Join us this week as we continue our series Simple Words, with a message on the word help. The truth is, we all have areas or things in our lives that we need help with, and yet it takes a lot more courage to say the word help than it does to hide, pretend, deny and act like we don’t need help. We all know we need help, but we don’t always know how to say the simple word, help.
But what if help isn’t just a word? What if it was actually a prayer necessary for our spiritual formation?
In the Bible, we see God described as “my help” or “my helper.” Characters like Mary ask Jesus for help, an act of prayer. In seeing God as a helper and in exercising the word help as a prayer, we can confess what we need, transforming our lives as we walk into Christ-centered living.
The central truth of the message this week and why this little word help has the power to change your life is this — we’re made to live in continual dependence on God in the context of surrender. This relationship of joyful dependence, which can look like weakness, is actually life and strength. Join us this week as we look at how we can better engage with God as we seek help.
I will not hide and act like I don’t need help.
Like the servants in this story, I will do whatever Jesus tells me to do.
I will serve with a “fill it to the brim” spirit.
We’re in this series called Simple Words that have the power to change your life. Every week we’re looking at one word God can use to turn things around. Today’s word is really a prayer. It’s a confession of need. It’s the word Help Sometimes we pray it for ourselves. Sometimes we pray it for other people. The first time I ever preached at a church where people talked back to you while you’re preaching, I learned that when the sermon is going well, people will say a lot of different things. If I’m preaching and it’s going well, they’ll say stuff like, “Yes!” or, “Bring it!” or, “Preach it!” or “Amen!” If the sermon is not going well, you can tell because people will say, “Help him, Jesus!” You don’t want to hear, “Help him, Jesus!” I mean, I want help, but I don’t want to hear that prayer, because sometimes I’m in a position where I need help, but I don’t want to admit that I need help. 30 years ago, when I was in college working at a camp, I was supposed to pick up the speaker for the week from the airport and drive him back to camp. He was a really important guy. He was a pastor of a very large church. It was my first time meeting him. He was British, and any time I talk to someone who has a British accent, I feel like my IQ drops like 20 points. So I didn’t want him to think I was dumb. I wanted him to think I was smart. Well the camp was maybe 15 miles from the airport. After we had been driving an hour, he asked (I thought with a touch of condescension), “Might we be lost?” Now, I had to choose, “Will I humble myself, come clean, admit I’m lost, I need help, or will I try to bluff my way out?” I decided to come clean. Now I only decided that for this sermon today. It took 30 years. I never told him. He’s dead as a doornail. He’ll never know, but it feels good to come clean now. It turns out, there’s a bunch of reasons why we often don’t ask for help — “I don’t want to look weak. I don’t want to be in debt to someone for helping me.” Sometimes I don’t even realize I need help. Or I’m afraid if I ask someone for help, they’ll take over, and I’ll lose control. There’s one gender in particular that often has a hard time asking for help. Do you want to guess which one I’m referring to? One study revealed that even in the age of apps that give you directions on your phone, the average man drives 276 miles a year lost because he doesn’t want to ask for directions. This problem is so acute that one project involved training barbers to teach customers to talk about where they need help on the assumption that some men will only do it if people are pointing a sharp, metal object at their head. We literally need to learn to ask for help. Just to kind of level the playing field, I was going to have you turn to the person next to you and say, “I need help!” but that’s way too vulnerable. So just to get us started, if you want to, turn to the person next to you (if you have someone next to you), and say to them with a tender, loving tone, “You need help.” See, the great danger (we’ve all been there) is that if we don’t get help, what started out as a little problem will turn into a crisis. * What started out as going over budget ends up deep in debt and shame. * What started out as unresolved conflict ends up in a tragic divorce. * What started out as problem behavior that I don’t get help for becomes an addiction. * A problem with flirtation or temptation turns into an affair. * A problem with procrastination turns into unemployment. * Someone who has a problem just being sarcastic or negative and they never get help for it finds it turns into a life where people don’t want to be their friend. The truth is, it takes way more courage to say this one little word (help) than it does to hide and pretend and deny and act like I don’t need help. Now it turns out that the fact that we need help is one of the great clues to our identity and our spiritual condition. In