Helping or Enabling?

It’s hard cut lose a man you’ve been ministering to and let him ultimately bear the full consequences of the mess he’s made of his life – not to hurt him, but to let him finally hit bottom.

I am friends with and minister to men and women who most people, and many churches, shun (except for arms-length “programs”, if even that). Pick a vice – any vice – and I’ve likely come beside and embraced those in bondage to it: former drug addicts, narc dealers, sex offenders, embezzlers, thieves, gender benders, Satanic ritual abusers and even murderers.

Because I’ve been willing to see past the sin and accept the common humanity we all share – not as one who is perfect but as a someone willing to walk with them as we sort out our individual imperfections together under God’s mercy and grace – some of these folk are now following the Lord.

I love such people, because daily I see how God creates beauty out of their ashes.

I am blessed, because I serve a God who, above all, creates. He takes destruction – what has become void and without form, in the words of Genesis 1 – and brings wonder and life and order. . .

. . . and He delights most of all, I’ve found, in redeeming lives that many think are beyond hope.

To bring restoration from ruin, Jesus went to the cross – not for the best of us or for the good in us, because there is no one who deserves His mercy or His grace. Rather, He did it because of His intense love and desire to restore lives by conquering the sin and death that we’ve voluntarily embraced and allowed to enslave us.

For me, if this gospel of hope doesn’t work for the “worse” of us, then it doesn’t work for any of us.

But I’ve learned some hard lessons along the way.

I’ve learned that you can’t pull, push or prod a person to become whole – even after they’ve encountered God’s mercy and grace.

I’ve learned that even when someone encounters God’s mercy and grace, there is always an element of personal responsibility. We have to decide to die to our old self and our old patterns of thought and behavior, and let His mercy and grace transform us – step by step – into the person He calls us to be.

I’ve learned that God’s mercy and grace are freely offered, and there is nothing I can do to deserve them. But I’ve also learned that they cost me everything – including letting go of my own selfish needs, wants and desires.

I’ve learned that even after accepting Christ’s mercy and grace, we still have to decide – and have the will – to change. Otherwise, there is no real hope for us.

I’ve learned that having the will to change is not simply a matter of overpowering, though our own strength, the things that are bondage in our lives. Rather, it is the will to transparently confess, repent, forgive others and receive forgiveness – thereby letting God transform how we think and what we believe about ourselves, Him, others, the world in general, our past, and the circumstances of our lives.

I’ve learned that healing only comes if we let God’s truth, and his perspective, replace the lies that bind us.

I’ve learned that healing, however, is not the same as health: Apart from having the will to change and to grow in spiritual maturity by daily walking in the freedom He brings, we won’t become whole and complete – no matter what others do to “help” us.

I’ve learned that those who God calls to be fathers to the fatherless can’t “fix” anyone. Rather, we are to simply and humbly offer wise advice and be examples they can emulate as they strive towards maturity. But they have to decide to change — we can’t do that for them.

I’ve learned that some get what they want from God, but no more, because it’s still all about them and their needs. After all, in Luke 17, ten lepers got what they wanted and were healed of their disease, but only one – who decided to return and stop focusing on himself by giving thanks – was made whole.

I’ve learned that some make it, and some don’t.

I’ve learned that those who make have stopped being victims – of themselves or their circumstances or their past – by deciding to take ownership over the consequences of their prior bad decisions and by taking ownership over doing what’s necessary to become the men and women God calls them to be.

I’ve learned that those who make it have also dropped their attitude of entitlement – that God or society or others own them something – and exhibit instead an attitude of gratitude.

I’ve learned that you can help such men and women — not because they are perfect, but because they are finally dealing with their imperfections.

Finally, I’ve learned this hard, hard lesson: If someone decides to constantly remain stuck in their sin, immaturity and hurts – to continue being a victim and entitled – “helping” quickly crosses the line into “enabling” because it facilitates continued bad choices. This causes more harm than good.

