The idea that God helps those who help themselves has permeated american Christianity-or churchianity as some call it because it doesn’t resemble Christianity at all-to the point of being synonymous with scripture. What scripture, though? Perhaps these:
Proverbs 12 11 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.
Proverbs 14 23 In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.
I believe scripture. If God says hard work is good then it is good. If God says He wants us to work hard then we should. Perhaps that is why I find myself continually staying up through the night to do a blog post on a word God gives me that speaks to my soul and calls out my own sinful heart. Perhaps that is why my husband and I both feel like we have several full time jobs each. Perhaps it is because hard work fills our daily lives and beats against our worn bodies, like relentless ocean waves wear down jagged rocks.
What I don’t believe is that most of the people citing these passages are honestly seeking to bring God glory and not just justify the pursuit of things they want outside of God. What I don’t believe is that the hard work most talk about in american churchianity is related at all to the godly goals of hard work clearly championed by God throughout scripture. I believe that God is trustworthy but that sin-infested people lie.
Does God desire that we work hard doing things that make us look good and where we are the main beneficiary of the work, or rather is God calling us to work hard doing work that bears the fruits of repentance? Perhaps God is calling us to work hard at setting captives free, bringing sight to the blind, and exalting the name and glory of God over all the earth.
Luke 3 7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 10 And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ 11 And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’
Luke 4 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Psalm 29 1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
Psalm 24 1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,
Are these scriptures only for 1 hour on Sunday? Before I read the Bible I thought so and felt fine only trying to put them into practice then. Actually I was even more self-righteous than that. I reasoned that because the church services I went to were very long I got even more time than most on Sundays to supposedly do what God wanted. I thought my efforts were commendable. I was so wrong. After reading the Bible I realized that if these scriptures do not characterize my life not just my Sunday “church” time then I am not one who God has caused to be born again. When people say God helps those who help themselves and that God blesses those who work hard are they thinking of hard work to share the gospel, to pursue their wives emotionally and sexually, to show respect to their husbands as unto the Lord, and to crucify their flesh with Christ?
Mark 8 34 And calling the crowds to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life would lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will find it. 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
And by cross I do not think God means a generous retirement and praise from pastors. I think He means the kind of cross that hurts-that ends in the death of my flesh. The kind of cross that leaves me with no great ideas for how to get myself off of this path of suffering and into comfort and luxury in this life but that brings me to my knees confessing, “I am a sinner and I am in DESPERATE need of you Jesus, my God!”
While the work I do to support myself and provide for myself and others and the hours I spend doing it may not be sins in and of themselves, if they keep me from doing things God says I should be doing then those things become sins because that is where they lead me. I do not know of any categorical condemnations for being well off or achieving worldly success in the New Testament. Actually, I misspoke.
James 5 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. 4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
Luke 16 19 ‘There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man died also and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.
Luke 6 24 ‘But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. 25 Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets.
Luke 18 18 And a ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 19 And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ 21 And he said, ‘All these I have kept from my youth.’ When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, ‘How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26 Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27 But he said, ‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.’
Not everyone has to suffer though, the Bible says.
Galatians 6 12 As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For now even those who are circumcised they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Furthermore, if I have to be separated from my spouse for a year in a way that would tear the marriage apart, not make it stronger and more united, in order to achieve that success have I not sinned by separating what God has joined together?
Matthew 19 6 …What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
If a husband spends countless evenings away from his wife in a way that disrupts marital intimacy and leaves him too tired to pursue his wife the way Christ pursues the church, His bride, has he not sinned in his pursuit of success by elevating it above other things God has commanded him to do? Has he not committed idolatry by elevating the pursuit of the success he wants over what God wants for him? If I as a wife I take a job in order to pursue success that leaves me too exhausted and depleted to give emotionally to my children or to be an enthusiastic helpmate for my husband, have I not sinned by tossing under the bus things God has commanded me to do for success that He says is not bad in and of itself but that He does NOT command me to pursue above other things in His Word? If my pursuit of success leads me to stumble into sin in other areas of my life then how can I call my hard work good let alone godly?
Even outside the clear teaching of Christianity, minorities in America or anyone who has ever faced any sort of bias in his or her life know that hard work does not ensure certain results. I worked at least as hard as the others elementary school students on standardized exams. In fact, my scores in reading comprehension were high school level in 3rd grade. However, no amount of hard work on the exam would have helped me answer correctly the question of what happens when I rub a balloon to my head and then try to stick the balloon to something like a wall. Nothing happens when I rub a balloon against my ethnic hair except the balloon may get greasy. Even with my 3rd grade level of scientific knowledge I knew that would NOT help it stick to the wall. Little did I know when people of other races rub a balloon to their hair, static electricity happens. I was being tested on race not science. No amount of hard work would have rescued my test scores in such a situation.
