You are never alone

Hezekiah 6:1 says, “God helps those who help themselves.” Can I get an amen? Perhaps a “Preach it, brother?” No? Why not?! “This is not a biblical citation,” you reply. You are correct. Despite what many Christians think, “God helps those who help themselves” is likely the most often quoted phrase that isn’t in the Bible. This saying is usually attributed to Ben Franklin, quoted in Poor Richard’s Almanac (1757). Franklin and his contemporaries adapted it from one of Aesop’s Fables—Hercules and the Waggoner (6th century BC). In the story, a waggoner’s heavy load becomes bogged down in mud. In despair, the waggoner cries out to Hercules for help. Hercules replies, “Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.” It’s rather ironic that a polytheistic tale appealing to Greek mythology has now made its way into what many believers think is in the pages of Scripture.

“God helps those who help themselves” is not merely extrabiblical; it is also unbiblical. It is polar opposite of the message of Scripture. The Bible insists that God helps the helpless. Today, if you are feeling helpless and hopeless, don’t despair. If you are feeling lonely and discouraged, don’t lose heart. Jesus has a word for you. In John 14:15–31, on the eve before His death, Jesus imparts to His distressed disciples His final words. In these waning moments, He declares: God helps those who help themselves to Him. This is the message of John 14 and the whole Bible. In every area of spiritual life, from beginning to end, God only helps those who help themselves to Him.

This passage begins in 14:15 with a “hinge” verse. John links the previous section (14:1–14) with this section (14:15–31). Previously, Jesus taught about His relationship to the Father. Now He explains His relationship to the Holy Spirit. He says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” Jesus doesn’t command His disciples to love Him, but to obey Him. Love and obedience are linked throughout this passage. This is because John’s use of “love” (agapao) isn’t an abstract emotion, but something intensely practical that involves obedience. Whenever I read this verse, I think of the notorious line that many men use on women, “If you love me, you will…” I think one of the best comebacks to this pathetic line is: “If you love me, you will keep Jesus’ commands.” In the heat of the moment, you may also need to remind yourself, “If I love Jesus, will keep His commands.” This is a motivating verse because Jesus conditions our love for Him on our obedience. In what specific area of your life is Jesus seeking obedience from you? Will you obey Him today?

Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t expect mere raw determination or dogged discipline from us to pull off His commands. Instead, He seems to say: As you attempt to obey Me, I will give you My enablement—the Holy Spirit. Jesus puts it like this: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (14:16). Jesus promises a “Helper” that will be with us forever. The Greek word translated “Helper” is parakletos, or for smoother English, paraklete. Not parakeet, paraklete. We’re not talking about a colorful little bird that sits in a cage and sings; we’re talking about the Holy Spirit—the third member of the Trinity. Paraklete is very difficult to translate into English. Most English versions render the term “Helper” (NASB, ESV, NKJV), “Counselor” (NIV, HCSB), “Comforter” (KJV), or “Advocate” (NET, NRSV, NLT).

Perhaps the ambiguity of the word emphasizes that the Holy Spirit helps us in many different ways. It’s not just that He consoles us in our sorrow, but He also makes us strong in the face of opposition. The term Paraklete is like a diamond; it means something slightly different depending on how you hold it toward the light and view it. Yet, since you are probably hoping for the Cliff Notes® version, “Helper” is the most all-encompassing translation. The only real drawback to “Helper” is the term can suggest a subordinate rank. I immediately think of Hamburger Helper®, which implies that you can accomplish a great meal if you just use their handy-dandy mix. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is not just looking to help you out when you’re in a pinch; rather, He wants to consume you and take over your life. Remember, God doesn’t help those who help themselves; God helps those who help themselves to Him.

