TEXT: Acts 6:1-7; Exodus 18:13-27
When we think of Christian discipleship, the images that come to mind are often things like praying, reading the Bible, tithing, and volunteering to serve in a variety of ways in church and community. We think of Christians as being kind to one another and somehow being engaged in healing the sick, helping the poor, being a friend to the lonely, and all those ways that we give of our time, talent and resources for the good of the Kingdom of God. That's all part of it, and I don't want to take away any of that.
I do want to say, however, that an often overlooked piece of Christian discipleship is the ability to ask for help and then to graciously receive. I would even go as far as to say that our spiritual growth will be stunted and will come to a grinding halt if we do not learn to ask for help. Why? Well, I'm glad you asked. For starters, it helps us along toward that foundational Christian virtue, humility.
To think that we are always able to handle everything that comes our way without the help of anyone else is a form of pride. One form that such pride takes is in refusing to accept what we generally term "charity," that is gifts of one sort or another that come when we are down and out in one way or another. We are in a financial bind; we are facing an addiction; we become physically limited; we have such emotional pain that we don't know what to do.
If there is one thing I have seen clearly, even in my limited years in ministry, it is that you can bet your bottom dollar that there will come a time in your life when you will be in a position where you need help. The lesson of asking for help and learning to receive is one you can either learn on your own or you can wait until it is forced upon you, but I promise you that you will learn it...even if only with your dying breath. I'm here to suggest that you practice the lesson in the small things so that you won't make life miserable for all those who love you when the big thing hits.
Swallow hard now and realize that God did not create you in a vacuum. Remember way back in Genesis when God started with one man and then said...hmmm...it is not good that man should be alone. And what did God create? A helper. God's first decision is not that man needs woman, but that man needs help. From the beginning, it was about helping and being helped. God never intended for any of us to go through anything on our own. Adam being alone without a helper was the very first thing in the Bible that God declared to be "not good." Learn to ask for help and to accept help graciously...it is how we were created to live.
That sort of need is one time that we need to ask for help, but the two Scripture passages I chose for this morning show us a couple of others where we also find that our pride gets in the way. Let's look at the Moses and Jethro story for a minute. Jethro is Moses' father-in-law. Moses has just accomplished the feat of a lifetime. He has gone at God's command into Egypt and with the power of God has freed the Hebrew slaves. Miracles have been accomplished through him, he speaks with God face to face, and he sits as one of the greatest men of God of all time.
Moses is the leader of hundreds of thousands of Hebrews, and as they journey through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, Moses is their entire government as well as chief religious leader. At this point in the Exodus story, life has gotten very...well...daily. It's not the constant run of miracles that it was and the former slaves are now trying to figure out how to live and travel together in this harsh environment. When they meet back up with Jethro, he observes that Moses is trying to do the whole thing himself. All day long he sits as judge for the people and hears case after case after case. Like God in Genesis, Jethro pipes up and says, "This is not good. Moses, you need help." It's not that Moses wasn't good at hearing cases or that he judged wrongly or unfairly. It was just that there were too many cases and not enough Moses.
The thing to note here is that Moses does not give Jethro a hard time. He welcomes Jethro's help in organizing a new system and saves himself from burnout. Had Moses persisted in doing what he was doing, the people never could have progressed because Moses could not have helped them in any other way except hearing cases all day. He would have burned out, died young, and left the people with no one able to help them at all. But Moses did listen to Jethro. He had enough humility to recognize that there were others capable of doing the work he did and he was willing to share the load.
He was also willing to share the authority. It would have defeated the purpose if Moses brought all these other judges on board and insisted on sitting in on every case to make sure they did it right. He gave them trust...trust to make the decisions they could, trust that they would bring the difficult cases to him.
Again, it is about humility. God has given me a preaching gift. But if I get to thinking that therefore I am the only one who can preach...that I can never be away on a Sunday because I have to be the one preaching...that no one else can deliver God's word with power...I would be treading on dangerous ground, gift or no gift.
The place where many pastors really get into a situation like Moses hearing cases, however, is not in preaching but in what we have come to call "pastoral care." Just that term has led us to believe that when someone is hurting or lonely or confused or in crisis, that it is the pastor who needs to respond. This is fine in a congregation of about 25 people. But as the numbers rise, so does the need, and pastors can very quickly find that they have time for nothing else...and not time for all the pastoral care either. You've been hearing some about our new Stephen Ministry program, which is an interdenominational program that for 25 years has been training others in the congregation to provide care to those who are hurting.
