October 1, 2001
 Helping Others By Asking for Help
 Seeking Someone's Help
Is Often A
Win-Win Proposition
    
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An experience several years ago taught me one of the most unforgettable lessons about human nature I've ever learned. It taught me an unforgettable lesson about God also, and about his willingness to provide for our needs through the help of other people.

It was a late summer evening, and 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 on the way back home when the motor in my Ford van sputtered, then shut off while the vehicle was still moving. I couldn't restart the van, so I let it drift to a stop at the bottom of a hill, then trudged back to the house to phone for help.

I reached Evie at home, who agreed to come and pick me up. But after giving her copious directions to this home, located on a remote back road north of Mt. Airy, Maryland, 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 would make some calls on our other phone to try and locate Ben. She returned a few minutes later to say that none of Ben's friends knew where he was. There was good news however: The father of one of his 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, Jim, 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 his 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, and I worried that Jim wouldn't be able to find his way there. I worried also that by now he was probably 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 meant it.

Jim drove me to my car, and I was surprised to find that 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 engine was starting to lose power 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 the cost of operating a mobile phone was still outlandish. 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 travels constantly. Finding that he had to get up early for a one-hour commute to work, 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 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 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 to 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). I'm inclined to think that God was prompting Jim, in a way that Jim interpreted through his own filter.

What did become clear as Jim talked further was that Evie's call had had a surprisingly redemptive effect upon him. 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 in a positive direction--a striking case of what Stephen Covey terms 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 unknowingly had helped him 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 back in the fog to the home where I had left Nate. When Evie informed me she had no car at her disposal, I felt as though the bottom had fallen out of everything. Little did I realize that God had not only 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 that is 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 this 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 other people 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 that 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, can incline us to expect a negative response even when it's unlikely.

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 work situation

         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 someone for assistance in meeting
            someone 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 that
            we have no business tackling on our own

The irony is that the people we fear imposing on in such situations are often more open to helping us than we suspect. We can never know unless we ask. And sometimes the results are wonderfully surprising.

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 step of faith, 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 for someone. It may give that person a needed sense of being useful. It may provide him or her a chance for new experience and personal growth.

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 (Luke 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 compassionate move.

Facing the Challenge

Is there a step of faith you would like to take but 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 request?

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.

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