If you have seen the pictures and video from Haiti over the past couple of weeks I am sure that you were overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness. While I can send money in an effort to help, I feel so overwhelmed by the scope of the disaster. A country without social services, without addresses, without adequate utilities is now devastated. More than half of the buildings in Port Au Prince are destroyed. Two million of the nine million Haitians are homeless with the specter of dysentery and malaria on the horizon.
Theories on the nature of suffering come cheap when disasters are safely distant but I want to suggest that the pressing sense of helplessness is exactly where we need to be right now. Disasters come to train us in our powerlessness and should first lead us into complete and total dependance on God as the Almighty One and then lead us into ministry in the strength that Jesus Christ provides (1 Pet 4: 11). There is a great danger in seeing ourselves as ‘serving’ God (Acts 17: 25) for we do not glorify God by providing for His needs but by inviting him to provide for our needs and the needs of others. A prayer of helplessness exalts God as capable and worthy and us as needy.
When we feel useless and unfit for the task in front of us we are finally ready to be used. When we serve in our own strength we glory in it and we are tempted into the wicked thought that God is in our debt.
Make no mistake; we are called to be servants of God. In Romans 12:11 we are commanded, “Serve the Lord!” Those who do not serve Christ are rebuked. (Rom 16: 18) “Serve the Lord with gladness,” (Psalm 100: 2) but do not serve in a spirit of entitlement or with an attitude of self-importance. When we ‘help those less fortunate’ we are operating under an arrogant assumption that we have it together and they don’t: Since we are ‘more fortunate’ we will give to the ‘less fortunate’. This attitude is entirely foreign to the heart of Jesus Christ for it reinforces an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality and maintains a selfish motivation for helping.
As long as the help we offer to others is motivated primarily by the changes we may accomplish, our service cannot last long. When results do not appear, when success is absent, when we are no longer liked or praised for what we do, we lose the strength and motivation to continue. When we see nothing but sad, poor, and sick people that remain sad, poor and sick no matter what we do, we do the only reasonable thing we can do: we distance ourselves to prevent ourselves from becoming cynical or depressed. Then Haiti moves to page six, then page twelve, and then disappears altogether.
The service we provide when we embrace our weakness is a participation in the sufferings of Christ. This is why prayer is not our last resort. It should be our first response. In prayer we enter the suffering of those who suffer. We share their vulnerability and enter into their pain and then we do what God can do through us.