The phrase “God helps those who help themselves” has spawned varied opinions and interpretations in recent times. The words express the inherent gracious concern of our Creator toward His most prized creation in the world. At the same time, the phrase also inculcates the positive values and character traits in life that believers must espouse—industry, hard work, patience, and perseverance.
But an argument arises about whether God will only help those who help themselves. Does he ignore the others who are not taking action towards a purpose or aim? The phrase also seeks clarification as to whether we seek material, spiritual, or other types of help from the Almighty.
May God Help Those Who Help Themselves: Origin
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.— Proverbs 16:3
The phrase originates from a trail of historical narratives. It stems from understanding God’s grace towards humanity and the need for people to take self-initiative in all their pursuits. In ancient Greece, the earliest record can be traced back to Aesop’s fables. Aesop weaved this proverb into one of his tales, Hercules and the Wagoneer. It says, “The gods help them that help themselves.”
In 1698, English political theorist Algernon Sydney wrote the phrase in English in an article titled “Discourses Concerning Government.” Some people attribute this passage to Ben Franklin, printed in “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in 1733: “Let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us; God helps them that help themselves.”
In line with these thoughts, Ben Franklin, the author of “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” emphasized the importance of self-reliance and industriousness. Ben Franklin aimed to empower readers by offering guidance on personal and financial success, ethical behavior, and industry.
In “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” he highlighted the need for individuals to take initiative and work diligently to achieve their goals. “Poor Richard’s Almanac” stresses that God’s assistance is more likely to be bestowed upon those who actively strive for self-improvement.
“Poor Richard’s Almanac” left an indelible mark on literary history. Ben Franklin’s emphasis on frugality, industry, self-reliance, and moral values struck a chord with readers, shaping their outlook and behavior. The almanac fostered a sense of aspiration and self-improvement in the masses, contributing to the spirit of entrepreneurship and the American Dream.
The wisdom of “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” which, to a certain degree, mirrors Ben Franklin’s views, echoes the sentiment that God’s aid is not simply bestowed upon individuals without effort on their part. Instead, it implies that we must exhibit our determination and dedication before divine intervention can occur. By incorporating Ben Franklin’s valuable lessons in “Poor Richard’s Almanac” into our lives, we can develop the qualities necessary for success and personal growth.
However, Ben Franklin was a deist who didn’t entirely believe in God’s word. As Christians, we should be wary of this. We might even find ourselves disagreeing with the message of “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” The concepts of self-help and self-reliance currently engulf our society. It reflects the belief that we can accomplish things based on our merit without faith.
Is This Saying Biblical?
Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.— Proverbs 12:11
When we examine the Bible, we cannot find any passage that answers the question or contains the saying, “Does God help those who help themselves?” Ironically, a 2017 Barna study reveals that 52 percent of practicing Christians strongly agree that the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves.
The Biblical truth that we must take initiative in our endeavors and work diligently on our pursuits further complicates the dilemma. The idea behind the phrase is that God rewards those who take action and put in the effort, rather than relying solely on divine intervention. While this concept may seem logical, it can be misleading when taken too far.
This phrase, although not originating from the Bible, became popularized through the writings of Ben Franklin and has since become a common proverb in English-speaking countries.
In “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” Ben Franklin included numerous aphorisms and proverbs that aimed to educate and provide practical advice to readers. One of the recurring themes throughout the almanac was the importance of personal responsibility and industriousness. Ben Franklin emphasized the idea that individuals should not rely solely on divine intervention or luck but should actively work toward their goals.
The phrase “God helps those who help themselves” encapsulates this ethos. It suggests that individuals who demonstrate initiative, perseverance, and hard work are more likely to receive assistance and achieve success. By promoting this idea, Ben Franklin aimed to inspire individuals to take control of their own lives and pursue self-improvement rather than passively waiting for external help or relying on others.
We wonder and are stopped in our tracks, as we unquestionably believe and expect that God will help us only if we act. We tend to believe the Almighty will ignore us if we just let our problems and concerns pass. Hence, failure is our destiny if we don’t take action, but it helps to remember that even at our lowest points, God helps us.
According to Clarenced Haynes Jr., “The problem with this idea is that you become your first source of help and strength. God is secondary.” We demote or often move him out of the equation of our problems. Thus, in a literal sense, it is not biblical. The gospels teach the reality of our utter helplessness regarding sin and our spiritual state. God is more concerned about our holiness than our material accounts.
As devoted Christians, we are called to trust in the Lord God and lean on His strength, not our own. The Bible tells us that we are weak, but He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9). God helps His people gain the strength to carry on in life. The danger of relying too heavily on our independence is that it can lead to pride and a lack of trust in God.
Because of our fallen and imperfect nature, we don’t possess the power and capability to overcome the intrinsic pain and brokenness we experience. We all suffer from sin, sickness, trouble, and death. But Christ died for us, sinners. It is through the Lord Jesus Christ that we can have hope, receive mercy, and conquer all these adversaries.
Scripture teaches us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6). This verse is a timeless reminder of God’s sovereignty.
We are called to trust in God’s plan for our lives and to seek His guidance rather than relying on our wisdom. God helps those who believe in His power. In Jeremiah 17:5 (NIV), it is written: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”
We need not do any magnificent work or good deed for the Lord, ourselves, or other people. Only through faith, sincere reverence, and obedience to our Creator can we find grace and access all the help the Lord alone can provide.