I’ve learned that I need to find joy in those who decide to move forward and live truly redeemed lives, and not be consumed by grief over those who don’t. (This is a hard one.)

My prayer it this: Dear God, give us all the grace, the wisdom and the courage to understand the difference between helping and enabling.

~ Jim Wright


14 responses

  1. very interesting: the difference between healing & wholeness found in the story of the lepers in Luke 17 ~ i’ve certainly read that chapter a few time but that particular distinction was never illuminated prior ~ certainly something to meditate on or perhaps explore in commentaries ~ it would seem that the transformation to “wholeness” comes with thanksgiving & praise ~ of course, with the focus on God instead of self.


  2. I was prison minister for twenty five years. I havnet checked latley but a few years ago the return rate to Texas prisons was about 85%. IN my twenty five years some went to Christ but most didnt, the ones who did, didnt go back to prison. It is easy to love if ones God is love, after all the kingdom of God is withn you.


  3. JIm, I too have learned a lesson or two about those that have life controlling habits. I was married to a man hooked on crack-cocaine. I was told by well meaning Christians and Pastor’s that I must stay despite the abuse and endangerment to my children. That he needed me to get well. I stayed long past the time I should have left, because you know, Christian’s shouldn’t get divorced. Long story short, I left and God has restored my life and I praise Him for it.
    I learned how to recognize manipulation from 30 yards. Addicts are master manipulators. I learned that there are very few who really want to get help to be well beyond the immediate painful consequences they are facing. I learned how well meaning family members thinking they were helping by fixing problems his drug use caused, enabled his addiction to continue. There is no happy ending for my ex-husband, he never really wanted to get well. He died of liver disease caused by alcoholism. I learned there is a fine line between helping and enabling, and you must listen closely the the Holy Spirit to not cross that line, because you may end up doing more harm than good.


  4. Because we are living in the time of 2 Tim. 2: 1-5, we are seeing the rapid increase of narcissism and other personality disorders in our society. Many are also demonic in nature. And because the standard non-spiritual treatment and therapy for these personality disorders is medication (drugs), which does not cure the core problems, the church must learn to minister to and confront people with TRUTH and the POWER OF GOD. Often, we find self-help groups in the church that only serve to enable people in their disfunctions. Most people are not finding the deliverance they need, and sad to say many really do not want to be delivered, as their disfunction has given them special treatment and a sense of entitlement. When Jesus confronted the man at the pool who was supposedly seeking healing, He asked the man a question: “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). We need to also discern correctly and minister God’s solution to those who truly want it.


      • Very good! But there is yet another area that is very neglected, and that is the ministry of deliverance from demonic oppression and even, dare I say it, demonic presence within those needing the Lord’s healing. When you read the New Testament, you will find many instances where Jesus cast out demons. Actually, Jesus cast out demons everywhere He went, even in the Synagogues. We need to pray for the restoration of this important ministry within the church, as demonic infiltration has largely gone unrecognized in our day.


        • I agree, and I’ve been involved in ministry in that area. However, what it looks like is way different than what people think of as “deliverance ministry”.

          First: I find that most of the time what people call demonic is really personal choice to hold onto hurt and bondage. But sometimes there really is demonic oppression and presence.

          Second: When that’s the case, it is very easy to deal with – no drama, no theatrics. Drama and theatrics were pre-cross, but not post-cross because Jesus rose from the grave with absolute authority, which He’s delegated to us, and Satan’s authority was totally snatched away. Thus, we don’t have to “fight” or “wrestle” with demons.

          Third: Once the person withdraws permission for the demonic to oppress them, then in the authority of Jesus tell the demonic to go. That’s it, pure and simple. No argument, no discussion, no entertaining their love of attention, no drama allowed and no theatrics. Very quiet, very simple, and 100% effective.


  5. Good to hear that you have some experience in this area as well. I have also had the opportunity to minister in this area (but in a limited way). I have gained much knowledge about demonic presence from the ministry and personal experience of Derek Prince, who was led into this kind of ministry by the Lord in the 70’s.


