Those who give help, need help.

I have been reading a book called ‘Side by Side’, by Edward T Welch. It’s been so refreshing and helpful. Over the next few weeks I want to share some of the insights from this book with you (and if that prompts you to buy your own copy and read it through, that would be great).

From the introduction we get the core idea of the whole book: “The basic idea is that those who help best are the ones who both need help and give help.” (p11) This seems like a totally obvious thing to say, and yet we might find it really hard to accept.

We might struggle with this because we see ourselves as ’strong’ and mostly here to help others. We haven’t learnt how to accept help. We buy into the idea that it is the capable people who help the others, and we want to feel like one of those capable people, and it stops us receiving help. We have forgotten how much we need God (for every breath), and have missed how needy we are - and how needing God is a good thing.

Alternatively, we might have a picture of ourselves in which we are weak. We are very aware of how we are not capable and we think this counts us out from offering help (“I can only help others when I’ve got my stuff together.”). But this view discounts the power of God at work in my life and in the life of the person I am trying to help. We have forgotten how much God supplies and how he has his treasure in fragile jars of clay.

Can we change that? Can we be a community where those who help best are the one who both need help and give help? What one thing would you change about our church to make that happen?

Stop hiding

“We spend too much time concealing our neediness. We need to stop hiding. Being needy is our basic condition. There is no shame in it - it’s just the way it is. Understanding this, accepting it, and practicing it will make you a better helper.” (Side by Side, Welch, p14)

When life gets on top of us, like during times of sickness, we come closest to being honest about needing help. The rest of the time our desire to be capable (and seen to be capable - a kind of pride) leads us to try to conceal our neediness. The main problem with this is that we are not really being honest with each other.

I long for us to be a gathering of people who are wise about sharing our neediness. I don’t think you should share every intimate problem you have with everyone you see at church (that might come from a mistaken feeling that you are not worth the respect of safe relationships). But I know if you haven’t been used to sharing like this, it can feel weird, the first few times you try it.

Here are are few tips to get started:

1. Call to mind the person at church you have felt most comfortable talking to, and imagine how you would share with them something that makes life hard for you. 

2. Pray for the courage to be a little more honest about your neediness (knowing that your value rests in God’s unending love, rather than in your ability to appear capable).

3. This Sunday share one thing with one person (maybe how your health has worried you, or you feel a bit lonely, or you have doubts about your faith). *Special Note: if someone shares something like this with you, please say, “That sounds hard, how can I pray for you?”

Warning: some of us are used to talking a lot about the things that trouble us or weigh us down - if that sounds like you, then it might be your turn to do some listening, so ask questions about how others are going and wait for them to answer (it’s ok to have a silent pause).

“Side by Side” by Ed Welch chimes in perfectly with our Integrated Series, with this paragraph:

‘Our emotions are our first response to the world around us. They appear without apparent thought. Yet they are much more than mere reactions in that they say more about us than they do about our circumstances. Our emotions, it turns out, reveal what is most dear to us (Psalm 25.17;45.1)…Our emotions point out those things that are most important to us. When happy, we possess something we love; when anxious, something we love is at risk; when despondent, something we love has been lost; when angry, something we love is being stolen or kept from us…,We could sum up our emotions this way: they usually proceed from our hearts, are given shape by our bodies…and identify what we really believe about God.’

His comments about emotions are part of helping us notice how our hearts are busy. He’s already observed how life is hard and goes on to help us see how our sin weighs a lot. I’ll say more about that next week. Remember, the overarching point is that accepting our neediness (busy hearts, in hard circumstances, weighed down with sin) is exactly the best place to ask for help and to offer help. We help each other, as fragile vessels that contain a beautiful treasure

My biggest problem.

“Suffering feels like our biggest problem and avoiding it like our biggest need - but we know that there is something more. Sin is actually our biggest problem, and rescue from it is our greatest need. There is a link between the two. Suffering exposes the sin in our hearts in a way that few things can. When our lives are trouble free, we can confuse personal satisfaction for faith…when life is hard - especially when life remains hard - the allegiances of our hearts become more apparent.”

