Deuteronomy 1:29-36 & John 14:1-14
1. The Reality of Difficulties
We all face difficulties in life—some of which of our own making, some of which we have contributed to, and some of which have been imposed on us from outside. We can face family difficulties, health difficulties, trouble at work. financial or legal problems, or any number of other things. But regardless, we all face (or have faced) times of trouble.
Of course, some of the difficulties can be of a short-term nature, and others can be much more long term. But whether the problems are one-offs, or it seems that it’s just one thing after another, none of us are exempt from the difficulties of life.
2. Coping with Difficulties
As a consequence, knowing how to cope with them is very important. Because whilst some people just seem to breeze through difficulties, others don’t seem to cope very well at all. And some people just seem to have big heavy chains which they drag around with them.
Now, of course, there are a number of helps that may well be available. But the question, today, is ‘Do we use all the support we can get? And is there a major area of support that is available which doesn’t usually figure in our solutions?’ Because how we cope with difficulties will depend on how we make use of the help that is available.
B. FIGHTING GOD (Deuteronomy 1:29-36)
Now, for many people, there’s nothing better than a bit of Do-It-Yourself. And I think the reason for that is that it is good to be creative. It also feels good when something comes together with little or no help from anyone else. After all, aren’t many things easy enough to do, if only you have the right knowledge and the right tools.
But the reality is that, for many of us, Do-It-Yourself is not the ideal pastime. Because while we might have a picture in our minds of the way things are supposed to turn out. In reality, that’s not the way things often turn out at all. And sometimes we’re just unable to see the faults in what we’ve done.
And whereas we might be good at establishing the problem to start with, we may also be good at glossing over our inadequacies in fixing the problem too. And, indeed, there are television shows dedicated to home-made disasters, where experts are called in to fix up people’s Do-It-Yourself disasters.
But disasters aren’t just the end result of people doing those hands-on practical Do-It-Yourself projects. They can also be the result of trying to fix our own spiritual difficulties too. And the number of Spiritual Expos you can go to these days, where the emphasis is on a kind of Do-It-Yourself spirituality is amazing. Unfortunately, many of those Do-It-Yourself spirituality solutions can leave you worse than you were to begin with too.
2. Deuteronomy 1:29-36
In the passage from Deuteronomy, we are told of a group of people who had a history of God coming to their rescue time and time again. He had rescued them from all sorts of perils. And yet, even though they faced many new difficulties, all they wanted to do was to face the new ones on their own. They had their pride—and they believed they could cope with anything.
Indeed, despite what God had done for them in the past, they thought that they were tough, that nothing would be too much for them to cope with. As far as they were concerned, they could fix up all their future problems themselves. And they certainly didn’t want any outside help—not even from God.
Well you can imagine what was the end result. It was disaster. In the past they had needed God’s help to see them through. But they seemed to have forgotten that. So they refused his help. And as a consequence, the difficulties they faced got worse.
God then stayed on the sidelines, waiting for the people to ask for help. But the people were stubborn. They believed they had what it took to look after themselves. And all they did was make a bigger mess than the problem ever was to start with.
And with God forced to remain on the sidelines, he could do nothing but watch the disaster get worse. The one expert on spiritual matters they could have referred to, was unable to help them. And so not only did their situation remained unresolved—but they alienated themselves from God in the process.
So if we think that some Do-It-Yourself fanatics are crazy—and really shouldn’t be doing things on their own—then the people of God took the biscuit. They were a group of people who were determined to do everything—and I mean everything—themselves. Because they believed that they could Do-It themselves, even with their own spiritual welfare.
3. Fighting God
And we might think that they were quite crazy—that this was just another case of Do-It-Yourself gone mad. But how many people do we know who do the same thing? And, when we go through difficulties, how often do we refuse outside help?
Now, sometimes, it may not be appropriate to see an expert, but sometimes our pride can get in the way—sometimes expert help is exactly what we need. And that is particularly true regarding our relationship with God.
Because to exclude God surely that has to be a kind of Do-It-Yourself madness. Because any situation where we put him aside, and refuse his help, is a recipe not for things to get better but for things to get much, much worse. It not only leaves the problem unresolved, but it effectively alienates us from him in the process.