As a father I always tried to help my three kids learn to ride a bike without suffering too many scrapes and bruises. First there would be training wheels and a steadying hand on the handlebars. Then would come the day the training wheels came off, and I would run alongside the bike, one hand under the seat, giving instructions—“Now relax. Keep your wheel straight. Steady! I’ve got you! You’re doing great!” Crash! I would then pick up my child and encourage him or her to try again. Similarly, the Holy Spirit comes alongside us, encourages us, holds us up, picks us up, dusts us off when we fall, and gets us going again. The Holy Spirit’s eternal patience and encouragement with us ought to give us the same heart for our children when we are teaching them how to ride a bike or drive a car or anything else. I know, that application hits a little too close to home. Yet, this point is critical. The Holy Spirit is continually grieved and quenched by our behavior, but He still persists in love and care for us. What an amazing God!

But perhaps you’re still not satisfied. You may feel that the Holy Spirit is the third-string member of the Trinity, following God the Father and God the Son. Before you start feeling like you’re receiving inferior care, note the phrase “another Helper.” Two different Greek words can be translated “another”—allos (“another of the same kind”) and heteros (“another of a different kind”). The word Jesus uses to describe the coming Helper is allos, which means another helper just like him! Jesus is comforting His disciples by assuring them they don’t need to be troubled at His leaving because He is sending a “Helper” just like Him. There will be no loss in the exchange. If you’ve ever wanted to walk and talk with Jesus like the first disciples, you can experience something even better—the Holy Spirit! Unlike Jesus when He was on earth, the Holy Spirit is always present and will be with you forever.

In 14:17a, Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit is also called “the Spirit of truth.” He is “the Spirit of truth” because He communicates and bears witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. “The Spirit of Truth” is an important title given to the Holy Spirit and is also used in 15:26 and 16:13. This emphasis upon “truth” reminds us that the primary evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is a commitment to interact with God’s truth. Jesus says that “the Spirit of truth” is a Person “whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (14:7b). 

Jesus states that the world “cannot receive” the Holy Spirit because they do not have a relationship with Him. In June 2009, America moved to Digital TV. If you have believed in Christ, the Holy Spirit abides with you and is in you. This means that the best help you have for whatever problem you face is inside you, not outside you. One fundamental reason many Christians don’t get the help they need when they are afraid, lonely, or weary is that they go to the wrong person first. Instead, as Christians, we must learn to ask the Holy Spirit to encourage us, comfort us, and strengthen us. God helps those who help themselves to Him.

In 14:18, Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans [lit. “Fatherless”]; I will come to you.” This verse affirms the biblical doctrine of adoption, which may be the most healing and comforting doctrine in the entire Bible. In our society, parents have been known to abandon their children. New mothers have left their babies in alleys or on doorsteps or even walked away from older children at home. In contrast, Christ doesn’t abandon His children. When you’re a member of His family, you’ll never be an orphan; you’ll never be lost in a child custody battle. In fact, Christ is saying to His disciples, “I’ll be closer to you than ever before! When people hurt you and disappoint you, I will be there for you. You can count on Me. I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut 31:6; cf. Josh 1:5; Heb 13:5).

In 14:19–20, Jesus continues: “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” It seems best to take Jesus’ words to be a reference to His resurrection and His post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection will increase the disciples’ faith that He is God.

Jesus returns to His emphasis upon love and obedience in 14:21–24: “‘He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.’”

These verses appear to state that Jesus loves us more when we obey Him and that He loves some believers more than others. This requires some clarification. Your obedience doesn’t make God love you more than He would otherwise. God’s love for all people is essentially as great as it can be. However, in the family relationship that Jesus is describing, your obedience allows God to express His love for you without restraint. When there is disobedience, God doesn’t express His love as fully because He must discipline you (cf. Heb 12:4–11). Without question, some believers love Jesus more than other believers do. This results in some believers obeying Him more than others and enjoying a more intimate relationship and greater understanding of Him than others enjoy. I have three children whom I love equally. However, if any of my children are rebellious and disobedient, I have to discipline them. This doesn’t affect my love for them—it is simply another expression of my love. But if their rebellion persists, we may not be able to be as intimate as I would like. I may not be able to give them some of the privileges or rewards that come from obedience. My love for my children doesn’t change, but our fellowship may change. If you have a wayward teenage or adult child, you understand exactly what I’m talking about.

