You Asked for It 2005 - Part 5
Finding the Strength to Help Others
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 4, 2005

 

Main Passage: Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 (NLT)

 

What a week it’s been in the news, eh? I’ve been trying to watch the coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina this week, and what I’ve seen has been absolutely devastating. Eighty percent of New Orleans under water… the pleas for help scrawled on top of buildings… the looting in the streets… the sniper fire… the riots… the starving and dying… bodies floating in the streets… what an absolutely terrible situation!

But in the middle of all the devastation… as many give in to violence and fear… there have also been glimmers of kindness. Strangers helping strangers… emergency workers risking their own lives to provide aid… people whose own lives have been destroyed setting aside their own problems to help out however they can. How can they do that? How can they set aside their own trials in order to help and support others?

This is the fifth and final week of our You Asked for It series of messages. Over the past month I have been speaking on passages and topics which were requested by you. And this week I’ve been asked to speak on this particular issue… How can I help others while I have problems of my own? So much of the Christian message talks of helping others... how can that be done while dealing with our own problems?

You may have heard this before, but in his book, Come Before Winter, Chuck Swindoll tells the story of one man in particular who had his share of problems. It is supposedly a true story about a construction worker who had a rather bad day at work. And while filling out a company accident report form he used these words:

When I got to the building I found that the hurricane had knocked off some bricks around the top. So I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple barrels full of bricks. When I had fixed the damaged area, there were a lot of bricks left over. Then I went to the bottom and began releasing the line. Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was much heavier than I was – and before I knew what was happening the barrel started coming down, jerking me up. I decided to hang on since I was too far off the ground by then to jump, and halfway up I met the barrel of bricks coming down fast. I received a hard blow on my shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers pinched and jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground hard, it burst its bottom, allowing the bricks to spill out. I was now heavier than the barrel. So I started down again at high speed. Halfway down I met the barrel coming up fast and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground I landed on the pile of spilled bricks, getting several painful cuts and deep bruises. At this point I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of my grip on the line. The barrel came down fast – giving me another blow on my head and putting me in the hospital. I respectfully request sick leave.

Hopefully you’ve never had a day quite like that. But you have had tough days. You see, one of the inescapable realities of life is that life can be hard. Has anyone here ever had to endure a trial? You know, a particularly difficult time in your life? Perhaps you’re even going through one now. In fact, I don’t think we’re ever actually free from problems and trials. They’re always there… though perhaps to different degrees. That’s just life. So how can we move past our own problems in order to help and support others?

Because trials are not easy. That’s why they’re called… trials. And when we go through them we can easily become self-focused and discouraged. But one of the keys to rising above our trials and experiencing joy in the midst of our trials is in fact by helping other people in their time of need. So let’s look to the Bible to see what we can learn about this.

We’re going to look primarily at the life of the apostle Paul. During his lifetime, Paul experienced mocking, opposition, betrayal, imprisonment, violent assaults, shipwrecks, and health problems. In fact, there are over 200 times recorded in the Bible where Paul faced some kind of hardship. Yet this is the man who moved past those problems to serve others, and he became the man most responsible for the spread of Christianity beyond the Jewish community. So he’s a good model for us to examine as we discuss this topic. So what can we learn from Paul?

 

How to Move Beyond Your Own Trials to Help Others (Lessons from the Life of Paul):

1. Choose how you will respond to the trials of life.

One of the letters that he wrote that is included in our Bible today is the letter to the church in the city of Philippi, which we know as Philippians. And when he wrote that letter, he was sitting in prison. We’re not exactly sure what kind of prison it was… some people say that he was under house arrest at this time, so his home was his prison. Others speculate that this could have been one of the times he was in a Roman prison which basically would have been a dungeon, often doubling as a sewer. So he was at least arrested and was possibly sitting in a sewer. Either way, not an ideal situation. How did he respond? Well, let me read a section from that letter…

Philippians 4:4 (NLT)
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again--rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Interesting. The man is sitting in some kind of prison, but he chooses to rejoice. He chooses to use his situation as a way to reach out and encourage others! He chooses to control his situation, and not be controlled by it. That’s the first thing I learn from Paul… I choose how I respond to the trials of life.

Now, does that mean you have to enjoy what you’re going through? No, not at all. You can recognize that you’re going through a time of trial, you can experience the pain and heartache of it, you can even become a little tired and worn down by it. It’s even all right to question God and ask Him why He’s allowing you to suffer like this. I mean, read through the Psalms. Many of them are written from the perspective of someone enduring some kind of trial and crying out to God for help and asking Him why they’re going through such a tough time.

But even then, you can choose how you will respond. Look at that verse again. It says, “Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.” What’s the typical reaction for someone who’s going through a trial, particularly if it’s a long, drawn out trial? They lash out. They think the world owes them something, they think they have an excuse to snap at someone else, they stop caring about anyone else and instead care only for themselves.

Hey, they’ll even lash out at people who had no part in causing the trial… who may not even know that they’re having a bad day. It’s kind of like the old “kick-the-dog” syndrome. A man gets chewed out by the boss at work, but he knows that lashing out at the boss will result in rapid unemployment. So instead he goes home and kicks the dog.

