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Jesus, the Greatest Therapist Who Ever Lived
By Mark Baker
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Mark Baker
All right reserved.
Understanding How People Think
"What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade."
With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable.
Life is about faith. Jesus knew that most of what we do in life is simply taken on faith. We like to think we are rational beings living logical lives based upon objective facts. But the truth is, we are rationalizing beings who base most of our decisions on what we feel or believe and come up with the logic to justify our decisions afterwards. We don't really know as much as we think we do. Jesus knew this, so he used parables to force us to deal with what we believe rather than what we think we know.
Because we don't know as much as we think we do, the truly knowledgeable person is always humble. Jesus never wrote a book, always spoke inparables, and led people to the truth through his living example. He was confident without being arrogant, believed in absolutes without being rigid, and was clear about his own identity without being judgmental toward others.
Jesus approached people with psychological skills that we are just beginning to understand. Instead of giving scholarly lectures based upon his theological knowledge, he humbly made his points through simple stories. He didn't use his knowledge to talk down to people; he used a humble means of communication to talk with them. He spoke in a manner that made people listen because he knew what made them want to listen. I believe Jesus was a powerful communicator because he understood what the science of psychology is teaching us today—that we base our lives more on what we believe than on what we actually know.
His harshest criticisms were leveled at religious teachers, yet he was one himself. You see, he did not criticize them for their knowledge, but rather for their arrogance. To him, knowledge becomes toxic when people cease to be teachable. The more we learn, the more we should realize how much there is that we don't yet know. Arrogance is a sign of insecurity and only proves a lack of self-knowledge on the part of those who display it. Jesus understood that human ideas are crude approximations of the universe—his psychologically brilliant teaching style always took this into account. I believe we need to learn what Jesus knew about the relationship between knowledge and humility if we want to be more effective communicators.1 Truly great thinkers are humble about what they know. They realize life isn't as much about knowledge as it is about faith.
Why Jesus Spoke in Parables
He did not say anything to them without using a parable.
Jesus understood how people think. He was one of the greatest teachers in history because he knew that each person can only understand things from his or her own perspective. Because he did not assume that what he had to say would always be understood, he taught in parables.
A parable is an insight into reality in story form. People can take from a parable whatever truths they are able to grasp and begin applying them in their lives. As they grow and evolve, they can return to the parable to extract additional meanings that may guide them farther along their path.
Parables have helped me understand life. This was especially true during one of my most difficult periods, when I was having trouble making sense out of my suffering. It was one of those times when I was forced to question everything, you know, the how-can-there-be-a-God-if-am-I-suffering kind of period. I was in despair, and nothing was helping.
During this time, I went over to my brother's house to bemoan my situation. Tim is a geologist who spends most of his days outdoors. He doesn't say much, but when he does, it's usually pretty good. I have always considered him to be a humble man, in the best sense of the word.
I was sitting in his kitchen looking depressed and feeling hopeless when he said, "You know, Mark, when I was out doing a geological survey recently, I noticed an interesting thing about the way the world is made. Our team climbed up to the tallest mountain in the area, and we were exhilarated by the view. Mountaintop experiences are great. However, when you are up that high you are above the timberline. You can see that trees only grow up to a certain altitude, and above that they can't survive. On the very top of the mountain there is no growth. But if you look down you notice an interesting thing. All the growth is in the valleys."
The meaning I took away from Tim's parable was that suffering feels bad, but it can also lead to growth. It's important to make sense out of things, and that parable helped me do that. I'll never forget what Tim said that day. It didn't take my pain away, but somehow it made it more tolerable.
Parables don't change the facts of our lives—they help us change our perspective on them. Because each of us can only understand things from our own perspective, Jesus used parables to help us where we need it most. Most of the time we can't change the facts in our lives, but we can change our perspective.
Spiritual Principle: You can only understand things from your own perspective.
Excerpted from Jesus, the Greatest Therapist Who Ever Lived by Mark Baker Copyright © 2007 by Mark Baker. Excerpted by permission.
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