Going and Owning – And Knowing the Difference

One of my strongest beliefs is that God calls us for a purpose – and gives us individual grace and gifts to match.

As Christ in us is expressed through us, we expand His Kingdom for the blessing of all – wherever He calls us.

Different Grace, Different Gifts, Different Callings

Where He bids us go, and what He bids us do, is different for each – and I have also learned that it often changes with the seasons of our lives.

For some, at this time in their life, it is to go and raise Godly families. For others, it is in the business realm as they create resources and opportunities. For some, it is going out to the fringes of their communities and ministering to those in need.

Some are called to government, some to academia, some to the arts, some to benevolence, some to foreign lands, some to quietly serve behind the scenes, some to leading movements, and some to just be a friend who makes a difference in the life of one or two others.

Do You Own the Problem?

The Principle of Ownership

As we go and do the things that He has called and graced us to go and do, however, we need to understand the principle of ownership.

Just because the Lord calls me to go and do this or that, or to help this person or that person, that does not mean I necessarily should take ownership anyone’s life or their problems.

By ownership, I mean making someone’s situation, or someone’s life, my problem and my burden to fix.

It was so liberating when the Lord taught me that not every problem had my name on it. When God uses you to minister to people with deep, deep problems and issues, you either learn this truth – or you eventually become emotionally used up and wasted.

Trust me. Been there, done that, and I have lots of old scars to prove it.

But about five years ago, the Lord finally got through my thick skull and taught me the difference between problems that had my name on them, and those that don’t. And you know what? Most of what I was stressing over really was not my problem – because it had someone else’s name on it.

For example, Jesus may send me to help some knucklehead (that’s a loving term of endearment – and they take it as such – so don’t be offended!) fresh out of jail. But the thing about knuckleheads – and everyone else – is that they need to own their lives and their issues. We each need to take ownership of our own life, the consequences of our past, and our future.

This is true not only of individuals, but also nations and cultures (but that’s another blog).

The Lord may use me as a resource in someone’s journey towards health and restoration, or maybe just to address some emergency need, but he never allows me to own their life or their problems. I may be called to help, but not to “fix” them. Only the Lord can fix them, but only if they take ownership of their own issues and then turn them over to Him.

This leads to another important lesson I learned the hard way: If we don’t allow folks to take ownership of their own lives and their own issues, how can they ever get to the place of being able to turn those issues – their hurts, wounds and circumstances – over to Jesus and thus find new life in Him?

I mean, think about it. How can they give God what we don’t let them own?

Wisdom, my friends, is understanding the difference between going and owning.

Does It Have Your Name on It?

Now, I am not saying we should never take ownership. At times, there are problems that the Lord wants me to tackle that have my name on them. Sometimes, there’s a problem I created and I have to own it and fix it. Sometimes, it may be a problem I didn’t create, but He nonetheless wants me to deal with it. In those cases, I need to take ownership.

But not all “stuff” is my “stuff”. And unless you are a true invalid or totally lack mental capacity (I’m not minimizing the reality that sometimes the Lord calls us to step in their shoes to act and decide on their behalf), if I try to take ownership of your “stuff”, I am doing you – and whatever your problem may be – more harm than good.

This is especially true for those trying to minister to, or help, others in need. (See Helping or Enabling?)

If you routinely try to take ownership of their problems, and think it is up to you to fix them and their mistakes, two things will happen: They will be stymied in their own growth and you will burn out.

Although Jesus legitimately may equip you and send you to help, it is almost never true that He sends you to own.

In our compassion, and in our desire to made a difference, this is a hard lesson to learn.

Paul’s Ministry

This principle applies in many other areas. Take the Apostle Paul, for example. God gifted him, prepared him and then sent him to start churches throughout the Roman empire. But Paul never stayed and took ownership over any church he planted. Rather, he would lay a foundation, as best he could, then leave.

I use to think he left because he needed to get to the next town to plant a new fellowship. And maybe that was part of it. But I now think the real reason he left was because if he stayed, the new believers would not take ownership of their life together in Christ. They would defer to Paul, foist ownership of their fellowship on him, and thus be stymied.

So Paul would leave and let them begin to figure out how to make it actually work: Christ in them, among them and through them.

He would remain a resource, and his various epistles reflect that. He would advise, admonish, cajole, encourage and try to be an example. But he never took ownership of any church he started. He always let them, in Christ, own their own stuff – for good and for bad.

Paul didn’t own those whom God sent him to impact – or their problems. But he did own his calling. Going and doing what God commanded him to go and do was his responsibility. And like a prize athlete, he said, he disciplined himself and learned to do it well.

But he never forgot that those he impacted had to take ownership of their own lives and circumstances in Christ.

What About You?

Whether you are feeding the poor, housing the homeless, ministering in jail, dealing with a fallen family member, struggling with a bad church situation, mentoring folks in Christ, seeking legislative fixes to some social problem, or whatever, don’t lose sight of this fundamental truth:

Go and do – and thus own – what Christ bids you go and do. But don’t forget that at the end of the day, you do more harm than good – both to yourself and to others – when you deny others the need to own their own lives and circumstances.

As Paul said, work out your own salvation in fear and trembling – and let others do the same!

Yes, do what the Lord has called and gifted you to do. Own your going and your doing, as the Lord enables. Help and make a difference as unto the Lord. Engage and bless.

But don’t cross the line: Don’t own another’s life, or another’s problems.

Trust me. You will be much more effective, bear much more fruit, make a bigger impact, and be more fulfilled in Christ if you learn this lesson.

~ Jim

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3 responses

  1. Great point, Jim. We are not building a ministry for ourselves or for our church or organization. We are called to serve and train others with Jesus’ love and trust them to God. Have you ever noticed that the church is the only educational institution in the world that doesn’t graduate anybody? We try to keep them sitting on our pews for life rather than releasing them into God’s calling on their lives.

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  2. As I read your post I was first envisioning people…needy individuals in many forms, but then I began to see groups…mostly church groups but then other groups and committees that plague my life…and I realized the fit there was at least as good. By whatever dynamic, these groups choose directions and make decisions which seem ill-advised or even flat wrong, and that is something I have to let go…NOT MY PROBLEM (I have a friend who comments on the plethora of Three Letter Acronyms…TLAs…and my wife and I have given this an acronym too…NMP).

    Is this group or person going in a direction that is contrary to my hopes and wishes for it/them? Have I done what I could to change that with no effect? Then it is NMP.

    Shedding the sense of responsibility for a group or person is a relief. It doesn’t always mean you shake the dust off your feet (a Biblical thing to do), any you can continue to pray about the situation, but it frees you from overstepping your responsibility and lets you focus where the Lord is currently directing.

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