Chance or choice?


Think this; don’t think that

48bookA HEALTHY BODY produces energy. Likewise, a healthy mind produces joy. This is not an accident. If you want to experience vibrant health and abundant energy, it is essential that you consume certain foods and drinks and refrain from consuming others. The same is true if you want to lose weight or put more muscle on your frame. You have to say yes to the foods that lead you toward your goal and no to those that lead you away. Very simply, you need to eat this, not that. And while, for the most part, this is now considered common sense, it is not always common practice for those desiring to reshape their physical bodies or increase their energy levels.

Progress toward joy begins the same way, with a firm decision to cut back on joy-reducing thoughts and increase joy-producing thoughts. In short, you have to change your mental diet. You have to think this, not that. After all, joy is the sum and substance of emotional health.

Many well-meaning individuals desire to be leaner or more energetic but then continue to indulge in a diet and lifestyle that takes them in the opposite direction. Consequently, they do not reach their goal. Many with the goal of increased joy run into the same predicament: they keep consuming a mental diet mismatched with their goal. In both instances, there is a major disconnect between desired objectives and daily behavior.

Joy is a state of mind that must be purposely cultivated if you are to live and love and influence others as God intended. Fortunately, joy does not depend on the outer conditions of your material life, but rather on the inner condition of your mental life. Joy is the result of something strikingly simple, though not necessarily easy: consistently thinking joy-producing thoughts.

Is this within your grasp? Is it even possible for anyone to accomplish? Before you answer, let me remind you that few endeavors worth pursuing come easily to anyone, and the attainment of a joy-filled spirit is no exception. There are risks in shooting for this gold standard of faith in action. There is a high price to be paid, and it must be paid in advance. Certain comfort thoughts will need to be relinquished. Counterproductive habits will need to be abandoned. Tenured excuses must be surrendered.

Since you are free to choose what you think about, and you have billions of options, what specific thoughts should you increase to become joy filled? What specific thoughts should you decrease? What kinds of thoughts will distress your soul? What types of thoughts will nourish and hydrate your soul?

At any given moment we can consciously choose to

• think excellent thoughts, not mediocre thoughts;

• think focused thoughts, not scattered thoughts;

• think fresh, exciting thoughts, not stale, boring thoughts;

• think compassionate thoughts, not harsh thoughts;

• think innovative thoughts, not common thoughts;

• think loving thoughts, not indifferent thoughts;

• think energetic thoughts, not exhausted thoughts;

• think constructive thoughts, not destructive thoughts;

• think helpful thoughts, not hurtful thoughts;

• think successful thoughts, not failure thoughts;

• think faith thoughts, not fear thoughts;

• think fit thoughts, not fat thoughts;

• think bold thoughts, not comfort thoughts;

• think opportunity thoughts, not security thoughts;

• think giving thoughts, not getting thoughts;

• think serving thoughts, not self-centered thoughts;

• think grateful thoughts, not entitled thoughts;

• think abundant thoughts, not lacking thoughts;

• think responsible thoughts, not irresponsible thoughts;

• think reconciliation thoughts, not retaliation thoughts;

• think principled thoughts, not popular thoughts;

• think positive thoughts, not negative thoughts;

• think thoughts of victory, not thoughts of defeat; or

• think about the promises of God, not the problems of this world.

Think about what you want, not what you don’t want. Why is this required for joy-filled living? Very simply stated, we tend to bring about what we think about. As King Solomon counseled, “As [a person] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, NKJV).

Building on Solomon’s wisdom, James Allen wrote that “the outer world of circumstance shapes itself to the inner world of thought, and both pleasant and unpleasant external conditions are factors which make for the ultimate good of the individual. As the reaper of his own harvest, man learns both by suffering and bliss.”

It is my intention that during this forty-day regimen, you will start experiencing more of the bliss that is called joy-filled living. Starting today, release the need to hang on to thoughts that haven’t worked well for you.

It is true that we can think this, not that!

Tommy Newberry, 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life: Living the 4:8 Principle (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2012).

The Bible and feeding the poor

Matthew 25:35 ESV For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

Isaiah 58:10 ESV If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.

Proverbs 28:27 ESV Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.

