Tag Archives: Nehemiah

God helps those who help themselves? [False ideas Christians believe about…difficulty. Part 3]

13 Mar
Photo by J W on Unsplash

“If you are unemployed and need a job, and you pray for a job, don’t expect God to give you a job if all you do is collect unemployment while you sit on the couch all day watching Netflix and eating chips. Stop making excuses and get to the unemployment office!”

What do you think of that quote? Kinda sounds true, doesn’t it?  We even have biblical examples of this.  Nehemiah, for example, when he was leading the people to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, and they were being threatened with an attack, he didn’t just pray for God to rescue them.  He prayed and posted a guard. 

Or take dieting, another contemporary example. If you want to lose weight, it is good to pray about it, asking for strength, but you must also do the work of eating healthy and exercising. 

Why am I talking about this combination of prayer and work? Because the next phrase we’re fact-checking is “God helps those who help themselves.” We’re in the middle of a series looking at commonly-held ideas Christians have about dealing with difficulty. Earlier in the series we suggested that “God won’t give you more than you can handle” (here and here) is a phrase Christians should discontinue. But what about “God helps those who help themselves”?

Dealing with difficulty must be seen as the responsibility of both God and us.  So this phrase seems like a good one.  For the most part, I think it is a good phrase, but I do have one important clarification.

Does God ONLY help those who help themselves?  We can sometimes think like this.  When people are struggling, we can become very judgmental about them, very cynical, as it doesn’t seem like they are doing as much as we think they should do to deal with their difficulty. So we start thinking, “God will never help them.”  Or we can become very negative thinking, “God SHOULD never help them.”  Almost as if it would be wrong for God to help them because they aren’t doing enough. 

Doesn’t God, though, sometimes help those who don’t help themselves?  What if you are in a situation where you can’t help yourself?  Is it okay to pray for God’s help?

Sometimes we need God to intervene!  We can’t put God in a box.  He often responds uniquely to our pain, sometimes in surprising ways.  We would do well to be careful about becoming judgmental against those who are struggling, when we start feeling they should be doing a lot more to get themselves out of the difficulty. 

As Christians who are part of church families, we should not force people to handle pain all by themselves.  We are a part of community with a mission to love and help one another.

A few weeks ago, our home’s hot water started running out way faster than it should have.  It had happened years ago, and the plumber changed the heating elements on our water heater as they got corroded with build-up.  So I thought, I’m going to do it myself this time, and save money.  I bought the new elements, and I looked up a couple YouTube videos to learn what to do.  It seemed simple!  I put the socket on the bottom element to try to remove it, and though I pulled hard, it wouldn’t budge.  I tried harder, and the socket slipped, and my hand slammed into a sharp part of the heater, cutting it up, blood dripping everywhere.  I learned quickly that I needed help.  So I contacted a friend from church. He’s got the right tools and much more experience! The next evening he came over, and sure enough, helped me out.

Sometimes that’s what we need in our of struggles; people with more tools and experience in different areas than we have.  This is why God wants us living in community, in church families.

Remember the story of lame man?  His friends brought him to Jesus for healing, but the house where Jesus was teaching was so crowded, they couldn’t get in the door.  Their solution was to open up a hole in the roof, as roofs in those days were made of materials that you could open up.  They dropped the guy down on a stretcher right to Jesus.  Take notice of a prime detail in the story: the lame man could not go to Jesus himself, so his friends brought him.  It could be said, “that man didn’t help himself.”  But it didn’t matter.  His friends stepped in on his behalf, sought Jesus, and Jesus responded.  In fact Jesus says that he healed the man because of his friends’ faith!

Does that mean that if you seek Jesus you will be brought out of whatever circumstance you are in?  Does this mean that if you remain in a difficult circumstance it is because you aren’t working hard enough and so Jesus has decided he won’t help you?  Not at all.

This is why when people in our church are in hardship, we should be the loving community that visits them, makes meals for them, prays for them, loves them.  We don’t expect them to do it all alone. 

The general rule, though, is that when we ourselves are in hardship, we should pray and work towards healing and resolution.  And thus, the statement “God helps those who helps themselves,” has some value, but it absolutely needs the clarifications we discussed.

Check back in to part 4 of the series as we fact-check “During times of suffering you’ll be closer to God.”

Overcoming our fears, Part 2 – God’s role in calming our fears – Luke 12:1-2

16 Nov

People say that their two greatest fears are death and speaking in public.  In Luke 12:1-12 Jesus talked with his disciples about these two fears.  Perhaps what he said will help you overcome those fears!

In Verses 4-7 he refers to the fear of death. Do not be afraid, but do fear God, he loves you. There is a logical flow of thought here.

