Businessman calling for help in rowboat

The God-Help-Me Conundrum

By James E. Copple

In 1967, being new in my faith and rather naïve, I arbitrarily sent a letter to all the Nazarene Colleges in the United States (six at the time) that said the first school to offer me $600 in financial-aid would become the school of my choice. Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) was the first to respond, with exactly $600. Two weeks later, I boarded a plane in Seattle and headed to Boston, sight unseen.

The day I registered for classes, I met with the bursar, a gray-headed man and retired minister. The bursar is responsible for collecting tuition and fees, and he said, in very plain English with a New England accent: “You have $600 credit, and now, how will you pay the remaining $600?”

I threw my shoulders back; raised my head; and boldly declared: “I trusted God for the first $600, and I will trust God for the next $600.”

He looked at me, and in a calm but firm voice said, “Okay, now let’s be realistic – how are you going to pay the remaining $600 on your bill?”

Evidently, trusting God was not a realistic strategy.

I had four weeks to find the money. No miraculous envelopes. No rich patriarchs. No grace from the college. Instead, I found jobs unloading fishing boats; cleaning Filene’s Basement; doing custodial work on campus; and running errands for a rich guy on Beacon Hill. On the due-date for my final payment, I proudly walked in and handed the bursar my $600, saying: “See, I told you God would come through!” I remember walking out of his office and mumbling to myself, “Thanks, God, for your help, but could you tell me why my back is so sore and I am so tired?”

Two months later, I couldn’t afford to go home for Christmas and stayed in the dormitory by myself. Because the college had turned down the heat, I slept in my winter coat and woolen stocking cap beneath heavy blankets I stole from other rooms. The good news: Boston had two back-to-back blizzards that holiday break, and I made $1,400 shoveling snow.

At January registration, I paid tuition and fees for second semester and again said to the bursar, “God is good!” He smiled, very aware that I was the guy digging people out of a blizzard around campus, and even commented on my shovel-blistered hands. I thought to myself as I walked out of his office: “Huh, I showed that old fart – God will take care of me!”

My theological heritage emphasizes the synergistic approach to God – divine-human cooperation. We are not Calvinists who tend to emphasize Monergism – God is the active agent; we are passive vehicles for divine action; and God alone is at work.

I have prayed for God to help us in the recent turmoil of hurricanes, flood, fire, and threats of war and have found some comfort in social-media declarations that say: “Fear not!”

“God is in charge!”

“This too will pass.”

As comforting as those words may be, they also can become platitudes for resignation or an excuse to do nothing; and for accepting outcomes that border on apathy.

Perhaps, it was those cold days in 1967 that convinced me trusting God also means getting off my backside and getting to work. Paying the bill requires obedience and discipline, showing up and putting one’s shoulder to the plow. Bring your muscle, your brain, and your heart to the causes that would threaten humanity and your community.

Obedience comes from the Latin word, Obedare – hearing with an impulse to act, and trusting God means getting off that backside and getting to work. I have a plaque in my boat that reads, “Pray toward heaven but row toward shore.”

God is waiting for us to both trust Him and help ourselves, so don’t wait for God to starting rowing!

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