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
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
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
, 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).
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
(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.