Luke 3:11 ESV And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Matthew 14:15-21 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. …

James 2:14-18 ESV What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

John 6:35 ESV Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

Proverbs 14:31 Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

Proverbs 31:20 ESV She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.

1 John 3:17-18 ESV But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Romans 12:20 ESV To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Deuteronomy 8:1-20 ESV “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. …

John 6:55-59 ESV For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

2 Kings 4:43 ESV But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’”

Luke 12:20 ESV But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

Luke 9:13 ESV But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.”

Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Meeting felt needs first

Down the long, dusty road on their way from Jericho to Jerusalem, almost two thousand years ago, trod Jesus with His motley band of twelve disciples, followed by a huge crowd.

Because of their long journey, they were all hot and sweaty. The dust clung to them. They were weary, but Jesus was at the height of His popularity and the great crowd of people pressed close to Him. They were jabbering endlessly. Asking questions. Seeking favours. They could be heard a mile away.

“Hey, what’s all the noise?” blind Bartimaeus asked his friend as they sat by the highway begging.

“I don’t know,” answered his friend with a puzzled tone in his voice.

“Let’s ask somebody else,” they agreed.

“It’s Jesus,” a passer-by informed them.

“You mean Jesus of Nazareth, the fellow they claim can heal the sick and the blind?” Bartimaeus excitedly asked.

“That’s the One,” came the reply, “and I’m not going to miss seeing Him for anything. Good-bye.”

The crowd came closer and closer. Excitement filled the air. The noise became intense.

“I can’t believe it,” shouted Bartimaeus to his friend. “This just has to be my lucky day. I’ve got to get to Jesus. I know He can heal me.”

“Hey, Bart, there He is,” cried Bartimaeus’s friend, “but how will you ever get His attention?”

Dignity was dismissed. “This is it,” said Bartimaeus. “I may never see Jesus again. I want to be healed.”

So, seeking to drown out the noise of the crowd. Bartimaeus yelled at the top of his voice, “Jesus, have mercy on me! O Lord, son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Cool it, man! Calm down!” retorted some of the crowd to Bartimaeus. “You’re making too much noise. There are so many others here you don’t stand a chance of getting to Jesus, so just relax and keep quiet!”

But Bartimaeus was all the more determined to get to Jesus. He couldn’t see, but he could yell. He cried out all the louder. Hear his voice rise above the din of the crowd. It rang out like a great clarion call. “Jesus, O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, O Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And Jesus stood still.

And the crowds stood still.

And a great calm settled down over them all.

The winds and the waves couldn’t stop the Saviour. Neither could angry mobs. Crowds of people couldn’t stop Him either. But a lone, blind beggar did.

And Jesus with His great heart of compassion asked for Bartimaeus to be brought over to Him. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.

“Lord,” Bartimaeus nervously replied, “please give me my sight.”

And Jesus did. “Go your way,” He said, “Your faith has made you whole.”

Immediately Bartimaeus could see and he followed Jesus along the way (Mark 10:46-52).

With Christ, a person’s salvation usually came as a result of His having first met that person’s felt need.

If Jesus had anything like a standard approach it was more likely to be a question such as the following: “What do you want me to do for you?” or “Do you want to be made whole?” or “What is your deepest need?”


The Woman at the Well

On another occasion Jesus and His disciples left Judea to head for Galilee. He wanted to go through Samaria, as He had some business to take care of on the way.

About midday Jesus was tired so He sat down and rested at Jacob’s well. While His disciples were in town getting some lunch, a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well.

I’m sure this woman was the reason for Jesus wanting to come this way. But how could He approach her? For one thing she was a Samaritan and Jesus was a Jew, and it wasn’t socially or culturally acceptable for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan. She also had some personal problems which would make it look rather suspicious for Jesus to be talking to her alone. She had lived a rather colourful life and had had a few men in her time. Because of this she wasn’t too popular with the other women of the town, so she came to the well alone in the middle of the day. All the other women came in the cool of the evening to draw their water.

Imagine, if you can, Jesus approaching this woman by making a statement like this: “Excuse me, lady, my name is Jesus and I’d like to ask you a personal question.” And without waiting for a reply or giving her a choice He asks, “Tell me, if you should die tonight do you know where you would spend eternity?”

