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Ask For Help
April 4 and 5, 1998

ACTS 13:16-31, 38-39

By John Hunter,

Dear Jesus, in whose life I see all that I would, but fail to be;

let thy clear light forever shine, to shame and guide this life of mine.

Though what I dream and what I do in my weak days are always two,

help me, oppressed by things undone, O thou whose deeds and dreams were one!

What do you do when you don't measure up to expectations? What do you do when there is a gap between what you dream and what you do? What do you do when you feel you are failing? Give up? Try harder? Feel guilty? Whip yourself? Or, do you ask for help?

We are looking at how to succeed, not just survive. So far, sermons have covered: Dream Big, Tell the Stories, Get Connected, Pray and Praise, Keep the Commandments, Give Yourself Away, and today: Ask For Help.

We men especially find it difficult to ask for help. Somehow we think we are less masculine by admitting we don't know everything there is to know, admitting we are not capable of doing everything masterfully. We men don't even like to ask for directions! Ellie and I, of course, have this long standing disagreement on the advisability of asking directions. How many people have you asked who can actually give clear and accurate directions? In Mazatlan, the retired pastor from Minnesota who leads the English language service, announced in his heavy Norwegian accent, "On Wednesdays at 10:00 in the morning, we have a Bible study in our apartment. To get there, take the bus downtown and get off where Burger King used to be."

The crowning example occurred on our trip to Northern Ireland several years ago. As we drove into a small town about 11:45 on a Saturday morning, we remembered that banks close Saturday noon and don't open again until Monday morning. We needed to cash traveler's checks. Because of the urgency, I relented and decided to ask for directions. We saw a woman and her young son waiting at a bus stop, so I stopped, Ellie rolled down the window and asked her where the nearest Barclay Bank was located. While she was giving directions, I noticed her white cane! Yes, we followed her directions; and no, we never did find the bank!

However, men and women, there are times when we must put the ego aside and admit we need help, that we can't do everything equally well, and that what we dream and what we do are often two different things. If the inevitability of asking for help is bad news for some of you, the good news is that we have someone to ask, someone who will give us accurate directions, someone who will teach us, pick us up when we fail, give us a new start, set us on new paths, change our hearts and minds, forgive us and renew us. That someone's name is Jesus. We call him our Savior. Not only does Jesus help us, he saves us.

Jesus saves us from the tyranny of human expectations, the expectations that others lay on us and the expectations we often put upon ourselves, where we think we must be perfect, that we must excel in whatever anyone expects of us.

Jesus saves us from the demands of our own human ambitions that often push us beyond hope of accomplishment.

Jesus saves us from the bondage of sin and temptations, the bad choices that hold us back, the addictions that control us.

Jesus saves us from having to try so hard to save ourselves. We cannot succeed by ourselves, and the more we try, the more we foul ourselves up.

Jesus saves us from doing over and over what doesn't work. Do you ever find yourself thinking, "I know this doesn't work, but if I do it one more time, perhaps..."

No one can succeed who thinks he/she can do all things by him/herself. To succeed, not just survive, ask for help from Jesus, ask for salvation from the Savior.

Notice the word ask. Jesus doesn't force his help or his salvation on us. Jesus waits until we ask. Watch out when you ask. Be prepared for a great adventure. When you really let go of your own ego, of your own need to do all things and be all things, watch out, for God will take you at your word. Marianne Williamson describes what happened to her in the book, A Return to Love.

So I went through this grandiose, dramatic moment where I invited God into my life. It was terrifying at first, but then I kind of got off on the idea.

After that, nothing really felt the way I expected it to. I had thought that things would improve. It's as though my life was a house, and I thought God would give it a wonderful paint job-- new shutters perhaps, a pretty portico, new roof. Instead, it felt as though, as soon as I gave the house to God, he hit it with a giant wrecking ball. "Sorry, honey," He seemed to say, "There were cracks in the foundation, not to mention all the rats in the bedroom. I thought we better just start all over."

I had read about people surrendering to God and then feeling this profound sense of peace descend like a mantle over their shoulders. I did get that feeling, but only for about a minute and a half. After that, I just felt like I'd been busted.

Turning to God, asking for help, begins with humility. Admitting we can't do it by ourselves is a humbling experience. To be saved is humbling. It means you realize and admit there is a better way, God's way. Until your knees finally hit the floor, you're just playing at life, and that realization is scary. But, scary leads to surrender, and surrender to God is the moment when life begins.

When Jesus began his ministry, he announced, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news." (Mark 1:15) Repent means to get tired of doing it your way, and asking for help. What does believe mean?

Decades ago, a missionary named John Paton tried to translate the New Testament into the language of the local people. He couldn't find a word in their language for our word "believe", until one day one of the natives dropped by and flung himself exhaustedly in a chair. Then he stretched out and rested his legs on another chair. Laying himself out full-length on the two chairs, he muttered some words about how good it felt to "lean his whole weight on" those chairs. Aha! John Paton found his word for "believe."

Listen again to Mark 1:15, "Repent, ask for help, and lean your whole weight on the good news." Let's try John 3:16, the verse depicted in the magnificent window in the balcony, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who leans his/her whole weight on him, may not perish but may have eternal life." For God so loved _________ (your name) that he gave his only Son, so that you, by leaning your whole weight on him, may not perish but have eternal life.

To succeed, not just survive, ask for help, and lean your whole weight on him.

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris