Help, I’m Stuck! How People Change

Every healthcare provider wants to see lasting change take place in their patients. This raises the question, though, of how change takes place. Anyone who’s tried to change for more than a few hours knows how hard it is!

The bible doesn’t give us a step-by-step, how-to manual of what change looks like in a medical (or any other) context. But Jeremiah 17 does outlines a simple, yet profound, “three trees” model for growth that we can apply. In this post, we’ll take a look at the first two trees, with some brief implications for how we interact with patients. (I am indebted to CCEF for the basic model).

  • the “shrub in the desert” (verses 5-6). The desert bush is the first tree, a metaphor for the person who trusts in others (himself included), and “turns away from the Lord.”
  • the fruit tree (verse 7-8). In contrast to the desert shrub, this second tree is a metaphor for the person who trusts in the Lord.

It’s interesting to notice that the two trees, different as they are, both seem to face the same hot weather. The first “tree” is in the desert, while the second, fruit tree “does not fear when heat comes” (v.8). In other words, the difference is in their response to their difficult circumstances (the “heat”), not their circumstances themselves.

Jesus adds to this perspective in Luke 6:43-45, where he says, “no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its fruit.” In other words, what we see (the fruit, our actions) comes from and reveals what we can’t see (the tree’s roots, who we are at our core). So who we are shapes how we react to what we face.

These truths have enormous implications, but let’s look at just one. First, though, I want to say clearly what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that all – or even many – physical problems (“fruit”) indicate underlying, sinful choices (“root”).

Other times, though, conditions have physical and spiritual components. A man who’s in an unhappy marriage, for example, may ‘self-medicate’ by overeating but end up with physical complications like obesity as a result. Viewed through the lens of Jesus’ words in Luke 6, the root of his problem is that he’s practically trusting in food instead of the Lord to help him deal with his marriage. It’s entirely understandable, but at least in this area of his life, he’s acting more like the desert shrub.

So, until you help him deal with what’s underneath (“root”) his overeating, his excessive weight (“fruit”) isn’t likely to change. And even if it does, his tendency to circumvent God for easy comfort will just show up in other ways. As a Christian in healthcare, your vision for his health runs much deeper than helping him lose weight, although it certainly includes that.

The truth, of course, is that we’re all a strange mixture of the good and bad trees, good and bad fruit. (This is not to blur the line between being a Christian or not). The question at hand, though, is how do we progressively become the good tree that produces good fruit? How does lasting change take place? The answer lies in the third tree, the subject of my next post.

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About Bryan Stoudt

On my personal website (bryanstoudt.com), I help Christians follow Jesus in a noisy, broken world. I also have the privilege of helping Philadelphia's healthcare students and professionals do this as Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA). More information at cmdaphiladelphia.org. On a personal note, I'm fortunate to be married to my wonderful wife, Sharon. Together, we have four fantastic children. In my spare time, I enjoy roasting coffee, running, reading and learning foreign languages.
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