Not being a member of a local church she probably wouldn’t have the faintest idea what He was talking about and would probably dismiss Him as being some kind of a religious freak.

But Jesus didn’t approach her with any kind of a pat program. Being very sensitive to people’s needs He knew that this woman was in trouble. The fact that she came to the well alone in the heat of the day was saying that. Somehow He sensed the kind of life she lived and knew that she was hurting, that underneath her brave exterior and good looks was a frightened and lonely woman. Her felt need was emotional. She needed understanding and acceptance.

Psychologists say that every life a person touches he either builds a bridge to that person or a wall between them. And Jesus, being a great bridge builder, bridged the great social gap between them by simply asking, “Please give me a drink.”

This was the beginning of quite an interesting conversation. Following a brief discussion about living water, Jesus put His finger on both the need and problem area of her life. Without judging her in any way He told her that He knew she was living with a man who wasn’t her husband and that she had already had five husbands. “You have to be a prophet,” she exclaimed and then turned the conversation to spiritual things herself.

She then got so excited that she left her waterpot behind, rushed back to the city and, in essence, said to the men, “Come with me. I want you to meet a man who told me all about myself with all my weaknesses and He accepted me just as I am. He didn’t even criticise me. He must be the Christ.” (See John 4:1-30.)

Jesus knew this woman’s deepest need – her need for acceptance – and when He met it she believed in Him and automatically became a most enthusiastic, witness.



Then there was Zacchaeus, the little fellow who had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus when He passed by. In spite of the great crowd of people, Jesus saw him in his tree and came over to talk to him.

I wonder just how Zacchaeus felt with Jesus looking up at him. He was a tax gatherer and, as such, was despised by the people. In a sense he was an upper-class social outcast. You can imagine some of the thoughts and feelings racing through his mind: “I wonder what Jesus is going to say to me? I’m scared to death. Will he condemn me too?”

But his fears were quickly allayed. Sensing Zacchaeus’s deep social need and a need for a friend, Jesus quietly said. “Come down, my friend, I would like to go home with you for dinner tonight.”

When Jesus met his felt need, Zacchaeus, of his own initiative, confessed his sin and promised to make restitution to all he had cheated (Luke 19:1-10).


The Man at Bethesda

In Jerusalem there was a pool called Bethesda where many sick, crippled, blind, and impotent people waited. This particular pool was visited from time to time by an angel after which it had certain healing powers for the first person who entered the water.

One of those many people lying on his bed beside the pool was a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years! One day Jesus came to him and said, “Would you like to be made whole?”

The impotent man replied pathetically, “But, sir, I don’t have anybody to put me in the pool when the waters are visited. And while I am struggling to get there, somebody else always beats me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.”

And the man did. Jesus had healed him – and left without even telling the man who He was or why He healed him.

It was at a later point of time that Jesus spoke to this man about spiritual matters (John 5:1-15). The man’s need was obviously physical and Jesus met him at that point of need first.

Rebecca Pippert explains how Jesus “had an extraordinary ability to see beneath the myriad of layers of people and know what they longed for, or really believed, but were afraid of revealing. That is why His answers so frequently did not correspond to the questions He was asked. He sensed their unspoken need or question and responded to that instead. Jesus could have healed lepers in countless ways. To the leper in Mark 1:40-45 He could have shouted, ‘Be healed … but don’t get too close. I just hate the sight of lepers.’ He didn’t. Jesus reached over and touched him. Jesus’ touch was not necessary for his physical healing. It was critical for his emotional healing.

“Can you imagine what it meant to that man to be touched? A leper was an outcast, quite accustomed to walking down a street and seeing people scatter, shrieking at him, ‘Unclean – unclean!’ Jesus knew that this man not only had a diseased body but an equally diseased self-concept. He needed to be touched to be fully cured. And so Jesus responded as He always did, with total healing for the whole person.” [1]


The Woman Caught in Adultery

Perhaps one of the most beautiful examples of communicating Christ’s love in the entire New Testament is where Christ ministered to the woman who was caught in the act of adultery.

Why the scribes and Pharisees brought only the woman to Jesus for judgement is a little difficult to understand. How a woman could be caught in the act of adultery alone is beyond my comprehension. If the truth could be known, the guilty man may very well have been one of the accusers. If I were a betting man, I’d bet he was. The whole affair was undoubtedly a setup to trap Jesus. Not only was this woman being used, but terribly abused.

