Helplessness 8

IMG_4212I don’t mind…

…being helpless in some areas. Areas like:

  • Technology. We have three remotes for our TV. Every time I try to use them, my husband has to spend a half hour undoing the damage.
  • Noticing details. If you’d committed a crime, you’d be totally safe with me as a witness.
  • Multitasking. I can carry on a cogent and meaningful conversation. I can boil water. Just not at the same time.

I figure God has allowed these shortcomings in my life to keep me humble. Also to make other, normal people feel better about themselves.

But I do mind…

…(very much) being helpless in one area: Sin. It doesn’t sit right with me that I feel helpless to overcome it when the Bible tells me otherwise. God’s Word reassures me that I can have victory over sin; Christ lives in me so nothing can master me; a Spirit-filled life will be characterized by love, joy, and peace.

It bothers me that I can’t stop sinning. If God’s Word is true about my ability to live righteously, why did I respond with lack of grace and hurt a dear friend last week? How is it that I succumbed to self-pity because my husband couldn’t read my mind? And who exactly was it that took over the wheel of my car when I swerved around that big truck and cut in front of it in a futile effort to beat the next red light? (That truck driver, as it turns out, was the chairman of our Elders. Thank you, Cal, for responding with lighthearted humor. And please forgive me again!)

Fact is,

I sin. Worse, a lot of my sins are repeats: Ungraciousness. Selfishness. Impatience.

I claim verses like Philippians 1:6 (He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it). Or 2 Corinthians 3:18 (as a Christian I’m being transformed little by little into the image of Christ). Yet sometimes these recurring patterns of sin make me wonder about myself. And they prompt me to ask:

Can I simply will myself out of sin?

A cursory reading of Romans 7 disproves that notion: “The willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.”

But there are some things I can do:

  • I can admit my helplessness.
  • I can be glad about my helplessness. It’s what drives me to my only Help, Jesus my Rescuer.
  • I can resist the urge to minimize, marginalize, justify, or deflect the blame for my sin. I can bravely call it what it is, in all its ugliness.
  • I can let God’s grace seep into my life, even the gross places.
  • I can let His grace seep out onto others, even when I feel helpless in and of myself.
  • I can trust that God won’t give up on me.


I’ve been thinking a lot about my own sin these past few days, and I’ve been talking with Greg and with the friend I hurt. Here’s what the Lord has been showing me (partly through their insights):

Our hearts are like dirt. They can get packed down and hard. Impermeable. Unresponsive. Weed-riddled. We need the Holy Spirit to churn us up, dig some empty holes, and fill those empty places with the good nutrients of His grace. We need Him to place seedlings of patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control in the prepared soil. And then we need to wait while He brings the rain and the sun that will eventually cause those beautiful little plants to emerge and beautify their world.

This all sounds very picturesque. But how does it play out in our lives? Well, let me tell you some ways it played out in mine this past week:

  • I went for long walks, confessing my sin to God and saying things like, “Help me.” Yeah, deep theological things like that.
  • I prayed Sunday’s song lyrics from the bottom of my heart, even as I played the piano with the worship team: “Where sin runs deep, Your grace is more…”
  • I let the hard truths of God’s Word through the sermon convict and encourage me: Sin is crouching at the door, but I do not have to give in to it (not if I let God work His grace into my heart).
  • I determined to let His grace pour through me to others—through a weekend of marathon ministry and events—though I felt I had absolutely nothing to give.

Is it really that simple?

No, it’s not. I have a lifetime of being tilled and weeded ahead of me. It’s going to be excruciating at times. The bad news is I cannot make myself sinless. The good news is that the sinless Christ, the Great Gardener, is my righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). And He knows what He’s doing.

What reassures YOU?

What reassures YOU when you feel helpless about your sin? Will you share it with us, please?


