Thursday, March 26, 2015

the one thing I really don't want to tell you this Easter {and the one thing I do}

It's always said with an undertone of criticism - maybe a tad bit of belittling.  At the very least it is bossy.  I know because I said it once, a long time ago, and it tasted so bitter on my lips that I never breathed it again.

God helps those who help themselves.

First of all, it's not in the Bible.  Let's just clarify that.
Second of all, there are a lot of profound and true statements that are not found in the Bible - this is not one of them.

Oh, people try to pass it off as some type of tough love or twisted form of encouragement, but it's really just a plain old lie, a falsehood.

From all I've read in the scriptures,
from all I've experienced in my life,
from all I've watched unfold in the stories of those around me,
I know the truth is this -
God can not help those who help themselves because 
there is no room for God when you're doing all the work.  

Instead what I find over and over again is this -

God helps those who surrender themselves.
Those who say -
I don't know what to do.
I can't figure this out.
I'm not strong enough or smart enough.

And while 'surrender' seems like such a passive and simple word, those who have tried it know that it is anything but.  Particularly for those of us living the affluent North American life, surrender is a complete reprogramming of our heart, mind, and soul.  But Jesus made it clear a long time ago, that was what it would take to follow him -
heart, mind, strength and soul...completely reprogrammed.

Helping yourself means
maintaining control
calling your own shots
doing what the culture around you is encouraging you to do
not asking for help
avoiding the appearance of weakness
defending your little army of one at all costs.
Yes - helping yourself is exhausting but it is also well-supported by the status quo and so we keep after it.

Surrendering looks completely different.
Surrendering yourself means
releasing control
having someone call the shots for you
going against popular opinion
asking for help
confessing unashamedly that you are weak and dependent
and stepping onto the battlefield alongside other desperate warriors who completely trust their Leader.
It sounds like it would be immensely easier, but having people look at you like you are a crazy fool foreigner in a land of self-made men makes any endeavor difficult.

A surrendered life looks much more unusual to the general population than a life of 'helping yourself' and so we prepare ourselves ahead of time that this surrendering will meet resistance both from our own misguided thoughts and those of the world around us.

That's why Jesus told us up front that he came to do a new thing.  He came to show us how to live a life that was completely counter-culture - and still is.  To live that life, something must first die.  Surrendering is about death and that is why it is so terribly difficult.  It is also why Jesus came and did it himself.

It's Easter and maybe you're like me, celebrating the resurrected King for the umpteenth time.  And yet I want it to be fresh and new somehow - something that never ever gets old.  This is how God has made Easter new for me this year.  He has whispered this realization to me -

When the world was in desperate need of help,  
when it was full of unrighteousness and darkness,
I did not require that every human being show up in a dusty courtyard to receive their lashings.  
I didn't decree that every last person would press a crown of thorns into their heads, 
be mocked by a crowd, 
drag a 300 pound cross on their back, 
and willingly allow themselves to be hung from it until their very last breath was taken from them.  
I did not ask a single person to help themselves.  
I did it myself.  

Surrendering means admitting you need the kind of help that you could never provide yourself.

God did not require us to help ourselves that first Good Friday on the hill at Calvary and he doesn't require it today.  In fact, he discourages it.

Just to clarify - I am not endorsing sitting on your couch all day doing nothing.  There is much work to be done in the kingdom of God and there is no time to waste.  But if the focus of all the work - all the helping - is on ourselves we will miss the greater charge we have been given to help others.  

When it comes to yourself - surrender.
Surrender yourself, your life, even your dreams, to God and his sovereign plan for you.
When we trust completely we can surrender completely. 
And friends, I promise you, since the beginning of time God has never, ever proven to be untrustworthy.  Test him on this.

When it comes to others - help.
If we are too busy helping ourselves we have no time for helping others.
And yet if we are busy helping others we have no time to obsess over helping ourselves.  You see how this works?  Have you found evidence in your own life?  I know I have.

Four years ago I was driving down the gravel driveway to my parents' farm neck-deep in a season of  'poor me'.  Life had become legitimately hard for my family and I had become completely absorbed in it.  For months I had been spinning my wheels trying to figure out how to help myself out of a painful situation.  I parked my car on the side of the drive and felt a strong urge to call a friend and fill her in on how desperate I was.  I would let her know how bad things had gotten and how hard I was working to try and figure it out to no avail.

Before I could breathe a word of my pain to her she breathlessly said this to me -
     I'm so glad you called.  What perfect timing.  You will never believe what I found out today.  

And then she proceeded to tell me about the devastating blow her family had just taken.  I had experienced something similar and had much wisdom and encouragement to share.  We cried and talked for nearly an hour.  I prayed with her before hanging up the phone and not once did I mention my own need for help.  In his mercy God had allowed me the gift of helping someone else to reset my misguided heart.  Over the course of the the conversation he had slowly turned my focus off of myself and on to the helping work he had given me for that day.  I wondered how many missed opportunities to help others had passed me by during that season when I was so wrapped up in trying to help myself.

We all walk through difficult times.
We all need help.
But God created a world and a people who do much better helping one another than helping themselves.  When we trust that our own needs will be met in God's perfect time and space we are free to shift our focus off of our own needs and to the needs of others.

When I know God's focus is on me, then I am free to set my focus elsewhere.

It's that simple.  And that difficult.  And it is worth every bit of effort.

Be still, cease striving, and know that He is God -
     the one who sent help,
     the one who set out on a rescue mission that cost him everything.

It's not just that he will help you, it's that He has already helped you.  And he has deposited in those of us who surrender and believe a permanent helper that has our back for all of eternity - the Holy Spirit.
So be still, cease striving, stop helping yourself and start surrendering yourself instead.  It's the only way real help can be found.

What about you?  Have you found yourself in a situation you can not help yourself out of?  If so, know that God is not punishing you, He is providing for you.  He is allowing you the gift of recognizing that
God does not help those who help themselves.
God helps those who surrender themselves.

May we all be brave enough in these final days leading up to Easter to completely surrender our lives to the one who surrendered his for us.

I lift up my eyes to the hills,
   from where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord...