A couple of days ago Aileen and I were at the gym, alternating between lifting heavy stuff off the floor and then putting it right back down again (with a bit of running to nowhere in the mix as well). This kind of activity often leaves us rather sore, and, as it happens, there was a chiropractor working the floor that day, offering to show how she could soothe some of that soreness. It was a free sampling of sorts, the health club equivalent to Costco’s little samples of crackers or pizza.
I tell you what: This place has it figured out. They work you hard so you get hungry and, wouldn’t you know it, they’ve got a nice little café to feed you. They push you to your limits so you get sore and, once again, they’ve got a chiropractic and physiotherapy clinic to serve you. It’s a perfect little cycle. But I digress.
Aileen was particularly sore that day, and is a little bit less self-conscious than I am about getting professionally twisted and kneaded in a public space. So she told the chiropractor about her sore knee and lay face-down on the table. The chiropractor pretty much ignored Aileen’s knee and instead began to work her hamstring. She protested a little, explaining again that it was not her hamstring but her knee that was bothering her. But the doctor kept on working the hamstring while explaining that the knee was not the problem. In reality, the hamstring was tight and this was putting abnormal strain on the knee, causing it to get inflamed. The problem with the knee was not actually with the knee at all. And, sure enough, after a few minutes of work the pain eased and disappeared.
As I watched the chiropractor doing what chiropractors do, I realized that I invariably become a better pastor when I observe doctors and other medical professionals. Physicians of the soul are not too different from physicians of the body. And in some ways these doctors are more adept than pastors at seeking problems and in solving them.
The chiropractor that day reminded me of the importance of careful observation. Her temptation might be to go straight to the knee—to hear the words “knee pain” and to immediately start work right there. But instead, she asked Aileen to do a few simple tasks, to move in certain ways, to describe the kind of pain she was experiencing. As Aileen did this, the doctor was feeling her muscles, feeling her ligaments, and observing it all. That careful observation led to a surprising but accurate diagnosis. And as a pastor, I know that I am tempted to neglect scrutinizing a spiritual issue and to make a quick and trite diagnosis of the problem. When I see someone believing what is wrong or living in a way that dishonors God, I need to resist the temptation to offer the quick fix and instead to talk, to pray, to observe, and to trace that sin to its root.
The chiropractor that day reminded me of a second and related issue. She reminded me that the presenting problems—the marital disputes, the explosive anger, the addictions, the deep sadness—are not always the thing. We can go right after that problem, find some Bible verses that speak to it, and try to memorize them together. But a careful examination through good conversation will often lead us to see that these sins are actually only symptoms of a much deeper problem. It may expose a deeper sin, it may expose the pain of past victimization, it may expose simple immaturity. But sometimes sin’s causes are much harder to discover than sin’s symptoms.
It is not just pastors who are to be adept at seeing and diagnosing spiritual problems. This is true of every Christian, to all of us who are called “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12). We are all responsible before God to be involved, to observe carefully, to diagnose accurately, and to treat patiently. Are you caring for the souls of others?
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