|Late one summer evening, Nate
asked if he could spend the night with a friend who lived about
a half-hour's distance from our home. I agreed to drive my fourteen-year-old son there.
After dropping him off,
I drove only a short distance away when my Ford
van’s engine sputtered, then shut off completely. I couldn’t
restart it, so I let the van drift to a stop at the bottom of a
hill, then trudged back to Nate’s friend’s home to phone for
I reached Evie, who agreed to come rescue me. But after I had
given her copious directions, she suddenly gasped and said there
was a small problem: She didn’t have a car available. Ben had
borrowed hers that evening, since his VW Bug was having problems
of its own.
Evie told me to sit tight while she made some calls on our
other phone to try to locate Ben. She returned a few minutes
later to say that none of his friends knew where he was. There
was good news, however: the father of one of Ben’s friends had
volunteered to come for me.
While I was relieved to know that help was on the way, I was
embarrassed to be inconveniencing this neighbor, since I barely
knew him and it was already past 11:00 p.m. I knew, too, that
this had been a terribly difficult year for Jim, for his
seven-year-old son had died of a heart problem that past fall. I
felt bad about troubling this man or his family in any way.
Yet Evie said Jim was already on the way, so I had no choice
but to accept the favor. I walked out to the street to wait for
him. A fog had settled in so thick that I couldn’t see the house
from the road; I worried that Jim wouldn’t be able to find his
way to this home, located on a remote back road north of Mt.
Airy, Maryland. I worried also that by now he probably was
feeling dumped on and regretting he had offered to help.
When Jim finally arrived, shortly before midnight, he threw
open the passenger door of his car and greeted me with a warm
handshake and a friendly smile. I thanked him earnestly and
apologized profusely for putting him to this inconvenience. He
insisted he was happy to help, and his demeanor conveyed that he
Jim drove me to my car, and I was surprised to find I could
start it now. He agreed to follow me as I drove home. We found
our way to Route 27, the country highway connecting Mt. Airy and
Damascus, where I live. Unfortunately, my van’s engine was
cutting off and on again; soon it died altogether, just short of
an intersection where I could have turned off into a parking
lot. I was stuck now on the shoulder of Route 27.
Jim offered his car phone so I could call for road service.
This was no small favor, for it was 1994, and mobile phones,
which few had, were costly to operate then. Finding a tow truck
this late at night took a while, and I had plenty of time to
chat with Jim. I learned that this man, whom I knew only as a
quiet neighbor, was president of a large Washington association
and traveled constantly. Finding he had to get up early the next
morning for a one-hour commute, though, didn’t lessen my
embarrassment over taking him from his home at this hour.
A tow truck finally arrived at 1:00 a.m. Jim and I followed
as it hauled my lame van down Route 27, to the repair shop we
frequent in Damascus. When the driver wouldn’t accept a credit
card, Jim handed me $50.00 in cash to pay him. Jim then drove me
home. He seemed as cheerful and alert when he let me off as when
he had picked me up, and showed no hint of resentment that my
misfortune had just robbed him of several hours sleep.
Helping Healed the Helper
It wasn’t until I dropped by his home the next evening, to
give him a gift and thank him, that I learned the full reason
for his happy benevolence that previous night. Earlier that
evening, he explained, he and his wife had gone for a walk in
their neighborhood. Their carefree spirit was fractured when a
neighbor asked how they were faring in the wake of their son’s
death. A sentimental discussion followed, and they all
reminisced over how much they missed the boy.
“I came home feeling sorry for myself,” Jim said, “and
convinced life had dealt me a dirty blow. I lost my bearings for
a while. It was while I was wallowing in discouragement that
your wife phoned. For some reason, hearing that you needed help
broke the spell. And I actually felt like my son was telling me,
‘Go ahead and help him.’“
Now I don’t believe that deceased persons communicate with
the living, and I don’t think Jim meant that he literally heard
his boy’s voice (those who are grieving often use language like
this). What I do believe is that God was prompting Jim, in a
manner that Jim interpreted in his own way.
What was most clear is that Evie’s call had had a
surprisingly redemptive effect upon Jim. He didn’t want to be
feeling sorry for himself, yet was stuck in the inertia of
self-pity. Finding he could do something constructive to help
someone else allowed him to redirect his energy positively--a
striking case of what we like to call a “paradigm shift.”
Driving around some fog-drenched country roads and losing a few
hours sleep was a small tradeoff for regaining his sense of
purpose and optimism.
While I feared we had inconvenienced Jim tremendously, we in
fact had done just the opposite. Evie and I had helped him
remarkably by letting him know of our need for help.
The Challenge of Asking for Help
It was an experience I’ll never forget. At that moment when
my car died, I felt helpless. I wondered if I could find my way
in the fog back to the home where I had left Nate. When Evie
told me she had no car at her disposal, I was stumped about what
to do; the parents of Nate’s friend were tired and in no mood to
help me, and I wasn’t comfortable phoning anyone else at that
Little did I realize that God not only had prepared someone
to come to my aid, but that helping me would be a healing
experience for him.
The incident parallels our broader life experience in so many
ways. An important part of realizing our potential in any area
is learning how to draw on the help God provides us through
other people. Yet too often we fail to take advantage of the
help available and--more often than we realize--deprive others
of a blessing in the process.