the Bible, “my help” or “my helper” is actually one of the most used names for God. For example, the book of Hebrews says: So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” Hebrews 13:6 Now here’s the central truth of this message and why this little word help is going to change your life if you’ll let it. We are made to live in continual dependence on God in the context of surrender and interactive friendship. This relationship of joyful dependence, which can look like weakness, is actually life and strength. The alternative — “No thanks, God. I would rather live in prideful self-sufficiency.” — ends up leading to utter disaster. We’re going to look at the Bible to see this. There’s a wonderful little story about Jesus at a wedding. It’s such a beautiful picture of the kingdom of God breaking into ordinary life that it became a favorite of artists over the centuries (and writers too). It teaches us how to build our lives around continually saying, “Help” to Jesus all the time, every day. It’s in the second chapter of the gospel of John. Jesus is just beginning his ministry. Here’s what John writes: On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2:1-11 It seems like every wedding I’ve ever been to, something goes wrong. * Someone forgets a line. * Someone forgets the rings. * The flowers are the wrong color. * Someone can’t stop crying. * A groomsman doesn’t show up. Now at the wedding Jesus is at, the problem is they ran out of wine. In the ancient world, this was a big deal. When hospitality was a sacred obligation, to run out of wine meant shame and disgrace for the family, maybe even legal action. It would forever ruin the memory of the wedding day for this couple. This becomes the setting for what really is kind of the first prayer ever made to Jesus. I know it’s not called a prayer, but that’s really what it was. They ran out of wine. By the way, what are you running out of today? Are you running out of courage, patience, strength, hope? Who are you talking to about it? Will you ask Jesus for help? Anyway, Mary talks to Jesus about this. The text doesn’t say why she did this. * Maybe she felt badly for the couple. * Maybe she had some role to play in the wedding, like she was a wedding coordinator. * Maybe she goes to Jesus because Jesus had brought all his disciples with him, and that’s why they ran out of wine. The disciples were not terribly couth guys. They were fishermen and tax collectors. They followed the most interesting man in the world, and maybe their motto was, “Stay thirsty, my friends.” For whatever reason, Mary comes to Jesus, and she says four words — “They have no wine.” It’s so interesting. A writer named Max Lucado says this is the first prayer ever prayed to Jesus. And I want to say a word to you if you think you’re not good at praying or if you ever feel sheepish about praying in front of other people. Maybe you don’t think you do it well. This is the first prayer, and it’s from Mary, the mother of Jesus. It’s not fancy. You know, beautiful prayers get put on plaques and hung on people’s walls. “The Lord is my shepherd.” “Our Father, who art in heaven.” “They have no wine.” — No one is putting that one on a plaque — unless it’s in Napa. See, what matters in prayer is not what you say; it’s to whom you say it. By the way, this whole story hinges on Mary’s choice to do this. We know Jesus wasn’t planning on this because of his response. He doesn’t say, “I know they’re out of wine, Mom. I’m already on it. I’m doing something.” Jesus didn’t come to Cana to do a miracle. He wasn’t planning on that. He wasn’t even doing the wedding ceremony. He wasn’t giving the homily. He was just hanging out. Jesus did what he did because Mary asked what she asked. Her request, her prayer, changed things. Now you’ll notice Jesus doesn’t give to his mom the immediate answer she wanted. “Okay, I’ll take care of it.” He actually says, “My hour has not yet come.” Sometimes you’ll pray the help prayer (“God, help. Jesus, help.”) and not get the answer you were hoping for. * Jesus, it’s my job. * Jesus, it’s cancer. * Jesus, she’s not coming back. * Jesus, my little girl has lost her health. * Jesus, I feel desperately alone. Now I don’t know why it is that prayers sometimes don’t get answered how or when we want them to. But I’ll tell you what I believe. * I believe we’re not yet at the end of God’s story. That hour has not yet come. * And I believe despair is never the answer. * And I believe God is and loves to be our refuge and our help no matter how any particular circumstance turns out. I would love so much to have heard the tone and seen the facial expressions of this conversation, because the next line in this story is fascinating. There’s a world of teaching for us as we think about prayer and relating to Jesus in Mary’s next comment. His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” John 2:5 It’s so interesting. Jesus just said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My time has not yet come.” She doesn’t say anything back to Jesus. She doesn’t even answer his question. Instead, she says this amazing sentence — and not just to the servants. You see, these are really our orders from this story. If