taking the words of Jesus seriously

NOTE: This post is an excerpt from Sarah’s latest book,  The Well Balanced World Changer

Many of us are taught, starting in childhood, to never, ever give up.

It applies even more so to those of us in the nonprofit, charitable, and faith arenas. We often work with hurting, broken but incredibly valuable people. We want to be the sort of inspirers who those we love and serve will one day be grateful for. And about us, we hope they’ll say, “When every- one else threw in the towel, this person, never gave up! She was always there for me. He never quit no matter how many times I messed up or tried his patience.”

If this is how you think, good for you. That is very noble.

But you’ve got to stop running around after people and cleaning up their messes or they will never get to that place. They will never say that about you.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? I’m talking about that fine line between being a perseverant supporter of a person and being an enabler of bad behavior or poor choices. The line between being dependable and creating someone who is dependent on you.

There’s a place for both. But to choose awareness, we must ask ourselves, If, at the end of trying to help someone, I am depleted, spent, and dried up, has anyone really been helped?

Who has been helped?

If they or their problems had you running in circles, pacing up all night, taking you away from your own life priorities, have you been helped? If other people in your life who rightfully deserve your attention—family, friends—have been neglected as you chased after others, have they been helped? And if they are not yet ready to benefit from your help and continue to make poor choices time and time again, well then, they have not really been helped either.

Something important may have been said. Some kindness that matters may have been shown. Seeds were planted, good was done, all is not lost. But help has not yet been ac- complished.

So what is a committed person to do?

We certainly can’t justify abandoning the person, washing our hands of their failures and walking away.

Could we perhaps tell them to get back to us if they get to a place where they really want our support in the future?

Why not?

What if that was the very best thing we could do?

What if we, like my friend Glenn House once told my friends and me, saw ourselves as lighthouses? Or as Jesus put it, a city on a hillside?

What if we saw ourselves as beacons of light, promoting goodness and purpose and truth in this world? And when we shine, we help other people orient themselves as well. They see our light and it gives them direction. They better know where they are and where they need to go.

But does a lighthouse pull itself out of the ground and chase after ships in the water who ignores it? Does it go in circles, following reckless captains to make sure they never hit a rock or capsize?


If it did, it would reduce its service to everyone. A lighthouse helps orient people. Its steady presence gives people a sense of where they are. >Ahhhh. There’s the shore. If it were always uprooting itself, it would lose its very specific purpose.

Lighthouses plant themselves in a community and give off light. And all who want to benefit from their light are wel- come to.

But if someone decides they’d like to go off pontooning in murky, choppy waters, damaging their vessel the whole way?

The lighthouse just keeps standing there, shining.

We can do this too. Plant ourselves in our communities and make our purposes and commitments clear. We can reach out to those in need, express interest in supporting their well-being. But we don’t have to frazzle ourselves chasing them in circles. Instead, we shine light strong and steady. And when they go through their cycles and pass by us again, we keep shining light. We persevere to shine it on them every time they pass. And eventually, when they are ready and tired of darkness, they may very well come to a place where the light starts to look good and they’re more interested in staying in a sunnier, healthier, happier place.

And then what? Well then, thank God, we will still have energy left to be of service!

NOTE: This post is an excerpt from Sarah’s latest book,  The Well Balanced World Changer

About The Author


Sarah Cunningham is an author and project
manager who enjoys bringing people together
around good causes. She is the author of five
books: Dear Church (Zondervan, 2006), Picking
Dandelions (Zondervan, 2010), The Well Balanced
World Changer (Moody, 2013), Portable Faith
(Abingdon, 2013), and Beyond the Broken Church
(Zondervan, 2014). Over the years, she's been
teamed in bringing many great projects to
expression, including the STORY conference, the D6
conference, Christianity21, the Wild Goose Festival, and People of the Second Chance. Most days, though, she's lost in her work as chief servant to the 6 year old emperor, Justus, and his 3 year old Chief of Staff, Mac, which sometimes inspires new work, like her Christmas book, The Donkey in the Living Room (B&H Kids, 2014).

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