Sunday, 31 May 2015


Hello, today I want to write about this very important tool that can possibly help you outreach and disciple (essentially, communicate) better :D It's called Paralleling (I honestly thought that it's spelled Parallelizing, which sounds way cooler by the way!) Perhaps a holier statement for this is "speaking in parables", but since some people seem to connote that proverb with long-winded/confusing speeches, I'll use its cooler and harder to spell cousin, Paralleling. I'll also include any form of symbolism in this term, since it's also heavily used in parables. (to clarify, paralleling is inspired from speaking in parables, but it is surely more than that. A simple modern term is just 'analogies.' )

Speaking in parables, for those who are uncertain, is essentially speaking a truth through a story and drawing parallels or similarities to our daily lives. This is a common way that Jesus used to teach his disciples and audience back in the 1st century, and is still one of the more obvious ways we understand His teaching and the Kingdom of God. Symbolism is further back; the entire Bible, especially the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, is full of these. Some examples of Jesus' parables: Parables of the Talent (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:12-28), Story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), Seeds that fall on Different Soil (Matthew 13:1-23)A simple Google search will explain why Jesus spoke in parables. (Matthew 13:10-17) In summary, what I gather is that only those who really want to learn and understand the teachings of Jesus will really get the message, which is made known to them through constant reflection/thinking and the work of the Spirit (John 16:13a). This is exhibited (not in this particular verses) in how Jesus' disciples questioned Him when they did not understand a parable He spoke and He then explained to them plainly what He meant. Another personal opinion, which I think most people will agree with, is that telling truths in parables means that there is so much more you can say. Each of Jesus' story is so rich in truths that we can learn many different things after reading the same parable again and again. None of this is ground-breaking news. But here then is my point: Is there any reason for us to be well-versed in making and speaking in our home-made parables?

Why bother?

The answer is obviously a resounding "YES!!!", else why would I write this post right? :D I'm sure that there are many times in our lives where communication breakdowns occur. My Christian friends in school ask me what I'm doing for summer holidays, and I reply: Serving God with Dota. Wide-eyed stares and guffaws ensues. A cellgroup mate shares about her being really affected negatively when her classmates make fun of her weight in jest (while truthfully she looks slim!) All the guys go "-.- ??????" Your non-Christian parents don't understand why you spend so much time in church and think that Christians are pure hypocrites. You don't understand why they spend so much time and money betting, buying 4D, Toto and why they don't realize that they aren't the most consistent of people as well. All these happens because simply, 1) we don't live their lives and 2) we are not God. It is not our fault that we don't understand fully. But I would say that it is our fault that we do not understand at all.

Let me explain further. We are all humans, agree? (If you disagree.. I won't fault you :P) And there is something that God has given us all in common, unless you have that particular disorder or part of your brain is impaired (no I'm not joking). That is: 'emotions'. Everyone have emotions, even those robotlike-people. Yes there are different triggers, expressions/reactions in everyone, but everyone has more or less experienced a large spectrum of emotions and thus knows what is happiness, sorrow, anger, jealousy and so on. I once facilitated a session on empathy for Secondary 1 students, and to help them understand the differing shades of emotions which are frankly quite complicated, we gave them the "Emometer".  (this isn't the actual, just illustration)
And behind each shade of emotion, there is word that suggests a possible action to react to the person when they feel that way. Disappointed - Encourage. Betrayed => Affirm. Angry => Calm. Happy => Rejoice. We all can agree that taking these specific course of action for a particular emotion would probably be the most appropriate. Why? Because we have been through it before and we remember what we want to receive when we feel that way. We can relate to another person even though we don't live the person's life and the exact circumstance. Emotions connects our hearts to another - they are our bridge to another's heart. It's not the only one, but it's surely an irreplaceable one. And this is what paralleling does - through the use of 'speaking in parables' and 'symbolism', it transfers emotions more accurately than mere description of the emotion. "I'm so upset I want to faint" and "I'm as upset as you were when you broke up with your partner 5 years ago", which statement would help you understand more accurately what the person is trying to say? Naturally, the latter, if you were in the mentioned situation. 

Benefits of Paralleling

In other words, one of the benefits of paralleling is that communication is often understood faster and more accurately, assuming the provided parallel is appropriate and not too difficult to relate to. 

Secondly, parallels often help to add volume and more information in our conversations. In Matthew 15:21-28, the story of Jesus and the Canaanite Woman. The woman was asking Jesus to heal her daughter of demon-possession. Jesus rejected her request and replied in a parable: "It is not right to take the children's bread (referring to Himself) and feed it to the dogs (non-Israelites, since His primary ministry on earth was for Jews)." The response by the woman was also in a parallel: "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table." To this, Jesus commended her faith and granted her request. Can you see how this would be different without using parallels? "Jesus, please heal my daughter." Jesus:"No, you're not a priority at the moment." "But I have great faith you know!" "How do I know that? No." (Jesus) There is no way for the woman to express her faith, but there was an opportunity through Jesus' parable, and this is how parallels can add volume and information within our conversation. 

