Systems of advantage

Life is hard. If God is a good Father, and He’s aware of that fact, then I expect Him to help me as I deal with the challenges of life. This conviction is one of the reasons I, and many others, pray. We expect God to help us because He loves us, and He’s able and willing to do so. While I’ve always believed this, I’d never given serious consideration to how God might help me, and maybe I’ve missed out on such help because I didn’t position myself to receive it. This thought has compelled me to reflect on some of my struggles. The Bible tells us that we can suffer because it’s God’s will or when we resolve to follow Jesus faithfully [1 Peter 4:12-19]. But it also makes it clear that we can suffer because of our ignorance [Hosea 4:6]. I’ve been reflecting on the latter category a lot recently because I really don’t want to suffer unnecessarily.

Paul taught that the Church is akin to the human body, and each believer, a member of that body, is endowed by God with a gift that enables them to serve the body [1 Corinthians 12:14-21]. I only ever thought of this from the perspective of an individual contributing to the Church. But it occurred to me recently that it also applies from the perspective of an individual requiring help from the Church. We sometimes consider the Church the last resort for assistance. Yet, consider some of the gifts Jesus has placed in some members of His body: such as the ability to restore health (gift of healing), ability to provide strategic advice or direction through clear insight (word of wisdom), the working of supernatural acts (miracles), ability to speak forth a message from God to comfort, edify and exhort other (prophecy), and so on. Can you see how they provide a system of advantage for the believer in times of difficulty?

In his teaching about the Eucharist, Paul said that many are weak, sick and even die for not discerning the Lord’s body [1 Corinthians 11:29-30]. While the original context of that statement was concerning eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, I also believe our inability to discern the help Jesus has placed in His body could also leave us in similar perilous positions. Admittedly, there are fraudsters in the Church and those who use their gifts for sordid gain [Matthew 7:15-17], but there are also genuine conduits of God’s power which He has graced with gifts to help His people [Ephesians 4:7-8]. If we fail to discern those equipped with the help we need, we could be in danger of acting like the fabled drowning man who prayed to God to save him but turned down assistance from fellow sailors and a helicopter because He was waiting for God.

These systems of advantage aren’t new. Moses was a prophet and miracle worker, Joshua was a courageous leader with excellent administrative gifts. The book of Judges as several individuals like Samson, Gideon, Deborah, etc., graced with unusual gifts to help God’s people. Later on, we read stories like Samuel helping Saul find his missing donkeys [1 Samuel 9:19; 10:2]. We also read about Elisha ending the Shunammite woman’s barrenness [2 kings 4:8-17], helping a man retrieve a borrowed axe that fell into the Jordan River [2 Kings 6:4-7], advising the king on an enemy’s battle strategy [2 King 6:8-12], and many other such stories. In the New Testament, we find Jesus and the disciples raising the dead, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc. Firstly, God’s name was glorified in all these stories, but desperate people also received the help they needed. 

There are still desperate people today, and God hasn’t changed. Nevertheless, I think two significant obstacles to us receiving God’s help are captured in the stories of Naaman and Nathaniel. Naaman expected a fabulous display of God’s power to cure his leprosy rather than a simple instruction, and he almost missed out on his healing [2 Kings 5:10-14]. We may expect God to act in a certain way, and so discard anything that doesn’t align with our expectations. While Nathanael couldn’t bring himself to believe the origins of the Messiah and almost missed out on the best decision of his life [John 1:46]. This obstacle was the reason many rejected Jesus in His hometown of Nazareth. Consequently, He couldn’t perform many miracles there because of their unbelief [Matthew 13:53-58]. We can become so familiar with those graced by God around us that we don’t benefit from their gifts either because of dishonour or unbelief. 

What are you struggling with right now? Do you believe God is able and willing to help you with it? If so, who has He placed in your life or around you that can help? Are you taking advantage of the help? Apart from obvious candidates like ministers of the Gospel, it could be a nobody who comes up with a life-changing strategy or knows someone who can help you [2 Kings 5:2-4]. It could be a friend, even a sibling, who might not seem like much to you, who is your deliverer [1 Samuel 17:28]. It could even be an angel disguised as a stranger [Hebrews 13:2]. Are you discerning enough to recognise the carrier of your help? Could your unbelief or penchant for dishonour be hindering your help?

Lastly, while it’s great to receive help, you have also been graced to be a system of advantage in the Church, a potential answer to someone’s prayer request. What are you doing with your gift? Are you developing and positioning yourself to help others or, are you solely occupied with your struggles?

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