Regardless, you can just see these religious bigots gloating over their victory. “We’ve got Him cornered at last,” they bragged among themselves with a false sense of anticipated triumph. “He can’t win. And we can’t lose. Whatever way He answers, He’s damned. If He says to punish her according to the law of God, well accuse Him of having no mercy. If He says to let her go free, well accuse Him of breaking God’s law.”

So there they stood around Jesus and the guilty woman. They were like a pack of hungry dogs just waiting for the signal to pounce on Jesus and devour Him.

What did they care about the woman? Absolutely nothing. They were using her as a pawn in their game.

“Now, Master,” they sarcastically addressed Jesus. “this woman was caught committing adultery the very act. God’s law demands that such a woman be stoned to death. How do you feel about that? What’s your judgement?”

Jesus ignored them. He stooped down and wrote on the ground. But these men were persistent. They were determined to win their devious game so they kept pressing Jesus for an answer.

So Jesus stood up, looked at them, and agreed with them. “Yes,” he said, “you’re absolutely correct. The law of Moses, God’s law, does say that such a woman should be stoned to death.”

“He’s agreeing with us,” they mused among themselves, and you could see them going for the rocks tucked under their religious robes – the rocks of accusation they were about to hurl at Jesus. They were more concerned about killing Jesus than they were about stoning the woman or defending justice.

“So,” continued Jesus, “go ahead and stone her to death if that’s what you desire.”

After a brief moment’s pause and with a burning look that pierced the depths of their consciences Jesus added, “However, gentlemen, wait just a minute, I’d like to add one condition – let the man who has never sinned cast the first stone.”


Their own accusations had boomeranged on themselves. They weren’t prepared for that answer. The silence was deafening. And now like frightened puppy dogs, they tucked their “religious” tails between their legs and got out of there as quickly as they could.

Jesus was left alone with the woman. He knew she’d been used. He understood her deepest need and gently asked her, “What happened to your accusers? Where did they go? Isn’t there anyone left to condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she replied, “they’ve all gone.”

Then Jesus made a simple but profound statement: “I don’t condemn you either. Go, and don’t commit this sin anymore.” (See John 8:1-11.)

The crucial issue to see and understand in this situation was not that Jesus won, nor was it that the woman was set free. The profound dynamic in communicating His message in this story was this: Before Jesus told this woman to go and sin no more He first met the basic need in her life, the lack of which was causing her to sin.

This is such a profound truth, it desperately needs understanding. Let me explain. Counsellors tell us that a prostitute, for example, is a woman who has been hurt deeply by her father – perhaps by her mother too, but mostly by her father. She is very hostile towards him. He didn’t meet her needs for love; acceptance, and approval. Neither did he confirm her womanhood. For one or many reasons she felt rejected by him. She doesn’t come to this conclusion consciously, but the greatest way she can get back at her father is by becoming a prostitute. She is also desperately searching for the father’s love she never received as a child or as a young woman and is unconsciously trying to prove to herself that she is a woman. She is being driven into acts of sin because of unresolved hurt, anger and by an unmet need for love and acceptance.

The same principle applies to the man who is running around using women. His problem includes lust, but it goes far deeper. He is not the great masculine figure he thinks he is. He may be angry at his mother and be using other women as a means of expressing his hostility. Or he may be still searching for the mother’s love and acceptance he never received as a child as well as trying to convince himself that he is adequate as a male.

Behind all external acts of sin, there is almost always a deeper sin, fault, unmet need, or damaged emotion. In other words, all behaviour is caused or motivated. There is a reason why people do what they do. This is not to excuse their behaviour. Not at all. Jesus didn’t condemn the woman for her sin, but neither did He condone her actions. He told her not to do it again. However, He knew that this woman had a deep emotional need in her life and it was this unmet need that was driving her into acts of sin.


In meeting her needs, Jesus could realistically say to her, “Go and don’t commit this sin anymore.”

