Does God Help Those Who Help Themselves?
They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28–29)
But we have our own ways of getting his work done that lets us feel better our own ability, power, and plans. The following excerpts from his article, “The Propaganda of Willfulness,” by the late Gerald May, shed light on how we skirt the command to trust God completely and, instead, help him out a bit.
May writes, My least favorite saying is “God helps those who help themselves,”…my mother used it on me when she thought I was being lazy. I can’t get away from it; it is likely the best-known adage in the English-speaking world. A poll reports that 82% of Americans believe it comes from the Bible.
But the Bible says nothing of the sort. If anything, the Bible maintains that God especially helps those who cannot help themselves.
The same philosophy has been infecting spiritual communities for at least four centuries. You may have heard it: “Pray as though everything depended on God and act as though everything depended on you.”
This version troubles me even more than the simpler form. It appears to encourage prayer and intimacy with God, but before you know it, it tells you to act as though God weren’t in the picture at all. Yet people continue to quote it without question, as if Jesus himself had said it.
They reject Jesus’s exhortations to trust God completely. They maintain that you can’t expect God to just bless you with gifts; you have to make things happen instead.
They would have you believe that Jesus was just exaggerating when he spoke about the lilies of the field, and that he was simply mistaken when he said Mary, not Martha, had chosen the one thing necessary.
Why are such twisted distortions so uncritically accepted? I think such sayings are popular because they rationalize our mistrust of God and our subsequent desire to master our own destinies.
These sayings justify our desire to have our spiritual cake and eat it, too. We want to consider ourselves faith-filled, but we are terrified of actually letting go and letting God.
We pray about decisions, but we feel we must also have logical justification for everything we do. We seek God’s guidance, but we are also compelled to look like we’re using our heads. We want to give our hearts to God, but never so completely that we might appear foolish.
But the Gospel is foolish. It’s downright ridiculous. The Good News is just too good to be true, and it demands nothing less than everything.
If we are honest, we don’t need fraudulent aphorisms to rationalize that the Gospel is too much for us. Instead, let us just admit that we cannot accomplish our own faith. We cannot help ourselves, not where it counts the most. We need God’s grace even to trust God’s grace.
And much as our willful-ness might want to deny it, God is far too intimate and loving for us to utter a single silly word about how to pray or who God does or doesn’t help. (Thank you, Gerald! Complete article at www.shalem.org.)
Need a prayer? This is: The One!
My friend, the late Tom Flanagan of Chowchilla, called it the “Perfect Prayer.” Jesus himself taught it saying, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’” (Matthew 6:9–13)
We call it the “” or the “Our Father.” It addresses several realms of hope, help, and healing, as follows.
- Our Father who art in heaven. Jesus gives us his own father to be Our Father. Then the Holy Spirit teaches us to call him, “Abba! Father” with childlike boldness and intimacy. (Romans 8:15) “Heaven” is plural, “the Heavenlies,” in the original Greek. “Our Father” is not just way up in the third heaven on his throne; but in the second heaven, outer space; and in our heavens where the birds fly.
- Hallowed be your name. We are not praying for our name to be hallowed. We are becoming increasingly less concerned with our name. We embrace Jesus’ saying: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11) We want the name of the Lord to be exalted no matter what anyone thinks of us.
- Your kingdom come. Rather than seeking our own kingdom, with its power and possessions, we wave the white flag, lower our private castle draw bridge, and let the Lord’s kingdom come in.
- Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus himself prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but your be done.” He surrendered his own will and went forward as a victor rather than as a victim. We can too.
- Give us this day our daily bread. This is a great prayer for workaholics and anxiety addicts. Not emphasizing itself to self-sufficient accumulation, storage, and savings plans, it call us into a daily asking, watching and waiting for Our Father’s providential provision. It calls us to look and listen for the works he as planned in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
- Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Our Father’s daily giving frees us up for constant forgiving. He calls us into freedom from judging and holding bitter grudges against Our Father himself, or others, or against ourselves. We get better at “making direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” (AA Step 9)
- “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The Bible says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) We need Our Father for these victories. “Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.’” (2 Chronicles 20:15)
Giv‘m, Our Father in the Heavens!”—John
John Parker encourages those who are eager to participate in spiritual-family-style small groups. He helps to facilitate Connections Simple Church of Chowchilla 10 AM Sundays at Carty Center, 609 W. Robertson Blvd. Contact John at (209) 564-7201.
