The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves . . . Sort Of


November 13, 2018

Mark 14:37-42

37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”


Surely you’ve heard it said before, “Well, the Bible does say, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.'” The punchline, of course, is the Bible does not actually say this. As I have reflected on today’s text, however, I think it just may.

For most of my years of reading this text I looked at it as though Jesus was trying to get these three disciples to support and pray for him in his hour of need. It seems logical enough. Why else would he have pulled them out of the group?

Then I saw the text perhaps more clearly.

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. 

Jesus was not asking them to pray for him but to pray for themselves. In his hour of greatest struggle, Jesus was concerned for these three. And why these three? Remember James and John’s request to sit at his right and left hand in his Kingdom? Remember Peter’s bold declaration that he would go to the death with Jesus? Jesus knew they were in grave danger.

Why did he keep coming back to them, a second and third time? It had to be because he was concerned about them. Jesus was doing everything possible to warn them and to protect them and even at this “eleventh hour” to instruct and equip them.

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

It’s like he was saying to them, “There’s only so much I can do with you, but I can’t do it for you. I can help you but you have to be willing to help yourselves here. “The Spirit is willing, but it lies to us to take hold of the willingness of the Spirit. The flesh is weak, but it lies to us to humbly confess our frailty and slay our pride so that our willingness can embrace the Spirit’s willingness. The weakness of the flesh is shrouded in the delusion of self made strength.

There are so many times in life where we completely miss the Spirit’s willingness because we think we have what it takes to get the job done. We become those kind of people who proudly say, “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” by which we mean, “I’m not waiting around on the Lord. I’ve got this.” These are precisely the kind of people the Lord can’t help.

This is where the Kingdom of God gets incredibly counter-intuitive. The only way we help ourselves in the Kingdom of God is reaching the end of ourselves where we can honestly say, “I can’t help myself.” Jesus put it this way, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Track carefully with me here. Our willfulness parades as our strength, but it is actually our greatest weakness. Until we can cast aside the weakness of our willfulness, we will never be able to take hold of the strength of the Spirit’s willingness.

This is why, as they say, “Pride goes before a fall.” This was the fate of Peter, James, and John; who because they were so strong in themselves they never had any idea they needed the strength of the Spirit—until it was too late.

So the Lord does help those who help themselves. . . . sort of. The Lord mightily helps those who come to the end of themselves and realize they cannot help themselves which turns out to be the most ironic twist of them all: Only those who embrace their help-less-ness (i.e. the poor in spirit) qualify for the Kingdom.


Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Show me my weakness and lead me to confess it as my strength. Melt me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me. For the glory of your name, Jesus. Amen.


It’s so easy to spot this kind of glaring weakness (the pride of one’s willfulness and strength) in others yet so hard to see it in ourselves. Why is that? Is there anyone you have given the permission to point out this kind of weakness in your life?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

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