Are you a helper? Do you automatically size up a situation and find a way to plug yourself in? Are you the type of person who regularly finds yourself staying late to clean up after a party? Are you attuned to others’ needs and emotions? Are you a great listener, for whom relationships and giving are of paramount importance? If so, then this article is for you!
What’s Great about Helpers
Jesus identified the chewy caramel center of Christianity as loving God and our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:28–34). One popular ministry summarized Christianity under the heading, “I Am Second.”1 Probably more than any other personality type, helpers just “get” this. They have no problem putting God and others ahead of themselves. In fact, few actions trigger them more than seeing others putting themselves first to the detriment of others. They have a hypersensitivity to such selfishness.
I love the example of Jesus’ mother at the Cana wedding. We have no reason to think that Mary was in charge of the wedding. Nevertheless, when the wine ran out, she took the initiative to do something. Here is how Scripture portrays the situation:
John 2:1–3. On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
Helpers like Mary always know what people need—especially at a party. Mary takes initiative, takes ownership of the problem, and delegates the solution to her very capable son, Jesus. Her son, like most of us caught in such a predicament, protests.
John 2:4–5. And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
Isn’t this hysterical? Jesus immediately asks how the lack of wine is his problem. His mother, however, doesn’t budge an inch. She sees the crisis. She knows a wedding party that runs out of wine is a serious problem. She knows her son. She knows he’ll do something. Instead of arguing with him, she just tells the servants to listen to Jesus—and then exits the narrative.
I picture this whole exchange occurring in a back room or in an alley, out of earshot of the wedding attendees. Everyone is enjoying themselves while Mary perceives the impending crises and takes immediate action to help, leveraging what she has to provide for the needs of the others. She has no wine or any quick way to procure more. What she does have is a son who is to be the Messiah, the one destined to rule over God’s kingdom in the age to come. So, she leans on him and solves the problem.
How many similar situations have occurred in the history of the world? How many near crises have been averted, problems solved, needs anticipated by helpers who got involved even if it wasn’t their responsibility? What a wonderful legacy!
The Downside of Helpers
However, like all personality types, helpers, too, have a downside. Perhaps the best example of this is found in Martha’s story.
Luke 10:38–40. Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
Like Jesus’ mother, Martha is a helper. She knows what needs to be done so that everyone will have a good time. She is the consummate hostess, who graciously welcomes guests to her house but then disappears to do the hard work of preparation. Martha is overwhelmed, serving everyone hand and foot while her oblivious sister sits there listening to the rabbi. The whole situation is so relatable. Mary is probably thinking to herself, “This is such an opportunity. I dare not miss a word. I can prepare the food later. This is what matters right now.” Meanwhile, Martha, running around like a chicken with her head cut off, slicing and dicing, cooking and serving, likely thinks, “Where’s my lazy sister? She so clueless. Why has she abandoned me to do all this work
I get it. The helper intuitively sees the need and sacrifices her own desires to make sure to take care of everyone else. Nevertheless, helping is not always the right thing to do. Sometimes, the best course of action is to stop and listen.
Luke 10:41–42. But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus stands up for Mary. He’s not going to have her whisked away to serve. He defends Mary’s right to sit and be with him. Martha probably felt like Jesus’ response was a slap to the face; instead of complimenting her and showing appreciation for her superhuman efforts to singlehandedly make sure everyone was taken care of, he called attention to her anxiety and complimented Mary for choosing “the good portion.”
This is the dark side of being a helper. There is a time to serve and a time to sit. Sometimes it’s okay to leave dirty dishes in the sink or show up at someone’s house with nothing to contribute or leave the party early without offering to clean—especially if Jesus is in your living room!
Saying no is especially difficult for those wired this way. Helpers want to say yes to everyone all the time. Your boss asks, “Can you stay late today?” Your child asks, “Can you bring me to the store to get shoes?” Your friend asks, “Can you help me pack?” Your church asks, “Can you volunteer to meet this ministry need?” The helper says, “Yes, yes, yes, and yes.” However, we have limits to what we can do. Furthermore, ignoring self-care can have disastrous consequences, both mentally and physically. Remember, Jesus taught us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). That last part, “as yourself,” is important, too. Although most of us need to get out of ourselves and focus on others, helpers need to remember to budget in time and care for themselves.
It’s possible to give, give, give, and find yourself bitter rather than gratified. This happens when others fail to recognize your sacrificial contributions, or when, despite your best efforts, problems grow worse.
When I think of loving one’s neighbor and serving, my mind turns to Jesus in his healing ministry. There would be days when he served from sunrise until after sunset. His pace was relentless. Sometimes he was so successful in drawing a crowd and holding their attention that they too forgot to eat. Nevertheless, Jesus knew that self-care was necessary. After feeding the five thousand, he arranged circumstances so that he would have an extended period of solitude.
Mark 6:45–47. Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land.
Even Jesus needed time alone. He went up on the mountain to pray. He didn’t worry about anyone else’s needs, rather, he communed with God, recharging himself for whatever would come next. If we forget to take a break, we can end up burned out, oversensitive, and critical of everyone around us. Worst of all, helpers can burn their bridges so that no one any longer even wants their help, leaving them feeling utterly useless.
The Gospel for Helpers
Helpers are awesome. In fact, the most common helper in Scripture is none other than God Himself. Here are a few examples:
Deuteronomy 33:26. There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty.