you want to know the kind of relationship in which the help prayer makes sense with Jesus — “Do whatever he tells you.” If you want to see the water turn into wine. * If you want to see up there coming down here. * If you want God involved in your ordinary life, in your ordinary problems. * If you want to live in the presence and favor of the kingdom of God here and now — do whatever he tells you — * Love your neighbor. * Love your enemy. * Lay up treasures in heaven. * Care for the poor. * Seek first the kingdom of God. * Do to others what you would have others do to you. * Let your light so shine before others that they see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven. People wonder sometimes what kind of church we are. I’ll tell you. We are a “Do whatever he tells you” kind of church. It’s an amazing statement Mary makes. She doesn’t understand why Jesus said what he said, why he hasn’t done what she asked him to do, but her response is — “Do whatever he tells you.” And that’s the kind of church we are. Alright, we’ll look at the rest of this story in just a moment. Announcements Alright, so Mary says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now look how the servants respond, because there’s a great lesson for us in their response. I love this. Jesus doesn’t say anything to his mom. He turns to the servants she just spoke to, and he gives them instructions. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. John 2:7 To the brim! They didn’t have to fill them to the brim. You try hauling about 150 gallons of water. It gets heavy! You’re looking for a reason not to have to carry that much. They didn’t understand all that was going on. They didn’t know all about who Jesus was. They could have filled the jars just two-thirds of the way up, but then they would have missed 50 gallons of miracle. They just did what a good servant does. They obeyed him with their whole hearts. They did what was asked of them, and then they went beyond that. This is “fill it to the brim” obedience. It’s such a great story. “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus says, “Fill it,” and they fill it to the brim. And Jesus is just beaming because he knows what they do not know. He’s about to turn that H2O into Merlot. There’s an old saying, “Bring God a thimble, and he’ll probably fill the thimble. Bring God a bucket, and he’ll probably fill the bucket.” If you want to make God your helper, see, it’s not about starting with whatever it is you happen to want. The place to begin with isn’t, “God, here’s what I really demand in my life. I’m going to make my requests my litmus test for whether or not you exist, whether or not I’ll trust you.” It starts with — “Do whatever he tells you.” Then don’t just go through the motions. Fill it to the brim. * Encourage someone fully. * Fill an hour of work with your whole heart. * Serve someone in your home with delight instead of a grudging spirit. * Give a gift to God that actually represents sacrifice on your part. * Tell the whole truth courageously when you’re tempted to lie. * Ask God, “God, help me. Help me! Help me! Help me!” See, that’s the way the kingdom works. When we serve with a “fill it to the brim” spirit, we’re the ones who get to be part of the miracle. We’re the ones who get to see the water turned into wine. The wedding got saved. And the big shots didn’t know how it happened. The master of the banquet didn’t know how. The groom didn’t know how. The servants, the ones who did whatever he told them to do, they knew. In the kingdom of God, it’s the servants who know. It’s those who obey with their whole hearts who know. Can you imagine what they said when they went home that night and their spouse asked, “Anything interesting happen at work today?” Can you imagine how they followed Jesus’ ministry from that day forward? Can you imagine how they respond to the crucifixion and then the resurrection? Can you imagine when they’re old and they’re telling their children, “I was there. I saw it happen. I got to help Jesus at the greatest wedding of all time. I did whatever he said. I filled it to the brim, and he turned the water into wine”? I’ll tell you what. I used to think this story was kind of a frivolous miracle. You know, other things Jesus did (miraculous things) have a kind of weight to them. * Cleanse lepers. * Give sight to the blind. * Feed 5,000. * Raise the dead. Those are good, respectable miracles, but becoming a heavenly BevMo! distributor for a family who is already wealthy enough to have servants? Doesn’t that seem a little superficial? Not at all. You see, here’s the deal. This story tells us something about Jesus and the kingdom and why we’re made to depend on God. That’s why John says it’s the first sign. See, all Mary was hoping for was to avert disaster. — “They have no wine.” Jesus goes way beyond averting disaster. Jesus doesn’t just make wine; he makes wine of extraordinary quality. I don’t have a cultivated palate. I don’t understand much about wine. I have a friend who has a genuine wine cellar. I bought him a bottle of wine as a way of thanking him for something, and when I looked at it, I noticed it had an expiration date on it. That’s not a sign that