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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Self Help?

Many of us have grown up with slogans like “good old Yankee ingenuity” and “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”. We live in a society which has a thriving self help industry in the form of books and seminars. Most bookstores have a large self help section. By browsing the internet we can find instructions for how to do most anything we want. From a religious perspective we often hear the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.”

Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately) that phrase is nowhere to be found in the Bible. In fact, the opposite is true. God acts when we can’t. He wants us to depend on him. Throughout the Old Testament a particular Hebrew word is used that shows this. The word is usually translated “to cry out”. In each case it implies God acting only when we cry out in desperation and hopelessness. God acts only when we finally admit that we can’t do it by ourselves. This phenomenon is particularly seen in the book of Judges. Again and again the children of Israel fall away from following God. He allows their enemies to oppress them, sometimes for years and years. Finally they cry out to God and he sends a deliverer to rescue them. But the deliverer comes only after they admit their inadequacy to do it on their own. He only comes when they finally cry out in desperation to God.

We see the same in the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. It begins very upbeat, with a song. The owner of the vineyard does everything in his power to develop a productive vineyard. He plants the choicest vines in the best geographical location in very fertile ground. But in spite of all his efforts, the vineyard doesn’t produce good grapes. The passage, beginning with such hopefulness and expectation, ends with “cries of distress”. He asks the question “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? (verse 4a). Although everything was tried, nothing has worked. The same word is used when God tells Cain that his brother’s blood cries out to him from the ground. Since Abel has been killed, there can only be dependency on God for justice. Abel, being dead, was totally helpless.

God is not in the self help business. The Bible is not a self help manual. Instead it is a “Depend on me” manual. Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see God working when people recognize that they can’t do it on their own. He waits until they call on him for help. Then he responds. He wants us to have faith and trust in him to provide for our needs. How do we respond when we face difficulties? Is God the first or the last person we turn to? How much trust do we have in him? Have we succumbed to our society’s self help program, or do we follow God’s “depend on me” program? How often do we try this or that program trying to solve the difficulty we are facing? It’s worth examining our lives, looking at some of the major difficulties we have faced in our lives. Did we depend on God from the beginning or only after trying everything else? How do we respond in the day to day situations we face? Do we try to depend on ourselves or do we depend on God? The answer to these questions says a lot about how much faith and trust we have in God.

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