We tend to see sin as only the external act. But this external act is merely the tip of the iceberg. Sin is anything that falls short of the perfection God planned for us. It includes all of our damaged emotions, our wounded personality, our mixed motives, our unresolved inner conflicts, and our supercharged repressed negative emotions. These are the pains that keep us in bondage to ourselves and cause us to act out in sinful ways. These are the barriers that alienate us from God, from others, and from ourselves so that we no longer know who or what we fully are. Sin is the whole iceberg, not merely the external tip.

Because of this, when Jesus ministered to the woman caught in adultery, He dealt with her whole person not just her sinful act. As already noted, before He took away her act of sin He first met the basic need in her life, the lack of which was driving her to commit sins. Jesus loved and accepted her. When He did this, I believe, for the very first time in this woman’s life she was loved and accepted by a man for whom she was rather than for what she had to offer. Jesus knew her sin and her weaknesses. He understood her fully and loved and accepted her unconditionally. In so doing He confirmed her personhood and her womanhood. In other words, the needs that her own father did not or could not meet, Jesus met. In meeting these father needs Jesus could then realistically say to her, “Go and don’t commit this sin anymore.”

Or take the person with a drinking problem, a lying problem, a stealing problem, a drug problem, a gossip problem, or any other kind of sin problem. Behind the external act of sin lies a deeper fault, problem, or sin. The external act of sin is merely the symptom of the deeper sin. And when a person is hiding a deeper sin or fault, he tends to commit – and confess – a lesser sin all the more vigorously.

Therefore, how unkind it is of me, how lacking in understanding, and how unlike Christ to take away your external acts of sin or condemn you and make you feel guilty for them without seeking to understand and meet the basic needs in your life, the lack of which are causing you to commit sins.

It is easy for me to lay rules on you and make you feel guilty if you don’t conform, and in so doing deceive myself into believing that I have been faithful to God and His Word. That’s not costly at all. But how difficult and how costly it is to seek to understand you, to learn why you do what you do, and then attempt to meet your deepest needs – the lack of which are causing you to commit acts of sin. This takes true commitment to Christ and commitment to you and your growth.

Being a sinner myself, I do not have the right to tell you not to sin again. I only have the responsibility to accept you as a fellow sinner and help you meet your needs and thereby help take away your need for sinning. And in fact, if I take away your symptoms your external acts of sin – without dealing with the deeper causes, I will drive your inner sins and problems deeper underground and damage your personality even further.


Nicodemus and the Thief on the Cross

Jesus was an effective communicator not only because He understood God’s message but because He also understood people. And when communicating God’s message to people He always met each individual at his or her point of felt need – regardless of what that need was.

In fact, there were only two people mentioned in the entire Gospels whom Jesus met directly at a point of spiritual need. These were Nicodemus and one of the thieves who was crucified with Him. The thief on the cross, about to die, understandably confessed his sinfulness to Christ and asked for mercy. That was indeed his felt need.

Nicodemus’s felt need was also spiritual. Being a religious ruler of the Jews he was puzzled about Jesus and His relationship to God. He was searching for spiritual answers.

Knowing Nicodemus’s felt need, Jesus didn’t ask him if he wanted to be made whole. He knew that Nicodemus was concerned about his own relationship to God and the matter of eternal life. So ignoring Nicodemus’s initial statements, Christ came directly to the point and simply stated, “Nicodemus, unless a man is born again, he will not even see the kingdom of God let alone enter it!” (See John 3:3,5,7.)

Whether a person’s need was physical, social, emotional, or spiritual, Jesus always met each individual where he was in terms of his or her spiritual understanding and always started at their point of felt need. To be an effective communicator the formula is therefore simple: know God, know yourself, know people – and always target your message to meet their felt needs. However, doing this is complex, but it was the way Christ communicated. I doubt if we will find a better way.



I met Toni in an Eastern city about five years ago. I had flown into town to visit with Tom, a very close personal friend of mine from college days. I hadn’t seen Tom for about ten years and was looking forward very much to our meeting. However, I had a few hours to wait until Tom got off work and was waiting for him in the lobby of a large downtown hotel. I had been reading, looking at the news-stand, and generally killing time.

During the afternoon I was approached by an attractive young lady who started asking some “interesting” questions. However, it didn’t take too long and too much insight to discern that this woman of the day happened to be a woman of the night.