says — “This is great wine.” Jesus makes the best wine anyone had ever tasted. And it’s not just the quality that’s remarkable in this story. It’s also the quantity. There were these six huge stone jars. That’s like 150 gallons of wine. John says: What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. John 2:11 This is his glory — You’re just hoping to avoid disaster, and he wants you to be a part of his eternal kingdom. This is his glory — You’re just a low-level servant. You have no connections. You have no money. He has a miracle for you to be a part of if you’ll just do whatever he tells you. I was thinking, at this party Jesus did a miracle, and a few dozen people were able to keep on drinking. In our day, millions of people have been enslaved by alcohol. It’s been hell on earth. It’s ruined their lives. And yet in the midst of it, they find God. And God does the miracle of enabling them to stop drinking. Maybe you’ve experienced this miracle. And God will use you to help save other people who have the same problem. Whatever problem you go through (grief, addiction, anger, divorce), God will use you. He’ll not only heal you. He’ll turn that water into wine. He’ll use you to help other people. And it all starts with one word — help. “God, help! Jesus, help!” The little miracle is wine out of water. The big miracle it foretells is life drawn from its divine source. Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full — have it filled to the brim.” Jesus bore our sins on the cross to forgive them. He poured his blood out like wine so the cleansing promised by water (water that would be stored in those jars) would become an unconquerable reality. At Cana, we see Jesus not only shares our griefs to heal them; he shares our joys to enhance them. He shared our life to make us more alive. Salvation is not just the overcoming, not just the negating, of death. It’s the elevating of life. God has a miracle for you. I’m not kidding. God has a miracle for you that’s bigger and better and more extravagant than you can imagine. So much more than bigger and nicer houses or newer cars — * One day you’re going to see Jesus, and you will be like him. * One day life is coming where joy, energy, confidence, friendliness, and peace will flow like wine, but it won’t be coming from a bottle, and it won’t enslave anyone. It will be like 180 proof Spirit of God. I want to say something about next week — next week we come to a great word. It’s the word sorry. It’s one of the most difficult words to say. It will probably be the most challenging word in this series. But it’s a word that will radically change your life and relationships. And I hope and pray you invite everyone you can to hear it. Because all too often the church has forgotten the goodness and the joy we’re saved for. A great thinker, philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard had an observation that’s kind of haunting for me when I think about the church or Christians sometimes. Christ turned water into wine, but the church has succeeded in doing something even more difficult: it has turned wine into water. — Soren Kierkegaard We do that without God. * Without God, life is so much less alive. * Without God, grace just turns into rules. * Goodness just becomes pride. * Faith just becomes excluding other people. * We get grim and self-righteous. Here’s what the help prayer invites us into — Just let go of that stupid arrogance, fear, and self-sufficiency. The whole notion that anyone is above help is such an illusion. In the book Roots by Alex Haley, he talks about how in his office, he kept a picture of a turtle on a fencepost. When anyone would see that and ask him why he had a picture of a turtle on a fencepost, he would say, “Anytime you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know he had some help. He didn’t get there on his own.” I was thinking about this word and how deep it goes for us. When Jesus was a little boy, he would say this word to Mary. “Help me, Mommy.” It’s one of the first words a child learns. * Help me get dressed. * Help me eat my food. * Help me go potty. How amazing that God humbled himself in Jesus, the Maker of the universe asking for help to tie the laces of his sandals. I was thinking — if a parent lives long enough, things change. They end up asking their children for help. * Help me get dressed. * Help me eat my food. * Help me go to the bathroom. We’re born needing help; we die needing help. In between, we can fool ourselves into thinking we don’t need help, but all it takes is a little age. All it takes is a little health problem or a little blood vessel that doesn’t work or a little email from the job saying the job is no longer ours. Then we remember the word help. “God, help!” Here’s the thing. When we pray, “Help!” with our whole hearts, it’s when we tell him what we’re out of. When we do whatever he tells us to do, that’s when the glory of God gets revealed once more — up there comes down here into our little lives. “Come to me, all you who thirst,” Jesus says. “Out of the core of your being, out of your bellies, will flow rivers of living water.” Stay thirsty, my friends. Alright, let me pray for you. Blue Oaks Church Pleasanton, CA