I just need some tools to help me with my stress…we just need a few tools to help us stop arguing in our marriage…
I wished that’s all there had been to it. Dispense a few practical tips, offer a step-by-step handout, recommend a book, pop them a podcast and hey presto: friend fixed, couple cuddling, next please…! But, as I sat with my friend talking over an anxiety I had few answers for, and watched my married friends locked in yet another cycle of blame and defence, I glanced down at the toolbox and it was sadly looking just a bit empty.
Tools for the task
We all like tools: they help us get the job done. Anything from bite-size pieces of solid advice, to techniques that work, to ways of approaching life that help us to navigate storms more successfully. You could say that in Proverbs the Bible devotes most of an entire book to ‘tools’! We ask for tools because life can feel broken and we want to fix it. We ask for tools because we want something we can actually do to help. We don’t want our care to be just theoretical, we want it to be practical. We really want to change, we want things to change, we want to help others change. And sometimes the practical is the right starting place. A couple can be helped by learning how to listen and communicate. An anxious person will often grow through actively facing feared situations.
But there’s a downside to using tools. It can feel like the transformation is down to my work, my practice, my effort. I can begin to rely on my techniques. I make my relationship healthy due to my communication and listening skills. I deal with my anxiety by remembering and mindfully implementing the steps of relaxation exercises. Once more, it’s important to emphasise that these can be good things, in their place. And perhaps that’s the question – what exactly is the place of our tools and techniques?
The place of tools
The Bible teaches us that real change is a matter of heart change. What we love or desire or fear has to be reorientated. The transformation from ‘bringing forth evil’ to ‘bringing forth good’ is not a matter of the right tools: it’s a matter of the right treasure (Matthew 12:33-37). What is my heart treasuring? What am I wanting? What am I valuing? What or whom do I worship? “Do you love me more than these?” Jesus famously asked a disciple who felt in serious need of restoration (John 21:15). How our hearts are relating is more important than what our hands are doing.
The reality is that our tools can’t be divorced from the true Fixer, or to use a more biblical term, the true Redeemer. The one who meets us in our mess and need, and who saves, delivers, frees, heals, mends and (yes) truly fixes us. As we turn to him and need him, and trust him, it’s then that our tools come to life. In fact, he even transforms the tools. They become ‘good works’. From a heart that is resting in all that Jesus Christ has done for us, our relaxation techniques, communication skills and host of other tools in the box, become works of wisdom and love that are shaped by his word and shine with the grace and glory of Christ.
The toolbox may have been empty as I was sitting with my friends but we were looking in the wrong direction. The Redeemer and Saviour was there; with us, active, and bringing to completion the good work he had begun.