When You Manipulate Change, You Damage the Relationship

You may have a good desire for someone, but if your methods are manipulative and forceful, you will blow-up the relationship. Each person is different, and you must understand them before you attempt to help them change. Knowing your audience, whether a spouse, child, or friend, is critical.

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Biff is a bottom-line guy: only one thing matters—the result. He would say, “Here’s the goal. Let’s go. Whatcha waiting for?” And he is always the one who determines how things ought to be. His way or the highway is his secret sauce, and he could back it up: he is a successful businessman.

In his town, “Biff’s Burgers and Fries” is a well-known eating joint. The people love his food, and he is rich. What could be wrong with Biff’s formula for success? On the surface, nothing, but once you look a little deeper, Biff’s secret sauce is putrefying. Biff is a control freak who knows how things ought to be and how to get things done. Mix that with his ability to reason, and no one cares to challenge him. And besides, the proof is in the pudding—the bottom line is all the information he needs to support his motives and methods.

But there have always been problems in Biff’s business and even more profound issues in his marriage. In his business, he has a high turnover rate. No employee, except for Mable, whose need for money is greater than the frustration of the job, ever stayed with Biff longer than three years.

In his 15-employee operation, he has hired and fired 23 people. There has always been an excuse, none of which would ever stick to “Teflon Biff.” The truth is it’s not possible for people to bear up under the scrutiny and pressure of his demands.

Biff is outcome-oriented. Results matter while the processes to get the results take a backseat. He would say, “That’s business” when someone left for another job. Besides, there are always folks who wanted to work at Biffs.

Don’t Try This at Home

Though he is a “success” on the business front, he is a frustrated and unsuccessful husband and father. The reason is that he uses the same methods in his home that he implements in business. He has an expected outcome for his wife and children. Sadly, his family cannot meet the demands.

They do not accept his wishes because they are more forced than nurtured. Their reaction confuses Biff because he knows he is right. He wants a loving wife and obedient children. “What’s wrong with that? It’s what God wants.”

It may be what God wants, but God does not force righteousness on anyone. He creates a context of grace and invites people into that context while motivating them by His grace. The law does not encourage folks to change. It discourages and exasperates them (Romans 2:4).

I Plant – I Water – I Grow

The Lord could have skipped the gospel and made us righteous without our cooperation, but that negates or marginalizes our relationship with Him. That’s also robotic, not human. Of course, Biff can treat his employees like robots while accomplishing his goals though there is turnover and frustration.

But the children can’t “quit” the family because they are young, and the wife is not willing to “quit” (divorce) the marriage—at least not at this time. Biff and the family are between a rock and a hard place.

He wants them to be a certain way. They are resistant to what he wants, and he can’t legislate his interpretation of how things ought to be. The tension in the home will ebb and flow between tense peace and combustible anger. It has yet to occur to Biff that the outcome was never meant to be his to force.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).

God has not called us to determine outcomes but to trust Him for how things will turn out. What He has called us to is to faithfully and gratefully work the process, while leaving the outcome to Him. Not Biff. He wants to plant, water, and control the growth. James called this arrogance.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).

A man who tries to control the process and outcome does not need God because he is a god. There is no room in Biff’s world for God because he has it all under control. “I planted, I watered, and I gave the increase.” – The Gospel According to Biff

Granted, he is not a “good god” because some of his employees are angry with him, his wife is mad at him, and his children are accumulating resentment that will turn into full-teen rebellion when they garner the courage to manifest their real thoughts.

I Know how Things Ought to Be

This storyline is what happens in almost every marriage or family debacle. At least one person in the family—usually a parent, believes they know how things ought to be. Based on what they believe to be right, they try to mandate or legislate the outcome. This mistake inevitably leads to disaster.

Biff could get away with his tactics and strategies at work because his employees would buck-up, salute the flag, and do things his way. Or they could leave. Many chose to leave. His “like it or lump it” mentality worked in the workplace, but would hardly fly in the home.

The problem with Biff’s thinking is not that his ideas are always wrong. He wants a God-loving, husband-following wife and children who act similarly. Those are biblical desires. I want them too. The issue is not so much Biff’s desires, but how he goes about making sure they happen. He runs roughshod over people, without considering the people he is manhandling.

The result is relational dysfunction and alienation. Biff’s family is dysfunctional, and he alienates himself from those who could help him. Biff has bought into his culture’s view of success—win. And he imitates their style of acquiring success—at all costs.

Where he gets tangled up is how he couches his good and spiritual desires for his family as being right, while lacing them with a self-serving agenda. He then implements worldly strategies to get what he wants. His over-spiritualizations obscures the sin. It creates a blind spot he truly can’t see. Biff has three options: (1) hire robots; (2) change how he treats people; (3) continue to live in work and familial dysfunction while alienating himself from those relationships.

