Recently, though, one specific stat caught my eye in a new way. Barna’s research has revealed that 82% of the population believes that “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible, and that in the church we have been able to correct that false notion by one percent. As another one of Barna’s studies puts it:
The most widely-known Bible verse among adult and teen believers is "God helps those who help themselves"…
This not only speaks to our basic lack of knowledge, but to what we think is biblically sanctioned. We Americans have been inoculated with an individualistic and entrepreneurial attitude to the point where we have equated a secular, pagan value with our Christian values. God not only is not in the business of helping those who help themselves, He is actually in the business of reminding us how utterly incapable of taking care of ourselves we really are.
The proper counter-move to this false idea is twofold: an understanding of original sin and the extent of total depravity, and an understanding of the absolute freedom there is to be found in trust in God.
Psalm 1 says:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Jeremiah 17 echoes this truth and explains why we cannot trust in human hearts (including my own!):
Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD....
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
Our trust in our abilities is too great. Our strengths and potentialities far underdetermine the trust we put in ourselves. That is a recipe for disaster.