“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” James 1:27
Help. When you read that word what comes to mind? Do you see it as a request or an imperative? Is it “Help me!”? Or “Help someone.”?
Both are essential.
“Help me” is a frank admission that we can’t make make it through life in our own strength. We all need help, and asking for help actually comes quite naturally to us very early in life. My three-year-old granddaughter regularly asks for help, whether it’s carrying a chair to set up a tea party, reading a book, or cutting up her food. She needs help. She asks. She gets help. Wonderful!
As we grow, however, that simple little progression gets more complicated. Somewhere along the line we stop asking for help because it’s often seen as a sign of weakness. We want to project strength and independence. “Help? I don’t need help!” Sometimes the answer is a little more benign, as in “I don’t want to bother anyone else.”
It took me a while to see the folly of that approach in my own life. I was not good at asking for help, basically for the reasons I cited in the previous paragraph. People asked me for help, but I didn’t regularly seek out the help of others.
Frankly, that was an expression of raw pride, the kind of original sin that is probably the foundation of all the others. Not asking for help wore me out and nearly destroyed me. My personal recovery from alcoholism involved chiefly breaking through the dangerous denial that I needed help.
Today I ask for help. When I’m afraid, angry, hurt, doubtful, or uncertain I talk to someone else. Wonder of wonders, I’ve discovered the voice of God through the people I talk to! God doesn’t make a habit of speaking to me as He did to Moses, but He’s no less talkative. I just needed to learn to listen in the way He normally speaks. I believe God does speak directly to me, but I know my ego speaks to me in my own voice, and it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes. God speaks most clearly to me through the voices of others.
You don’t have to have an addiction to experience the painful isolation of not asking for help, and the refusal to ask for help is always spiritually dangerous. Ironically “I need help” is a sign of weakness. The scripture consistently challenges us to admit our weakness, not to shame us but to open us up to the help God always provides. The greatest paradox, of course, is that our weakness becomes the single most important place God demonstrates His power. Go ahead and ask for help.
“Help someone” means that we are looking beyond ourselves to the needs of another person. I say this reverently, but confidently: we shift from listening for God’s voice to being God’s voice. As important as it is to ask for help, it’s even more important to help someone else.
If we only ask for help, then we risk becoming what we fear; chronic victims wallowing in self-pity. God does strengthen and encourage and guide and carry us along in an infinite variety of ways, but He also expects us to serve one another. As the passage from James suggests, good religion consists of acts of service like helping orphans and widows. Jesus summed His ministry as one of serving others. The second greatest commandment is that we love one another. How is love expressed best? By helping one another, of course.
This outward focus brings an almost luminous quality to life. Think back to a time when you helped someone. It can be an endless variety of things: an encouraging word, visiting someone in the hospital, mowing the lawn of an elderly neighbor, etc. How did you feel when you helped? I suggest that feeling of satisfaction and spiritual warmth is very god-like. You felt what God did at creation, “this is good.”
The wondrous variety of help needed around you means that your day is full of potential good. Just start watching for opportunities. Nothing will make you feel more a part of God’s powerful providence than helping someone.
A part of my morning prayer is “Guide me to someone I can help, and grant that I may watch and listen for those You send to help me.” Join me in this prayer. Just say “Help!” It works both ways. Then become aware of the moments each day when God speaks to you, and you speak for God.
Dr. Terry Ellis
February 7, 2016