Immediately I knew that here was a person in deep need, and possibly deep pain. So I introduced myself to her and asked her what her name was.

“Why are you in this business?” I asked Toni kindly.

“I need the money,” she rationalised.

I knew that she wasn’t in it for the money. That was just the excuse to justify her behaviour. However, I didn’t disagree.

I simply replied and asked, “Tell me about yourself. Did you always live in this town? Did you grow up here? Do you have brothers and sisters? Do you still live at home? What does your father do?”

Toni began to open up to me and we were having an interesting conversation when suddenly she stopped and blurted out. “Hey, Dick, wait a minute. Nobody in my whole life has ever talked to me like this before. By the way, who are you? What do you do?”

“Oh, no,” I thought to myself, “if I tell her who I am and what I do, she’ll go for her life.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I stood there and grinned rather foolishly – which I often do when I’m in a jam. I learned that technique by the time I was five and used it to try and out-manipulate my mother! I decided to tell Toni the truth.

“You’ll never believe me,” I finally replied, “but I’m a minister of religion,” to which I expected her to bid me good day and go for her life.

But Toni never batted an eyelid. As quick as a flash she responded, “You mean you believe in the Lord?”

“Yes,” I said rather relieved.

“So do I,” she said positively and continued, “I often pray in the shower and ask God to forgive my sins.”

“Very interesting,” I thought, “that’s pretty common. Like Pilate of old, people still try to wash their guilt away – which water can never do.”

Toni didn’t really give me a chance to reply. She just opened up to me. She told me all about her family and her work, how much she despised what she was doing, how unhappy she was, how her parents were divorced many years before, how she felt that her father had deserted her and moved a thousand miles away. She hadn’t seen him in years. She was very hurt and angry at him. She also told me how much she hated her mother. And then came the crunch line. I didn’t know what it would be, but I knew there was one somewhere in her past.

“Dick,” she said with tears flooding her eyes, “in my whole life I have never felt that anyone ever loved me. I am terribly lonely all of the time.”

I wept quietly with her. “Oh, I can understand how you feel,” I genuinely said. “I came from a broken home too. My parents were divorced. And I hated my father too, because I felt that he rejected me. I know what it’s like to feel lonely – like nobody in the whole world loves you. I know what it feels like.”

That’s why Toni was a prostitute.

She was craving a father and mother’s love which she had never had. She was also acting out her inner hurt, anger, and self-hatred in self-destructive ways. She desperately craved love and acceptance.

Apparently there was another couple involved in this racket. They could see that business wasn’t going too well there in the hotel lobby. I don’t think they approved of the tears. They were closing in on Toni and I could see that they were about to grab her arm and take her away.

Very quickly I beat them. I put my arm around Toni’s shoulder and said, “Toni, I will probably never see you again, but there is something very important that I want to tell you. I hope you will never forget this as long as you live. It is this: No matter what you have ever done or have failed to do – no matter what it is, and no matter how you ever feel or don’t feel, remember that God loves you and so do I.”

And with that I let go of Toni and she was taken away.

As I stood there that day, I felt profoundly moved in my spirit. Two people had related – heart-to-heart – and not merely head-to-head.

Then I was suddenly struck with the thought that in God’s sight Toni and I were both the same. We both had similar needs and hurts. The only difference being that to overcome the voice of her inner pain, Toni became a sexaholic. To overcome the voice of my inner pain I became a workaholic – “for God” no less! But with God who looks on the heart and not on the outward appearance, there wasn’t any difference – Toni and I had both sinned and come short of His standard (Rom. 3:23). And then as I sat there in that hotel lobby in deep contemplation, waiting for my friend to arrive, another truth hit me. It was this:

“It was a lack of love that drove Toni into acts of sin. Only love will ever take her out again!”

Love, understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness. That’s the message of Christ. It’s the greatest healing power in the world. It’s the message that our broken world so desperately needs. And that’s the message every effective Christian communicator will always strive to communicate.

As we have already noted, Christianity is much more than a creed. And witnessing for Christ is much more than sharing the plan of salvation (as important as that is at the appropriate time). Being a Christian and being an effective witness for Christ is to experience God’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness, and to communicate this to every life we touch.

“Do this,” I can almost hear Christ saying, “and you will be one of my witnesses indeed.”

