“Jesus understood how people change. That is why he taught in stories. He used narrative to explain his understanding of God and the world: “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.” “A man had two sons . . .” If we adopt Jesus’ narratives about God, we will know God properly and right actions will follow. And the opposite is true. We change not by mustering up willpower but by changing the way we think, which will also involve changing our actions and our social environment. We change indirectly. We do what we can in order to enable us to do what we can’t do directly. We change by the process of indirection.

Peyton Manning practiced indirection. He was the winning quarterback of Super Bowl XLI. It was a rainy night, and the ball was slippery. Rex Grossman, the quarterback for the losing team, fumbled several times. But Peyton Manning never fumbled. A few weeks after the Super Bowl a reporter discovered that every few weeks during the year Manning has his center (the one who snaps him the ball), Jeff Saturday, snap him water-soaked footballs. He practices handling wet footballs so he will be ready in case it rains—even though his team plays half of their games in a dome. Manning did what he could do (practice handling wet footballs over and over) to enable him to do what he could not without this preparation (play great in the rain). We cannot change simply by saying, “I want to change.” We have to examine what we think (our narratives) and how we practice (the spiritual disciplines) and who we are interacting with (our social context). If we change those things—and we can—then change will come naturally to us.

This is why Jesus said his “yoke” was easy. If we think the things he thought, do the things he did and spend time with likeminded people, we will become like him, and it will not be difficult. If someone had asked Peyton Manning after the Super Bowl, “So, was it hard handling that wet football?” he would have likely said, “No. I practice that all the time when no one is watching.” That is the perfect illustration of indirection.

 Soul Training – Narrative Change:

  • Have you ever tried to change something about yourself? What process did you use? How successful were you in changing?
  • Reflect on the following definition of Indirection: A Principle or process by which change is possible. We do not change our behavior through direct willpower, but instead we change our behavior indirectly by changing what we think (narratives, our practices, spiritual disciplines/soul training exercises) and/or those we interact with (our community). We do what we can do in order to do what we can’t do.


Taken from The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith. Copyright(c) 2009 by James Bryan Smith. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com