Don’t miss a chapter of John’s new book-in-the-making.
Subscribe at MaryMarthaBook.com It’s about recovering from workaholicism and anxiety! Based on Luke 10:38-42.
Enemies may Accumulate! But You Win!
“Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.” So says, satirist writer, Arthur Bloch.
“Enemies accumulate,” is the funny part. Sometimes, as we get older, it sure seems that way.
Our physical friends: strength, looks, health and youth go and the enemies of weakness, wrinkles, and age come to stay.
Our relationship friends: marriages, families, children, and actual friends, go. They grow up, move on, pass away, or replace us. Enemies of loneliness, rejection, and sorrow come knocking.
Our location friends: neighborhoods, workplaces, towns, and groups go. The enemies of unfamiliar settings and situations show up.
That “enemies accumulate” laughter leaves us a bit nervous and exposed. Life is rushing on. Losing our gains, we wrestle with feeling disappointed, disillusioned and even disgruntled.
“There are no U-Haul trailers behind hearses!” Another dark joke that gets us to laugh. We all know we “can’t take it with us” but, still, it’s hard to face sometimes. We see former things passing away. The new is becoming more of an enemy than a friend.
The Men’s Wearhouse TV ads a few years back always closed with founder, George Zimmer, looking us in the eye and declaring: “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.”
His “I” with the word “guarantee” personally and powerfully assured us that George would stand behind his men’s clothing products. It was reassuring.
God gives reassuring “I” messages to us as well. He guarantees, “I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (Isaiah 46:3–4) And, “I have chosen you and will not throw you away. Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:9–10, NLT)
Thankfully, God outdoes George. He guarantees, I’ve got you through your old age when those silly enemies start their yip-yapping!
King David testifies with an old age “I” message we can use too. He declares, “Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.” (Psalm 37:25, NLT)
Paul the apostle gives us an old age “I” message too. As a weak, old man in prison awaiting execution by the Roman Emperor Nero (great retirement!) Paul asserts, “I am suffering here in prison, but I am not ashamed of it. For I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (2 Timothy 1:12, NLT)
Do you have enemies accumulating? Follow God, David, Paul, and George by declaring “I” messages about your faith out loud and on purpose. Look those enemies in the eye and declare something like, “ I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.”
It works, I guarantee it!
“Giv’m heaven!”— John Parker
FAILURE, FRUSTRATION, CATASTROPHE! Your Keys to Success!
Failure, frustration and catastrophe are not part of our youthful dreams. No one dreams of someday getting a divorce; losing a job, career, or business; of bankruptcy or home foreclosure; or of death prematurely stealing a loved one.
When such failures, frustrations and catastrophes occur it’s easy to feel like a failure and not a success. That’s why Sumner Redstone’s quote is encouraging. The 93 year old media mogul declares, “Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes its built on catastrophe.”
We smile at that, and think, maybe we can be successful too, in spite of all the junk we’ve been through! We smile even more when we realize that it’s the successful person’s ability to endure through failure, frustration and catastrophe that inspires.
Jesus is the King of Success! Did his life include failure, frustration, and catastrophe? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Jesus failed. He was not able to do many powerful works in his own hometown. The locals knew him too well. Jesus explains, “It’s in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own household that a prophet (person of God) is not received.” (Mark 6:5)
Jesus got frustrated. As he rides a donkey down the hill toward Jerusalem the crowd gets loud, shouting joyful praises implying that he is the promised Messiah.
Offended, religious leaders tell Jesus to control his fans. Jesus responds that, if he stops their cheering, the rocks will starting cry out for him instead.
It was then that frustration’s waves overwhelm Jesus. Gazing across the Kedron Valley at the Holy City tears start rolling down his face and he cries out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks but you would not let me do it.”
