We hate those words. We might spend our time indulging in self-pity - brandishing weakness like a sick note from life - but we still hate it. No-one wants to be needy. Even the person in our churches most described as "needy" hates their neediness.
But what about our Christian lives?
Just think of the I AM statements of John:
-- Jesus is Bread - therefore we are the hungry ones, perishing without Him;
-- He is Light - therefore we are lost in darkness;
-- He is the Shepherd - so we are helpless sheep;
-- He is the Resurrection - we are spiritually dead;
-- He is the Way, Truth and Life - we are lost, ignorant, lifeless;
-- He is the Vine - apart from Him we can do nothing.
What does a healthy, mature Christian walk look like? A graduation from such desperation?
Some speak like that. I remember a few years ago preaching on Matthew 12. It's the place where Jesus is described as never breaking bruised reeds or snuffing out smouldering wicks. In commentary after commentary I read Christians who assumed that "bruised reeds" and "smouldering wicks" were a sub-category of Christian. They were the weak and sinful ones... over there. And isn’t Jesus marvellous for caring for those special-needs Christians! Bless 'em.
But just think of Jesus in Matthew's Gospel. He begins the Sermon on the Mount by defining the kind of people who belong to the kingdom: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are those who are persecuted for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is populated by weak and needy sinners. Later in Matthew 9 Jesus says “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick… I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Christians are not spiritually healthy, we are spiritually sickened by our sin. Elsewhere Jesus calls us “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Or “sheep among wolves.” That’s a very weak position to be in. Or, in Matthew 18:3 Jesus rebukes His followers for their self-importance and self-reliance and says:
“Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom.”
Christ’s Kingdom is for little ones, sick sinners who know they’re sick sinners. Poor, meek mourners – that’s Christians.
We wish Jesus spoke differently. We'd like Him to paint a picture of ‘the King with His wise courtiers.’ Or ‘the Commanding Officer with His strong soldiers.’ But while we're meant to be those things, a more pressing reality besets us. The picture Jesus paints is of a patient Saviour dealing gently with weak and pathetic followers.
Christians – those in Christ’s Kingdom – are not mighty oaks and roaring flames. Not yet anyway. We are bruised reeds and smouldering wicks. Brittle, vulnerable, ravaged by sin and suffering – that is the Christian.
Looking for strength? Don't look within. Follow the Father's advice:
"Here is my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth." (Isaiah 42:1-3)