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Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

Training That Drains

While there have been many, I particularly remember one sermon illustration that drained my thumos and yet at the same time unfairly, even cruelly, was designed to compel me to lead with boldness and strength.  I call it the Parable of the good Chauffeur, and it was my early spiritual development.


As the story goes, there was a wealthy man who needed a new chauffeur.  He tested three.


The first took him up a windy and dangerous road, and in order to showcase the fine points of his skill, he drove near the edge of the pavement—so close that the wealthy man could see to the bottom of the canyon below. 


The second drove quickly and efficiently; he preferred the left lane on the freeway.


The third drove slowly and safely down the middle, taking no chances.  You can guess by now which chauffeur my pastor lavishly praised and the one he said was most pleasing to God.


Through this and similar anecdotes that promote the Official Script, the message is clear: The Lord favors caution-oriented men who play life safe, who refrain from taking risks.  Don't climb any spiritual trees—you might get hurt!  (This same pastor also was wont to say that women are more sensitive to the Holy Spirit than men.)


Divine blessing, then, is said to rest upon placid men who stay within the bull's-eye of God's breezy, status-quo will.  Like many men, I was taught to be overly cautious, continually concerned about what others thought of me, never to offend and always to please.  Such fear-encrusted, smotherly-motherly advice leads to a life that's very much unlike the life of Christ.


Here's the ugly irony: While this pastor heaped shame onto people of thumos, behind the scenes he was a man of tremendous thumos.  Because he so carefully kept it concealed—he hoarded power to lord it over those he weakened—he was viewed as a spiritual traitor, a grim reaper of masculinity.  A number of men have told me they can trace the destruction of their marriages back to the deception and naivete of the man's teachings.


Exhausting people of their courage, or preventing them from developing it and then exhorting them to be strong, is an equivalent to the pharisaical sin of heaping onerous burdens upon others while refusing to offer help.  Ministry should lift burdens, not make them heavier.  Without thumos, life is depressing.


We're often told to stay away from any behavior that could be deemed irresponsible.  You know, like what Simon and Andrew did after Jesus invited them to be "fishers of men": They immediately "left their nets and followed him."  Notice, though, that he didn't scorn their seemingly careless action.


They didn't drop to their knees and pray really hard about their decision.  (Oops.)  They didn't consult their wives.  (Those cads!)  And they didn't go to their elders for counsel.  (Yikes—weren't they worried they'd lose their "spiritual covering"?)  If they were anyone else, we would denounce their gutsiness as rash, foolish, and of course, anti-family.  We'd regard them as heathen—not fervent men following God himself in the flesh.


The common belief that everything in life is predetermined doesn't help either.  Dallas Willard writes about the troubling connection many Christians have between fatalism/determinism on the one hand and apathy/cowardice on the other:


If you were to get to the bottom of my theology you would find me pretty Calvinistic, but my sense of ministry is to judge the lay of the land for your times and shoot where the enemy is.  The enemy of our time is not human capacity, or over-activism, but the enemy is passivity—the idea that God has done everything and you are essentially left to be a consumer of the grace of God, and that the only thing you have to do is find out how to do that and do it regularly.  I think this is a terrible mistake and accounts for the withdrawal of active Christians from so many areas of life where they should be present.


In order to help thumos create spiritual growth and strengthen our soul, we will need to amend, while not destroying, some very pivotal and popular teachings that comprise much of the Official Script.


At the top of this "reassessment list" is a better understanding of what we've been told are the fruits or manifestations of the Spirit.  Jesus told us that after he returned to heaven God would send us a Comforter that would help direct our lives.  He called him "the Holy Spirit," and Paul apprised us of the qualities a life has when the Spirit is in the driver's seat.


The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.


These nine traits have been taken by many to be exhaustive.  But it's erroneous to believe that there are no other attributes of the Holy Spirit's living in a person's life to strengthen, comfort, and direct us.  It's also untrue that God does not expect us to graft other qualities into our lives.  A more comprehensive understanding of his Spirit likewise can give us a better comprehension of this mysterious power.


Note Paul's qualifying statement that "against such things there is no law."  He didn't write this because he was trying to add more words to his letter or fill up his parchment.  He wanted us to realize and understand that there are additional manifestations.  He didn't intend for his letter to the Galatians to put forward a complete list.


Paul refers his readers back to their initial experience with the Spirit, which included, for example, illumination and moral transformation, neither of which are in the Galatians list of attributes.  In Acts, the most regularly mentioned spiritual manifestation is inspired speech—speaking in tongues, prophecy and praise, and bold utterances of the Word of God.  These also are not listed in the "original nine."  The Spirit is invisible, but for those willing to take a broader and deeper look, the manifestations of the Spirit's presence were readily detectable.


For the sake of your thumos, consider a few things.  First, notice the words "bold utterances of the word of God" as a manifestation of his Spirit.  As our spiritual training has many of us compliantly and pleasantly behaving like Pavlov's dog, you'll likely notice that boldness appears to clash with the Galatians list that today holds court over all others, the list that contains the word gentleness.  We don't think legitimate boldness and actual gentleness should come out of the same person, but looking at the life of Christ and the lives of the godliest people we know reveals that boldness and gentleness aren't at all incompatible.


Those in whom the Spirit reigns are gentle when gentleness is required, and they are bold with the life-giving Word of God, sharper in truth and wisdom than any two-edged sword, when that's required.  Here there is no contradiction but rather completion.  Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way: "No man is strong unless he bears within his character antitheses strongly marked."  King used antitheses to mean that men should possess tender hearts, tough minds, and a heated thumos in order to play our part in God's plan for our lives.


The spiritual fruit of love is not always gentle or pleasant.  Surgeons and dentists and physical therapists and psychiatrists bring pain into (or reveal pain already in) our lives in order to help us heal, to escape disease, and to experience freedom.  Their love for others brings creative tension, significant discomfort, and healthy disruption to the object of their care.


The same is true for God, who disciplines those he loves.  And friends sometimes wound each other because they care—they don't want the ones they love to screw up their lives.  Wounds from a friend have love as their motive, so they can be trusted, but they sure don't feel gentle at the time, do they?  If this experience is foreign to you, then chances are you've not yet experienced the tremendous blessing of brotherhood.

Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous FaithNo More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying. 

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