Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone... Galatians 6:10
Being a helpful friend is different than simply being a nice person. If you are on the side of the road in a broken-down car, would you rather someone drive by and shout, "I'm sorry that happened to you!" or pull over and help you fix it? Which one is helpful? Help is often the physical form of encouragement. To be helpful to one another, we must get into the habit of putting actions behind even our kindest words. James, in the Bible, put it this way: Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15,16)
To become more helpful, first establish yourself as someone who is reliable. If you get a group text saying that your friend needs help moving, don't assume the others will do it and avoid replying. Give a reason you won't be available or agree to be there. Put it on your calendar so you won't accidentally schedule something on top of it and be tempted to back out later. Initiate a call to your friend in the next few days to confirm the time you should arrive on moving day. If you offer help, make sure you provide help.
Second, being helpful is about becoming observant because asking for help, even when they really need it, is difficult for many people. Have you noticed that when you ask, "Is there anything you need?" most people will say no, even if you know them very well? This question is too broad. Notice that if someone asks you, what the best thing is that you've ever eaten, you may struggle to find an answer! But most of us can remember the best thing we've eaten in the past month. Also, some people are embarrassed to state specific needs they have because they worry that they're imposing on their friends or that they’ll appear incapable of providing for themselves.
We can spare a friend from feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by identifying their specific needs on our own and simply meeting those needs. Instead of saying, "is there anything you need", try saying, "I am bringing you dinner. Is 6pm a good time?" Or, "Can I babysit your kids on Friday evening?" If you see that a friend could use help, but you don't know how you can help them, stay as specific as possible. "It sounds like you have a big job to do on Wednesday afternoon. I have an hour of free time. What could I do that would be useful to you?"
Third, being helpful is about using your resources creatively. Once you've practiced being reliable and observant, you'll never run out of opportunities to help. If you can't give money, give your time. If you can't move heavy furniture, wash the windows. If you can't offer someone a job, be proactive about sending links to job listings you come across. If you can't be personally helpful, do whatever you can to connect your friend with someone who can help.
Not all needs are drastic. The apostle Paul was blunt in his letter to the Galatian church about helping others. "If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important" (Galatians 6:3). Is your host starting on a mountain of dirty dishes? Don’t ask if they want help; just start helping. You are not too important for dirty dishes. Whenever you see work to be done, don’t let someone else do it alone. Before long, you will be putting your faith into action and you will be known as a helpful friend.
Resource reading: Galatians 6:2-10