It is exactly the same principle as Moses getting other faithful people to help him hear cases. He didn't quit hearing the cases, he just saved his energies for the most difficult ones so that he had time for the many other tasks of leadership. Starting Stephen Ministry here doesn't mean that I will do no pastoral care, but it does mean that decisions will be made about whether the situation really needs my particular expertise or whether it can be handled just as well by a Stephen Minister.
I will trust the Stephen Ministers to provide good care, and there are systems of supervision and accountability to ensure that they are responsible. Stephen Ministry is an organization that Jethro would have been proud to see...more people can be cared for more completely, and the pastor can be freed up for other leadership tasks, providing care in those cases that really require ordained clergy. I am not the only one capable of listening to someone's hurt and confusion. Many of you have that gift...many of you in greater measure than I do. Stephen Ministry will honor your gifts and use them to make our church stronger and better able to make disciples for the glory of God.
Think about your own work...either here at the church or in what you do day to day. What would Jethro say if he walked through your day with you? Is one part of your job eating up all your time so that you don't have time to do the rest? Are you working long hours and breaking your back to try to do it all? Humility. There are others who can do what you do and are good at it. Enlist their help, or look for a place of employment that will honor you enough to give you the help that you need.
Enlisting the help of others and delegating parts of large tasks is also a way of honoring the gifts of others. It offers trust in their ability and a recognition of the gifts they possess. If you need to come to grips with asking for help by coming to see it as another way of giving, by all means do so. As an aside, I will say that there is a difference between delegating power and authority as Moses did and dumping on someone else every job that you feel is "beneath" you. That sort of attitude is another sermon entirely. I'm talking about when we start to be convinced that we are the only ones who can do the job right, so that we have to do all of it...or when our self-esteem is so low that we are afraid that the work of others would be so superior that we would be out of a job if we let someone else help.
So we've looked at asking for help when we are, in one way or another, down and out. We've looked at asking for help with a job that you still intend to keep doing, but that will take more than one person to meet the need. The Bible passage from Acts shows us yet another time when we should ask for help and is actually the Biblical foundation for the Stephen Ministry program. This is the Stephen that it is named after. In the next few weeks, we will be focusing on spiritual gifts, and the story of Stephen and those who worked with him to care for the Greek widows, is a perfect example of how the variety of spiritual gifts work together in the community of faith.
In the case of Stephen, the setting is the very beginnings of the church. The twelve disciples of Jesus have spread the word enough that there has been great growth. With greater numbers have come greater need and, like Moses, the twelve decide that they simply can't meet the need around them. In this case they also delegate responsibility, but here...instead of sharing the same responsibility...they delegate according to the different gifts and calling of those in the church. For themselves, the Disciples realize that their specific calling from God is to pray and preach. It's not that they don't care about the widows who are in need, it's just that if they try to take care of that need, they will not have the time they need to do what God has specifically asked them to do.
This is the critical lesson of spiritual gifts and calling. Every Christian does not need to actively participate in every work of the church. Some are specifically gifted and called for work with justice ministries, others have gifts that are more suited to church administration, some are preachers, some are teachers, some are visionaries, some are musicians...the list goes on and on and we will look at that list in more detail in the coming weeks. But the point here is that God is not asking each of us to do all of it. God is asking each of us to discover the specific gifts we have been given and to find the place they are best suited in the Body of Christ, which is the church.
It wasn't good for Adam to be alone, and right there at the beginning is our reason for gathering as a church. We need each other. We need help. Each of us has ways that we need help and ways that we are called to offer help. When everyone is equally open to both giving and receiving the system works like a charm. When somebody mucks up the works by either refusing to give or refusing to ask for help, then others try to pick up the slack and we have burnout, people doing jobs they are not gifted for, people needing care falling through the cracks, and a host of other ills.
Many of you are very good at giving. Learn now to ask for help as well so that we can truly be a church of balance and poise and grace. I want everyone to have a place where their unique gifts are used and honored. Don't waste the gift of another by refusing to give the opportunity for that gift to be used. Ask for help when you need it, give to others when you don't. It's what God had in mind from the beginning.
(c) 2001, Anne Robertson
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