Like Jesus, when we try, and try, and try again and discover we can’t make things happen we get frustrated as well. When we see Jesus going through what we go through we experience what the Bible calls “the fellowship of his sufferings,” and we are drawn closer to him.
Jesus experienced catastrophe. That’s when everything falls apart beyond words and explanation.
Jesus’ catastrophe occurred on the cross. As his earthly life is bled and ripped away, he cries out, “Eli! Eli! Lama sabachthani!” meaning, “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?”
No one understands what he was saying. Most think he is crying out for the prophet Elijah to come and save him, or that he is thirsty, but they are wrong.
It’s catastrophic! Jesus the so-called Son of God, Son of David, and Messiah, endures the darkest depths of eternal hell as he cries out, “Why God? Why?” Torn away from direct communication with his true, eternal Father, he becomes sin for us. Earth quakes! Splitting rocks cry out! Hades rages!
And now, 2000 years later, we see Jesus, who, having endured the failure, frustration and catastrophe, now sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God, the true King of Success!
And we know that as we join with him, success is ours in spite of earthly failure, frustration, and catastrophe. “As we suffer with him we shall also reign with him!” Amen!
John Parker pastors toward less formal more relational ways of being the Christian church. Locally, John facilitates Connections Simple Church 10 AM Sundays at Carty Center, 609 W. Robertson Blvd. Contact: email@example.com, or at (209) 564-7201.
John's Book: Chap.1. “And he fell among robbers…” Luke 10:30
Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus a
Story about Neighbors and Anxiety
Chapter 1 by John Parker
“And he fell among robbers…” Luke 10:30
Seeing the man half-dead alongside the road and hearing his blood scream from the ground, “Murder! Robbery! Evil!” the startled Samaritan stirs with compassion. He becomes the neighbor when he steps toward the fallen one.
The priest is a non-neighbor. He is passing by on the other side. Nothing to see here. Got things to do. Systems of schooling, scholarship, standing, status, and strength swept compassion away long, long ago.
The man of well-born religious tribe is also a non-neighbor. He too is passing by on the other side. Nothing to feel here. Not my problem. Things to do. Places to go. Duty calls. No looking back.
The Samaritan is becoming the neighbor. While arriving as the other two did, at the same place on that road, for him everything is different.
He sees. He feels. He acts. He heals. Touching the bloody human, binding up the wounds, pouring his own precious oil and wine into the stranger’s pain – love is happening. Professional plans step aside. Personal safety waits in line. Generosity and patience ascend. Time is lavished on the broken vessel.
Lifting the dirty, beaten, bloody stranger onto his own animal this half-breed, despised, Samaritan leads a triumphal procession of his own along the road to an inn somewhere. And – since there are no shouting children singing praises – the rocks cry out to heaven in songs only angels hear, “Hosanna in the Highest! And on earth, Peace and Goodwill.”
The Samaritan continues to concern himself with the helpless man. Concern. Not anxiety. No worry. His calm, non-anxious, presence carefully tends to the messy man.
Did the Samaritan know the innkeeper? Did the innkeeper know him? Some how a deal was struck – all on behalf of the wounded, robbed, forsaken neighbor. “All expenses paid when I return!”
“Deal!” Agrees the trusting innkeeper.
“Which of the three,” Jesus asks, “do you think showed that he had become and continued to be a neighbor to the man who had fallen among robbers?”
“The man who showed mercy!”
“Yes! Now go and do that too!” Jesus said.
That’s the way it is.
Everyone falls among robbers. Everyone get beaten, stripped, robbed and left half-dead.
Everyone has a neighbor. Everyone gets to be a neighbor. Jesus calls love the greatest commandment: Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbor. It is the command commanding all commandments!
This is a story about loving our neighbors – seeing one and being one – as we are going along the way.
I see you. I am stopping. I am binding your wounds. I am pouring in oil and wine. I am lifting you up to go on a ride with me on this dear beast named, My Life, to the inn that has room for you.
You can simply – Rest. Wonder. Grieve. Hope. Rage. Remember. Forget. Listen for love. It is here with you now. Receive. Believe. Life Lives!
Copyright © 2017 by John Parker