It seems that life is filled, at almost every turn, with trials and difficulties. Some of these times of trail are light while others are terribly weighty. Strangely, some of these trials are caused by times of great joy while others are caused by great pain. The birth of a child can prove to be almost as great a trial, despite being brought about by such joy, as the loss of a job or another occasion of pain. It is during times like this that I am particularly grateful to be a part of the church. Never is God’s wisdom in bringing His people into this type of community more profoundly felt and seen than during these difficult times.
I am one of those people that loves to help (most of the time, anyways). While I am a shamefully selfish person in many ways, I do derive some type of joy from helping others, even if that help is expressed in something as simple as lending my back to help a family move, lending my van for hauling a crowd of people from place to place, or lending my time to help out at some occasion or another. Whether I always do this from a pure heart, deriving my joy from obedience to God in helping these people, is debatable much of the time. It is a strange and unique fact of the Christian faith that, as far as God is concerned, motives matter more than actions. God values a pure heart and one that seeks His honor above all. Far too often I know that I do things from the desire to be seen, known and thanked. It’s pathetic really. Shameful. Yet it is all too human.
But while I love to help, sometimes from pure motives and sometimes from impure, I am not the type who likes to be helped. I assume that this is simply an outworking of pride in my life. I am convinced that it is also a product of my upbringing. Despite not having any recent Dutch heritage, I was, in large part, raised among second generation Dutch-Canadians. I went to Dutch schools and churches and no doubt absorbed much of their culture and many of their values. The Dutch are, in many ways, a noble group and, when saved, make some of the strongest, most committed Christians I’ve known. There are few groups I have seen that do a better job of taking care of and ministering to their own. While these Dutch people value hard work, they also take very good care of those who are unable to work because of age, infirmity or circumstance. These Dutch churches put to shame many churches I have come across since where those who fall upon hard times are considered burdensome and are shunned rather than honored, left to their own rather than ministered to.
Yet while the Dutch people I knew took very good care of those who were unable to care for themselves, they placed great value on self-sufficiency. Charity was something to be extended only to those who had a genuine need for it. While it was not generally considered shameful to need or accept charity, it was considered most shameful to request it when it was not absolutely necessary. Embedded deep in the Dutch culture is the value of a person pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, being strong, and showing no weakness. Those who were considered weak, especially when young, were often trampled underfoot. Dutch schools were full of weak, frightened people who pretended to be strong. The churches were probably not much different.
It is a strange dichotomy, I suppose, but this desire to be self-sufficient was as much part of the culture as was the desire to help those who had genuine needs. Charity was valued as highly as self-sufficiency. This was the culture I absorbed as a child and teenager. It was the culture that, in some ways, I carry with me today. I am usually glad to extend charity, but am rarely as eager to express need or to accept help from others. I hate to feel weak.
It is only over the past few months that I have come to see the value of expressing weakness when I am weak. I have seen the value in asking people to come in to my life and to minister to me when I have needs. I can think of at least three reasons that this is a necessity for believers.
First, expressing weakness is an expression of humility. Conversely, it is only pride that keeps me from making my needs known and asking others to minister to me. When I am filled with pride, a strong and ever-present foe, I would rather suffer silently than humble myself and allow others to extend help to me. Far too often I have feigned strength when I am filled only with weakness. Far too often I have allowed pride to overwhelm humility and have suffered in my sinful silence.
Second, expressing weakness allows others to plead for me before God. There are times when my prayers are weak and filled with doubt. There are times when I don’t even know what to pray or how to pray for myself. In these times it is comforting to know that others are praying for me and holding me up before the throne of grace. What a blessing it is to be part of a body where needs are expressed and are brought before God!
Finally, when I refuse to express my weakness I refuse to give other people the opportunity to minister to me. It is a strange fact that, while I am always eager and willing to help those who reach out to me, I am far less eager to reach out to others. I cannot count the number of times that I have been blessed by having the opportunity to help others. While I attempt not to see extending help and charity as a selfish act, an act primarily for my own benefit, it is sometimes difficult not to! I have had my faith challenged and strengthened and have been greatly blessed in helping others. When I have heard expressions of gratitude by those I’ve been able to help I have often had to say, with honesty and humility I think, that it was surely a greater blessing to be able to help than it was to received assistance! Why is it, then, that I am so hesitant to allow others the opportunity to be blessed by helping me? It seems to me that I am as sinful in refusing to help those in need as I am in refusing to allow them to bless and minister to me when I have need.
I guess this little meditation was brought about, in part at least, by the birth of my daughter. This is a time when, for just a few days, life becomes near-chaos. Schedules are disrupted, sleep is sporadic and tempers can quickly fray. Yet during this time we have already been blessed and ministered to in many ways. We have had people offer us their time and resources and we have several meals, all of which look delicious, waiting in our freezer. My first inclination, when offered a meal or other help is always to refuse. But I quickly realize that to refuse would be only an expression of pride. And worse, far be it from me to refuse someone else the opportunity to be strengthened in his faith by ministering to myself or my family!
During the past few days (and during the past few weeks when my wife was ordered to stay off her feet) it has been a blessing to allow others to minister to us. It is good to be members of the body of Christ. What wisdom God has shown us in giving us this body, this family!