“You need help.” These words can elicit a strong reaction. They are easier to hear in the form of a question: “Do you need help?” The question at least gives us the opportunity to opt out, for denial. “No, I’m fine. I can take care of myself. I can do it myself.” But in the form of a statement, the words “you need help” give the diagnosis before the excuses ever have time to leave our mouth. These words can sound more like an accusation than a lifeline.
It’s one thing to admit, “I get by with a little help from my friends” (Lennon & McCartney). Most of us can agree to that. We even find ways to dress up such superficial admissions as strengths. In college I took a “Professionalism” class in which students were instructed on the finer points of job interviews. We were told to answer the common question, “What is your greatest weakness?” by saying something that is actually a strength, such as, “Well I work too hard or I’m often too invested in my projects” and so on. While such statements tickle the ears of a workaholic culture, they are hardly reflective of the state in which the Bible tells us we are in. The help that we need, the help that we learn to long for from the addict, the abuser and the powerless, is not a push in the right direction, but for resurrection and restoration.
1. The Holy Spirit gives us the freedom to admit our weakness.
The problem is that we are hindered from looking to the Holy Spirit for resurrection and restoration as long as we continue to fight admitting our own weakness. The very nature of asking for help entails a confession: “I can’t do it. I can’t stop. I can’t change on my own. I need help.” This is indeed the first step, but how can we get there if our inability to admit our weakness is part of the problem?
In John 14:15–17 we are given our answer that Jesus is for us, and that he prays for us. In the preceding verses of 12–14 we see Jesus promising his very own works will be done in and through us and “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (13–14). Jesus is for us and gives us this unconditional favor and access to him and to the Father. When we are given this good news, we are freed from the power to be our own strength, righteousness, and holiness. This is exactly how God intends for it to be. As Marva Dawn states,
Even as Christ accomplished atonement for us by suffering and death, so the Lord accomplishes witness to the world through our weakness. In fact, God has more need of our weakness than of our strength. Just as powers overstep their bounds and become gods, so our power becomes a rival to God… By our union with Christ in the power of the Spirit in our weakness, we display God’s glory.
In learning of God’s strong preference for our weakness, we are finally able to give an honest self-assessment. Knowing that Jesus is for us in our weakness tells us of his loving and saving attitude toward us. It means that arm-twisting games are over. He knows exactly what he is getting into with sinners like us and it doesn’t scare him. We can “let our guard down.” Knowing that he is praying for us tells us of his sovereign advocating care on our behalf (cf. Hebrews 7:25). It means that Jesus is not only present in our weakness but active—actively making “all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
This is true when we cannot see it, and it’s true even in the midst of great suffering and pain. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” (Psalm 126:5). We have the freedom to be honest about our weakness because the one who can most acutely diagnose our sin and failings is the one who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He is the one who said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
2. The Holy Spirit gives us Jesus to comfort us in our weakness.
In John 14:16–17 we see what Jesus’ prayer is: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Two interrelated words, gift and comfort, describe the Holy Spirit’s work in our weakness. The Holy Spirit is a gift of the Father and the Son to us. In the midst of being lost, lonely, and without hope, we “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15).
His work in our lives is not earned but received by faith alone (cf. Galatians 3:1–3). Furthermore, his work is not an unknowable force, but an intimate bond with Jesus—all of who Jesus is, and what he has accomplished in a relationship that is so certain, so determined in grace alone, so strong in his compassion and power, that it truly is “O Love, that wilt not let me go” (Matheson). This is why Jesus gives us this “Helper, to be with you forever” (14:16) that he may be with us forever.
In short, the Holy Spirit gives us Jesus and this is our comfort. Because the Holy Spirit “dwells with you and will be in you,” we have this promise from Jesus: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (John 14:17; Matthew 28:20). This is the great comfort of the Holy Spirit, and he does this not in a random or abstract way, but by the message of what Jesus has done and will do in and for us. What is that message in our weakness, sin, shame and suffering? We find out as Jesus begins his ministry in Luke 4:18–19:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
This is how the Holy Spirit is at work in your weakness, and that is why Jesus promises you that his “grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).