Summary: We cannot expect God to provide for our every need as we sit idly by, so in that sense it is true to say that "God helps those who help themselves," but there are also times when we cannot help ourselves, and God intervenes in those times to save us.
So we continue this week our look at some phrases commonly spoken by Christians and others that sound Biblical and perhaps hold some truth about our faith, but which aren’t entirely true. This week, we are thinking about the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, as I mentioned to you last week, none of these statements we are looking at through this five-week series are actually in the Bible, even though some of them will sound like they are. But what’s really amazing is how many people out there believe that these statements are Biblical. This phrase, “God helps those who help themselves” is one of the best examples. In a recent study by the Barna Group, it was found that a little more than 80% of respondents believe this statement is in the Bible, and 53% said it is an important idea conveyed in Scripture. And yet it’s not in the Bible at all! But it gets worse! You all know the former late night host, Jay Leno? You might remember that he had a segment on his show called “Jaywalking,” where he would go out on the street and ask people questions—about history, geography, politics, anything. Well, one night the question was, “What are the Ten Commandments?” Turns out, there are a lot of people who think “God helps those who help themselves” is one of those ten commandments!
So why would so many of us hold the belief that this phrase is Biblical when it’s actually not? It might be because there is some truth to this idea that “God helps those who help themselves.” This morning, we are going to talk about the one thing about this statement that is true, but we are also going to talk about two untruths.
To get an idea of the truth in today’s statement, I want you to think for a minute about what happens when you sit down at the dinner table. Now, I’m guessing that what doesn’t happen is that you come in the house after a long day of work, you throw down your bags, grab a plate, set it on the table, bow to say a word of thanksgiving to God for your food, and then you open your eyes to a plateful of succulent meat and vegetables perfectly cooked and seasoned. I have to admit, it would be awfully nice if it worked that way, wouldn’t it? But unfortunately, it doesn’t. If we want a plateful of succulent meat and vegetables perfectly cooked and seasoned, then we either have to go out to a restaurant and pay someone else to make it for us, or when we get home from work, we have to get out the pots and pans and start cooking. In the same way, you wouldn’t expect to get a job if you weren’t out interviewing for a position, or you wouldn’t expect to sell your house if you had it priced $75,000 over market value. There are some things that we have to take responsibility for if we expect them to happen. And indeed, God makes it possible for us to have an earth with soil, and sun, and rain so vegetables will grow, but we have to harvest and prepare those vegetables so they can be eaten. So, in that sense, it is true that God helps those who help themselves. We have to pray to God, we have to seek God’s help, God’s guidance, and direction, we have to thank God for our many blessings, but we also have to work.
A great example of this comes out of the Civil Rights Movement. As you are probably aware, the Civil Rights Movement really grew out of the church, particularly after the bombing of the church in Birmingham that resulted in the deaths of three young girls. But the Civil Rights movement wasn’t just people sitting in churches and praying, right? Certainly prayer is important as we seek justice in the midst of the injustices of this world. But it took more than praying. Many of the people who were a part of the Civil Rights Movement were in churches on Sundays praying, but when they weren’t in the church, they were out marching—marching for the right to vote, or doing “sit-ins” for the right to share the lunch counter, or whatever. And this included Christians from all around the country who made their way to the south to work for justice for all people. In the end, as you know, the Jim Crow laws were repealed, blacks were given the right to vote, and integration began. God worked, but the people worked to. We still have a long way to go, but if we will pray and work, it is possible. So in such cases as these, it is in some sense true to say, “God helps those who help themselves.”