He says specifically, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body. Don’t be afraid of wicked men.”  In the wake of so many mass shootings and terror attacks, it is really easy to be afraid of wicked men.  What is Jesus getting at?

He goes on to say that we should fear the one who can throw us into hell. Who can do that?  God.  So we should fear God.

Fear God? Like…be scared of him?  Should we be afraid of God like we would be afraid of wicked men?  It would be quite odd for Jesus to say that, wouldn’t it?  So what is he talking about?  Throughout the Bible, especially in the book of Proverbs, we are taught to fear God.  The fear of God is about seeing God with awe, with respect!  When we fear God, we aren’t scared of him like my kids who refused to go up to the really scary house this past Halloween.  Instead we love God, we want to be with him, know him, and follow his ways.

So Jesus is saying that we might lose our life, but that is not as important as the loss of faith.  In other words, we should be more concerned about our saving our soul than about saving our life.

He goes on to illustrate this concept of fearing God as the one who can deal with our soul by referring to one of the most common foods in Israel, sparrows.  They were a dime a dozen, and because many of the people were poor peasants, sparrows were a staple of their diets.  Jesus says that though they are cheap, sparrows are not forgotten by God.  So this God we are to fear loves lowly sparrows.

Then he explains further that God knows us so well, he’s got all the hairs on our head numbered. This shows how thoroughly he cares for you, how well he knows you.  And Jesus concludes, then,  that we need not be afraid, because we are worth more to God than sparrows.

This passage resonates with me because I don’t like the thought of death. Frankly, even though I trust in the hope of eternal life, I don’t want to die. But Jesus reminds us that God loves us. He knows us thoroughly, he cares for us. And we are worth so much to him.

How amazing is that! God considers us to be of great worth. Perhaps you need to spend time reflecting on how much God loves you. How he thinks you are worth his time, his energy, his love!

So we do not need to fear to death.  But maybe public speaking will always be terrifying?

In Verses 11-12 Jesus talks specifically about some help for those who are afraid of speaking in public. Specifically he refers to a time when the disciples might get arrested for being a follower of Jesus.

He says, “Don’t worry about how you will defend yourself because The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say.”

We may or may not have to be in a situation where we are arrested. But we all will get in situations where we are sharing our faith, and we can be assured that the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say. We have the Holy Spirit with us! He will teach us what to say.

One of the reasons why people don’t share their faith with neighbors and friends because they don’t know what to say. But Jesus says we have the Spirit. So we don’t need to be ashamed. We don’t need to be afraid!

This reminds me of the story of Nehemiah in the Old Testament.  He was a Jew who had been exiled, and he heard that his beloved city of Jerusalem was in ruin.  He felt burdened to go back home and rebuild the wall around the city.  As a trusted cupbearer to the foreign king, he decided to ask the king’s permission.  What I love is how often Nehemiah prays in his story.  Sometimes the prayers are really short sentence prayers under his breath, or in his head, as he is about to do something.  As he stands before the king, Nehemiah had a distressed look on his face, a display of emotion that was not acceptable when having an audience with the king.  So we read that Nehemiah prays to God before he dives into his request of the king.  I love that detail.  Nehemiah was a man who knew that he needed God’s help before he spoke in public, in a very tense, nerve-wracking situation.

One time Michael Bay, famed movie director, needed help with a public speech, and he didn’t get it.  Take a look at this video.

Jesus tells his disciples that they do need a teleprompter!  If they don’t know what to say, they can depend on the Holy Spirit for help.  That is an amazing thing to consider.  God’s Spirit who lives with us will help us know what to say when we have the opportunity to speak up for him.

Don’t be afraid to speak up for the Lord. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words to say! Ask him to help you tell your story.

I found a great article where a professor of evangelism talks about his struggles with it!

Does prayer matter?

11 May

I received a piece of communication this week that told the story of a friend’s urgent prayer request to God. Interestingly the very thing that my friend asked God to stop from happening…ended up happening. As a result the last thing my friend said to me was, “What is the point?”

Good question. I appreciate the honesty. I have wondered this many times myself, and I have read numerous books on the subject, in addition to what God says in the Bible. There are many sub-questions to consider when attempting to answer this quandary of whether or not prayer matters.

To what degree do people have free will?
Does God plan out all the details of the future?
Is it possible that he would hear our prayer and change his mind?
We say God knows all things, so wouldn’t he already know what we’re going to pray and what the outcome will be?
In what sense are we in a relationship with God that involves the kind of give and take that prayer seems to assume?
Or is prayer just an exercise in dutiful obedience?
What other factors are involved?

There was a man in the Old Testament, Nehemiah, who seems to have a confident grasp of these matters. At Faith Church tomorrow we’re going to look at his story, trying to answer some of these questions. As you read those questions above, how do you answer them? Let’s discuss!