More Teachings & Articles

The Theology of Weakness & Helplessness

Christians are taught that in difficult or impossible situations, they are to “get out of the way and let God” take over. He will do the impossible and take care of everything according to His will. As “weak and helpless sinners” we can do nothing, so we must get out of the way.

From the point of view of Scripture, what might this mean?

But before we look at Scripture, allow us to provide for you an advance preview of our conclusion. “Getting out of the way” does not always mean just sitting around helplessly waiting for God Himself to step in to take care of the situation all by Himself. In some situations it can mean denying the fears and doubts of our carnal nature, and allowing Christ in us to rise up and take bold action through us—as we will see in the Scriptures.

We see this illustrated dramatically in the life of Peter. Before he was filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he denied Jesus three times just before the Lord was crucified. Earlier he had failed to walk on water as Jesus had commanded him, instead sinking beneath the waves. He was beset by fear, doubt, and little faith. But on the Day of Pentecost after he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he preached the gospel boldly and powerfully before a crowd of Jews—and three thousand accepted Christ as Lord and Savior.

From Peter’s example, we conclude that we want our old fearful and doubting nature to “get out of the way” and “let God” move through us as we are filled and led by His Spirit. “Letting go and letting God” does not necessarily mean that we just sit down and do nothing but pray and trust God.

In Matthew 17 the disciples fail to heal an epileptic boy. When Jesus hears the news, he is very disappointed in them and rebukes them harshly.

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (Matthew 17:17-19)

Jesus clearly expected his disciples to be able to heal the boy without his coming to their rescue. Only when they failed did he step in. After they inquired of Jesus as to why they failed to drive out the demon, he gave them a very illuminating answer.

Matthew 17:20 And Jesus said to them, Because of your unbelief. For truly I say to you, If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Move from here to there. And it shall move. And nothing shall be impossible to you. (MJKV)

It was because of their unbelief and lack of faith that they failed to heal the boy. If they had faith as a mustard seed they would be able to command mountains to move, and nothing would be impossible for them. Notice that the one moving the mountains is not Jesus or God, but the disciples.

How do we obtain this kind of mountain-moving faith through which nothing shall be impossible to us?

Matthew 17:21  However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.

It is through prayer and fasting that we can develop mountain-moving faith to do the impossible. God can do the impossible through those who have mountain-moving faith.

Therefore “getting out of the way” in some situations may involve putting to death our fears and doubts and allowing the Holy Spirit in us to take over and use us to speak directly to the mountain in the name of Jesus Christ—with no doubt. And the mountain moves. In this way in some situations God uses us disciples to do the impossible.

Mark 11:23  “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.

Therefore “getting out of the way” does not always mean simply committing the situation to God and after that we back off and sit helplessly waiting for God to act. The Lord is not always pleased with such an attitude. There are times when God commands us disciples to take bold action without fear or doubt.

There are other instances of this in the New Testament.

In Matthew 14, Jesus commanded Peter to “come” onto the water from the boat and walk to him. Peter tried, but halfway there he sank beneath the waves.

Mathew 14:31  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Jesus was clearly displeased with Peter because he had commanded him and expected him to execute his command to “come” to him. Clearly Jesus did not expect Peter simply to lie back helplessly and have Jesus carry him over the water. That would only be the Lord’s second choice. Note that Peter sank because he had little faith and doubted. According to Mark 11:23, he did not have mountain-moving faith.

In Matthew 8, Jesus rebukes the disciples on the boat when, threatened by the storm, they cry out to him in fear for their lives.

Matthew 8:26  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

So what did Jesus expect his disciples to do? We submit to you that Jesus expected them to rebuke the winds and the waves instead of crying out to him in fear. (We and others have witnessed storms threatening our open-air evangelistic events retreating when we rebuke them in Jesus’ name.)

There is a clear parallel between this incident and the two earlier ones involving the failure of the disciples to heal the epileptic boy and Peter’s failure to walk on water. In all three incidents Jesus rebukes the disciples for their unbelief and little faith, that is, little mountain-moving faith. In all three instances the disciples failed to do what Jesus expected of them.

In Acts 16 Paul was annoyed by a demonized female slave as he was preaching the gospel in Macedonia.

Acts 16:17  She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18a  She kept this up for many days….

What did Paul do? Did he “let go and let God”? Did he simply commit the situation into God’s hands and do nothing after that?

Acts 16:18b  Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

After likely committing the matter to God, at some point Paul “spoke to the mountain” boldly and commanded the spirit to come out of the slave girl with mountain-moving faith and no doubt.

On another occasion in Paphos, Paul was asked to share the gospel with the Roman proconsul over the area, but was opposed by his attendant, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus. What did Paul do? Did he simply sit back and wait on God to take action of some sort?

Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. (Acts 13:9-12)

At some point during the course of this incident Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit. When God took over through His Spirit, Paul did not “get out of the way” and do nothing. Rather through the Spirit in him Paul spoke directly to the “mountain” with great boldness and confidence. And in accordance with what Paul spoke forth, Elymas immediately went blind. The “mountain moved into the sea.” Seeing this display of God’s power at work through His servant Paul, the proconsul believed in Christ.

Now there are of course occasions in which there is little action that we can take except to pray and trust God. In Acts 16 Paul and Silas were imprisoned after Paul cast the demon out of the slave girl. In jail they could do nothing but pray and sing to the Lord. It was under such a circumstance that the Lord Himself sent the earthquake which shook open the prison doors.

May we learn to discern when we should “let go” simply by backing off in quietness and trust, and when we should “let God” by allowing His Spirit to speak to the mountain through us boldly, without fear or doubt.

Paul’s Thorn & the Theology of Helplessness

From Helplessness & Defeat to Mountain-moving Faith & Victory

The Theology of Helplessness and the Paralysis of the Church

Our Ill-Equipped Missionaries