"Give a Man a Fish, Feed Him For a Day. Teach a Man to Fish, Feed Him For a Lifetime." Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, is credited with making this statement. However, I believe it has great implications for the Christian life. Essentially, this statement is emphasizing the truth that it is more beneficial to have the means than it is to have the end. It's like our high school math teachers who gave us credit for showing our work even if our final answer was wrong. Though we may not have caught any fish, we showed that we knew how to, which is of greater importance.
Lately I have felt like I have been giving people fish. I am a helper, I like to “rescue people” from their problems. I see a person in need and feel I should step in. Well, after doing so I see that I may not always be helping the problem but rather enabling it to continue and thus making it worse.
Fishing can be a long and tedious task. Worse yet, one may fish all day and still not catch anything. But we need to eat! So often, rather than risking our survival on our own fishing ability, we rely on the more experienced fishermen to give us fish. This is the case that I have seen happening, people rely on me for help. Sometimes it’s literally the need for food of a person who walks through the church doors, other times its money, and other times still just a listening ear.
There is nothing wrong with helping people. We all need help at one point or another and as brothers and sisters of Christ we are called to “bear one another’s burdens”(Gal. 6:2), and so I say there is nothing wrong with “giving a man a fish”. However, if the man becomes relent upon another for his fish, not learning to fish for himself, he has put his life in the hands of that man. And what if that man catches some bad fish?
The verse in Galatians goes on to say “For each one shall bear his own load.” (Gal. 6:5) We are to bear one another's burdens of trial and suffering; but each one of us is to bear his own burden of duty and responsibility. The burden of sharing human infirmity is one thing, the burden of giving an account for our actions to God is quite another. At some point one must take responsibility for his own actions but we can no doubt support on another. After all did Christ not model this while on earth?
As one who likes to rescue others I am learning that I cannot do it all, and sometimes ministry means saying “no” to people. Sometimes saying “no” is what it takes for a person to realize they need to make a change. It breaks my heart having to turn people away because I or the church does not have the resources, but one thing I have learned is I can help point people in the right direction where there are adequate resources.
Ministry is hard, ministry is challenging, ministry is rewarding. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to support others and reflect the love of Christ that He has shown me. Supporting others and rescuing others are two separate things; two things that I am learning to differentiate between but with God as my guide I am discerning between the two. I pray that I would be one to teach a man to fish rather than simply give him a fish.