This isn’t to deny that we can lean too heavily on other
people’s good will. I recall a man who once arrived in
Washington, D.C. in a ramshackle automobile with condemning
Bible verses painted on all sides. For the next year or so he
lived out of his car, parking in church lots and streets of
northwest Washington. He depended on the charity of Christians
to provide money and food for him and his several dogs, who
resided in the car with him. He declared unabashedly that his
mission in life was to help Christians learn to be more
generous, by giving them the opportunity to serve him.
Well . . .
His example is extreme. Yet it does bring to mind how one’s
dependence on others can become unhealthy--in his case
dysfunctional. Banking on others’ help can become an unwholesome
habit, a problem Paul addresses in 2 Thess 3:6-10.
For serious Christians, though, the problem is more typically
the opposite. We feel uncomfortable asking for others’
assistance, for fear we’re not being properly self-reliant.
Simple pride is often at the root of our squeamishness about
asking for help. We don’t like admitting we need help and are
insufficient to solve a problem on our own.
If we can swallow our pride and acknowledge our need for
help, the fear of rejection may hold us back from asking for it.
Shyness, or a shell-shocked mentality from past rejections, may
incline us to expect a negative response even when it’s
Even if we don’t expect to be turned down, we may still fear
being a burden on someone else. Indeed, the fear of imposing on
others is probably the major reason serious Christians fail to
ask for help.
While the situations in which we fear asking for help are
numerous, some of the most common include:
asking an employer for a raise or an improvement in our job
seeking a job interview
asking a teacher for special direction
asking a counselor or medical professional for help
asking a salesperson for advice
asking a friend for a loan
asking a friend to help with a project
asking someone for a date
asking another for assistance in meeting someone whom we want
to ask out
applying to an institution for a loan or grant
making a college application
asking a pastor for spiritual guidance
hiring a professional to handle a project we have no business
tackling on our own
The irony is that those whom we fear imposing on in such
cases are often more open to helping us than we suspect. We can
never know unless we ask. And sometimes the results are
God Moves Others to Help Us
In the face of fearing to ask for help, we should keep two
greatly encouraging factors in mind. One is that the same God
who is working within us is working in the hearts of others as
well. When God moves us to take a major step with our life, he
prepares others to help us along the way. Where he wills our
success, he inspires others to take an interest in our needs.
The second point is that, more often than we think, we do
others a service by allowing them to help us. The opportunity to
assist us may meet important emotional or creative needs another
has. It may give that person a needed sense of being useful. It
may provide him or her a chance for new experience and personal
Others are often far more eager to be of help than we assume.
In some cases the opportunity can be life-transforming. This was
clearly the case with Zacchaeus, a revenue official who
encountered Jesus in a crowd in Jericho (Lk 19:1-9). As a
despised chief tax collector, he had surely lived
self-indulgently to this point. Yet his attitude changed
suddenly when Jesus looked up at him at his observation post in
a sycamore tree and declared, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately.
I must stay at your house today.”
Not only was Zacchaeus thrilled to host Jesus, but the
opportunity awakened a compassionate side in him that
undoubtedly had long been repressed. “Look, Lord!” he announced.
“Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if
I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four
times the amount.”
Particularly interesting is Jesus’ assertiveness in telling
Zacchaeus of his need for help. Hosting Jesus in this case was
no small task. It probably involved several meals, and some of
Jesus’ disciples likely accompanied him on the visit. Most of us
would feel awkward even asking a friend to consider inviting us
for dinner. Jesus was comfortable telling Zacchaeus that
he and his party were coming over for food and lodging. Jesus
was able to speak so straightforwardly to Zacchaeus because he
knew he wasn’t imposing on him but doing him a great favor by
giving him this chance to serve.
For Zacchaeus, the change in outlook was astounding. In an
instant, the pleasure of acquiring was transformed into the joy
of giving. It is one of the Bible’s most remarkable descriptions
of a paradigm shift.
The message is not that we should pick up our phone and
announce to our neighbor that we’ll be dropping by for Sunday
brunch. Yet Jesus’ frankness in sharing his need with Zacchaeus
does help free us from our fear of imposing on others. We’re
reminded that asking for help can sometimes be a genuinely
Facing the Challenge
Is there a step of faith you would like to take yet are
convinced would be too difficult? Are you facing a problem that
seems to have no clear solution? Look carefully at what is
holding you back from moving forward. In all honesty, is part of
the problem that you feel awkward asking others for help? Do you
fear they won’t want to help you or will be annoyed by your
This may be the time for your faith to stretch a bit.
Remember that the same God who has saved you also works behind
the scenes in countless ways on your behalf. When he intends you
to succeed, he moves others to want to help you realize your
goal. And so often you meet needs in their lives by letting them
meet needs in yours.
Pray earnestly, then consider your options. As God leads,
take the perhaps scary step of asking someone to help you. Move
out in faith, even if it feels like you’re living on the edge.
Don’t short-circuit the provision Christ has for you--or the
adventure he has in store for you.
There are times when we think hope is lost, when in fact help
is waiting in the wings.