I read in an education law article that SAT questions are chosen to be used on the exam based on reviewers looking at trends of what groups in the trial runs of the exam questions traditionally get those questions right. My nearly perfect score, thus, has a lot to do with the questions being better suited to how I think. Such tests are weak predictors at best of intelligence or hard work studying. Consider this: did you choose to be born into a family that could fund a fancy education? Did you choose to be a color or gender that most in America consider to be better at science and math than other groups? Of course not. We are not God so we need to stop taking credit for things God ALLOWS in His sovereignty for His reasons.
The adage that God blesses those who work hard with the results they worked for is non other than poorly supported human conjecture. For instance, if a conviction such as this one requires a person to be white and upper middle class-or for them to live in a state like California if they are a minority-in order for it to play out somewhat truthfully in their lives then that can hardly be called a universal truth. While hard work may be a piece of God’s good plans for us, it is certainly not as big or as central to the Christian faith as the cross. If I think of holding people to standards of working hard before I desire to see concrete evidence in their lives that they are carrying their cross and dying daily, then I am way out of sync with God’s priorities. I am quickly drifting from Christianity to a faith tradition of my own creation.
Mark 8 17 …Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?…
My husband was VERY discouraged by family members-who hold success as more precious than dying and suffering for Christ, which is obvious because they don’t boast of humiliation in their own lives but with false humility pay lip service to God while it remains clear they think highly of themselves, and one family member who told us directly that poverty came upon us because God was judging us for leaving a path God Himself blocked us from accessing that we wanted to take and were grieved about not doing ourselves! Many days he was paralyzed by the persecution and could barely focus enough to study for his exam.
When I got engaged I had a family member that was so enraged and so worried that my decision to be engaged meant I was dropping out of law school that she called me daily, insulting me, making threats, and demanding I visit her in another state during a peak time of studying for law school finals! To make maters worse this person herself had gone to law school and knew that finals area student’s entire grade for a course. In another law school semester I overslept due to illness for one of my exams. I took a 3 hour exam at a top law school with 1 hour less than my classmates and all while being sick from my allergic asthma.
My husband passed his bar exam. I passed ALL my law school finals. WE THANK GOD He does NOT give us results based on what we deserve. If God did, me and my husband would NOT be where we are today.
When I announced my husband passed his bar exam by citing 2 Corinthians 12 as a reminder we should not give ourselves the ultimate credit for this or boast in this accomplishment that was my attempt at politely recognizing that some of the same people receiving the announcement had criticized us by non-biblical standards for many decisions, even offering cruel commentary and very little actual help during a season of the most grueling and humiliating hardship either of us had ever faced and all within the first year of our young marriage with little to no apologies, and thus it was a complete MIRACLE my husband was even able to take the exam let alone pass!
A more blunt announcement would have said this: “With no help from many of you and a lot of discouragement and obstacles provided by some of you even days before the exam my husband passed the bar so we are DEFINITELY attributing that success to God! Also we hope no one is looking for accolades from God for praying. Scripture says servants should not look for pats on the back for doing what they are supposed to.”
Luke 17 10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’
Forgive me for being too polite, Forgive me for, at the very least, doing an impressively accurate impersonation of an actual christian by choosing to use successes to honor God, not draw attention to myself or other human players involved. That’s whats really surprising. That someone who could easily take all the glory that God deserves would not. I know. Now things are getting weird. Next thing we know even conservatives from good ole mid-western churchianity may start prophesying…(gasp!)…like it says in Acts and other places in the New Testament that those who are truly God’s will do…and may start selling their houses and giving half the proceeds to the poor…(shriek!). That’s too weird. Let’s change the subject to something more comfortable.
I have an idea. What about the fact that scripture repeatedly calls people fools for boasting in anything other than God! That’s right. Some of us who have managed to avoid laziness, which God disdains, get caught in the fatal trap of pride, a highly coveted sin of satan.
2 Corinthians 11 17 What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. 18 Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. 19 For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one- I am talking like a madman-with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weaknesses.