This is a very important truth to grasp hold of. Ed Welch, in Side By Side, is helping us see how life is hard (ch 1) and our hearts are busy (ch 2) and those together are a tricky combination (ch 3). But during difficult times, when suffering comes, we have an opportunity to deal with our biggest problem - how our sin weighs a lot. Welch uses the language of ‘burden’ (see Hebrews 12.1) to talk about why our sin is such a problem - but the trick is to see it as a bigger problem than you suffering.

To re-order the seriousness of sin and suffering (both are serious, but the bigger problem is sin) Welch wants us to see how suffering might be part of how God shows us sin we haven’t addressed yet. Each of us who are followers of the Lord Jesus have addressed sin (we believe that his death and resurrection has paid the penalty for my sin - make it personal when you talk about it). This means we are forgiven and set free, but like a virus in our body that has been beaten, but still gives us symptoms (and requires the whole dose of antibiotics to be taken), so we need to kill off sin that lurks in our hearts.

Often we don’t kill the sin because we don’t know it’s there. Like the quote above - we feel like we trust God (while things are going ok), then something horrible happens and that suffering shows how we love comfort, or envy our friends, or lust after immoral sexuality, or are greedy for a ’secure’ bank balance.

Feeling the weight of sin is a helpful thing to feel - because it means you can start to do something about it. And that’s what we'll consider in the next weekly email.

Asking Jesus to forgive my sin

Confession is an important part of our walk with Jesus - a daily habit of acknowledging that my weight of sin is a burden I want to get rid of.

Here’s how Ed Welch puts it in his book, ‘Side By Side’:

"When we see our sin, we are seeing the Spirit’s conviction, which means we are witnessing spiritual power, but that power feels different from what we expect. It’s not like worldly power. Spiritual power feels like a struggle, or weakness, or neediness, or desperation. It is simply, “I need Jesus,” which is the most powerful thing we can say.” (p45)

In my own personal Bible reading I have been enjoying the narrative of Genesis, the other day I read that part where Jacob gets his new name: it means “wrestles with God”, because he had spent the night struggling with God (and he walked away from that encounter with a limp!) I reckon Ed Welch is onto something when he observes that the Spirit’s power in me may well feel like weakness. Conquering sin means surrendering to Jesus.

The other really helpful thing he says here, is that seeing my sin is really only possible because of the Holy Spirit at work in me. Like a diagnosis that leads to a cure, I am glad that my sin is shown to me, so that I can receive the help that Dr Jesus alone can give. Confession is the act of agreeing with Jesus’ diagnosis of my heart, asking his forgiveness, and his help to love him more than whatever led my heart astray.

Have you got a daily habit of confession (trusting in God’s abundant grace)?
Have you prayed like that today?
Who might help you to confess your sin?

From things seen, to things unseen 

Ed Welch has been presenting an honest look at ourselves (to name and know our own neediness) and so be ready to give help to others in need. He’s said that life is hard; our hearts are busy; and our sin weighs a lot. His recommendation is to go to God for help - to pray the words of the Bible back to God. 

Ed writes: “Scripture takes us from circumstances to matter of the heart. Poor health, fears about those we love, financial stability in an unpredictable economy - Scripture takes these seriously and deepens them.” (p55)

He offers some examples:

(1) prayer for your sick Aunt covers her health and her soul - pray for healing and that her inner self is renewed;

(2) prayer about a selfish boss - ask that he will act justly; pray for a sense of how Jesus is your real boss; and spiritual fruit of kindness in the face of your boss’s selfishness.

(3) prayer about a busy/stressful life - confess any desire to say ‘yes’ to too many things because you want to please people; ask for faith to take a sabbath rest; ask for grace to tackle what’s in front of you, trusting God for things yet to come.

Have you learnt something like this? Making that move from circumstances (things seen) to matter of the heart (things unseen) - with a prayerful reorientation of your heart toward God?