The last benefit of paralleling which I'm personally convicted in is that paralleling really shows an attempt to communicate with the other party. To want them to understand, to be understood by them and also understand them. I think it exhibits the heart of Christ very much. It shows His gentleness in how He thinks from our point of view by speaking through things we have experienced before and can understand better. It shows sincerity when He genuinely speaks for our sake considering our understanding, and not only His. Have you ever talked to someone who is uninterested in the conversation at all? Surely it did not make you feel like you mattered to them. Have you ever talked to someone who is interested in the conversation, but you have no way to understand what they are saying? Probably it felt like a pity that you couldn't understand them. But when you speak to such a person and then after awhile they realize you don't understand, they say: "Okay, let me put it this way. Imagine...." And when you sort of understand, and you can make some sort of response and the person goes "Ah, you understand..." Doesn't that make both of you smile in your hearts in some sense? Here are two people who really want to to understand each other better, and their hearts are connected through their emotions and personal experience, irregardless of culture, life circumstances and everything else. 

Usage of Paralleling

#1 Outreach - This is natural. As Christians, one of the biggest obstacles in our outreach efforts is to let people understand how much God really loves them, what our faith and church is about, and how relevant it is to their own lives. And often, we aren't sure of how to tell them because... it's something they must experience for themselves right? Things like "how God speaks to us personally" or "the importance of a community of believers" or "how much God loves us" (which sometimes we ourselves need a parallel for us to grasp. Side Story: God gave me a personal one earlier this year. While looking at the sea He said to me "You think that my love for you is merely the waves that you see hitting the shore. But my love for you is like the ocean." Booms<3) There is no way for them to even remotely understand the things they need to want to get into the kingdom of God, since these things are found in the kingdom of God. BUT, we can parallel some of these things for them. "God speaks to me in the same way like... imagine watching a movie or reading a book, and suddenly something jumps out at you and starts saying something in your heart." "A community is crucial because... you know, like your family. They are committed to you by blood right? In church, it's not blood, but our faith that causes us to commit to one another. We will support one another and do life with one another too!" These parallels may not express the entire thing, but it gives a glimpse for non-Christians to understand, and it could be that crucial glimpse that keeps them open, exploring and interested in God. We really got to try. Even when we fail to explain through our parallels, these people may not understand our words, but they can surely understand our hearts and sincerity. And that is something that God can easily use to bring them into the kingdom anyway.

#2 Discipleship - I heard from my pastor about one lesson he learnt from his mentor when he was younger. The mentor asked him: What can you see around you now? (it was at the lobby of a university hostel). Trees, benches around, nothing special. After that, he brought him up to the 5th floor. "Now what do you see?" Another building next to the current one, the top of the trees, dustbins of another floor, classrooms, people's rooms... so much more. And he told him that this is how God sees things: from the top. And from the top, there is so much more to see. In the same way, we should learn to see from a higher vantage point, just as God does, and it'll change the way we live. This is a form of paralleling and certainly it delivers the message way deeper than otherwise. (I mean, the alternative is tell him over a coffee table: you must learn to see the way God sees... which is probably much less memorable and impactful). Discipling using appropriate parallels is just amazing because it helps us remember things much more deeply. And what we remember deeply, we will apply often and more deeply. The Word made flesh Himself uses parables to disciple. Why shouldn't we? :)

#3 Defense - As Christians, we often get persecuted/made fun of (with/without malicious intent). We can't retaliate in the same way they did, since Jesus won't. But neither is there a need to suffer in silence and think that it can't be helped. Earlier this year, Pope Francis mentioned that if someone insults his mother, that person can expect a punch. I loved his paralleling. A punch on someone is sin regardless, since we aren't called to inflict harm on our neighbor no matter what. But it's a statement easily understood by the whole world, Christian or not. It's not a threat, it's simply a statement of logic. "Don't piss me off, else you will receive a response." That response can be many things, even a supernatural "rebuke" by God; buying them presents when you go overseas since you're trying to love your enemies or whatever, but it simply tells the people who are making your life miserable that you're not a mere punching bag, but one who loves God passionately. 

