Looking at the problem will not solve the problem.

Not that long ago, the transmission on our car went out. It was probably my fault: I drove it to Portland and back when it was short on transmission fluid, and when I got back, it was bumping and shifting funny. Sometimes it wouldn’t shift gears, and sometimes it would shift unexpectedly. Sometimes it would drop out of gear into neutral: that was particularly exciting when I was on the freeway in cruise control!

For days, probably weeks, I thought about that problem. I drove the car and listened to the transmission noises. I talked with knowledgeable friends about my stupid transmission. I examined our finances (or rather the lack thereof) and how they would (or would not) apply to transmission costs. I studied transmission problems on the internet, and got involved in some chat groups that helped diagnose the problem. I whined. I worried. I probably cursed. I hated that transmission. It kept me from sleeping for days.

But for reasons that I still don’t understand, the transmission never improved as I examined it and its problems. It kept dropping out of gear on the freeway. It kept shifting funny. The problem never went away, no matter how hard I examined it, no matter how much I worried about it!

Talking about car problems makes this behavior look kind of obvious, but we do the same thing in our personal lives. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many people think that talking about their husband’s problems will fix him. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at how many church members act as if talking about the pastor’s problems will make them go away. When we ask for prayer, we do it in great detail, making sure that the folks we’re talking to understand every detail and feel every pain, to the point that we often forget to pray for the problem ourselves. (Sometimes such a detailed prayer request functions as gossip in a thin disguise; that's another issue altogether, which I am not addressing today.)

Looking at the problem will not solve the problem. I don’t care what the problem is, or how desperately I want it solved. Some of us – and I think this is worse in the church – seem to think that thinking about our problem, or talking about it, or worrying about it, will somehow solve the problem.

We seem to think that if we let the problem slide out of the center of our attention, somehow we’re being irresponsible, somehow we’re not doing our job, that if we worry enough, somehow we’re not responsible for the problem we’re worrying about.

Looking at the problem will not solve the problem; looking at the solution will solve the problem.

I can examine the problem seven ways from Sunday, and I won’t make it better. Until I stop looking at the problem and start looking at the solution, all I’m doing is losing sleep and generating excess stomach acid. Until I stop whining about my problem, all I’m doing is spreading my problem among my listeners; it’s like sneezing in their face: it does nothing good for me and it is likely to make them sick as well.

We live in a day and age when problems are all our culture wants to talk about. (Good thing we know how to separate ourselves from our culture, eh?) The news is full of problems. Gossip columns abound and are becoming more strident in their declarations of the woes of the rich and famous. Television is littered with commercials declaring our problems and why we need to spend our money on their products to solve a problem we didn’t have until they selflessly told us about it. It’s an all-out assault on our souls!

I’m convinced that Hebrews 12 is one of the more important weapons for the season we’re in.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. –Hebrews 12:2-3

There are two commands in here: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and consider Jesus. The anonymous author of Hebrews adds some detail: Jesus had problems of His own. In fact, it will be a whole lot more valuable – the writer encourages – for us to look at His problems and how he responded to them, than it is to look at ourselves.

Look again: in between the two commands to look at Jesus, it describes Him:

o He’s the author of my faith;

o He perfects (or fulfils, completes) my faith;

o He endured the cross by focusing on the joy set before Him;

o He has gone through the troubles and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

In other words, I can acknowledge the problem, but I do it from the perspective of the solution; I can look at the problem, but I must do it from His perspective!

If I stop to think about it this whole passage is all about me! He didn’t endure the cross because it seemed like a fun thing to do on a Friday afternoon in Palestine. He did it because there was stuff that kept me from Him (it’s called “sin”), and the cross was the only way to move it out of the way. He did it because he looked beyond the pain (the cross) to the joy set before Him. (Yes, Tinkerbelle, I am His happy thought!)

Now if the Incarnate Son of God needed to look past His troubles to the joy on the other side, what makes me think that I need to focus on my troubles? Am I somehow better or stronger or wiser than Him?

One last observation from the passage: the conjunction “so that” indicates cause and effect: do this “so that” that happens. Here, it’s “consider Him so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.” If you’re weary, if you’re losing heart, this passage says it could well be because you’re not looking at Him. The solution is to change your perspective – to repent – and to look at Him instead of your own problems.

And that problem transmission? One day, I finally looked at the solution: I took the car to a transmission expert. He took a quick look at it, and said, “Oh sure, I know what that is! Come back in a two days.” He fixed it. And now my transmission is fine.

Looking at the problem will never solve the problem. Looking at the Solution is how to solve the problem.


Anonymous said...

Once again, the nail has been hit on the head.

Anonymous said...

The Pilgrim writes, "I can acknowledge the problem, but I do it from the perspective of the solution; I can look at the problem, but I must do it from His perspective!." This truly is the key to kingdom perspective, that is, looking at our situations from the Kings vantage point. In Matthew 20 two men are blind and are making their way to Jesus crying out " Lord, we want our eyes to be opened!" I believe that is still a cry Jesus longs for from us. How many of us today are blind to the things of God and don't need to be. In this season of revelation of God's signs and wonders our eyes should not be looking to the natural realm but to open our supernatural eyes to behold His glory. I know Jesus will do it if we ask Him because after the blind men told Jesus they wanted their eyes opened Scripture says, "And Jesus, in pity, touched their eyes; and instantly they received their sight and followed Him." Bless you Pilgrim for sharing this insight with us.