As I’m preparing to lead small group discussions this week (using The Gospel Project material), I’m pondering a principle that helps me visualize properly relating to people. Whether it’s personal, professional, or in small group; there are some interesting applications. Here’s what I’m learning:
The Principle: When engaging people, I’m faced with a choice to be a “thermometer” or “thermostat”. As a thermometer, I simply reflect the temperature of the other person and/or the environment I’m in. As a thermostat, I help set the temperature of the environment and/or the tone of the conversation.
In Jeremiah 9:24, the Lord describes the tone that He sets when dealing with us, “…showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness.” He even goes on to say that He “delights in those things”. When we consider God’s words to Jeremiah, along with Jesus teaching us to love others as ourselves (Matt. 22:36-40), then it’s clear; we’re to be “thermostats” not “thermometers”. So what does that look like exactly?
Being Proactive – Lazy Christians are likely to be thermometers. For years I didn’t understand how someone could be so fired up on Sunday and then be cold on Monday. Yes, sometimes it’s from not having a relationship with Christ to begin with, but other times it comes from a spiritual life that only reflects the surrounding environment, not one helping set it. Hey, to be honest, I have my share of thermometer moments, but being proactive in prayer/personal study helps lessen the number of them.
Proper Focus – I must remember to look in the right direction. It’s easy to focus on the person and rationalize my response, instead of looking at God’s model toward me. Whether it’s very personal, (in our home) or out-and-about in work and community; a smile, a kind word, or proactive measures to defuse conflict can often change a situation for the better and even open up doors for deeper conversation.
Realistic Expectations – Quite often, striving to be the thermostat goes against the flow. Come to think of it, every time the thermostat in our house kicks in for the heating/air conditioning, it’s because the temperature needs adjusted. It’s either too hot or too cold, so by default its purpose is to implement change when needed. As followers of Christ, that’s our job too; to be change-agents bearing Christ’s love and values. Will we always be welcomed? No. Is it worth the pursuit? Absolutely!