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8 thoughts on “Helplessness

  • melissa stadtlander

    What beautiful hope you write and give our hearts! Thank you so much for your vulnerable and honest heart, what a blessing it is to me and I know to the others who read this blog, thank you Jeanelle. It encourages me so very much! What reassures me in my helplessness? I have thought of this very much these past few weeks especially as God has been tilling and weeding in my heart as I have intentionally prayed for my heart to stay soft, like that “healthy” dirt, so He can get every last weed out of there! His grace is what reassures me most I think, to know that His grace will never run out, it will always be enough and it is new for every time I come to Him completely helpless crying “Lord I need You, Oh I need You…”. I love the picture you gave of Him digging in my heart and filling those little holes with grace, such hope! And that asking Him to let that grace soak in so very deep filling all the spaces, so then that is what grows along with all the fruit of His spirit! Just knowing that He continues to work away in there (because I am asking Him to) even when I am not fully aware of it! Just like those little flowers we tend to, carefully watering and placing in the right places so they can grow, keeping weeds away-we do all that, slowly they grow, little by little-one day surprising us! I am waiting for that surprise. Like you said “where sin is deep, your grace is more…” I want to stay amazed at that grace, so in awe of what His grace can do for my helplessness…where would I be without it?

    • Jeanelle Reider Post author

      Melissa, your vulnerable and honest heart is a blessing to ME and others (like your worship focus a week ago Sunday–such a gift to our church family!). He is indeed pouring grace into those open and waiting spaces of your heart so beautifully, Hope-Girl! The little surprise gifts of His grace that you’ve seen in your life already bring me joy. Where would we be without His grace? “Lost in sin and darkness.” So thankful for His amazing grace; staying amazed right there.

  • Luke carter

    I wrote this about myself! No, I really didn’t but I could have. This is my picture.

    Thank you Jeanelle my friend. This is real; this is truth.

    • Jeanelle Reider Post author

      Brother Luke, thank you for being so candid. I know you to be a man who seeks after the Lord with all your heart, and obeys unflinchingly. I’m glad you and I not only can relate to the struggle with sin, but we can claim the amazing truth of His gracious work in our hearts. Thanks so much for commenting. (Am praying so very much for you and Susan—-right now, and always!)

  • Theresa

    One thing that reassures me is that I am not alone in this pit of dirt. I have the whole human race with me, around me, surrounding me. And for some reason that comforts me and helps me extend grace and forgiveness to those around me. We are all messy and messed up. God knows that I am not perfect, and He is not surprised that I am still sinning. And yet, He still loves me and slowly he works with me. Helping me confess my sinfulness, pricking my conscience, forgiving me again and again. I want to rid myself of sin quickly and almost immediately, like I might overcome a bad habit. Yet God says, I am going to give you a lifetime, and still you will not be perfected and free of sin. This keeps me humble, aware, and ever reliant on God, yet so thankful for His great mercy and grace.

    • Jeanelle Reider Post author

      Eloquently put, my friend! And you’re so right: He wants us ever humble and reliant on Him, thankful every moment for His amazing mercy and grace. It strangely reassures me, too, to know that I’m not alone in this. And that God will provide grace and mercy to help in time of need. And that He isn’t surprised–He knows it’s going to take us a lifetime! (Why is that I am surprised sometimes? What pride I can have!) I wonder if all of this was in Paul’s heart when he wrote 1 Corinthians 10:13–“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (“temptation” I’m taking to mean trials of all sorts, but sometimes appearing as temptations to sin). Thanks for your insightful words, and the thankful and humble heart that shines through.

  • Diane Page

    Oh Jeanelle, you have touched on a very sore spot for me. i seem to be asking God for forgiveness for the same thing over and over again. I have cried out to Him to forgive me for my lack of faith or whatever it is that keeps me from overcoming these particular sins. My thought has always been that we will never be perfect this side of heaven no matter how hard we try. But your word got me digging into the Word a little more and I see that in 1John 5:18 says that any anyone born of God does not continue to sin. WOW That is scary. I just know that I have felt the HUGS from Jesus when I sometimes feel like giving up. I have “Heard” Him tell me that He loves me and that He has a plan for me. Christian music, Bible reading, talking with Him or with a good Christian friend, these are the things that help me with the discouragement. I will pray for you dear friend.

    • Jeanelle Reider Post author

      Diane, thanks for your honesty. I’m so glad that you’ve felt those hugs from Jesus and that He loves you and has a plan for you. Those things you do for encouragement, those are the things I do too. As for 1 John 5:18, that’s a difficult passage to understand (as are several similar verses in the same book). I believe John is talking about a life of wanton, unrepentant sin. A life characterized by disobedience as the general rule. A life not interested in pleasing God. He takes great pains to reassure us earlier that if we do sin, we have an Advocate: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (2:1). John’s heart is to encourage those believers very dear to him to keep on living holy lives; to not give up. At the same time, he reassures them that when they do sin, God will forgive. How thankful I am for this assurance! Thanks for praying for me; I’m praying for you too.