Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves

We’ve all heard that old saying, right? But what does it really mean? Does it mean that God will only help us achieve something if we are already beating our brains out trying to achieve it for ourselves? Or maybe He just wants to make sure we’re willing to put forth a little effort before He will help us through those last crucial steps. This topic has been on my heart for quite a while now, and it’s been kind of a tricky one for me.

Let’s start by taking a look at the phrase itself. “The Lord helps those who help themselves” is not found anywhere in the bible. I researched the origin of the saying, and found conflicting information. Some people attribute it to Benjamin Franklin in “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in 1757. Others give credit to a British philosopher, Algernon Sidney, who used the phrase in an article titled “Discourses Concerning Government” in 1698. Further research reveals that Algernon Sidney died in 1683, so who knows if that one is true. Yet another source credits the phrase to one of Aesop’s fables from the 6th century BC. The fable, titled "Hercules and the Waggoner", tells the tale of a man whose wagon became stuck in the mud. The man got down on his knees and prayed to Hercules for help. Hercules promptly told the man to get up and put his shoulder to the wheel because "the gods help those who help themselves.” It seems the phrase actually originated in pagan Greek mythology.

That’s all very interesting as a history lesson, but it doesn’t really help to answer my questions. As a Christian, I naturally understand that I must turn to the scriptures for answers. Here are a few passages I came across:

Exodus 20:9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work.

Psalms 104:23 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.

Psalms 128:2 For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.

Proverbs 13:11 Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.

Hebrews 6:12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

That certainly makes it sound like God expects us to work. He sure isn’t advising His people to sit around and do nothing, but in all honesty, I’m not completely convinced that those verses apply directly to the topic at hand. I do like that last one, though. Incidentally, there are more than two hundred verses in the bible that speak of labour. Let’s look a little further:

Psalms 27:14 Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

Jeremiah 17:5 Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD.

Psalms 37:7 Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

Psalms 73:28 But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works.

Psalms 118:8 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.

I recognize a couple of those verses, I’ve used them in my blog before. Those verses make it sound like we’re supposed to trust God and wait on Him. That last one in particular seems very clear to me. Incidentally, there are also lots of verses that talk about waiting on the Lord.

I have read a few articles that I found on this subject and, surprise, surprise, opinions are varied. Some support one theory, and some support the other, and, depending on your interpretation, you can find plenty of scripture to back up either one. So what’s the answer?

Here’s what I know, or maybe I should say here’s what I believe:

I believe God does not want us to be lazy or slothful.
I believe that God does not want us to suffer needlessly.
I believe that God wants us to help others in need.
I believe that God wants us to have patience, and wait for Him to do things in His own time.
I believe that God will provide us with everything we NEED.

I guess what it all boils down to is faith. We must have faith in God to provide for us, and to lead us where He will. I think it’s okay for us to try to achieve results for ourselves, but let’s face it; if God is not ready for it to happen, It’s just not going to happen, no matter what we do. How will we know whether to work at it, or just wait on the Lord? That part, at least, is easy, ask God. If He wants us to do something, He will tell us. If he wants us to be patient and wait for Him to take care of it, He will tell us that too. It’s all about faith and trust.

Well, I’ve done a lot of praying about this, praying for God to instruct me, and praying for Him to open my heart so I can receive His instructions, and this is what I seem to be getting. Of course, I will continue to pray and will wait to see were He leads me next. In the meantime, I will put my trust in the Lord.

I’m going to leave off with some words of wisdom that Pastor Mike shared with me:

“..…Steven, the Lord is your help in time of need. No one knows what you need more than the Lord and He will indeed either give you the grace to stand up under your difficulties or He will remove the difficulty. Our responsibility is to seek the Lord and leave the results totally with Him. If He gives you the opportunity to have some medical procedure done that will allow your eyesight to be restored He will provide for that as well.”

Psalms 121:1-3 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.


  1. Can I add my two cents, for what it’s worth?

    I have never gave any credence to that statement, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” If I did, wouldn’t that be saying that I’ve lost my faith in the fact that He can do anything? He can move mountains; With Him, nothing, and I say nothing, is impossible!

    Put your faith in the Lord!

    My faith has been of the spiritual nature, dipped in the realm of the paranormal because after all isn’t God alive in Spirit?
    That statement above,The Lord helps those who help themselves, sounds man made and not God inspired. There is a science to it, and that is, action causes a reaction. Man did not create science, God did, down to the very electron/proton/neutron! He IS science exemplified.
    So as such, yes God wants us to move mountains, yes God wants us to labor, but it is only with His power and your faith that can move those mountains or obstacles, if you will. WE move mountains with our faith.
    I have moved so many mountains in my life through faith, I could never ever believe, that God helps those, who help themselves.

    Because God helps all, He doesn’t pick and choose who to help. But through FAITH are we saved. And yes through faith we will and can move those obstacles in our life. We labor at the struggle of whether to believe or not and once it is placed in God’s hands, we’ve labored enough for Him to breathe everything you need into existence. Faith...keep it always... and it will keep YOU!

    Sorry for the long reply, but you’re worth it! I love you S.D.B.A.F.T.I.B! Your angel, always!

    1. Thinking along a different line, might this old saying be a reminder to those who would be content to just sit back and wait for the good things to come? God has wonderful things in store for us, but He will not force it on his people. I'm reminded of Proverbs 6:6-11 that speaks of the industrious ant. The sluggard, the lazy, is urged to observe the ant that willingly and independantly goes about its way preparing for his well being, both summer and winter. That is quite a contrast to the lazy one that lulls in bed, or sits in the recliner with folded hands, waiting for good fortune to drop into his lap. A satisfied life comes to a contented man, resting on the assurance that he has done his part in the privilege of life.