So true Paul! I will boast in our weaknesses too. Do we get discouraged? Yes! Do we feel weak and think the task ahead is too much? Often! Do we get deeply wounded by words and develop a mental limp as a result of being put down? Of course we do! Do we get distracted despite our best efforts and often don’t perform as well as we probably could under easier circumstances? Yes! Who is weak, and we are not weaker? Who is sensitive, and are we not more sensitive? Let me help you understand: when I learned in Bible study on Daniel that the Jews will actually approach the antichrist who wants only their destruction after they rejected their True Husband and Prince of Peace I SOBBED UNCONTROLLABLY MY ENTIRE WAY HOME AND WELL AFTER I WALKED INTO MY HOME. My husband thought there was a grave emergency! No. My soul was grieved with Jesus. But about myself I will not boast. But about men like this I will: The other day I woke up to my husband crying because the hurting are being turned away from the refuge of our country! Do real men weep and mourn over what God would consider a tragedy? They certainly do.
John 11 35 Jesus wept.
Jesus is the MANLIEST MAN I KNOW.
Who is tempted into sin, and are we not more tempted?! We have had people practically begging us to treat them with bitterness and contempt like they have treated us-people who would be much happier to see us insult them back because it would satisfy them about their own sin and utterly kills their pride to see us continue to speak to them respectfully in the face of awful mistreatment. How much were we tempted to sin in that situation? A lot. By the grace of God we didn’t say what we wanted and do what we wanted and thanks be to God Christ still reigns us in.
WE ARE HUMAN. Give us a break. If you take issue with that then take it up with God. However, do not be surprised if His response is “why don’t you read my Word,” or for those who do read it, “do you have eyes yet you do not see?” God has written this story through the entirety of His Word: Humans are tragically weak and will disappoint. All lofty expectations should be directed at God who is able.
John 8 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.
2 Corinthians 12 11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it…
Agreed! I hate boasting of worldly success but I have been compelled to it by american churchianity which is NOT Christianity because it is hungry for self-exaltation that disguises itself as praise of God and full of people who have clever retorts to others who seem like they really believe God controls results, like “so do you think God wants us to not even try?” Sure, because that makes sense of why God had Noah build an ark before the flood or had Daniel work diligently and impressively under kings of foreign empires. In fact maybe God wanted Noah to start the ark after the flood already started and for Daniel to do a lazy job and then blame God for it because that would really please Him, right? Wrong. I do not believe that those men should have slacked in their work and that that would be pleasing to God and I do not think that I should either. Faith in God is reasonable because He is God! Better than that, faith in God is more sure than whatever ground you think is underneath your feet right now. There is no other solid ground than Jesus Himself. If God wanted to He could make it all disappear and you would be floating in space or if gravity was still in place falling alive into the earth’s core like the men who blasphemed God while Israel was in the desert!
Don’t tell me there is ANYTHING more sure than God. I rebuke all the glory we humans attribute to man-made instruments that would be utterly useless if the sovereign God of the universe did not allow them to work. You can trust in your work but I will trust in something real. Someone real. There is NO reality more real than GOD.
On another note, I don’t mean at all to say that hard work at a secular job is not work that honors God. God was certainly honored by Joseph’s hard work leading Egypt. I’m asking myself and my readers to evaluate this: are you working hard at your secular job so that it will help you do the godly goals above and not for your own glory?
I can work at a secular job or work at non-religious tasks in such a way that I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling when I do my seemingly non-spiritual tasks with the humility that brought Christ down to earth and lifted Him up on a torturous cross. If I am a wife and I am busy at home scripture says in Titus 2 that the Word of God will not be reviled because of my work at home. When I work according to scripture I am doing what is presented here:
Philippians 2 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Laundry is not spiritual. Obeying God in my work is. When I obey Him I show I fear Him. I live with reverence for His high position and my very vulnerable need for His salvation.
Christians believe what Genesis 3 says, that God cursed work. True believers know that belief or obedience to God does not exempt them from God’s curses that result from our sin, such as the fact that our physical bodies die. Rather God has redeemed the role of the first death in the lives of His children and God spares them the curse of eternal death after their bodies die.
If I look for God to primarily work through successes and crazy victories like He did with Israel then I need this wake up call: I live in the new testament era! No cross? No crown! See Romans 8. This is the church age. Victory comes through persecution and bloodshed. God will get glory through it all!
Don’t miss one of the lessons from the lukewarm church in Revelations 3. The church suffered from a fatal, spiritual sickness called being lukewarm towards God. At the same time they suffered from another spiritually crippling disease: self-sufficiency. Being able to care for all of one’s needs is more a curse than a blessing, according to Christ, in a world where being saved means we overcome the world and NOT that we are overcome by it.