Often, once these people realize that they are being foolish, they may 1) stop what they are doing, 2) continue irregardless, perhaps due to habit or pride. Once they reach 2), victory is yours indeed. Just think about it: what do you do when you realize that you've been doing something stupid/pointless? You stop, right? But if you continue, what happens? You feel stupider and stupider and stupider and stupider ...... until you either grow insane or you stop just before. In the same way, each time these persecutors do something to you, they will feel stupider i.e. they are just insulting themselves while on your part honestly "not a single d**m is given". They are shooting their own foot. Of course, until they initially realize that they are being foolish, we can employ parallels to help them understand how we feel when they do such things to us. God will also vindicate us in the end, so hang on! ^^

Another possible way of defense is when people (Christian or not) accuse us of "not understanding". Again, they are right and wrong. We may not fully understand, but most likely we aren't clueless. I recall a really great manga (named Naruto) I've read a long time ago which to date still touches my heart. It is the story of Naruto and Sasuke, both who are orphaned at the start of the story. Circumstances put them together and their friendship started to develop genuinely, so full of friction as it is. Unfortunately, as the story progressed, Sasuke wanted to pursue revenge for his murdered family members and thus sought illegal means of attaining power for revenge. Naruto, his best friend, tried to stop him. Sasuke retorted saying that Naruto doesn't understand the pain of losing family members since he was born as an orphan, while Sasuke witnessed his whole clan's murder as a child. Naruto's response was tearjerking. He paralleled: "I don't know what what it's like to have a family, but when I look at Iruka-sensei (his teacher in school), I imagine "that's what having a father is like" and when I look at you, I imagine "this is what having a brother is like." And even Sasuke, on his verge of falling into depravity, couldn't stop from acknowledging that this guy really cares for him. When people say that we don't understand, thinking and speaking in parallels helps in 1) getting us to understand them better, 2) getting people to realize that we sort of understand. And this may be that last one thing that keeps them hanging on to God or life - the realization that someone understands, even if only in part. And more importantly, that someone WANTS to understand

Cautions on Paralleling

Be careful of over-complicating simple things. Sometimes, simple truths are better said as it is. I would usually only recommend using parallels in our conversation when you want to illustrate a point that is difficult to grasp (somewhat abstract) or intentionally expand on a particular situation/topic. Or when you just don't know how to say stuff in simple words. "I treasure you" is easier said in three words than "my feelings for you is the same way as how you feel for your PlayStation 4". But not all people will feel accustomed to overly mushy/straightforward words of love. So perhaps the humor effects in the latter will make this equally genuine expression less awkward and more easily accepted, so see what you want to say in your conversation haha.

There are also possible social and cultural barriers in using parallels. Jesus could speak in parables easily because His audience were mostly Jews. I remember once I had a non-Christian visitor in church who wasn't even Singaporean. He asked what are tithe and offerings about, and I regret to say that in my attempt to help him understand it quickly, I said its like income tax O_O. I saw my leader then gave me a face of slight shock that I used such a term (well he is a Business undergraduate you know :D). Of course I did add in other adjectives like "willing  and voluntary tax" and etc, but I guess on hindsight, I could have caused some unnecessary misconceptions. Most Christians can probably see where I'm coming from when i used such parallels, but this person isn't a Christian, to my oversight. So be careful in using parallels. Consider the other party's point of view as well. 


Recently, I heard a story from one of my church leaders about his experiences with a non-Christian friend he was outreaching to in the past. The friend asked him about why God does certain things in a certain way. As a young believer then, my leader couldn't get an answer after a period of time. Eventually, his response to that friend was just like this: :"You know, its like when you start working in a company, and you don't understand why the management decided on certain practises and direction. One day, one of the management came to your department and then you asked him all these. And so he explained to you, and your response after that was: "Oh I see, I didn't think about that at all." In the same way, some things we will only understand when we ask God when we see Him face to face. And if by then, it may be too late since we are dead already." That friend's response to that was "Wow, you shed me light. I never saw it that way before." In the end the questions that was initially asked was never answered, but the answer no longer mattered. Praise God indeed. And the next day, my leader received a message from this same friend about him encountering a verse on a packet of tissue he bought on the street - Romans 11:33 "Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" How powerfully divine. Ultimately, I think paralleling is one of the tools God granted us to fulfill these 2 verses: 
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 "Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible....I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some...."
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regards to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church. 
The principles that was written in the words of the New Testament in the 1st century, but is still relevant in today's age, let us use parallels to tell the people today, for the sake of both Christians and non-Christians alike! Paralleling is one possible way to improve our effectiveness in standing in the gap and being God's bridge to our brothers and sisters and the lost. As we look to serve Him, God will surely bless, anoint and empower us through the Holy Spirit as in the story of my leader. 


  1. Yup homemade parallel is an art. :D I like that it takes a heart of Jesus (benefits point 3) and wisdom (caution) to do it.
    I think the point of paralleling in defense helps us to understand each other better and clear up any potential misunderstanding or linking different interpretations/definitions. Matthew 13:13 This is why I speak to them in parables, Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. Paralleling helps us to see who has or grow the eyes to see and ears to hear the things of heaven.

  2. Yup homemade parallel is an art. :D I like that it takes a heart of Jesus (benefits point 3) and wisdom (caution) to do it.
    I think the point of paralleling in defense helps us to understand each other better and clear up any potential misunderstanding or linking different interpretations/definitions. Matthew 13:13 This is why I speak to them in parables, Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. Paralleling helps us to see who has or grow the eyes to see and ears to hear the things of heaven.