Put “self-help” into Amazon’s search engine, and you get 259,852 books.
The Bible is not on that list. If anything, the Bible is an “I can’t help myself” book.
“God helps those who help themselves” isn’t in the Bible. But I’m sure you’ve heard it. If you saw the original “Poseidon Adventure,” you heard Gene Hackman preach it as the gung-ho reverend. Hackman’s “Reverend Scott” got his small band of survivors to the surface, but “God helps those who help themselves” will not get you far as a Christian.
Being a Christian is really acknowledging that we CAN’T help our selves:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:6,8
There’s nothing we can do to save ourselves. It’s only by realizing our powerlessness that we can fully grab hold of the cross. God invites us to let go of everything that keeps us from fully embracing the cross; for most of us the last grip we release is the one on ourselves.
When I was trained as a lifeguard years ago, we were warned that often someone we would try to rescue would fight against us. We were taught not to struggle with them, but back off and wait until they exhausted themselves and realized their helplessness. Then we could grab them and pull them to safety.
In our attempt to rescue ourselves spiritually, we often flail around trying to do it ourselves, fighting against God, who desires nothing more than to free us from sin and death. When we surrender, God rescues us completely, without any effort on our part.
The problem with “God helps those who help themselves” is that it gets the basic order of things wrong. God always moves first; God always comes to us. Everything positive that we do is in response to what God has already done.
This was one of the hardest things for me to grasp when I was making the transition from UnChristian to Christian. Even as I began to believe the truth of the Gospel message, I didn’t want to totally give up control. I had always been taught to “be your man” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
I wanted to believe that I had found God, rather than the other way around. But the reality is that God found me; in fact, God was always there. It was me that was lost, not God. (Which is why “I found Jesus” could be another entry in the Bad Bumper Sticker series.)
Could you imagine how much stress we could avoid if we stopped trusting in ourselves and started really putting our trust in God? If we stopped trying so hard to help ourselves and surrender to the infinite love, power, and knowledge of the One who made us and who redeems us?
So let’s throw out the bumper sticker with “God helps those who help themselves.” I’m not sure what we’d replace it with . . . maybe Proverbs 28:26?
He who trusts in himself is a fool.
Maybe not. How about this?