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 terrible and 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. In these times we see and feel God’s wisdom in bringing His people into this type of community.
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 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. 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 praised. 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 primarily 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 so 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 Christians 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 congregations 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 still 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. The Dutch schools I knew were full of weak, frightened people who feigned strength simply to survive. 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 years 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. But then in my honest moments I see that I still hide in my pride too much of the time, not wishing to be a burden on others even in my weakness.
I have come up with a list of three reasons that Christians need to be honest about expressing weakness and need.
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 we can express the needs of others and bring these before God.
Finally, when I refuse to express my weakness I refuse to give other people the opportunity to minister to me. I withhold a blessing from them. 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 to see extending help and charity as a selfless 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 receive 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 must be 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.
We are in the midst of difficult economic times. While my country of Canada has been insulated against the downturn (at least when compared to our neighbors to the south), as 2009 dawns we are beginning to see greater evidence that we will not emerge from these times unscathed. In the past few weeks we’ve begun to see friends and neighbors lose their jobs and are beginning to hear of needs within our community. The stories from Canada are beginning to sound an awful lot like the stories I’ve heard from the United States and elsewhere.
None of us know how long these times will last and none of us know just how bad things will get. There are those who would argue that the worst is behind us; others argue that the pain has only just begun. I think we can be certain that before this is over churches will see an large numbers of brothers and sisters in Christ face financial crisis. And this will be a prime opportunity for the church to be the church. It will be a time for those people who are affected by the times to express need; it will be a time for those Christians who have weathered the storm to be a blessing to others. This is not a time or occasion for pride and bravado. It is not a time to withhold a blessing from another Christian by refusing to express need, to express weakness. As these times unfold, let’s let the church be the church, functioning just as God intends it.