Tight Fist or Open Hand?

principles and methods

I’ve been devouring this sermon series on Proverbs by Mark Driscoll.


I think it was part one where he talked about truisms and methods versus principles. This is a combination I’ve never considered and I think it’s so important as we look at to do’s and to be’s.

Many of the sayings in the book of Proverbs are truisms. Meaning most of the time, generally speaking, they are true. {For example, if you train your children, they will go the way you taught them or if you invest, you will build wealth.} Because life is not perfect, there are cases in which even if you “follow the rules” the perceived “reward” falls through, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

He then explored the idea of principles and methods. While a truism states a principle {be a good steward and invest} and the {generally} true result {you will build wealth}, methods are the variety of ways to get from the principle to the result.

We should live by principles, but methods vary because we’re all different, with varying skills, families, and life structures. DON’T FEEL ENSLAVED BY SOMEONE ELSE’S METHOD. DIFFERENT METHODS WORK BETTER FOR DIFFERENT PEOPLE. Sorry I had to shout, but I needed to hear that myself. I’ll see a superwoman and try to implement what I’ve seen her do and it falls flat. Instead of feeling guilty, I ought to consider what tweaks I can make to fit that principle to my life.

My favorite word picture from the sermon series ties it all together: hold principles with a tight fist and methods with an open hand.

Have you ever thought about the difference between principles and methods and how they fit together? Do you have a method that tends to dictate how you live? Let’s let those go and show ourselves some grace.

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  • Sarah Kidder March 11, 2013 at 7:47 AM

    With the purpose of streamlining and organizing my routine, I’ve been talking to friends about cleaning “methods.” Taking a survey of what people do and realizing exactly what you said above. Different methods work better for different people. I can try to implement some things from “E’s method” into mine – but I have to do so, realizing that E’s household/life/family requirements are a different than mine. I find this realization freeing. Even applied to my own family upbringing! If I don’t use my mom’s method for housekeeping…. it’s OKAY!

    A talk with my husband a few weeks ago, in which he told me he was overly satisfied with the state of the household and wished that I would sit and enjoy the little moments with our kids, was eye-opening. Along with John 3:17, “Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world (me), but to save it (me) from sin.” (My paraphrase)

    I appreciated you bringing to light the relationship between principles and methods – I’ve never looked at it so simply before. The first thing that came to my mind was, “You might need to change your methods in different life stages but separating principles from methods means you can still live by the same standards/values as you assess and change your methods to meet your current situational needs.” Does that make sense?

    As I said, I find the whole topic freeing! If your current methods aren’t working – change them! They aren’t the foundation. Don’t idolize the methods when the purpose of both principles and methods is to help you worship Jesus better in your everyday life.

    • Caitlin March 11, 2013 at 5:34 PM

      Well said, Sarah! That makes a lot of sense and I think is absolutely correct- and freeing, too, just like you said!

      What a blessing that you have a husband who is mindful of those things. I completely identify with you in that. We don’t have kids yet, but it’s a struggle to be present in the moment rather than worrying about a to do list.

      Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts. They were so encouraging to me!

  • Selah March 11, 2013 at 8:04 AM

    I love the differentiation between principles and methods. This is something I love about Julie Morgenstern’s books, Organizing From the Inside Out, and Time Management From the Inside Out. She talks a lot about first figuring out what you want to be and do, and THEN finding the methods that will best help you achieve your goals. http://www.juliemorgenstern.com/Products_Books.php

    Also, here is a very interesting article a friend of mine wrote on Proverbs 22:6 (the train up a child verse):

    • Caitlin March 11, 2013 at 5:36 PM

      I’ve got Julie’s books on my ‘to read’ list! I can’t wait to take a look at them.

  • Ashley March 11, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    This is so, so true. I love Mark Driscoll, but I haven’t listened to this sermon yet (now I really want to!).

    This is something I have to remind myself, from the opposite perspective. There are situations where I have been frustrated with family members because they are NOT doing things the “right way” (i.e. MY way). This is such a selfish way for me to think, because as long as they are sticking to correct principles, there is nothing wrong with doing things a little differently. I’ve been trying to remind myself of these things lately, but this post really gave me good, tangible words to use. Thanks for sharing!

    • Caitlin March 11, 2013 at 5:38 PM

      Oo! That was convicting. I honestly hadn’t looked at it that way, but I am definitely guilty of that. I’m excited to change my perspective of the specific things that came to mind with that, because my way isn’t always the best way! Thanks so much for sharing, Ashley.

      • Selah March 11, 2013 at 5:50 PM

        Very convicting. I’m so bad about this too! I will reload the dishwasher and refold clothes because my husband didn’t do it “right” instead of just being thankful that he’s helping out.

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