This weeks question from A.S.K
People will often cite the Bible as their authority for a saying … when the Bible says nothing of the sort. For example if your mother ever says to you; ‘the Bible says,cleanliness is next to godliness’ as she urges you to make your bed, then you can politely and graciously tell her that whilst you agree making your bed is important and you will do it, the Bible doesn’t actually say that! Likewise with the saying, ‘God helps those who help themselves’. That is not in the Bible – nor indeed anything like it – because in fact it goes against the teaching of the Bible.
I find it quite interesting where this phrase comes from. It is found in two of Aesop’s fables and a variation of it is also in the Quran.
‘Indeed God will not change the conditions of a population until they change what is in themselves’ (Quran 13:11).
What’s wrong with this way of thinking? And why are we glad it’s not in the Bible? Because it would leave God as weak and pathetic – not an Almighty God, but someone who needed our help. This might feel good to start with – after all isn’t it nice when someone asks for and needs our help? Except when we are unable to help! The God of the Bible is all-powerful and sovereign. Paul told the philosophers in Athens:
‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else’ (Acts 17:24-25).
God does not need our help. On the other hand we desperately need him. It is in him that we live and move and have our being. Without God we cannot live, learn or love. God is good and the giver of all things good. We cannot add to him – or make up what he lacks. Psalm 116 tells of a man in a desperate situation. He is on the edge of death, entangled by its cords. He is terrified and overcome with distress and sorrow. He calls out to the Lord: ‘Lord, save me!’ He doesn’t say, ‘Look, Lord, I’ll do you a deal. You help me and I’ll help you a bit … we need each other’.
Then he finds that the Lord is gracious, righteous and full of compassion. God saves him. God rescues the weary. He helps the helpless.
Then and only then does the psalmist say what he will do for God.
‘What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people’ (Psalm 116:12-14).
What does that mean for you and me? It means that when we have become aware of our helplessness and called on the name of the Lord, we are saved. When we are saved, we are thankful. When we are thankful we serve. We move from sin to salvation to serving. To reverse that and try to serve so that we can earn salvation will only lead to more sin.
This is the great news of the Good News of Jesus. He has paid it all. Now we have been set free. Some people think that this means we are free to sin, or that we can do whatever we want and don’t need to actually do anything for God because he will just give us anything we want. But that is not what Christian freedom is. We are set free to serve the living God.
There is, however, a sense in which this saying is true. The English general, Oliver Cromwell, is supposed to have said before the battle of Edgehill in 1642, ‘Trust in God and keep your powder dry.’ What he meant was that just because we trust in God, it doesn’t mean that we are not to act, work or take precautions ourselves. Rather it is because we trust in God that we can work.
CONSIDER: Do you know your own helplessness? Do you know God’s salvation? If so, what are you doing in grateful response for that? How are you serving the Living God?
Serving without Sinking – John Hindley
PRAYER: O Lord, we thank you that you hear the cries of the helpless. We are helpless and we need to find our rest in you. O Lord, grant us your salvation, give us life and make us your willing, serving children from now on. Amen.