Some thoughts which were originally written for Lent by The Rev. L. B. Ashby taken from The Chronicle of the Parishes of All Saints', Elsham and St Clement's, Worlaby from the February 1956 edition. 

How does God Help us?

Most people, I imagine, if they were asked, “How does God help us?” would consider that the simplest answer to this question was: Through our prayers; for the New Testament is very full of the thought of prayer as the means of obtaining God’s help, and bids us “pray without ceasing.” If, then, we pray earnestly to God, will He indeed help us; and, if so, how and to what extent?

Now there are a great many serious-minded people who will tell you that their experience of prayer has been a disappointing one: that they have prayed earnestly for God’s help, and that no help has seemed to come. “Prayer,” they say, “does not seem to be of much use so far as our experience goes.”

But one cannot help wondering what sort of conception of God was in their minds when they prayed to Him, and what were the expectations of His help they were cherishing.  Most people, probably, have a general – and often merely- inherited – belief in God as an almighty Potentate of unlimited power and resources Who has to be persuaded by their prayers to give them the things which they want. They think of Him, in fact, chiefly as a great Power, able to do anything which He wishes to do and to give or withhold as He pleases.

But that is not how Our Lord has taught us to think about God. He has taught us to think of Him as “Our Father,” and, when He says, “Father,” He means Father. And this right conception of our relationship to God obviously affects the whole question of our prayers to Him; for it makes the very greatest possible difference whether we come before Him merely as applicants who wish to draw upon a fund of benefits of which He has the disposal, or whether we come as children seeking the sympathetic advice, guidance and help of Someone Who is our Father.

Every proper and right-minded father takes the very deepest interest in the lives of his children and likes them to come to him for advice and help in every matter. He is always ready to provide for all their real needs and to help them in any difficulty of perplexity which they bring to him. But, if he is a wise father, there will be one rule which he will always observe; and that is never to do for them anything which they can perfectly well do for themselves: never to save them trouble which they ought to take or effort which they ought to make: because if he does this he will just simply ruin their characters. 

A spoilt child is one which has everything done for it by its parents, and has only to ask in order to get. And there is no greater disservice which a parent can do to his child than to spoil him; for a spoilt child means, of course, a child with a spoilt character.

What a wise and good parent will do is to co-operate with his child – to lend a hand – to help him to help himself; but he must always insist that the child shall himself make such effort as he is well capable of making, and employ such resources of his own as he possesses. You may, for instance, rightly help your boy, in his homework, to do a sum which he cannot master: you may sit down beside him and work out the sum with him. But what you must never do is work out the sum for him whilst he goes out to play.

Now is it not a fact that a great many of the prayers which we make to God are just substitutes for effort and thought on our part?

We are, for instance, in some difficulty or trouble. We go to God and pray to have it removed - to have, in fact, our circumstances altered for us by a wave of His hand. God apparently does nothing! Why? Because what we really ought to be asking of God is that He will deliver us from inertia and the want of courage, and that He will strengthen our will-power and resolution.

Such prayer as this we may expect Him to answer; but not the prayer which asks for something to be done for us before we have first done our best to help ourselves. “Wherefore criest thou unto Me? says God to Moses at the Red Sea; “speak unto the Children of Israel that they go forward.”  “God helps those who help themselves”.  Few things are truer than that.

There are some forms of illness which people describe as “crosses to be borne” and which they ask God to remove from them. But God knows quite well that really they are weaknesses to be expelled by the power of His Holy Spirit. St Paul, we remember, had an affliction of some kind and besought God to remove it. But the answer which he got was not the miraculous removal of the affliction but the offer of more of God’s grace to strengthen him to face it and overcome it. And in Gethsemane the cup was not taken away from Our Lord, but “there appeared an angel unto Him from Heaven strengthening Him!”

Do we not, so often, pray to God for the wrong kind of help? We ask Him to do things for us, instead of asking Him to do things with us. If we asked Him more to help us to help ourselves, we should never come to doubt whether our prayers are answered.