Have you ever heard the phrase, “God helps those that help themselves”? It’s the belief underpinning the Protestant work ethic, and I think a lot of us believe it without question. For that matter, even many non-Christians act as though this belief is their driver; maybe something like, “If I don’t help myself, who will?”
In 2019, a famous study estimated that the self-improvement in the U.S. grew about 18% between 2016 and 2018. They predict that the market for self-improvement products and services would reach $13.9 billion by 2023. Think about your social media feeds or the ads you encounter on YouTube or your favorite podcasts. How many ads are about Masterclasses, weight loss, fancy skin care, or online college degrees? How many of your friends are consultants for Rodan + Fields, Beachbody, or Avon? Don’t get me wrong, I think personal growth is important, and there’s nothing wrong with learning more, getting healthier, or looking your best. But I also know that depression and anxiety in our society are at an all-time high. The “band-aid” of self help doesn’t seem to be helping…
The song “Praise You in this Storm” by Casting Crowns features a very popular Bible passage – :
I lift up my eyes to the [hills]—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.Psalm 121:1-2, NIV
I encourage you to go read the entire Psalm; it’s a beautiful declaration of God’s provision and protection. For now, though, contrast this passage to the old Protestant phrase, “God helps those that help themselves.” Clearly, they are at odds. Think about all of the people Jesus healed or helped during His three-year ministry. How many of the people He helped had the ability to help themselves? Few, if any. They cried out to Him because they had tried everything else and were still sick, or blind, or hurting.
Anecdotally, I know a lot of people who say that they have been caught in a situation and tried everything until they finally gave up, fell face down on the ground, and cried out to God. Then God picked them up, dusted them off, and began working miracles. Biblically, there are plenty of examples of God rescuing those who cry out to Him, but only after they went through a world of hurt doing things their own way. Consider Jonah – God said “Go,” Jonah said, “No,” Jonah got thrown off a ship and swallowed by a fish. Jonah said, “Help,” God said, “Yes,” and God worked miracles in both his life and those of an entire city.
My own testimony is very much rooted in the desperate cry. After eleven years as an atheist, I was crying out, “God, I don’t believe in You, but if you’re there, please don’t let me wake up tomorrow.” He didn’t give me what I asked for, but He did release me from the circumstances that were causing my despair. The miracles He’s worked in my life since then are nothing short of astonishing.
Jurie had powerful things to say about success on Sunday. Here are a few gems:
Why does God often wait to help us until we’re at the end of our rope? Why must we often cry out to God for Him to step in with a rescue? I believe this is one of God’s primary ways of disciplining His children. Frankly, it is better for us to be found at rock bottom, fully humbled, and crying out to God than to be CEOs of Fortune 500 companies under our own power. “Oh, but think of how much good I could do with that kind of money!” you might say. That is correct. If it is God’s will that you become CEO of a Fortune 500 company so that you can make lots of money to serve Him with, and if you rely on Him to get there, then that’s where you’ll be.
We’re being really counter-cultural here. We worship the self-made man. But if you can and do rely on yourself for all of your earthly successes, why would you choose to rely on God for your eternal success – life everlasting? Furthermore, the level of anxiety a person feels when “it’s all on them,” vs. the peace that comes from “letting go and letting God” take care of them, makes our need for reliance on God a no-brainer. We hear, “work smarter not harder” all the time. Usually, people mean “get organized,” or “make a plan,” or “choose a more efficient method.” But I’m here to tell you that the best organization, plan, or method that comes from human effort doesn’t come anywhere close to those things when they come from the mind of God. I mean… you might be a very creative person, but could you have planned out the internal workings of the entire universe?
Take a moment now and think about your problems. You may be very successful and have things pretty well figured out, so the problems you come up with might be as small as finding time to go get your car inspected, or whether to wear your pj’s to work tomorrow. Or your problems may be as big as, how will we have enough to eat tomorrow?” Whatever your problems are, position yourself in humility toward God, pray to Him with expectation, and respond to Him reverently and patiently as He works the miracles needed to sustain you today. Talk to Him; he’s your friend. And listen, too. Just try it and see what happens!
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