I don’t know the origins of this phrase, but it sounds like an observation born out of experience, or possibly someone struggled with trying to make sense of the relationship between God’s work and man’s work, and he came up with this simple statement to make sense of it all, and left all the complexities out of it.
The problem with such plain statements is lack of context and lack of nuance. It raises questions: Is this the only time God will work? Will God always help those who help themselves? Will God help those who help themselves only if certain criteria were met? These questions are not answered in a simple statement like this. What was the original context of the saying? Since we don’t know, we can’t accept it on face value.
The statement is true in certain circumstances and untrue in others. In the Old Testament book of Joshua, God sends Joshua into the land of Canaan with the rest of the surviving descendants of Israel to make war on the inhabitants and drive them out. God promised to drive them out before them. But God was only going to work as much as Joshua and the Hebrews were willing to believe Him. If they worked hard, God would bless their efforts, and they would succeed in claiming the land. If they decided the inhabitants were too strong and gave up, God would not lend a hand to drive them out.
We can apply this to our lives. God gave Joshua a promise to be with him and drive out the enemy from the land, and Joshua ran with the promise and succeeded. If we find a promise in the Bible that God will aid us, then we will find His help when we pursue the work. So if we ask God to help us lose weight, and we do nothing to act on it, then there will be no help. But if we keep working at it, believing God will help, then God will get the glory for the results.
God uses our faith in Him to train us to work, to persevere, to be patient. That is the real result God wants to get in us: a patient people who endure to the end, believing Him all the way. In this scenario, perhaps we can change the saying to, “God works alongside those who believe His promise for them enough to persevere in the work to the end.”
On the other hand, God promised Abraham something that was simply impossible for Abraham to accomplish. He promised him descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore. God promised this to a man whose wife had not had a child for 99 years! In these circumstances we could amend the saying to, “God makes His unconditional promises come true to those who believe Him for them.” Yet Abraham became “strong in faith” through the promise, and God eventually gave him a child, Isaac.
What do you think?
a. Some people abide by the saying, “When I die, I will go to heaven.” When would this be true, and when would it not be true?
b. Do you have a calendar or poster with a verse from the Bible? If so, name the circumstances in which it would and would not apply to you. You may have to read the whole chapter the verse appears in in order to get the context and answer the question. Just about every Bible promise is conditional on something.
c. Can you identify any other sayings you trusted in, such as, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” that may or may not work in all situations? Can you distance yourself from it enough to be impartial about it?
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