But Paul tells us to be considerate of others, in spite of our trials. Show kindness, be respectful, help out if possible… be considerate.

 

2. Do not allow your trials to consume you.

Have you ever known anyone whose outlook on life is dictated by their circumstances? You don’t really want to be around people like them, because they’re contagious. If they’re having a bad day, they’ll make sure you do, too. They focus so completely on their problems that they end up projecting their problems on everyone else.

But in that same letter to the Philippians, Paul warns us not to be consumed like that. He says, “don’t focus all your attention and all your energy and all your thoughts on the problems.” He wrote…

Philippians 4:8 (NLT)
Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Remember that verse? We looked at it last week, too. He didn’t say, “Fix your thoughts on what you’re going through. Think about your trials and hardships. Think about the sewer you find yourself in.” No… “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.”
~ Helen Keller

Now, that doesn’t mean that you ignore your problems. But don’t allow them to consume you. Don’t allow them to possess you. Don’t allow them to control you.

 

3. Recognize that the strength to overcome comes from God.

Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Corinth, and he told them about a problem he had. He described it as a “thorn in his flesh.” Listen…

2 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)
But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud.

We don’t really know what this “thorn in the flesh” was. The most common explanation is that Paul had a physical problem like bad eyesight. I’ve even heard speculation that it could have been a woman. I’m not going to touch that one. Truth is, we really don’t know what this thorn in the flesh was. What we do know is that whatever it was, it was not very pleasant. Paul went on…

2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NLT)
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Because Paul had some kind of a problem… because he had this thorn in his flesh… he was able to learn that true strength doesn’t come from within; it comes from God and God alone. And today God offers that strength to you to enable you to cope with any trial and to overcome it. Not necessarily to eliminate it, but to move beyond it.

“It is impossible for that man to despair who remembers that his Helper is omnipotent.”
~ Jeremy Taylor

When you realize that your Helper is omnipotent, you don’t have to despair. You can have hope and joy. You can move beyond your own trials because you know God is there to help you, and He’s cheering you on. So no matter what you’re going through… no matter what the condition of your life is… you can make it through. Paul wrote…

Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)
…I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.

You ever feel like the trial you’re facing is too much for you? You may be right. It may be too much for you. But it’s not too much for God. And He offers His strength to you.

 

4. Be thankful for your blessings.

Philippians 4:5-7 (NLT)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Remember… this man is under arrest and possibly sitting in a sewer. “Thank Him for all He’s done”? Is he serious? But it’s true… even in the darkest hours of our lives, there are blessings to be seen. And when you recognize that, it changes your whole outlook.

If you grew up in a church, then chances are that you have heard a poem written but Johnson Oatman. It’s actually one of the most popular hymns, and it talks about counting your blessings even in the midst of trials…
 

Count Your Blessings
by Johnson Oatman, Jr.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

 

5. Realize God may use your experience to help others.

Paul had a unique perspective on his hardships in life. For him, the problems of life weren’t evil. He saw his hardships as a means to an end. He saw the good that could result because of them. That’s why he was able to rejoice and be thankful even in the midst of them.

You see, Paul understood something. He understood that the very trial that bring you so much hardship is the very thing that uniquely qualifies you to help others.

As many of you know, my mother has been fighting skin cancer for the past couple years. And it’s amazing to me to see other people who have also fought cancer stepping in and providing words of encouragement and support. They are using their own experiences to help someone else. And in a sense, when you do this, it brings meaning to your suffering.

This is how Paul described it…

2 Corinthians 1:4,6,8-9 (NLT)
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us… So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation! For when God comforts us, it is so that we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer….
I think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead.

Paul used his own trials as a catalyst for teaching and encouraging others at their point of need. And the great thing about this is that serving others in spite of your trials can be therapeutic for yourself. As you help others, you learn to deal with your own problems, they may seem smaller because you’re not so focused on them, and it can restore joy and meaning to your life.

Plus, you may discover that others are more than willing to support you through your own trials, too. If you’re willing to offer help to others facing trials, you’d better be willing to accept their help when they offer it to you, too. Because you’re not on your own in facing your struggles, regardless of how you feel. When you become self-absorbed and focus solely on your own problems, you tend to get the idea that you’re on your own. But you’re not. There are all kinds of people who love you and want to help you. After all, that’s what the Bible tells us to do…

Galatians 6:2 (NLT)
Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.

 

If you are experiencing a time of testing, trials, or of great difficulty this morning, I want to encourage you to accept any help that is offered to you, and at the same time look around and to see if there is someone else that you can help. If you will help out someone else, it will get your mind off of your own problems, and I believe that the Lord will provide relieve from your suffering that much sooner.

 

Application Questions:

  1. When was the last time I helped a friend who was going through a trial? What were the results? How did I feel?

  2. What trials have I endured that uniquely qualify me to help others going through something similar?

  3. What blessings have I experienced? How can remembering them during tough times help me persevere?

  4. Memorize Philippians 4:7 – “For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.” When I encounter a hardship, am I more likely to try to solve everything myself, or do I rely on the grace and strength of God?


 

 

 

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