How Does God’s Help Work?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.— James 2:17
God’s central purpose for humanity is to love them and have a holy companionship with them. God helps the poor and those burdened by life. God helps the brokenhearted. God helps those who are lost and those who have gone astray from His kingdom. He is a loving and caring father who wants to help his children. God helps us if we ask with a sincere heart.
At the beginning of creation, He made sure Adam and Eve had the resources and provisions to live and thrive in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 1:1–25, our God created heaven and earth, as well as day and night, the firmament, the seas, land, vegetation, and animals.
Our Lord gifted us, His magnificent creation, on Earth with the resources to support and sustain life. The intrinsic laws of nature are completely fine-tuned to hold life together. In this place, God had a distinct fellowship with our first parents.
However, it is important to remember that God’s help is not a one-way street but a two-way relationship. In other words, we need to actively seek God’s guidance and grace rather than passively waiting for them to come to us.
The Bible teaches us that we can receive divine assistance through prayer, faith, and obedience to God’s will. Surrendering does not mean giving up our free will or being passive, but rather trusting that the Lord’s plan is better than ours and aligning our actions with it. There are many ways in which God’s help manifests in different areas of our lives.
Dominion, Work, And Responsibility Of Man
To exercise dominion over all other creations and harness God’s blessings, man is appointed king over creation, responsible to Him, our Lord. God asks us to look after His creation and perform good deeds in His name. As His beloved custodian, God told us to take care of all other living things—animals, plants, and everything that has breath, as the Lord’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven.
Genesis 1:28 reads: “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'” God’s original help is the environment, tools, and resources needed to survive and flourish on Earth. Our first job begins with tilling the ground.
He also gave us wisdom and free will to decide what was best for us. This paramount teaching holds up to the present time. Thus, it is not God’s mandate to help us every inch of the way in our efforts. He gave us the power of choice to do what is best for us according to His will. With God’s help, we can find meaning and purpose in our work and contribute to the greater good.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome spiritual obstacles and grow in our faith and character. This involves daily prayer, reading the Bible, and actively seeking to align their thoughts and actions with God’s will.
The process of spiritual growth can be challenging and may involve facing personal weaknesses and struggles, but with God’s help, we can conquer them and become more like Christ.
Physical And Emotional Health
God cares about our physical and emotional well-being more than anyone else. He understands our struggles and strives to be with us every step of the way through the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us. God helps His people recover from all kinds of illnesses.
We can rest assured that He will provide healing and comfort. This does not mean that we should avoid medical care or professional help, but rather that we can pray for and trust in God’s healing power and guidance in our journey toward health and wellness.
God, being the ultimate source of love, can transform our relationships with others. His love should inspire us to extend the same compassion to the people around us. We can start by showing kindness, forgiveness, and grace to others, even when it is difficult. Through prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit, we can learn to love others unconditionally and build healthy, fulfilling relationships.
Prayers And Pleas
We are, of course, given the value of prayer as a means of communicating with God. In this holy discourse, we thank God for all His blessings and ask for forgiveness of our sins. But we also implore Him for help in times of need—financial health, physical healing, and other concerns.
In the Bible, specifically in Matthew 7:7–8, Jesus tells the people, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, they will receive; the one who seeks will find; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
God helps, but not all the time. Sometimes He answers our pleas; other times He doesn’t or delays His answer until a more appropriate time. In any case, God always knows what we need at the right time and place.
A Call To Action
We have learned that the idea “God helps those who help themselves” contains a multidimensional sphere of understanding that reflects both truth and fallacy about the doctrines of God and the moral precepts of man.
God is our sovereign God—our great helper and friend. He works in us both for His will and His good pleasure. We are made in His image and created in His glory for an eternal relationship with Him. Our existence on Earth is temporary. Because of our sinful flesh, we experience pain and brokenness. We often try to seek help and relief on our own.
But Christ Jesus died to achieve salvation for our souls. Romans 5:6 tells us, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” His death is our greatest blessing. He also gave us the Holy Spirit to walk, eat, and speak with peace and mercy in our hearts. We can draw power from the gospel of Christ. Philippians 4:13 (NKJV) reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
We need to act and work, not let things happen by themselves. For example, God will help you find a job, but you have to look for it. We are co-laborers with Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:9 says, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field; you are God’s building.”
God knows what is best for us. Often, the subject of our help is not beneficial to us. Worse, our supposed pleas point to a vile desire for the flesh. Without our knowing, the Lord extends His help to us on certain occasions. But our pride and selfish character often dictate that we ignore this help or blessing from God.
God knows our strengths and our very own struggles with evil, lies, and the ungodly. Scripture teaches us that all the help we need is found in our faith and on the gracious throne of God. The more we depend on the grace of Jesus Christ, the more help we will receive from Him. The more we realize we are utterly helpless without Him, the more we become important to Him.
In James 4:6–7, it is said: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Our Lord God only wishes to be near us, and whoever asks receives goodwill in His name. In the end, heaven awaits us all.
God helps us if we pray with a sincere and humble heart. We cannot always rely on our strength. God helps us if we are faithful and obedient to Him. 1 John 5:14 reads: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God—that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Ultimately, God helps those who help themselves become faithful children of God.
He is a loving God who can provide us with all that we need, not necessarily all that we want, for His will for us surpasses our understanding. Jesus’ biblical ministry is to help us become righteous and transformed into His image—a loving and benevolent creation of God.