Robot for Hire

If he hires robots for his work and marries one, he can program them to do what he wants them to do. If there is anything he doesn’t like about his Robo-World or if he makes a mistake (not likely) or comes to understand things differently (absurd), he can upgrade to Robo 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and keep on trucking. There is an infinite number of tweaks and upgrades he can make.

He will be able to make his bottom line every time, with no relational effort or challenges. Though this could work pragmatically, it would not work relationally. God wants relationships, even though He knows these relationships are messy. The Lord understands the doctrine of progressive sanctification, and He’s up for the task. He will take a person “just as he is” and begin relating to him in such a way that motivates him to change.

While God has a bottom line, He does not minimize the process. One of the blessings about the process is how it deepens the relationship between the Giver (God) and the receiver (you and me). Aren’t you continually amazed at the grace and mercy of God in your life? He does not deal with us according to what we deserve, but He gives more favor, patience, kindness, and love—again and again.

God Loves the Dirt

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:10-14).

We are dust. I’m a dirt clod, and you are one too. Guess what? God knows this, and He loves playing in the dirt. He knows His audience, and He knows it can’t be just about the result. We’re too dumb to get to the end without the help of our forbearing Father.

Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Genesis 2:7).

  • Do you like playing in the dirt? —your spouse is a dirt clod.
  • Are you more apt to kick at the dirt if it does not meet your expectations? —your child is a dirt clod.
  • Do you see the dirt as an opportunity to shape something for God’s glory? —your friends are dirt clods.
  • Do you manipulate the dirt into your image-exalting and reputation-seeking purposes?

Paul talked about this when he wrote to the Thessalonians. He wanted to make sure they understood how people are different, and you can’t treat them all the same. They are not unemotional, unfeeling, detached robots. Listen to Paul’s urging:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

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Be Patient with Everyone

There are three people groups in this sentence–(1) the unruly; (2) the small-souled; (3) the physically or mentally challenged. Then he closes his appeal by saying we should be patient with all of them. Paul was not thinking so much about the result as he was thinking about how we treated people who were shuffling toward the goal. How about you?

  • Are you more apt to use people to accomplish your goals or desires?
  • Or, do you see people as an opportunity to help shape them for God’s glory?

Paul urges us to think about the people that we are interacting with daily. This need is more critical when it comes to your wife, children, and closest friends. Everybody is different, and each individual requires special attention.

Life is not about filling spots in a business or ministry, but about transforming lives for the glory of God. If our focus is on the bottom line or our pet goals, preferences, or image-cravings, there is a good chance we’re going to miss out on some considerable transformation opportunities in people’s lives.

One of the ways you can test yourself is by how you think about the person you want to see changed. If your thoughts are sinful, your motives are wrong, and the change you hope for will not happen unless God decides to bring change in spite of your foolishness.

  • Are you impatient toward the person you want to see changed?
  • Are you frustrated with the person you want to see changed?
  • Are you critical of the person you want to see changed?
  • Are you unforgiving toward the person you want to see changed?
  • Are you bitter toward the person you want to see changed?
  • Do you gossip about the person you want to see changed?

There are more questions, but this is enough to get you thinking rightly about God and others. If any of these things are in your heart, your motives are wrong, and you shouldn’t expect the person to change. You need to get out of the way first.

You need to follow Paul’s advice and carefully consider the people you’re trying to motivate to change and how you are hurting them. They are not like you. They are different, and you must understand their differences to come alongside them adequately.

Your Wife Is Double Damaged

Did you know your wife is a double damaged individual? She is. She was born in sin. She came into this world broken. And her parents have made mistakes in her life. You received double damaged goods when you married her. There are residual issues that carried over into her adulthood.

Her brokenness makes it hugely important for you to become a student of your wife so you can continue the process of sanctification that she needs. Too many new husbands marry a woman and expect things from her without carefully discipling those things into her. There is a process to help her become the woman that God is leading her to be.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).

BTW, your husband is double damaged too. Sometimes a wife will say something like, “This is not what I signed up for.” And I respond, “What did you sign up for when you married him? A perfect man or a work-in-progress?” Your husband is a dirt clod too. If you’re demanding a result without helping him get to it, you need to repent too. You can’t jump over the process to get to the target. It does not work that way.

Call to Action

  1. How are you creating a context of grace in your home that is conducive to the sanctification growth of your spouse (or friend)?
  2. What resentment, bitterness, or unforgiveness are you still harboring in your mind against that person?
  3. Are you nagging your friend to be something without getting into the depth of their sin to help them become that person?
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