In the practice of Zen, a popular kōan is, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I won’t pretend to be able to answer this, but my kids have tried a variety of solutions to still make noise with just one hand. In fact, I don’t think that they’ve met a logical inconsistency or philosophical conundrum that they weren’t willing to try and break. On a good day, they are really good problem-solvers. On a goofy day, they would make a logic teacher cringe…or they just try to make noise. (And, that’s ok – they are kids, after all.)
Outside of Zen, though, it occurs to me that many good deeds require two parts to their solution. The first part is someone to do a good deed. Pastors, teachers, and inspirational speakers often challenge us to do good, and they are right to do so:
Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.
1 Peter 2:12 NLT
However, in virtually every story of someone who performs a good deed (barring a few that are good for humanity in general), there is also someone – or a group – who receives the benefit of the good deed.
Yes, Jesus healed many people, but without those people, He wouldn’t have had the same opportunities to glorify His Father (just like we should). We even describe some of the miracles in the Bible based on the recipients. For instance, I remember that God performed a miracle for the “widow of Zarephath”, but didn’t remember (until I looked it up – see 1 Kings 17:8-24 for the answer) whether God worked through Elijah or Elisha to help her.
Sometimes, I look around and see followers of Jesus who – even to my untrained eye – have a desire to help others, but don’t know where they can be used. A Christian may have a strong desire to be generous (beyond giving to a local church), but not know anyone in financial need. Another Christian may want to use the ability to sew, fix cars, or plant flowers, but feel frustrated because of a lack of outlets in which to express this passion through service to fellow human beings.
Congregational leaders sometimes find it challenging to match up the skills of individual church members, and the needs within the church. (“Why are so many people available to sing or play musical instruments, but no one is currently called to help with the children’s ministry?”) However, the needs of those in the Body of Christ are far more numerous than even the most talented church staff can arrange. Sometimes, help must be given one-on-one: still in Jesus’ name, but not managed through a formal organization.
How can this happen, though? It does require people who are willing to love and serve others. But it also requires those who are willing to admit that they need help. That requires several things:
- Relationships – By definition, we can’t ask others for help if we don’t know them. Even asking a stranger for help typically involves making eye contact or being in the same place as them. And, as we are honest and transparent with others (especially those who have earned our trust), we find opportunities to share what is really going on in our lives – versus the mask that we wear to make it look like everything is ok.
- Humility – The opposite of humility is pride, which either, 1) makes us think that we can solve all of our problems ourselves, or 2) causes us to present a false front to others, implying that we have our lives under control. It takes humility to ask for help, or to show that there are some chinks in our armor.
- Trust – I hate to say it, but sharing our limitations with others creates the possibility that they will exploit this, either to gain an advantage over us, or to embarrass us in front of others. In reality, some people will violate our trust. We can be discerning, in order to limit this risk, but there is some vulnerability in admitting that we’re not perfect. Still, we may be called to step up and take that chance, in asking for help.
Consider these people from the Bible, whose request led to both a solution in their lives, and an opportunity for someone else to glorify God:
- The father of a sick boy in Mark 9:14-27.
- A jailer in Acts 16:29-34.
- The queen Esther in Esther 7:1-7.
- A blind man in Mark 10:51.
- Hannah, mother of Samuel, in 1 Samuel 1:9-11.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we become freeloaders, expecting others to serve us without doing our part. However, let me ask this (both to myself, and to you, the reader):
Does our pride get in the way of us explaining our needs and asking for help, and in so doing, rob others of the chance to help?
If you’re anything like me, you don’t need to go looking for areas in your life where you need help. None of us is good at everything, and even in the times when most things are going well for us, there is pretty much always an opportunity for someone else to complement our personal skills and resources1.
So, let me encourage you (even as I challenge myself) to set aside pride and fear, and – even while seeking to serve others from what God has entrusted to each of us – be willing to acknowledge what we need to others. Then, in everything, may God be glorified.
- This is kind of like asking a veteran programmer whether he or she has ever introduced bugs into a program intentionally, just to see if anyone noticed. The answer in this case is that no one needs to add bugs: in any sizable code base, there are plenty of bugs already there. ↩