I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” (Isa. 41:13)

We want to believe it.

We want to believe that the Lord is there, willing to grasp our right hand; but mostly, we don’t rely upon it.

And that’s odd because, if you only remember yesterday’s invitation from Christ to join ourselves to his yoke, we can see that this is a consistent message: “I will help you.”

And this has been true since the earliest days: He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed (Deut. 31:8).

And: I will not leave you or forsake you (Josh. 1:5).

And: Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7).

Jesus’ great discourse at the Last Supper is one reassurance after another that we are not alone, never abandoned.

Then why does it feel, so often, as though we are?

Well, we’re human. In the Nicene Creed we acknowledge “things visible and invisible” but our humanity first seeks what is visible. In times of trouble we turn first to what is “there”—a friend, a co-worker, people on social media. We turn to the self-help books, and counselors, and then, when we find no deliverance amid the “visible,” we finally seek out the invisible. We turn to God and it’s, “Where are you?” and “Fix this, please!” When the assist is not readily apparent, it’s “Why don’t you answer?”

Eventually, we stop asking God for help, because that doesn’t seem to work, so we retrace all the “visible” avenues that seem more “real” than God.

That suits our human thinking, especially in the West, where we have internalized the notion that we are the engineers of our own solutions because “God helps those who help themselves.”

Except, you know, those words never appear in Scripture. God never told us that.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

The phrase is disorienting, in precisely the way the prince of the world likes to confuse. The words get us thinking that if we are not taking action, doing for ourselves, God will do nothing for us.

Yes, action must be taken in life. We have to make a move in the right direction, but first should come discernment, so that we may know what direction that is.

We learned this on the first Saturday of Advent. The message is consistent. Read Scripture and the lives of the saints and you will see. It’s all true. Action that follows prayerful discernment becomes a cooperation with grace and goodness.

When we are in need, suffering in any manner, our very first action should be toward the invisible—calling out to God, asking for help, clarity, wisdom, the strong assist. There is an internet meme floating around with a quote attributed to St. Teresa of Avila: “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.”  I don’t know whether she actually said that (internet memes are unhelpfully vague on sources) but it does sound like her, and either way, the sentiment is on point; we honor God in this way, by believing his promise to us.

Then the direction will come, and it always does come, if we remain alert. It may appear in an unexpected conversation, a road sign, a song on the radio, or something we find in a closet while looking for something else.

See, that’s the way we “help ourselves”—by first calling upon the Lord for his help, and believing his promise that he will come. He does come, always.

Come, Lord Jesus, into my worldly doubt and distraction. Let the angel who stands before your throne and at your manger be the steady promptor reminding me to first look to you for help, before any other. May I grow more attentive, that I may better see your workings within my life, that my dependence and my faith may flourish and give testimony to the world that you are always faithful. I will fear not, because you are with me. Amen.