Self-help Part 1 – God helps those who help themselves

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“God helps those who help themselves”

I trust many of us have heard this saying, and probably use it subconsciously or deliberately as a life principle. I have been thinking about it a bit more critically as despite popular belief it is not a quote from the Bible yet  it is often thrown around in Christian forums as if it was the word of God itself!

First, the extreme interpretations:

Extreme 1:

God won’t help you if you don’t help yourself first.

I believe this is directly contradictory to Scripture, especially the gospel of grace (unmeritted favour from God). We do not have to perform tasks to earn credit in God’s bank of blessings and help.

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.
However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly,
their faith is credited as righteousness.- Romans 4:4-5 

Moreover, as believers, we should trust that God will help us at the times when we cannot help ourselves (which is all the time).

But he said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, 
for my power is made perfect in weakness.”…
– 2 Corinthians 12:9

For example, when the 75 year old impotent Abram was told he would be a father of nations, his barren wife Sarai did not believe she would be the mother of these nations but she did believe God’s promise. So she set out to “help God”.

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.
But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar;
so she said to Abram,
“The Lord has kept me from having children.
Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
– Genesis 16:1-2

In the end, many years later, Genesis chapter 21 says

 Now the Lord was GRACIOUS to Sarah as he had said,
and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.
– Genesis 21:1 (emphasis mine).

God’s grace, not Sarah’s scheming, helped Sarah! God did not help Sarah because she “helped herself”, He helped her despite helping herself!

Lastly, we cannot really help ourselves without God enabling us. This is explicit in the gospel message from John.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.
If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; 
apart from me you can do nothing.
– John 15:5 (emphasis mine)

English: "A Helping Hand". 1881 pain...

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Extreme 2:

Helping yourself is ungodly and we should sit back and wait on God.

 I believe that this is also contradictory to the Word; Specifically, the “sitting back”, not the “waiting”. There is merit in waiting on God. There are many scriptural references to patience but the one that comes to mind is:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
– James 1:2-4

Patience is important for our maturity. It takes a really mature and humble person to truly believe that “God’s timing is better than mine” (*my struggle*) and to wait expectantly.

On the other hand, there is no merit in doing nothing at all while waiting. Think of a good waiter in a restaurant.

While he is waiting for your order, he busies himself serving other customers (blessing others), maybe he’ll pour you a glass of water (service) or converse with you about the options (prayer) until you finally at the right time place your order (God’s order in your life). A waiter who disappears in the back for a smoke break will probably miss when you are ready to order, but a waiter who genuinely serves well and expects your order, will be ready for that order… and may even get an unexpected tip!

A Waitress taking a breakfast order at Kahala ...

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So we’ve dealt with the extremes of the quote “God helps those who help themselves”. We’ve found that we should not and cannot truly help ourselves without God; neither should we sit back and do nothing. While waiting, we should pray and serve God and others genuinely. Though it leaves to be explored how do we know what actions we should take, which I’ll discuss in Part 2!

Thinking about the extremes, though, has inspired me to modify the quote:

“God helps us TO help ourselves!”

Have a great day,

Angie

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