Three other observations are in order. First, the verb “disclose” (emphanizo) in 14:21 means that Jesus will make Himself known to obedient believers through the Holy Spirit. Second, the word translated “abode” (mone) in 14:23 is the same word translated “dwelling places” in 14:2. Jesus is preparing a dwelling place for us, but He and the Father also dwells with us to the degree that we obey Him. Third, all this emphasis upon obedience is for our own good. When you do what you want to do instead of what Jesus wants you do, it always turns out bad, at least in my experience it does. I have never regretted one occasion of obedience to Jesus, but I have regretted countless episodes of disobedience.

In 14:25–26, Jesus shares with His disciples another role of the Helper: “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” If you ever wanted to know how it was that the New Testament came to be written, your answer is right here. The disciples didn’t walk around Galilee with little note pads waiting for Jesus to say something so that they could take notes and then negotiate a publishing contract. They had absolutely no intention of writing anything. They never expected Jesus to leave. But later—much later for some of them—the necessity arose to preserve the things that had happened so that those of a new generation could know about them. That was when they began to write. However, I think that by extension we can see a valid application of the text. The reason the Holy Spirit would put these things into the minds of the apostles was because He wanted to put them into our minds. It is the Spirit who puts the words into Scripture, and it is the Spirit who helps us recall what we have read when we need it.

If you were a Christian when you were in high school or college (and maybe even if you weren’t!), you probably got serious about prayer just before a big test. You may have prayed, “Oh God, help me remember the things I’ve studied.” My prayer was a little different than that. I used to pray that He’d help me remember things I never studied. I didn’t just want reminders, I wanted direct revelation. Yet, in most cases, the Holy Spirit didn’t remind me of something I never bothered to learn. So if you’re looking for spiritual recall, it’s critical that you immerse yourself in God’s truth. There are many reasons for reading the Bible, going to church, and being a member of a small group. But one major reason is that it gives the Holy Spirit something to bring up, some truth to work with. Yes, He is the Spirit of truth, but He doesn’t drop truth on you unless you’ve been studying the truth.

Perhaps you’re thinking, ‘I don’t really care about my Bible recall. I can take it or leave it.’ Whoa! Right now you may not feel like you need it, but I can assure you there will come a time when you will need it, and you will wish you had saved away some Bible on the hard drive of your mind. Most of the time when I suddenly find myself faced with a crisis, I don’t have the opportunity to say, “Um…could I get back to you in a week or so? I’d like to do some homework on this, then I’ll figure out what we’re supposed to do here.” Sometimes you have to make decisions on the spur of the moment, don’t you? You have to decide what you’re going to do. You have to choose Response A or Response B, and putting it off isn’t an option! How do you prepare yourself for those moments? By immersing yourself in the Word.

Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have shown that the brain can learn simply from listening to different types of music. ‘It turns out that mere exposure makes an enormous contribution to how musical competence develops,’ said Henkjan Honing, one of the researchers. In the past, experts believed that the only way to shape musical abilities was through intense training, but this research suggests that exposure to music can similarly change the brain. Just as listening to music can shape our brains, exposure to God’s Word can change our souls. With each exposure to God’s Word and presence in our lives, the Holy Spirit changes us. We become more receptive to God’s message to us, and we gradually become more like Christ as we seek out God in our lives.

When your life is saturated with Scripture, you will experience the peace of Christ. Jesus exclaims, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (14:27). Jesus promises His disciples peace, but not just any peace. Jesus offers His very own peace. The phrase, “Do not let your heart be troubled” harkens back to 14:1a. But Jesus now adds the phrase: “nor let it be fearful,” because He is about to depart and His disciples are becoming increasingly anxious. As a result, they desperately need the peace He offers. It is worth noting that the Greek’s notion of “peace” was absence of war. The Jews’ notion of “peace” was blessing and unity. Jesus’ bestowal of peace accords with the Jewish view. In other words, Christ’s peace adds something to life rather than subtracts something.

