I listened to a fantastic sermon today by TD Jakes. It was all about the questions we ask God and what we ask of life in general. The quote that struck me was, “Don’t ask God for a handout; ask God for a hand up.” In other words, instead of begging God to hand us absolutely everything we desire, we should be asking God to help us get back on our feet so we can achieve what we want.
I read a book a couple of years that explored a similar concept. It emphasized that American Christians are helping no one by taking mission trips and giving communities in need absolutely everything they need. This only teaches the communities to ‘beg’ and be dependent on another source to provide them with their needs. Instead, missionaries should be teaching communities how to sustain themselves within their community—for example, teaching communities how to farm, how to make sure things they need, and how they can make a living within their environment. If you give them the tools they need, aka a ‘hand up,’ they will learn to stand on their own and eventually be able to help themselves.
I think about how this applies to my own life and how often I expect a handout rather than asking for a hand up. It’s so easy for us to be consumed with everything going on in our daily lives that we just want someone to hand something to us.
One of the most significant examples of this in my own life is when my sister passed away. I expected a handout. I wanted God to swoop down from heaven and make my life easier since I had to deal with the loss of a sibling, something no one should ever have to go through. I wanted my parents to tell me that I could fly home from my first job in NYC and live with them for as long as I needed to heal. I wanted the world to do everything for me, so I didn’t have to think about anything. After all, I just lost my sister. Shouldn’t I be entitled to a bit of pity party of my own?
First off, let me emphasize that many beautiful people wrapped their arms around me after my sister’s death, and my job was incredibly supportive. However, my family was not for the option of leaving NYC and staying with them forever, locked in the bedroom I grew up in, crying myself to sleep every night. I remember crying to my dad that there was no way I could go back to NYC after flying home for the funeral. My lease was up on my apartment, and I had to move within the next four days on top of everything else. By God, though, my dad put me right on that plane and said I had to go back to NYC.
I flew in that night, immediately took a cab to an apartment on Wall Street, and signed a lease. Then, I went to get into a taxi to return to my current apartment, and a guy around my age also got into the cab at the same time. We agreed to share the cab since we were both going in the same direction. On the way to our destinations, I told him how I had just signed a lease on a place on Wall Street, and he said to me that he lived in the building next door. He then offered to move me in that weekend, and he did.
Over the next year, God (and my dad) provided me with what I needed to stay in NYC and thrive independently, but he did not let me cave and move back to the middle of nowhere in Wyoming.
Point? This is a prime example of my dad refusing to give me a handout by letting me stay home but helping me up by providing me with what I needed to continue my life and career. I did not understand the thinking at the time, but looking back, it is the best thing in the world that he could have done for me. He forced me to stand on my own two feet when all I wanted to do was quit, and that taught me a type of resilience and strength that I don’t think I would have otherwise.
There are so many moments in my life where I feel at the time like God is not answering my prayers when he is providing me with tools to be strong and figure things out on my own. He does not want us to be utterly dependent on Him. He wants us to be able to find our voice with His help.
If you’re in a rut today, thinking that life is just not going your way and God is not answering your prayers, rephrase what you are asking of God. Instead of asking him to get you out of a situation, ask Him to provide you with the tools to get yourself out. Don’t be a beggar; be a contributor to building the life you want.
– Marji J. Sherman