I’m sure you’ve heard the popular saying that “God helps those who help themselves.” But is it true? Can we even find it in the Bible? A survey by the Barna Group found that 75% of Americans think this proverb originates in God’s Word, including 68% of born-again believers (1). They will be surprised to find out that this phrase actually comes from ancient Greece, and is reflected in several Greek tragedies, as well as a fable by Aesop.
Is there no truth to the saying whatsoever? We usually understand it to mean that God helps those who are self-reliant, strong, and hard-working. But this goes against the Biblical message. God certainly encourages hard work, but it’s never a requirement for divine assistance. As to self-reliance and strength, the opposite is actually true. The more we rely on ourselves and our own abilities, the less God is able to help us. The stronger we try to be in our own strength, the less we can benefit from God’s.
I can imagine a question is forming in your mind: “Don’t we have any impact whatsoever on the amount of divine assistance we receive?” Of course we do! To show what the Bible teaches about how to obtain God’s help, I would like to modify the saying in three important ways.
“God helps those who help themselves…by having faith.” Faith is crucial to obtaining anything from God, regardless of whether we’re gaining salvation, or receiving guidance in a particular situation. It’s impossible to please God without faith (Heb 11:6). Let’s say we’re asking God for wisdom. We must first believe that He will answer, otherwise our request is in vain (James 1:5-7). Therefore, if we want to receive God’s help, the best thing we can do is to build up our faith. I know it’s easier said than done, but Romans 10:17 gives us a clue as to how: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The better we know God and His promises, the greater our faith will be.
“God helps those who help themselves….by having the right attitude.” Other than faith, nothing impacts our relationship with God more than our attitude. The warning that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” is found in several Biblical passages. Just think, God doesn’t simply ignore those who are proud and arrogant, He actively resists them! On the other hand, humility is a direct pathway to obtaining God’s grace (in other words, His help). Being humble doesn’t mean thinking badly about oneself, or being a doormat. To find out what humility is, we can look to Jesus, who is our example. He knew His worth and who He was, and yet He willingly served others and submitted to the Father. That’s humility.
Another right attitude to have is gratitude. To see what happens when it’s missing we can read about the Israelites in the desert. What continually got them into trouble with God? That’s right, complaining! Had they been more grateful, I’m sure they wouldn’t have spent forty years wandering in the wilderness.
“God helps those who help themselves….by living a righteous life.” The words of Psalm 5:12 summarize this truth well: “For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous; with favor You will surround him as with a shield.” God desires our obedience. A righteous life doesn’t save us, but it sure avoids us a lot of problems! And it opens the door for the Lord to help us.
Isn’t it wonderful that God desires to assist us whenever we need it! Let’s always remember that God helps those who come to Him in faith, humility, gratitude, and obedience.
(1) George Barna and Mark Hatch, Boiling Point: How Coming Cultural Shifts will Change Your Life. Regal Books, 2001, p90. From a survey taken somewhere between 1997 and 2000