What mentors do…

“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” Proverbs 20:5

Since I turned about fifty I gave myself permission to think and act like a “mentor.” Helping a number of young spiritual leaders in the City (San Francisco) is one of my most exquisite joys these days. I’m not so sure that the joy is mutual, since one of my young protégés calls me his “tormentor.” I have no plan except the Spirit’s scheme for each one, no curriculum but the Bible, and no agenda save that together we would become the most avid followers of Jesus possible. I say “we,” because my relationship with each of these various spiritual firebrands is truly symbiotic. It nourishes me as much as it does them, and probably more.

I try to provide sturdy enough shoulders for them to stand on and see further than they would without me. When they get a leg up and peer into the distance, way beyond my line of sight, I ask them what they see from up there. Invariably each of them sees things I’ve never seen. Together we see beyond.

One thing I’ve noticed in this mentoring gig, is that I’m not really adding anything new to my young friends as much as activating what the Father has already installed inside them. They have the same live-in Savior that I do and I’m simply trying to help them hear his voice and do what he wants.

The Proverb above is fundamental to my view of disciple-making and mentoring. If I understand it correctly, Solomon claimed that there is a depth to each person with whom we come into contact. They may or may not perceive it, but they’ve got something deep inside them – someone to be, something to do, something to contribute to others. The mentor in me is tasked with the grace of helping them find their submerged treasure and use it for the glory of God and the good of people.

Though sin, satan and the system tricks us into living shallow lives, essentially we are beings capable of great depth. Most of us have lost hope that we even contain treasure, in the most important part of us – the inner part. We need to be provoked to believe that we’re not merely what we appear on the outside. We tend to live primarily from our exterior and for it. We’re unaware that we possess an inner part let alone how to tap into it. Our appearance and status and belongings are what we’re all about. But the fact is, each of us contain as much sunken treasure as anyone else. We may not ever have peered below our surface in order to locate it, but it’s there.

Wise King Solomon hinted that what’s in there – deep inside somewhere – are “purposes.” That’s the hidden treasure – “purposes” – God’s eternal purposes for us. In other versions, the word is translated, “plans, intentions, counsels, motives…” We have such things installed at birth, and we need to venture below the surface to locate them. We have purposes here on earth – treasures to be hunted, discovered, brought up from the depths, enjoyed, and shared.

“… your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3

… in my inner being I delight in God’s law”  Romans 7:22

“… I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” Ephesians 3:16

For most, the treasure is covered by years, even generations, of the silt and sand of neglect. The gold and silver are obscured and appear as a nondescript bump on the ocean floor. A glance is inadequate to decipher one’s worth inside; they have to be urged to take a pensive gaze. That’s the mission of the mentor/disciple-maker.

“But a man of understanding draws them out.” Proverbs 20:5

The mentor is a person of “understanding” (one of Solomon’s many synonyms for “wisdom,” others include “discernment, discipline, knowledge, discretion, prudence.”) The person with these qualities doesn’t use up all their wisdom on their own treasure hunt. They have plenty left over to help others find theirs. They’re not consumed in their own survival, but have strength remaining to hoist others onto their shoulders for the mutually beneficial longer distance view. They insinuate themselves into people’s lives to provoke them to discover a deeper part of themselves and bring it to the surface.

“Jonathan helped David find strength in God.” 1 Samuel 23:16

Though the nearest of friends, Jonathan couldn’t be David’s strength. What he could do was help him find his strength in God. Likewise, the person of understanding doesn’t tell his or her mentees what their purpose is. That would be doing for them something they’re supposed to do for themselves. It would rob them of the adventure of the hunt and possibly delay the discovery of their inner-treasure.

As for how the “drawing out” happens, I think of how my mentors have helped me draw out my own purposes. Invariably they initiated the process by enjoying their own treasure in front of me. Sometimes stealthily staked out from afar, I caught them reveling in their inner-riches and generously sharing them with others. They were so coy at times, waiting for me to ask them how they discovered the gold and silver inside.

They answered my questions with other questions or with subtle clues rather than the formulas I was hoping for. It resembled the conversations between Jesus and his mentees. They refused to give me a list of “ten best methods” for bringing my treasures to the top. They highlighted attitudes over activities, again resembling the training ways of Jesus. While I wanted things to do (pray, read the Bible, go to church…), they disappointed. They did teach me how to pray and study the Bible, but convinced me – at least they tried – that these were not the treasure itself, but vehicles to help me retrieve the treasure. I learned that being enamored with such vehicles and mistaking them for the gold would damage the hunt for treasure and confuse the hunter. Even the newest and coolest state of the art ways to pray, study, and worship are not the treasure itself. The best use of the best tools of the trade is to aid my acquisition of what’s hidden below. My mentors taught me to use them but not make them an object of my adoration.

“Deep calls unto deep…” Psalm 42:7

My mentors did for me what I hope to do for my young friends. They showed me that there was something deep in the Maker that beckoned to something deep inside me and that it was up to me to go as deep as it takes to find it, to bring it up, revel in it, and show it off to as many people as I can, so they’ll be enticed to be treasure hunters too.

3 Replies to “What mentors do…”

  1. Barney…you nailed it: “The mentor in me is tasked with the grace of helping them find their submerged treasure and use it for the glory of God and the good of people”. I have friendships where in our conversations we seem to naturally help each other discover our God given purposes…it takes someone out side ourselves to see what God is bringing about.


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