Psalm 28:7. The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
Psalm 33:20. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
Psalm 34:17. When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
Psalm 46:1. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Psalm 115:9. O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.
Psalm 10:14b. …You have been the helper of the fatherless.
Psalm 121:1–2. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
Many times throughout Scripture, God provides help for a wide range of situations. The gospel is that God has helped us with our greatest need. Beyond the mundane frustrations and acute hardships of this life, we all have a major problem—we die. This is our ultimate need that God sees and has acted effectively and sacrificially
God so loved the world of needy and helpless people that He commissioned His one and only precious and sinless son to suffer and die for our sins. God’s solution to the problem of death dealt with the root of the problem—our sin. By atoning for the sins of the world through His son, God made a way where there was none. Now we can find freedom from the dysfunction and heartache caused by sin and live again after death in the resurrection. Talk about help!
Even so, God did not leave His beloved decaying in a borrowed tomb. On the third day, He raised him from the dead, permanently reversing the effects of death as an example to all of what we have to look forward to in the age to come. Christ’s resurrection is a billboard, advertising the ultimate help God intends to bring to us and our loved ones who die in Christ.
Last of all, the gospel tells us that all the needs, suffering, and injustices of our world are temporary. In the end, God will send back His anointed one to heal our world of its selfishness, greed, and pain, ushering in a new age of wholeness. Over time, everything wrong with the world will be made right. The world will realize God’s original desire to have a family who live in harmony with one another and love their neighbors as themselves.
The gospel message is beautiful and comprehensive, but it is of no avail if you do not first admit that you need help. You cannot raise yourself up from the dead. You cannot atone for all the mistakes you have made. Your good deeds, however noble and sacrificial, do not make your sins go away.
I’m reminded of the time I brought two of my sons to the river in the spring. They got mud all over their legs and hands. I remember watching them attempting to clean themselves and just smearing it all around. They needed external help to get clean. I found a little creek and we used the water to clean their hands and legs before getting back in the car.
Without God’s help, you are unclean and despite your best intentions, unable to pull yourself out of the mire. However, once you admit your need for Him and turn to Him in faith and prayer, He will rush to your aid. We know from the trilogy of parables Jesus told in Luke 15 that there is “more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). God is like the father whose wayward son long ago took off with his inheritance and squandered it. Each day he stands gazing at the horizon, telling himself, “Maybe today my boy will come home.” Then, when the child’s form appears, a mere speck in the distance, the eager father runs to his beloved child, no matter how defiled and full of shame he is. God does not wait around for you to clean yourself up but runs to your aid the moment you come to Him.
Then, once He saves you, you have a whole new orientation towards helping others: you don’t need to give and serve to find significance, or to manipulate others into loving you back or seeing the value of your relationship. Because God has helped you in such a huge way, far beyond what you could ever pay Him back for, you now have the freedom to help others without needing anything in return. Your value is not derived from being needed or appreciated, but from your God, who loved you so much that He gave His only begotten son (John 3:16)! He loves you so much, He wants to have you in His kingdom forever. He pursues a relationship with you that extends beyond the grave, right into the age to come.
The Challenge for Helpers
When you tap into God as your ultimate source of relational fulfillment and lasting value, this also frees you up to say no more often. It’s hard to say no because in that moment you risk disappointing someone, you risk someone getting mad at you, and you risk the stability of the relationship. Although other personality types might say, “so what?”, to a helper, these are serious fears. Yet if you say yes to everyone all the time, you will burn out. The immense number of responsibilities you take on will crush you, often leaving those closest to you ignored and resentful. Boundaries are important. Because of the good news of God’s love for you, you can say no and enforce those healthy boundaries, knowing that you don’t need that relationship to provide you with ultimate meaning and security. God does that so you’re free to say yes or no depending on the situation.
Beyond saying no, helpers also need to say yes to self-care. As I mentioned above, Jesus told us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The first part only works if the last part is working. If you don’t take time out for yourself, you’ll eventually feel used, impatient, and cynical. Take time with God like Jesus did. He went away from the needs of the people to be with his Father.
Try this. Look at yourself as if you were someone else. Objectively ask, “What are this person’s needs?” Sometimes it’s hard to answer this question for yourself, even though you can easily spot the needs in others. What are your needs? Make time to meet them in a godly way. Some of your needs will require the help of others. Even though it’s hard, ask for help when you need it. Allow others to be blessed to meet your needs.
Lastly, when times are tough, when you’re feeling unappreciated, when your life is overcommitted and full of chaos, go to your ultimate Helper. Pray with the psalmist, “O Yahweh, be my helper!” (Ps 30:10). Confess, “God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” (Ps 54:4). Say, “The Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and deliverer; do not delay, O my God!” (Ps 40:17). God is your help. He sees all you do for others. He understands your needs and will never leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5). Take refuge in Him. And when He delivers you, restoring your soul, say, “You have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy”
Like a force to be reckoned with
A mighty ocean or a gentle kiss
I will love you with every single thing I have
Like a tidal wave I’ll make a mess
Or calm waters if that serves you best
I will love you without any strings attached
It’s okay if you can’t catch your breath
You can take the oxygen straight out of my own chest2
2 Sleeping at Last, “Two,” Asteroid B-612, 17 on Atlas: II, April 23, 2018, YouTube.