Everyone is born with limits, but we are seemingly born hating those limits. My oldest son modeled this well at an early age playing with “Zoob.” “Zoob” is the name of the “moving, mind-building system” of colorful plastic pieces that snap, click, and pop together twenty different ways, allowing my then five-year-old son to build some pretty amazing things, either by looking at the picture instructions or using his imagination. Dinosaurs, airplanes, 18-wheelers, crowns fit for a queen: the possibilities seemed limited only by my child’s imagination, level of concentration, and propensity for patience. And while his imagination would run wild with delight for hours, he did eventually lose focus. At the peak of his frustration, he would sweat profusely, viciously destroy his projects, and loudly whimper: “I can NEVER make these work! These are ALWAYS doing wrong ALL the time!”
Have you been there? Have you made six trips to the local hardware store in order to install a new ceiling fan? Have you tried to do the P90X work out program for a few days? Have you changed your child’s bed sheets yet again, only to have him vomit for the 7th time at 3 AM? Have you washed your hands religiously and still gotten the virus? Have you emptied a box of Calgon into your bathtub and cried out for deliverance? Have you been completely helpless?
If so, you probably pushed against back against your helplessness. In your own strength, you finished that home improvement project. With all the resolve you could muster, you finished that workout routine. You held back your daughter’s hair over the toilet with a Mona Lisa smile. Your Latin life motto in those moments was Sola Boot Strapa: You picked yourself up by your bootstraps.
Now, I’m all for pushing myself beyond my current limits, but at some point I have to come to the humbling realization that I can’t be all, do all, or have all. Those life experiences that lead us to finally throw up our hands and shout “OK … enough! I can’t do it all!” are God’s gracious gifts meant to show us exactly what’s required if we want to be right with Him and be used by Him. It’s helplessness, not self-determination, that Jesus requires for us to come to Him. That’s where Peter, Andrew, Matthew and all of the disciples were when Jesus chose them, and it’s where you must be if you want to follow Him and be used by Him. You have to come to the end of yourself. You have to be helpless.
Jesus highlighted this truth from the very beginning of his teaching ministry. Among His earliest words to His disciples at the Sermon on the Mount was the mandate to be helpless. “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3).
By teaching us to be poor in spirit, Jesus encouraged the kind of helplessness exhibited by many people throughout the gospels. People like the man with leprosy who desperately cried out to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Luke 5:12). People like Jairus, who pleaded with Jesus to heal his dying twelve year-old daughter (Luke 8:41). People like the rich, squatty, social outcast named Zacchaeus who put aside all pretense and personal dignity by climbing a tree to merely get a glimpse of Jesus. These were people who, for one reason or another, came to the end of their rope and ran to Jesus. And in so doing, they became happy.
It’s an un-American, even inhuman, idea that happiness is tied to helplessness. In our culture, happy people are strong. Happy people have the resources and reputation to make things happen. But Jesus turns these American ideals on their heads. The things that we love most about ourselves are the things we must reject, and the things we hate the most about ourselves are the very things we must embrace, because doing so puts us into a position to be filled with Christ, who is every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).
But Jesus did not say, “Blessed are those who initially experience a sense of helplessness, run to Jesus, and then live proving to Jesus how grateful they are.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Our sense of helplessness is not merely a once-in-a-lifetime experience we must have in order to be saved, but a way of life we must embrace as his followers. Helplessness is not something we initially grasp then move on from, but something we realize and grow deeper in. This is why God gives us multiple life experiences to teach us to accept the fact we are helpless people and He is a strong and gracious God. I’ll elaborate on this truth in my next post.
Rob Tims is a Christ-follower, husband, and father of three and lives in Nashville, TN. With more than 20 years of ministry experience in the local church, Rob now works at Lifeway Christian Resources on a team that provides trustworthy, customized Bible studies for individual churches. He also is an Associate Professor for Liberty University Online and enjoys preaching and teaching in various venues throughout the year. His first book, Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle or in print. Rob blogs at SouthernFriedFaith.com and you can follow him on Twitter @robertltjr.