The following exercise is from the synchroblog at http://frankviola.org/2012/07/09/gospelforthemiddle
Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.
One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.
Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.
Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.
Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.
Recently Fielding asked this question:
When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)
Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.
Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.
Question: If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?
The first thing a hearer must do in attempting to answer a question is to understand the question. How would I instruct Fielding and his wife if I were Fielding’s cousin? I’m assuming that the goal of this question is to find and communicate a solution to Fielding’s problem. But what, exactly, is Fielding’s problem? Fielding says, “Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle.” The narrator (Frank Viola? Fielding’s unnamed cousin?) has given us further clarification by defining “in the middle” for us: “someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.” Because this is Fielding’s problem, not the narrator’s problem, I prefer to rely only on Fielding’s words to define the problem. So, what does Fielding want?
Fielding says, “Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle.” When Fielding says, “solution”, readers can assume there is a problem. As I set aside the narrator’s words and review Fielding’s words only, I can identify the real problem.
Fielding notices that his interest in God depends on others (his cousin, a “good” local church, etc). Fielding assumes that the solution to his problem is to surround himself with people who are interested in God. But his circumstances are such that this seems to be an impossibility. So, he places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of an unnamed, faceless “someone” who needs to come up with a solution.
Notice that Fielding deflects all responsibility toward others. His interest in God depends on others. His solution depends on others. His inability to implement that solution depends on others.
How do “others” respond? The narrator suggests (by naming all the circumstances and reasons why there’s nothing that Fielding can do about his problem and asking for a solution) that Fielding is justified in placing the responsibility for his lack of interest in God on others, and it really is up to others to fix his problem. Can others fix his problem? Should others even try to fix this problem? If they found a way to surround Fielding with believers, would that mean Fielding’s problem is fixed?
Again, what does Fielding really want? I believe he wants to “want to” know God. He wants God to give him a desire to know God that is persistent, despite his circumstances. This is a very basic spiritual need. Fielding, in recognizing that Jesus is the Savior of the world, was in-dwelt by the Spirit of God. That’s why he’s keenly aware of his own lack of interest in knowing God. The Spirit of God is beginning His work at the very center of Fielding’s heart. Once this problem is resolved, once Fielding consistently “wants to” know God, then God will make Himself known to Fielding.
Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you; for every one who is asking doth receive, and he who is seeking doth find, and to him who is knocking it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-9)
Fielding is doing two things that are preventing him from getting what he wants. First, he is asking the wrong question. Second, his question is aimed in the wrong direction. His question ought to be directed inward, to the Spirit of God in him. Fielding’s question ought to be, “Why am I only interested in God when I’m around my Christian cousin?” He should recognize that the only reason he even thinks to ask this question to begin with is that the Spirit of God is at work in him. This, in itself, would be reassurance for Fielding that despite his circumstances, God is right there with him, doing what God does best – changing Fielding from the inside out, not from the outside in.
Jesus also said, “If any one may love me, my word he will keep, and my Father will love him, and unto him we will come, and abode with him we will make; he who is not loving me, my words doth not keep; and the word that ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you, remaining with you, and the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and remind you of all things that I said to you. Peace I leave to you; my peace I give to you, not according as the world doth give do I give to you” (John 14:23-27)
I wonder, do Christians really believe that the Spirit of God will teach us everything we need to know about God? I don’t think that Christians trust God in this. Why? Because the Spirit of God teaches us in His own time and in His own way. We want it all, and we want it now. We want Fielding to become a shining example of the transforming work of Christ. We want him to demonstrate this by being “evangelistic” and “fully absorbed in the faith” and “fully surrendered” to Christ in everything he does, which, of course, includes meeting regularly with other like-minded believers. No excuses, Fielding! But what if the Spirit of God, for the moment, just wants Fielding to recognize the current state of his heart? What if the Spirit of God, being patient and kind and loving, is only concerned about teaching Fielding to be honest with himself and with God? What if the Spirit of God is teaching Fielding how to pray – “God, what’s keeping me from being interested in you? Why is it that I want to know more about you only when I’m around my cousin? Will you give me a real, lasting desire to know you? Will you teach me what it is about myself that keeps me from wanting to know you more?”
If God answers that prayer, then Fielding will find a way to learn about God. The desire to learn will be there, and in seeking to fill that desire, Fielding will begin an ongoing conversation with God as teacher who uses everything in Fielding’s life as a lesson on Who He is and what He does. Perhaps God will bring people into Fielding’s life to help him along, but Fielding’s desire for God will not go unanswered, if it is a genuine desire. Right now, it’s not a genuine desire. And it seems to me that the Spirit of God is doing a fine job (without our help) of making Fielding aware of his real problem. If believer’s don’t jump in and “fix” Fielding’s problem, then maybe Fielding will realize he’s been asking the wrong question and looking to people for answers that only God can give. This is God’s work, not Fielding’s and not ours.