Helping Yourself

I read a lot of “self-help” books. If you look on my shelves in m office, they are full of books on leadership, attitude, and decision-making. My “how-to” section inclues books on how to treat others, how to communicate, how to create vision, how to close deals, and how to make yourself do things you don’t want to do because they are the right thing to do. Some of these books focus on church work and evangelism, but most of them just focus on life.

You would probably expect me to take the angle in this article that “no one can help themselves but must rely on God.” I thought about it. It’s a good point. We should all evaluate how much we are willing to depend on God to help us instead of trying to take the steering wheel. An expression I often heard in Alabama was, “People have a bad habit of whittling on God’s end of the stick.” This is a nice image to think about.

What about my end of the stick? If God’s is whittling on His end, and I should stay away from His end of the stick, what should I be doing on my end of the stick? The truth is that there is work we must do if we are going to improve, grow, and mature. We must do our part. As another old expression goes, “God helps those who help themselves.”

The reality is that God expects His people to be active and productive people. We are expected to work hard and trust in God for the increase. We are told that once we have done our part, God will step up and give bountiful blessings.

One of the easiest ways to see this is Scripture is when God compares His people to farmers (i.e., the Parable of the Soils). Farmers, especially those of the past before modern technology, have the perfect work relationship with God, one that can be emulated in so many different ways. Here’s what I mean.

Farmers must get up and go to work. They start by clearing the land. Farmers must turn the soil, breaking up the hard places, making it soft and accepting of the seed they are to sow. Farmers must then shape the land into rows, hills, and other water draining shapes. Farmers must dig holes for seed (if it is a planted seed instead of a broadcast seed). Farmers must then put the seed in place. Then farmers must cover the seed and leave loose, pat down the dirt, or pack down the dirt so the seed can have the correct environment.

Here’s where a farmer’s work gets difficult. He must wait. He will spend his time waiting, wondering if the dirt itself was fertile and good for growing crops. He might have some means for irrigation, but in ancient times, only the rich had true irrigation. Many just had to time their process correctly to when they felt they might get some rain. The farmer has gone through all this work, getting everything ready, and now he must trust God. God takes over from here. He must wait on God to send rain. He must trust that God won’t send a deluge that will wash away the seed, but that God will send enough rain to keep the seed wet. He must wait on God to continue to rain the fields periodically so the seed can continue to root, grow, and thrive.

Depending on the crop, the farmer might be waiting a week, multiple weeks, or even over a month before we can know whether his work was worth the trouble. He’s not lazy during this time. He must keep rodents and small animals away from digging up his seed. He must make sure the rain he gets is not drowning the seed in any places but is getting to every place. He must be preparing for the harvest, clearning barns and storehouses. He has plenty to keep him busy.

Soon, his trust and patience pays off. He starts to see the small green stems and leaves that appear. Can you imagine the sigh of relief and moments of joy when the crop finally appears?

He must continue to cultivate the crop, keeping it healthy, watching those leaves for any sign of disease or drought. He must take care of the plants until they are produced food.

All of this is a nicely balanced view of how life is with God. God gives forgiveness, but not until the sinner repents (1 Jn 1.9). God gives salvation, but not until the seeker dies in baptism (1 Pet 3.21). God gives increase, but not until the Christian has planted and watered His Word in the hearts of others (1 Cor 3.6). God gives peace, but not until the restless give their worries to Him in prayer (Phil 4.6).

Like the farmer, we need to work hard. We need to do what we can do ourselves while trusting that God is doing what only He can do. We need to let God make a masterpiece out of His end of the stick, carving with master tools, while we slowly chip away with our butter knife on our end. To be honest, our best efforts won’t add up to much, but they will be sufficient. It is God’s work that makes our feeble efforts successful. A farmer’s best work is futile if God sends no rain.

While we must work hard to do our part, we can take comfort knowing that our success comes from what God is doing on His end. What peace comes from knowing God can take my efforts and make them truly wonderful. Determine to do your part so God can make your work glorious—glorifying Him, you, His church, and those around us.