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The Holy Spirit is our helper, not our substitute

The Bible is full of word pictures – marvelous works of grammatical artistry which open up new vistas of spiritual understanding. One such picture is Parakletos, the term Jesus used to describe the person of the Holy Spirit.

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another helper, that he may abide with you forever … It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send him to you” (John 14:16; 16:7).

Parakletos, translated “helper”, denotes one who is called to another’s side to aid him, such as an attorney in a court of law. In classical Greek, parakletos was essentially a legal term that signified an advocate who argued another’s case and championed another’s cause. The later, Hellenistic use of parakletos, to denote the act of consoling, gave rise to the rather unfortunate rendering “comforter” in the King James Version of the New Testament.

In his commentary on the New Testament, Bishop J. B. Lightfoot observes that the Holy Spirit is represented as our advocate or counsel, “who suggests true reasonings to our minds, and true courses of action for our lives, who convicts our adversary, the world, of wrong, and pleads our cause before God our Father.”

Thus, the Holy Spirit is depicted as a highly skilled and experienced advocate who stands alongside you during your hour of trial and temptation; He counsels you out of his vast repository of wisdom and knowledge; He calms you when you are under pressure; He steadies you when you are thrown off balance; He encourages you to persevere and strengthens your resolve to overcome.

However, it’s important to understand that the Holy Spirit comes alongside to assist you, not replace you. He is your helper, not your substitute. There is no tag-team or interchange system in the journey of life. It’s your life and you can’t expect God or anyone else to live it for you!

The heavenly weight-lifter

In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul paints another word picture of the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses; for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27).

In this passage Paul describes our struggle to know what to pray for, and indeed, to grasp the magnitude of God’s eternal purpose. The “weaknesses” he refers to are not physical ailments, but rather, human limitations – the limitations of mind and body. However, the Holy Spirit helps us overcome the limitations of the flesh by strengthening us with might in the inner man. He lifts us into a realm where all things are possible through faith in God.

The Greek word sunantilambano, translated “help” means to take hold with at the side for assistance. The word speaks of the action of a person coming to another’s aid by taking hold over against that person, of the load he is carrying. The person helping does not take the entire load, but helps the other person in his endeavour.

Imagine for a moment that you are landscaping your garden. You’ve had some boulders delivered and are in the process of arranging them in position around the shrubs and flowers. However, when you try to move one of the boulders you discover that it weighs considerably more than you, and as a result, you don’t have the leverage to manoeuvre it. As you sweat and strain and worry, you suddenly hear a voice beside you saying, “Can I help you?”

Looking up you notice a strong, muscular, athletic individual. He reaches down, takes hold of one side of the boulder and together with you moves it into position. You’re no longer struggling on your own. You’re part of a team. Now you have a much stronger, much wiser, much more experienced partner helping you achieve your goals!

You might be tempted to look at this powerful individual and say, “Mate, you can do this all on your own. I’m going inside to make a cup of tea.” But his response would be, “I’m more than happy to help you, but I’m not prepared to do it for you.” And so it is with the Holy Spirit: He might be “Mr Universe”, and you might be “Mr Punyverse”, yet even so, He’s not going to do it all on his own. I repeat, He’s your helper, not your substitute.

From learned helplessness to self-reliance

In his ground-breaking book Learned Optimism, Dr Martin Seligman discusses a phenomenon called “learned helplessness”, a condition in which a person continues to behave helplessly even when the opportunity is available for that person to help themselves by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which they have been subjected. Learned helplessness is the result of habitual pessimism and deeply ingrained defeatism – the belief that “I’ll never win … there’s nothing I can do … I might as well give up.”

Learned helplessness is the polar opposite of self-reliance – the belief that “there’s a solution to every problem … I’ll find a way if I’m committed … all the resources I need are within me.”

It seems to me that there is a culture of learned helplessness in the church that masquerades as faith in God. All too often people’s sense of inferiority and inadequacy is reinforced by sermons that tell them how weak and worthless they are ... the implication that the only option available is to throw up their hands in despair and cry out to God for mercy.

Interestingly enough, when the disciples took that route and panicked in the midst of the storm, Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief! Whilst the plea, “Lord save us!” may appear to be commendable, Jesus retorted “Where is your faith?” In other words, “It’s about time you boys grew up and stood on your own feet and used the power I’ve given you!” (Matt. 8:23-27). Or to put it another way, “Don’t capitulate to the circumstances and cry out to me as though you were helpless, and call it faith!”

When the children of Israel cried out to the Lord on the banks of the Red Sea, He put the responsibility back on Moses by asking, “What is in your hand?” God wanted Moses to focus on the power he had been given and begin to use it. God’s intention is that we should become mature sons and daughters – self-actualized, God-realized human beings. And to this end He speaks to us as a Father, challenging us to break out of our perceived helplessness and utilize the resources He has placed at our disposal.

We have developed, even encouraged, a culture of “false dependence” on the Lord, which doesn’t honour him or serve his purposes. We have conditioned people to always look outward, reaching up and calling out, all the while ignoring the treasure of the Spirit that is within these earthen vessels. It’s true that apart from him we can do nothing, but the fact is, we aren’t apart from him – we are in him and he is in us.

Look to the Helper! He wants to come alongside and take hold together with you of the problem/opportunity that confronts you. He will help you, encourage you, advise you, inspire you, and strengthen you ... but he will not do the job for you. He will not do for you what you alone can do for yourself. To do so would be to short circuit the developmental process and forever consign you to immaturity and mediocrity.

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