We are used to thinking of peace as the absence of conflict, or the absence of stress, or the absence of worry. However, Christ’s peace includes the absence of distress but it also includes the presence of blessing. In fact, maybe we could go so far as to say that the absence of distress is the result of God’s blessing. Jesus is offering a peace that is a settled sense of well-being and security. What is your situation today? Whatever it is, if you have the Holy Spirit you can have peace in the midst of it because He lives within you. So don’t allow anxiety, worry, and fear to rob you of Christ’s peace. Instead, spend some time this week meditating on John 14:27. This is a verse that’s also worth committing to memory. Just write this Scripture down on a 3×5 card and tape it to your bathroom mirror, the steering wheel of your car, or your desk. As you read this verse several times a day, it will become committed to memory. Everyone needs peace, and you can find it in Christ. Just remember: God helps those who help themselves to Him.

In 14:28, Jesus utters a fascinating verse: “You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Previously in 10:30 Jesus said: “I and the Father are one.” In this verse, He was speaking of His essential coequality with God (as one sharing the Godhead with the Father). Here in 14:28, Jesus is merely referring to His voluntary position as servant under God (as one sent by the Father). Jesus is saying that He is the humble, submissive Son who submits Himself to the authority of His Father. The words Jesus spoke to His disciples: “If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father” are rather relevant to us. Although God has given us people and things to enjoy, it’s important to hold them with a loose grasp. Someday, God may choose to take them from your hands, and the loss will be less painful if you’re not clutching them so tightly. What are you clinging to? A job…a person…your family…material possessions…the past? Always remember, the Lord not only gives but He may someday take away that which He has, for a time, entrusted to your care. If He does, your possessiveness could find you in a tug-of-war with God.

This passage closes in 14:29–31 with these words from Jesus: “Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe. I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me; but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father commanded Me. Get up, let us go from here.” There are some interesting tidbits in these three verses.

First, in 14:29, Jesus tells the disciples that He has told them all these things before they happen, so that when they do happen the disciples may believe. This does not mean they had not believed prior to this time; over and over John has affirmed that they have (cf. 2:11). But when they see these things happen, their level of trust in Jesus will increase and their concept of who He is will expand. We too must pray that our faith in Jesus continually increases. Pray: “Lord Jesus, increase my faith.”

Second, in 14:30, Jesus declares, “the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” This phrase constitutes an idiomatic rendering of a Hebrew expression frequently found in legal contexts with the sense “he has no claim on me.” The expression, therefore, means not, “he has no power over me,” but “he has no legal claim or hold on me.” Christ will not capitulate His mission to be obedient to the His Father (cf. 14:31). We, too, must seek to obey Christ and fulfill His will in our lives no matter what.

Third, Jesus and the disciples most likely leave the Upper Room and embark on a nocturnal walk that would lead them to Gethsemane. Perhaps they even passed vineyards on the way, which would provide a fitting backdrop for Jesus’ teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15). The language is deliberately spiritual and alludes to the trial and the attack from Satan which awaits Jesus and the disciples.

If I were to take out a pen and begin writing, I could record anything I wanted to record. But if I removed my hand, the pen would simply fall on the paper and lie there. My pen has no life of its own. My pen contains all the raw materials I need to write with, but it has no writing ability on its own. In order for this pen to function, it must be joined to the life in my hand. When that happens, my pen can form letters it could never form by itself. It can compose clauses and phrases and put them together to make sentences because it is in my hand, and my hand is alive. When you connect your life to the life of the Holy Spirit, He can write things that you could never write on your own. He can achieve things you could never achieve on your own. But if you live in the flesh and rely upon your own power, you’ll drop like a discarded pen because there is no spiritual life in your flesh, your unredeemed humanity.