As a parent and now a grandparent, I have always had a desire to assist or help my family in any way I can. This is a natural outgrowth of my love for them. However, what is the difference between helping family, friends and others and enabling them? We all want to show mercy and grace to those in time of need, but when do we get in God's way?
Currently, there are many fine ministries created to help the poor and needy. When someone loses a job or faces huge financial problems, they need a hand. In many cases, these ministries have a person designated to do a background check on the person to see if there is a real need. This is crucial because the sin nature in man often reveals itself when someone wants help but is unwilling to help themselves. They may be a steady customer to any ministry or person who will continue to provide them with their needs while they do nothing to improve their situation. My father-in-law, who had a good deal of wisdom, used to say, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." If we do everything to make life easy for someone or to help them avoid the consequences of a wrong action they have taken, then we are enabling them.
For Christians, this is a fine line because we feel compelled to assist those who are in need or in trouble. Someone with a mercy motive has even more of a challenge because they want to apply bandages to the wounds of life when the Lord may be trying to get someone's attention. Scripture is very blunt when it comes to reaping what we sow: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-8 NIV). The question becomes, "Are we mocking God when we ride to the rescue every time a person makes a wrong decision?"
Parenting certainly is not an easy task in this day and age by any means. Saying "no" to our children is tough, but there are times we have to do so for their own good. We can either assist them in growing up by setting and maintaining healthy boundaries or we can pamper them to death leaving them with a sense of entitlement. Life "owes" me becomes their mantra. A good example for us to look at is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32).
In the story, the youngest son approaches his father and demands his inheritance now. What makes this an unusual request is that most children do not receive their inheritance until their parents are gone. It is as if the young man was wishing his father dead. However, the father gives to him his inheritance whereupon this son leaves to spend it on his pleasures. According to Scripture, the son spent all he had on "reckless living". When the money was gone, the young man had no choice but to look for work to sustain himself. He ended up feeding pigs in this far country. He got to the point where he wanted to eat even what the pigs were being fed, but no one gave him anything (vs. 16).
There came a point where this son woke up to reality and thought seriously about what he had done. He knew his father's servants were taken care of better than this lifestyle. At this moment, he knew he had sinned and needed his father's forgiveness. Therefore, he returned home with an attitude of humility and a willingness to be a servant in his father's household. His repentance was sincere. Imagine his shock when his father ran to greet him. In fact, his father held a feast for him and restored him to the household as a son. Why? Because the father knew he was truly repentant.
As we consider the father in this story, there are several things we should note. First, the father did not run after his son. He let him go to face the consequences, of his decision. I am certain he was concerned and probably hurt that his son wanted to take his inheritance early and leave home, but he did not stop him. Though it is not stated in Scripture, I am certain the father prayed diligently for his wayward son. Was the father unloving because he didn't run after the son? On the contrary, he released him into God's care. There are times when we get in God's way by trying to fix things for others. This is what enabling does. God is more than capable of trimming our sails when we are rebellious as this young man seemed to be. When the son came home with full repentance, the father welcomed him with open arms. The key here was that the son acknowledged his wrong doing and asked for forgiveness. Then, he was restored. Jesus tells this story to show how the heavenly Father reacts when a sinner truly repents and returns to a right relationship with Him.
If this story were to play out today, I can only imagine how it might be in the age of text messages, emails and phone calls not to mention unhealthy parent and child relationships. All too often, parents do not allow children to face the consequences of their decisions. They pay the rent, fix up the vehicle, buy the food rather than let their child suffer. Again, there is a fine line between genuine help and enabling. We need godly wisdom as found in scripture, prayer and the counsel of others. It is too easy to jump in to save someone from consequences that perhaps God wants them to face for their growth and good. Perhaps God wants them to feed the pigs for a while until they come to their senses.
May God give us discernment, wisdom and understanding as parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors and fellow believers so we know when to help. He, alone, knows the plans He has for each one of us. Let us be faithful to listen to Him. Selah!