If God allows me to be self-sufficient then I am vulnerable to the self-deceiving and self-perpetuating lie that I don’t need God. If I don’t have areas of great need in my life that are obvious to me and constantly prick the most sensitive part of my soul, even during my lightest of times on earth, then I am not blessed because I have not been afforded the gift from God of a daily reminder of my need for Him-one that makes me get on my face crying out and worshiping Him like my very being depends on it because my pain that God has blessed me with reminds me that it does.
John 16 33 …But take heart; I have overcome the world.’
If I chase after the things of the world and honor God in so far as He helps me in my pursuit of things things I want then I have not overcome the world. I am overcome by it. If I am overcome by the world then I am not saved, according to Jesus.
Revelations 2 7 …To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.’
Revelations 2 11 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.’
Revelations 2 17 …To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.’
Revelations 3 5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
Jesus is the ultimate Overcomer. He defeated death and opened the door for us to have victory over sin by living a vibrant and God-honoring life and then dying a disgraceful death on a cross. Christ’s victory and overcoming the world came through humiliation, affliction, injustice, and feeling forsaken by God the Father. In His words in John 13 Jesus says the servant is not greater than the master and that He is our master. If I am a servant of Christ how can I expect my overcoming to be any different than His? Why do I expect comfort and a rich, earthly inheritance when the Son of God in this life inherited a cross and affliction from His Father’s will?
Isaiah 53 10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him…
Why should I expect, and even demand, that God prosper my work at my job and my reputation in my social circles to show He loves me instead of begging God that I may die an unjust death for the gospel and live a life relatively empty of human applause and praise?
Mark 14 50 Then they all forsook Him and fled.
The saying that God helps those who help themselves seems at best to justify a lifestyle of selfishness and seeking comfort and privileges for oneself, not radical love for Jesus and others, a far cry from this:
Matthew 5 11 ‘Blessed are you when they revile you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The idea that God helps those who help themselves is another way of saying if I’m happy and prospering that makes God happy. It takes the focus off of God and onto me. It makes my pleasure and comfort a superior aim than God’s glory in whatever form it may take in my life:
Philippians 4 11 …I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
In reality God’s glory is superior to the comfort and successes I strive for with my hard work to build my own kingdom. The truth of the gospel echoed through the Bible is that for a true believer if God is pleased then that true believe should be content with that regardless of if he or she is getting something as part of it.
Job 13 15 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.
The idea that God wants what I want and if I work hard He will give it to me places me at the center of the universe and not God. It is self-exalting. It is the pride with which the Bible speaks of in referring to the antichrist. God provides weakness for his children so that regardless of their legal skills-like the amazing writing and arguing skills Paul had due to his training as a Pharisee-they will not swell up with pride like the ultimate ungodly beast will do in the end times.
2 Corinthians 12 9 And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Thessalonians 2 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
Does God love excellent talent? It seems from scripture that He does. He uses Paul’s skills to have him write Romans which is nothing less than a literary work of art. God desired for Paul’s skills to be used is His service, not to make Paul look good. If I work for myself and for the glory of me and God allows me to get the result I worked so hard for, perhaps God is not blessing me but rather He is cursing me with success.We should be quicker to see affliction, persecution, poverty, and going without basic needs as God’s blessing over successful results. Why? Because Jesus does.
Matthew 5 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 5 Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Seeing as Jesus is God His opinion matters infinitely more than yours or mine. We are free of course to live our life by whatever values we wish. But remember, Jesus’s words will come true. Jesus’s kingdom WILL come. A person who is not ready to submit his or her ideas under the authority of Jesus in this life will not be ready to do so when He comes. Such people will not partake in Christ’s kingdom and will perish outside of Christ alongside their godless, self-exalting adages.
Honestly, I don’t like what I just wrote in this post. Most days I absolutely don’t think my pain is a blessing. It doesn’t feel like one. But the thing is I KNOW Christ believes what I have written because it is based on His Word. I want to believe it because I want to live with Him forever!!! If I have to die and my dreams of ease and comfort have to die with me so I can accept these truths of God in my heart and be transformed to the point of hating my life and desiring Christ more than anything then I’ll hold the funeral today. I died. Christ lives. This is my new creed:
Galatians 2 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Why? BECAUSE CHRIST IS WORTH MY EVERYTHING!