Do-It-Yourself then doesn’t just relate to the odd jobs around the house that we try to do without too much expert help. It also describes a kind of attitude, and a kind of lifestyle which we can live. And while some people may be good at some things, none of us are good at everything. And yet, how often through pride, wanting a sense of achievement or fulfilment, or some other such motive, do we not allow people in from outside, because we want to try to do everything ourselves.
And, of course, the end result of trying to be an expert at all things—including the spiritual life—is that not everything will come out perfectly. And things may well become far more complicated. With the end result, that we may end up facing a much greater disaster than we ever had to start with.
C. TRUSTING GOD (John 14:1-4)
Doing-It-Yourself, then, can be far more complicated than it appears. Because, to work properly, it also requires you to be aware of your limits, and to know when you need to hand the job over to an expert. And that is particularly true regarding spiritual matters.
2. John 14:1-14
And in the passage from John, the disciples were about to go through a time of great difficulty. But they needed to recognise the need to depend upon a real expert to see them through.
Jesus had just told them he would be leaving them. And Jesus had been the one person on whom they had depended for their spiritual welfare. And with the necessity of his departure, the disciples didn’t know how they would cope. But they had a choice. They could just try plodding along without Jesus—trying to do everything as best they could themselves—or they could take Jesus’s advice and trust in God to guide them.
Now they weren’t experts at any spiritual kind of Do-It-Yourself at all. They knew that—that’s why they had followed Jesus. But they were facing a crunch time in their lives. And obviously they would have had far more control over their lives if they tried to look after themselves.
So faced with the choice, they decided on a compromise. They would accept God’s help but only within certain limits. Indeed, Thomas’s first reaction was to place limits on what Jesus could do for them. And then Philip came up with his own compromise. But Jesus was having none of it. And he assured them that expert help was available, and it was nothing short of help without limit. What was offered was total help, nothing more and nothing less.
It was a tough lesson for the disciples to learn—and I’m not sure any of them really learnt it at that time—but a little later after Jesus’s death and resurrection they learnt it. And then things really began to take off. And all because they shrugged off their independence for a dependence upon God. And they reaped the benefits.
And although certain difficulties never went away, they were given the power to cope with whatever came their way. And it was power that they knew they could not possibly have had on their own.
3. Trusting God
Which again raises the question of our own wanting to do things ourselves. Because whether we want to make things—or whether we want to grow and develop our spiritual lives—the reality is that we don’t have to do things on our own.
When we are looking for help for Do-It-Yourself projects there are a number of sources that we can use. And when we are looking for help of a spiritual nature there are a number of sources of help too.
And the first relates to tools. And prayer would have to be one of the greatest tools that we could have. The second relates to a manual. And the bible fits well with that too. And regarding expert help . . . Not only are there other Christians—hence the importance of meeting together. But there is also THE expert—God himself.
The question is, though, even with all that—with all the day-to-day living, as well as the difficulties we face—are we still trying to do things ourselves without outside help? And are we getting ourselves deeper and deeper into trouble. Or are we willing to ask the expert—God himself—for his help? Are we willing to turn our ‘No’ (regarding outside help) into a ‘Yes’? And are we prepared to knock something off our ‘independence’ and become ‘dependant’ upon God.
One of the things about life, then, is we don’t have to do everything ourselves. Indeed, there are a number of resources available for us to use.
And yet, sadly, regarding spirituality, one of the mysteries is that many people are resistant to God’s help. And as a consequence, they make things worse for themselves by alienating themselves from God in the process.
Because we all face difficulties. And they can come from every aspect of our lives. Some are quickly solved, and others . . . well, they may never seem to go away. And the issue of how to cope with difficulties is one that has been around for a very long time.
But regarding how one copes, is very much the issue of today. And yes, we can try to stay fiercely independent—wanting to do everything ourselves—or we can seek help, particularly from the many experts around.
Unfortunately, the danger is to take a Do-It-Yourself approach to life. And that can end with a greater disaster than the problem encountered in the first place.
Which is why, over the years, God has knocked on many people’s doors. Yet, despite his willingness to help, very few have been willing to open the door and let him in.
And that’s sad. Because not only is eternal life not something we can earn on our own—because we are totally dependent upon God in that regard—but by excluding God’s divine help, we can find ourselves facing a bigger disaster than we ever had to being with.
Posted: 2nd July 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
Deuteronomy 1:29-36 & John 14:1-14