I attended a Christian secondary school that was guided by Christian values. In order to give us extra motivation to hit the books, our teachers would sometimes remind us about the “most famous” verse in the Bible – “God helps those who help themselves”. In other words, they were telling us: Don’t laze around thinking that you can call on God to rescue you from the just desserts of your laziness!
The spirit behind my teachers’ exhortation was correct. The only problem is that the verse does not exist in Scripture!
God’s people intuitively know that the Bible does not sanction laziness. But we sometimes get confused when we try to square our hard work with the Biblical truth that God helps us and acts on our behalf, and that we simply need to trust Him. How can we better understand the tension between working hard and trusting fully in God who is at work to help us?
Here are two quick thoughts.
1. God helps the helpless
It is certainly not the case that God only helps us if we have done something to help ourselves. In God’s great story, time and time again God delivers His people and saves them precisely because they cannot help themselves. When Israel, the chosen people of God, were oppressed by foreign powers and could do nothing to get out of their predicament, they groaned to God. He heard their cries and sent them help (read the stories of the judges and the exodus from Egypt, e.g. Judges 2:10-19; Exodus 2:23-24). The ultimate help and rescue that God has provided us comes in the shape of the cross of Calvary. The book of Romans tells us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Christ came to conquer the power of sin and death on our behalf, when we had absolutely no power to do that for ourselves!
The message that God helps the helpless is the central message of the good news of Christianity.
2. God’s help doesn’t make us helpless
Now before you think I’m contradicting myself here, let me clarify. When I say that we are not helpless, I mean that God’s action does not leave us resigned to fatalism. Fatalistic thinking goes something like this: Since only God can act and only God’s action is effective, it does not matter what I do. On the contrary, our active response to God matters a great deal. James 2:17-18, for instance, tells us that if we truly believe God and accept what He has done on our behalf, we will engage in right behaviour toward God and other people.
We are also not helpless in the sense that God’s help does not give us an excuse for laziness. We cannot maintain that since God is going to help us anyway, we could just sit back, take it easy and coast along. In a dramatic Biblical narrative, the prophet Samuel had gathered the Israelites to worship God and commit themselves to Him when, suddenly, their great enemy, the Philistines attacked with overwhelming force. God miraculously rescued the Israelites by sending extreme weather that sent the Philistines into a great panic (1 Samuel 7:10). However, the Israelites still had to do the hard work of engaging in battle (1 Samuel 7:11)! They still had an important part to play.
How then do we respond to God’s help?
We respond by fully trusting in God’s help and doing our best in what He has called us to. Responsible actions are not a negation of trust in God for help, but rather an expression of the fact that we are leaning on God. Faith in God does not stand in opposition to work; rather, it is the origin of all work that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6).
As we work for God and His purposes, we need to learn to turn to God in prayer for His help – not as our last resort after we have exhausted all our resources and solutions – but as our first recourse! For example, in difficult parenting situations, let us first cry out to God for His help, intervention, love and wisdom. In work crises, let us first call out to God who provides us the grace and peace we need and every spiritual resource for godliness and fruitfulness (2 Peter 1:2-8).
Dear readers, perhaps today you are in a life situation which makes it clear that you need divine intervention. Perhaps you are wondering who God is or whether He will help you. I strongly encourage you to simply call out to God today and ask for His help in your situation, whatever it may be. For “the Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18).
Written by Ben Sun
For further exploration in order to know the God who helps us, please check out the following resources.
“My Hope”, performed by Paul Baloche and Kathryn Scott: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuKY8G9i64w
“God Will Make a Way”, by Don Moen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rSWXf2Y4z0
“He Will Carry You”, by Scott Wesley Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YfciAgsZFE
“O God, Our Help in Ages Past”, a classic hymn performed by Reawaken: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuT6a5HRLo0
“The Battle Belongs to the Lord”, by Rev Edmund Chan: https://sermonresources.cefc.org.sg/file/1545
“Help in Times of Trial”, by Rev Tan Kay Kiong: https://sermonresources.cefc.org.sg/file/814
“Praying Our Fears”, by Rev Dr Timothy Keller: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8tdA8YMOYM
“The Help of God in Every Step”, by Donald Macleod:
(Theologian Donald Macleod writes about the Holy Spirit being the divine Helper of God’s people.)
“Faith and Works”, by Dr Thomas Schreiner:
(New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner talks about the relationship between having faith in God’s work and doing the work He calls us to.)