep-rooted conflicts. The right counselor can do us a world of good.

In most metropolitan areas, you’ll also find many Christian counselors, some on church staffs, who are qualified to help with your area of need, while respecting your values and commitment to Christ.

There are also many counselors today who focus not on conflict resolution, but on training clients to live successfully and accomplish their goals. Often called “life coaches,” you’ll find them in metropolitan areas and sometimes on large church’s staffs. Good life coaches by their nature are possibility thinkers who see your potential well. The right life coach can aid you tremendously in achieving a goal, both through helping you map out strategy and by being a supportive friend.

If you believe you can benefit from professional counseling or life coaching, don’t hesitate to seek such help. Counselors do differ greatly in their approaches, and you may find more rapport with one than another. Feel free to interview several in seeking the one who’s right for you. For some of us, counseling or coaching can fill a substantial void, and provide exactly the missing support we need toward reaching a goal.

The benefits of an active social life. Any steps you take to become more socially active increase your chance of making friends and meeting affirming people. Joining a social club, of course, can do it. There are endless other possibilities, though. Taking a course at a community college, or through your county’s adult education program, may yield a friendship with the teacher or others in the class. You may likewise forge lasting friendships by joining an athletic team, or a music or drama group. Or by volunteering with a community organization or mission that can use your talent. There are vast differences in the social climate of different groups—in the supportive spirit present, the chemistry you may experience with the members, and the likelihood of finding friendship. It can take some research and experimenting to find the settings that work best for you.

It can happen, too, that you become stigmatized unfairly in any social situation, or discover that its climate is by nature unsupportive. You may be surprised, though, to find how radically different people treat you in another setting—even a similar group in the same community. The experience of changing social situations can be as extreme as moving from one country to another.

Gaining even just one friend who believes in you proves a matchless treasure when you take on a goal dream. God often uses such a friend to help you chart your course. And your friend’s positive expectations and hope for your success will help you find the heart to stay on course toward your objective.

The golden opportunities within Christian fellowship. Some of the most affirming people on this planet are Christians who’ve been deeply touched by the grace of God. Compassionate Christians with a dynamic, grace-centered perspective on the Christian life are often extraordinary encouragers. I visit few churches and fellowship groups where I don’t encounter at least some of these notable people. And some Christian communities, because of the focus of their teaching and ministry, tend especially to attract them.

Our primary motive for joining a church or Christian group, to be sure, should be to grow in Christ. Yet it’s also important to be looking to the Christian community as a source for supportive relationships. I don’t mean to overlook the complexity often involved in deciding which church or fellowship group to attend, and when it might be right to leave one for another; I look at some of the issues involved in these choices in The Yes Anxiety (chapter 13). But the good news is that most of us have many excellent options for Christian fellowship available within the region where we live. Often these include many opportunities we haven’t yet discovered. Over time, we’ll likely find that the Christian community provides us with the best setting for forming special friendships with supportive people.

See others dynamically. Finally, in looking for supportive relationships, it’s hard to overstress the importance of “doing unto others.” If we’re eager to find those who are affirming and forward-looking with us, one of the most important steps we can take is to act this way toward other people. Encouragers attract encouragers. Fortunately, there’s much we can do to improve our social skills and sharpen our ability to see others dynamically.

One of the most endearing qualities of Jesus during his earthly ministry was his uncanny ability to see people dynamically. Consider his remarkable encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4). He was able to see beyond her erratic past and recognize her possibilities. The impact of a few minutes interacting with Jesus was so profound that she went on to become the most effective witness in the Gospels, drawing hoards of Samaritans into contact with Jesus.

May this incident inspire us to see others’ possibilities, and to encourage them in the ways we hope to be encouraged ourselves.

In the same way, may it inspire us to look for dynamic-thinking people to support us as we move toward our goals. Whatever the goal or dream you’ve embraced, there are people out there who can help you achieve it, by believing in you, encouraging and coaching you. Think of these folks as God’s special agents—for indeed, that’s what they are.

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This article is adapted from my recently-published Reach Beyond Your Grasp: Embracing Dreams That Reflect God's Best for You -- And Achieving them.

Nehemiah Notes is available twice-monthly by e-mail.

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Copyright 2012 M. Blaine Smith.
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