  2. FYI I have also looked into the origin of this quote and for what it's worth, thought I would share with you more information on its origins and Algernon Sidney in particular. Obviously, what I've written goes more to the "history lesson" than anything else. But it does appear (at least to me) that neither Sidney nor Franklin meant the statement to carry a deep Christian message about relationship to God. So it may be that this history lesson instructs us not to try to find and reinterpret biblical sources to support a non-religious quote. I think what you have written above about your beliefs based on actual teachings from Bible is far, far more meaningful than whether this particular mis-attributed quote should be used as a guidepost.

    First, like you, the earliest reference I found was reference to the Aesop fable, although of course the original isn't really available to examine!

    Algernon Sidney did indeed write the exact phrase "God helps those who help themselves" in his work "Discourses Concerning Government", which was published after his execution in 1683. Immediately prior to his death, he delivered a letter to the sheriffs explaining that he had left behind two treatises that he had written in response to a 1680 publication by Richard Filmer. And it was the larger of the two treatises that was published posthumously as "Discourses Concerning Government" (also later published as "Discourses on Government").

    Sidney was a republican (lower case "r") whose writings influenced U.S. Founding Fathers. This may be why it is believed that Benjamin Franklin was quoting Sidney when he wrote "God helps them that help themselves" in "Poor Richard's Almanack."

    Neither man wrote this in the context of any eternal spiritual reward from God to men who help themselves. Sidney used the quote in the context of man and government. Franklin used it when warning to avoid idleness and sloth. That context is very close to the Hebrews verse you quoted above. But reading further one will find that Franklin rarely references God or religion. In the immediately following pages, by the way, are found a number of other famous Franklin quotes, including:

    "But dost though love life? then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of."


    "Early to bed and early to rise
    Makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

    It would seem that over time the quote began to be used to convey some greater Christian meaning than was probably intended by either Franklin or Sidney. My own view is that Franklin's use and context more than Sidney's is likely the origin of the later use of the quote to convey a Christian message. And this use probably gave rise to common misperception that the quote comes from the Bible. I have not found any other specific examples in print of its later use for this meaning.

    For reference, here is a link to a copy of Sidney's book available on Google Books. The images appear to come from a 1750 printing of the book. I think this link should take you directly to an image of the quote on the seventh line:

    And here is a similar image from a reprinting of Franklin's book:

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Anonymous. I always like a good history lesson, and you have some valuable insights as well.

  4. It is true that the phrase "The Lord helps those who help themselves" is nowhere in the Word. The history lesson regarding the origin of the phrase and even the Bible verses above are very interesting.

    It is possible, however, that the phrase was a layman's interpretation of James 2:20..."that faith without works is dead." Our trusting God requires faith, but for our faith to bear fruit we must exercise that faith. Therefore, while we are trusting and believing in God, there are things we must do in the natural to prepare ourselves for God's blessing.

    The things I do in the natural are my exercising of my faith as I wait on God. For example, if I believe that God is going to bless me to become the executive of a company and I do nothing to prepare myself, I will not be able or prepared to walk into that blessing without the proper training and experience. The Lord helping those who help themselves in this case is God helping those who by faith obtain the education and training they need in preparation for God helping them. The education and training is that part identified as the "helping themselves."

    Therefore, faith without works is dead. A man desiring God to help him must do some things to help himself as he waits upon God. This does not remove God from the center of the equation or demonstrate a lack of faith focusing on man, but could be interpreted as man exercising faith to bear fruit.

  5. I believe that this saying with all its history and jargon is for the earthly man, who bases his faith on earthly words, materials and wants. And it was a MAN who wrote this statement and was not divinely inspired.

    I’ll keep my FAITH and depend on the power of an almighty God to steer me in my way, answer my prayers, watch as miraculous things take shape and lend blessing in my life and not base my faith on words of a man.

    Eph.1: 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

    Col. 1:9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;

    Matt 19: 26 But Jesus beheld [them], and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

    I can post anonymously too.

  6. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I agree with "Anonymous 1/17/11 8:10 pm." I don't see this phrase as "God only helps some of us", but more you have to be willing to put forth effort if you desire The Lords help. In the case of the blind man wanting to see, that may mean him maintaining a positive attitude and not letting the disability define him, not becoming bitter, or finding other talents to bless others.

    I always hear my mother (devote Christian) when faced with a tough challenge say "I'm just putting it all in the Lords hands, he will fix it." I believe that is foolish, because even though he has a path prepared its our duty to take action. Faith without works is dead. That seems more like an entitlement attitude, than someone seriously desiring a solution. The answer may come in the process of working through it. Work being the key word.

    I also think about this phrase when faced with an opportunity to serve and help someone in need. In the case of a drug abuser, or alcoholic cousin. That person needs to desire to change, and they need to make efforts to change if they want to receive those blessings from The Lord. I'm also willing to realize that its not my decision as to whether they are or aren't blessed by my service, and I should not turn my back on my brother, however if they want me to carry part of their burden, I need to at least know they're putting forth an effort.

  7. By works are we saved?

    No, by grace.

    Are we measured by our works?
    Not at all!

    If I believe that God only helps those who help themselves. I am putting my faith in a fruitless,non powerful, possibly non existent God.

    With God, all things are possible, so says the WORD of God.

    I'm vocal and I'm not afraid to allow MY NAME to be shown.


  8. "faith without works is dead"

    faith, thoughts, wants, needs, and desires represent ambition

    actions taken denotes work [reality]

    Does your reality reflect your ambitions?