Jesus said: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!
Christ teaches the opposite of “self-help.” Self-help is popular because it gives the false impression that we are in control. Businessman Mark Victor Hansen states: “You control your future, your destiny. What you think about comes about. By recording your dreams and goals on paper, you set in motion the process of becoming the person you most want to be. Put your future in good hands, your own.” That sounds like the poem by William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) which closes, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” What a lie that is.
Self-help is the opposite of Christianity. We are not in control, only the Lord is, and sooner or later things happen to remind us how out-of-control life is. Christianity admits our helplessness and recognizes our total dependence on God, for salvation, for daily living, and for our eternal destiny. The Old Testament shows repeatedly how the ancient Hebrews crashed and burned when they trusted human resources instead of God. Jesus sends Jeremiah to speak these words to the Israelites (near 600 BC) and to us:
This is what the LORD says: Cursed is the one who trusts in mankind, who draws strength from mere flesh, whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.1
Likewise Christ says: I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me….I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.2
Earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, and floods remind us that we are powerless, but we have an all-powerful Lord and Savior who helps those who trust Him. Death of loved ones, marital separation and divorce, personal injury or illness, and dismissal from work are some of life’s most stressful events, even for God’s people. These stressors remind us how much we need the Lord’s care and keeping and remind us of John Newton’s hymn: “No strength of our own, nor goodness we claim; Our trust is all thrown on Jesus’ great name: In this our strong tower for safety we hide; The Lord is our power, ‘The Lord will provide.’”3
Someone asked recently: What shall I ask for in prayer? Here’s a starter list I gave them. These overlapping categories might be helpful to you and others you serve.
1. Ask God for Peace and Strength
Psalm 34:4 “I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 29:11 “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. Fear is sand in the machinery of life (E. Stanley Jones) and prevents us from living effectively for Christ. Peace is the opposite of feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or worried. Ask Jesus for His all surpassing peace to calm and stabilize you. When you feel like you lack the energy, ability, or motivation to do what pleases the Lord, ask Him to empower you by His Holy Spirit. He loves to share His strength with us.4
2. Ask God for Wisdom and Guidance
Psalm 111:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding.” Ask Christ to take control of your life and then yield to His clear Scripture teaching. He will never lead us astray. Jesus has good plans for us, even if there are struggles along the way. We can trust Him that the good and bad times all fit into His Master Plan. Ask the Lord for His wisdom about how to act and what to say, as well as when to wait and when to remain silent. Ask Him to help you with big and small decisions. He is happy to share His knowledge with us. Listen also to godly counselors whose advice agrees with the Bible.5
3. Ask God for Courage and Confidence
1 Corinthians 16:13 “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears (John McCain). Sometimes we feel inadequate to do what God has commanded and assigned to us; that can be healthy if it drives us to seek the Lord’s help. We want Christian confidence that’s not cocky or arrogant. Christian confidence is always attended by love, humility, and holy joy (Thomas Brooks). We’re no longer supposed to live in a conflicted state, locked up in insecurity, unsure of ourselves, unsure about the God we love and serve. The Lord gives us a new nature and at the core of this new nature is faith, trust, and confidence in Christ (Jeremy Riddle, songwriter). Ask God to give you that.
4. Ask for Christ’s Leading
Psalm 143:10 “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 31:3 “Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.” James 4:8 “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” We ask for Jesus’ nearness, His presence, and His leading so that He will be with us to tackle the challenges of the hour, day, week, etc. Ask Him to use us to help others with their challenges.
We were never meant to work out everything on our own; that’s foolish. We were meant to seek Christ’s help and the help of His people, His Church. Jesus can aid us directly, but He often works through His family of Christ followers. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”6
Go in peace, beloved. Walk with King Jesus today and be a blessing to others!
Notes: 1 Jer 17:5-8. 2 John 15:1-5. 3 “Though Troubles Assail Us”. 4 Isaiah 40:29-31. 5 Prov 12:15,18; 13:10; 15:22; 20:5; 24:6. 6 Gal 6:1-2.