  6. Pingback: Going and Owning – And Knowing the Difference | Crossroad Junction

  7. I have been searching all day praying for God to show me how to “help/deal” w a younger but adult sister who for the second time 9 mos ago walked into my 1 bedroom condo my husband & I bought after having to sell my lovely home of 30 yrs b/c of failing health,telling me forcefully she had to stay w us 2 weeks until she heard back from a job interview. That was 9 long toxic months ago! Thats better than the last time at my home when she was there 2 years.

    My sister her entire life was helped 1st physically in braces then w her slow speech development. All were corrected by loving protective support by 8th grade.
    I had cleaned up after her as a little girl and I still am, and suddenly the cycle has broken over which I feel guilt but am looking at is as a possible gift. Im just not sure.

    We were all raised w God at the center & I was shocked to hear her tell someone on the phone ” why should she teach Sunday School when God has forgotten her the last 2 yrs”
    I told her God hasnt forgotten you….you are just not listening!
    I knew then there would be no movement b/c the victim role was there front & center now blaming God for not doing her will be done!

    So I have ACCEPTEDV& AM AWARE I enabled her b/c:
    1.My deceased Mother who always fixed her problems would have expected me to help again and again.
    2. I realized being close again as adults
    that her loss of life long friendships had been destroyed and jobs lost for the following:
    a. Gossip
    b. Entitlement
    c. Wants needs constant recognition even if that includes trying to belittle co-workers & superiors!
    d.Wants immediate gratification instead of earning her spot w nose to grindstone work.
    e.Lack of Gratitude. Not to me and my husband for housing & financial asst. w me working 2 full time jobs even in very poor health for College tuition, while she slept or watched TV. No loans ever paid back.
    Lack of Gratitude to personal relationships. She strongly felt those that have more should give to those w less b/c they wont miss it.
    3. With me knowing all the above I still allowed her to stay w very few boundaries or responsibilities. The biggest line in sand was her rolling up her bedding off the sofa every day and putting it in a closet, w me trying to ignore rolling eyes.
    4. I was scared of discussing these patterns b/c I am scared of her reaction.
    5. I allow it to continue while my husband and I are pushed to the limit.
    6. I feel guilty b/c she never married or had children or owned a home etc. And I did.

    Yesterday after she had demanded retribution b/c she thought my husband had eatten A COOKIE she wanted. I poetically but in an unlady like way lost it. Not just over the cookie .She finally poked the bear! Basically I called her ungrategul hateful and small.
    Well she was so offended that I for the first time counter punched she did what I worried about she left w/o a plan a place to go or any preparation.

    She is sleeping in her car w one of my Mothers quilts in the dark in the rain.

    I did not ask or tell her to leave, at all.
    I felt guilty enough to transfer $50 to her I said for gas, so she could take Uber calls the next day. I of course received no Thanks.

    I called my older sister who is not financially able to help her if she was there or where?
    Apparently she was calling anybody everybody if she could stay w them. My sister commented that she was in a pickle now b/c she walked out in her usual big Huff and Puff scene except this time there was a free fall!

    She cut off her last means of housing showers laundry cooking for Free for the satisfaction of knowing I would worry & as my wise son said. to HOLD ME HOSTAGE. TO BEG HER TO COME BACK TO APOLOGIZE.
    I would like to tell her I was sorry for the delivery of my thoughts but not the content.

    So in long conclusion I know there needs to be prayer on both side, that she is the only one responsible for HER path w Gods help, Grace hopefully & the holy spirit healing her inch by inch.

    A very wise friend also gave me wonderful advice this week.She actually called as my sister was leaving and told me as I cried ” not to give myself so much credit or power that I can control the steps of her journey…that belonged to G”od if she just asks for help w hope.”

    Thank you Jim as I litetally worked through my struggles and understanding that while trying to do the right thing as a Christian I was stopping her transformation into a happier productive woman.
    Please feel free to delete as its so long!!
    I just wanted you to know your article above many many others on the same subject finally resonated.


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