by Bob Johnson, Church Health Team
We can all admit there are some awesome and miraculous stories in the Bible. “Jonah and the whale,” “Daniel in the Lion’s Den,” and “The Raising of Lazarus from the Dead” are just a few of the marvelous (and true) stories God’s Word contains. One of my favorites is the story of Balaam and His donkey from Numbers 22.
Without re-telling the entire story, the prophet Balaam was commanded by God to deliver a particular message to Balak the King of the Moabites in regard to the coming children of Israel. Initially, Balaam appears to be obedient, but he has a change of heart and goes on his way to the Moabite king with intentions of blessing Moab and cursing Israel. On his journey, the donkey on which Balaam rode hindered the progress three times finally coming to a complete stop the third time. Each time Balaam beat and cursed the donkey to continue on the way. Then in verse 28, the donkey literally spoke up for herself:
Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” (ESV, v 28-30)
There are a couple of points that can be made from this little encounter. First, Balaam had an accountability partner…someone who could speak freely to him and correct him when he strayed. (The fact that it is a female donkey and Balaam would not take directions, is just added, humorous irony.) We all need to have people in our lives that have the right to advise us in loving truth. But the second point is more subtle. The donkey had earned the right to speak to Balaam over years of faithful service. She earned the right to correct him; and in turn, saved his life.
For Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, pastors, even when dealing with our friends, we do not just have the right to speak into the lives of people because of our position, role, education or implied status. One of the points I stress in training teachers is discerning the contrast between relationship and role. A teacher will be and can be much more effective if they have built a relationship and an environment of mutual trust with their class or small group. The most effective teacher earns the right to speak into the lives of those they serve, teach, and lead through shared experiences with them. In addition, it should be noted that this is the model Jesus used Himself.
Most Christians have divorced the teaching of Jesus from the methods of Jesus, and yet they expect the results of Jesus…Discipleship is the emphasis. Relationships are the method…
Jesus invited people into relationship with Himself; he loved them and in the process showed them how to follow God. His primary method was life-on-life.” (Jim Putnam, DiscipleShift)
There may have been a time when solely by status, position, or talent an individual could stand before a crowd and demand the respect and listening ear of the audience. In some instances, that may still be true and there might even be a level of effectiveness depending upon the ability and hand of God upon the speaker. But for the basic Sunday School teacher or small group leader or even just the individual who is trying to help a friend…most of us are going to have to learn how to build the type relationships that will earn us the right to speak Jesus into the lives of those we serve. Our spoken message of Christ’s love will be so much better received if we have already shown His love through our life and actions.