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Felt needs: A biblical way to open closed minds

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30“You never know till you try to reach them how accessible men are; but you must approach each man by the right door.”
– Henry Ward Beecher

The concept of ministering to people’s ‘felt needs’ is sometimes misunderstood. “Surely we should be speaking to their real spiritual needs?” is a potential criticism and valid question.


What are ‘felt needs’?

A felt need is simply that – something in any area of my life that I perceive as a need. In the broadest sense, it can be just about anything; a need for:

  • answers to almost any question.
  • information about anything that interests me.
  • learning a useful skill e.g. how to revise for exams, how to use specific software.
  • something to laugh at.
  • many other things.

In web ministry, using these as a starting point is called the Bridge Strategy. However, we prefer to apply the term ‘felt needs’ in the more restricted sense of deeper personal needs – the life issues that all of us face, either in our own lives or for family and friends (and to classify the list above as ‘affinity interests’):

  • loneliness
  • managing relationships, relationship breakdown and divorce
  • family and parenting
  • money worries, debt
  • finding fulfillment
  • coping with stress and worry
  • workplace problems, unemployment
  • physical or mental illness
  • bereavement

In addition, there are four basic human needs that we all have: support, stability, self-expression and signifance: how to minister to these needs.


Barna Research report concluded that at any one time, one third of a population are suffering enough pain and stress from one or more of these issues, that they perceive it as not just the regular ups and downs of life, but a painful crisis. And one in eight people (figures apply to US, not likely to be much different in most western nations) have a drug or alcohol problem. (The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale helps us to roughly quantify the pain and stress that someone is suffering.)

Think about it! About one in three of the people around us are feeling a moderate to severe level of pain. Maybe not all may seek help online, but many will. Health is one of the most-searched for topics online. For many stressors, there may be no specific answer. A family worried about a serviceman or woman serving in a war zone is not looking for answers, just love, support and understanding.

C S Lewis has pointed out that pain is God’s megaphone to get our attention. And the Bible speaks from beginning to end of God’s compassion for those who are hurting. Incidentally, only Christianity reveals that suffering can be redemptive, and also points out that our experience of suffering a particular life problem enables us to help others with the same problem (2 Cor. 1:4).

If you wish to minister to hurting people, you’ll need to learn to listen, understand, and never, but never, offer this unbelievably wrong crass advice.

A valuable research study on How Adults Become Christians shows that for many lasting adult conversions, the trigger that started them on their spiritual journey was a life crisis.

None of the list above may be directly what we might call ‘core spiritual issues’: sinfulness, fallen human nature, rebellion against God, and the need for salvation, though all of them are impacted by the Fall and our own sin and self-centered nature. But they are precisely the amplifier that God very often uses to begin a process that ends in conversion. Of course, God is sovereign throughout this process. But it helps us to understand this progression – and the Gray Matrix graph is a remarkable and biblical insight into God’s plan. When we understand the methods that God uses to speak to people at different levels on this scale, we can work with Him to communicate appropriately. Felt needs can then be seen as a way in, a first step on the road. At a later stage, the full and balanced Gospel must be shared. It is very important to understand how not-yet-Christians think.

There is, for instance, a debt-counseling ministry in UK which operates in a co-operative integrated role within local churches to reaches out into the community. A very high percentage of counselees become Christians as a result. Such ministries aim to minister to the whole person – meeting the conscious need is not the end of the story, but an introduction to the Gospel.


Is it biblical?

Obviously, our primary guideline is the ministry of Jesus. If we look at the different encounters that Jesus had with people, in almost every case he first addressed a felt need. In many situations, the overwhelming need of sickness was met by healing, often followed by ‘spiritual’ advice (even though that was not always apparently taken). And, incidentally, his starting point in spoken evangelism was never scriptural exposition except when preaching in the synagogue. Instead, he used the medium of story-telling.

There are (depending how you classify them) 1000-3000 verses in the Bible which express God’s concern and compassion for those suffering poverty, bereavement, and life problems. Jesus’ invitation in in Matthew 11:28-30 is an appeal, and a promise, to those who are struggling with any life issue. The yoke imagery is about no longer pulling your load alone, but having a second haulage animal harnessed with you.

