What Really Strong People Do in Critical Times
“When I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Jackie called me the other day. He and I were classmates in high school but we’ve not seen each other in 40 years or more. We soon picked up the conversation like we were together last week.
He said, “Joe, my wife died 10 days ago. I am having a hard time dealing with it. I know you’ve been through this when your wife died. Can you talk to me?”
Wow. Such a courageous thing he did, to reach out and ask for help. I do not have words to say how much I admire him for this. (We talked for 30 minutes and prayed together. Then, I sent him the book on grief my wife Bertha and I wrote last year about the deaths of our spouses of 52 years. I’ve prayed for Jackie ever since.)
Asking someone for help takes courage and strength. I’m well aware it feels otherwise, like we’re at the end of our rope and cannot think of anything to do. But only the truly strong person will ask for help. Most people will suffer in silence and pay the consequences.
Only. The. Strong. Will. Ask. For. Help.
It’s another one of those truths which people call counter-intuitive. That is, it might appear to be a sign of weakness, but it’s something only the truly strong can do. Like yielding to the bully on the highway. A weaker person would give vent to his anger and try to teach that guy a lesson. But the strong person knows no one can teach that guy anything, it’s not worth risking one’s own life to do, and his goal is to arrive at his destination safely. So, he controls his anger and goes forward safely.
Only the strong can stoop and wash the feet of the other disciples (see John 13). Only the strong can submit; the weak will protect his ego and safeguard his image from appearing to be as weak as he truly is.
And only the strong can ask for help. The weak will protect his fragile ego and suffer in silence.
I’m remembering when I was 24 years old and a new student in seminary. During that first semester, I was taking Old Testament, church history, Christian missions, and Hebrew. Now, studying Hebrew was unlike anything I’d ever done before. I mean, these people write backwards, right to left! Then, one day after class…
Bill approached me. He was also a new student, but 13 years older. While my wife and I had a 1-year-old son, Bill and Nita had three children, all in elementary school. He had done a truly courageous thing in returning to seminary at his age and situation in life. Most people would not have gone to that much trouble to prepare for ministry.
Bill said, “Joe, could we study Hebrew together? This stuff is killing me!” And so, for the rest of the semester, a couple of nights a week Bill and I met for an hour, either in his apartment or mine. It was the best thing that could have happened to either of us. It bonded us as friends, really helped me learn Hebrew (since nothing helps us to learn like turning around and teaching another person), and it helped Bill.
I admire this man–now in Heaven!–so very much.
I wish I had been as strong…
During my first year at Birmingham-Southern College I was trying to take French and having a time of it. I lived in an apartment off campus and knew no students, so asking someone to assist me–which is how you learn a foreign language!–would have required more courage than I could muster. So, I struggled alone, took four quarters of French, made C’s and learned very little of it. I regret to this day that I did not ask for help.
A short few years later, after college and before seminary, married and holding down a weekday job, I began pastoring Unity Baptist Church 25 miles north of Birmingham. I would drive up Sundays and Wednesday nights and sometimes during the week. Because I’d had no preparation for pastoring in college–I was a history major called to preach as a college senior–I had to reinvent the wheel each week to come up with sermons. It was excruciating.
What I did not know, and wish to this day I’d known then, was that mentors could have been found behind the door of almost every pastor’s office in town. (As a veteran pastor, I cannot tell you the numbers of pastors I have mentored in one way or the other, so I am trying to help people the way I wish someone had helped me.)
Pastors are always glad to help a younger preacher. They are!
But they have to be asked.
And only the strong will be able to pull that off.
Paul said, “I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men” (I Corinthians 16:17-18). He said, “Timothy, be diligent and come to me quickly… Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me in ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come–and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:9-13).
If Paul needed others to help him, what made you think it was a sign of weakness, friend? Ask!
A golf partner said to Henry Ford, “I read in the paper you bought a million-dollar insurance policy from someone. Why didn’t you buy it from me?” Ford answered, “He asked me. You didn’t.”
Ask and you might be surprised at what you receive.
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