Yet some Christians may still feel concerned that starting with felt needs is somehow promoting a ‘me-centered gospel’. And we should be rightly concerned about any presentation of the gospel which is merely, for instance, “Come to Jesus and be a more successful business-person.” Or, indeed, the dishonesest and untrue “Come to Jesus and all your problems will be instantly solved.” A balanced and biblical presentation of the gospel contains a number of strands, and as someone gets closer to a point of commitment, will include what God-centered discipleship really means. But we contend that meeting people in the area of their felt needs, with compassion and help, is totally biblical.


The woman at the well

How did Jesus treat the woman at the well? First, as the great bridge builder, he asked for a drink. This was the beginning of an interesting conversation. Following a brief discussion about living water, Jesus put His finger on both the need and problem area of her life. Without judging her in any way He told her that He knew she was living with a man who wasn’t her husband and that she had already had five husbands. Jesus knew this woman’s deepest need – her need for acceptance – and when He met it she believed in Him and automatically became a most enthusiastic witness – and probably laid the foundations for the later revival in Samaria (Acts 8).1

Zacchaeus also had a deep social need for friendship. Jesus met it by going to his home to offer the real friendship and fellowship that a home visit and social meal implies.

In only two instances in all the gospels did Jesus meet initially and directly a point of spiritual need. The thief on the cross, about to die, had a real felt need – his sinfulness. And Jesus met it. Nicodemus’ felt need was also spiritual. He was searching for spiritual answers, so Jesus supplied them.1


Starting point

Whether a person’s need was physical, social, emotional or spiritual, Jesus always met each individual where he was in terms of his or her spiritual understanding and always started at their point of felt need. To be an effective communicator the formula is therefore simple:

  • know God
  • know yourself
  • know people

and always target your message to meet their felt needs. However, doing this is complex, but it was the way Christ communicated. I doubt if we will find a better way.1


Example of Spurgeon

While we cannot always compare (or use) methods of evangelism which God used in previous centuries, it is worth noting that Spurgeon’s approach in his sermons and writings was frequently to offer advice that met felt needs as a starting point. His ability to identify with where people were at, is one reason why his sermons are still so readable (and so frequently read) today. Another main reason is his use of humor. His launching by faith of an enormous orphanage project was also a direct meeting of felt needs. He was aware that this compassionate ministry also contributed to a positive initial sympathy to the Gospel, as the Gray Matrix illuminates.


Felt needs versus real needs1

One problem many Christians struggle with is that they feel we need to minister to a person’s real needs, which they usually interpret as being a spiritual need. This is to ignore the fact that God is interested not only in a person’s spiritual life, but in his total person (James 2:14-17). It also fails to understand that the felt needs or perceived needs are at the conscious level of a person’s mind while his real needs spiritual or otherwise – are usually at the subconscious level.

Therefore, the way to reach the real needs, whatever they are, is through the felt needs. It is the felt needs that lead to the real needs. As the conscious felt needs are faced and met, other needs will rise to the level of awareness and in turn become felt needs. As these are faced and met, eventually and spiritual and other real needs will surface to consciousness and in turn become felt needs. Only then can they be dealt with and met.

To ignore a person’s felt needs and aim at other needs is a sure-fire way to guarantee that his mind will close and remain closed to our message. On the other hand, to understand and identify with a person’s felt and perceived needs is a sure-fire way to guarantee that his mind will be open to what we have to say and will remain open as long as we offer hope to meet his needs. If he senses that we don’t have the answers to his needs, his mind will close again to us and he will look elsewhere for a solution to his needs and problems.

We also see how Jesus befriended people – a key to effective communication.


Felt-needs success story

Reader’s Digest is a publishing success story – a multi-language format that succeeds internationally. Why is it so successful? It uses the journalistic principle that “people are interested in people”, with exciting real-life stories. There are humor and trivia. It uses a popular middle-level vocabulary defined as accessible to a 13-year-old reader. But a major key to the success of Readers’ Digest is the offer of practical answers to many life issues – i.e. felt needs. We can use this strategy in Christian communication.

Servant Evangelism strategies are frequently meeting felt needs. They can help us find creative ways of sharing the Gospel online (and offline). The insights of permission evangelism also apply to effective online outreach.

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