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Saturday, December 31, 2016

God Helps Those …

One strategy ...

... or another?
Does he? Really? Does God help those who help themselves? Is the key to spiritual victory simply staying in motion at all times?

Some Christians recoil at the notion. “They that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,” they reply. Sit tight, pray hard, and all will be well. Or at very least, it will be as God wills it.

Maybe.

At the other end of the spectrum lie those who quote the same adage to justify a flurry of activity for its own sake, with or without God’s involvement. They just can’t bring themselves to sit still, and need a sufficiently spiritual rationalization for their own impatience.

Perhaps neither extreme is quite correct.

The Divine and the Practical

One has to be careful about drawing broad conclusions about God’s dealings with us from historical events, but I notice that David did both things when driven from Jerusalem by his son Absalom’s treacherous attempt to seize the throne of Israel. He appealed to God for help, but then he also acted to “help God out”, if we can put it that way.

When told that his counselor Ahithophel the Gilonite had joined the conspirators, David prayed, “O Lord, please turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” Let’s not fail to note that David prayed first, clearly and apparently with confidence. But then he promptly acted to ensure, to the best of his ability, that what he had prayed for actually happened. When his friend Hushai the Archite joined him, he sent Hushai back to counsel Absalom and hopefully “defeat for me the counsel of Ahitophel”. In fact, this was precisely what happened, and Ahithophel, smart enough to know when the game was up, went home and hanged himself after Absalom disdained his wise counsel and allowed himself to be subverted by Hushai’s plans instead.

Winners and Losers

Now of course, historical outcomes rarely tell us much about the respective spiritual wisdom of the short-term winners and losers. If they did, Paul was wrong to go up to the Jerusalem, Stephen was wrong to speak out against the Jews and the Lord Jesus should have asked Peter and the gang to bring a few more swords along when they went to the Garden of Gethsemane. The fact that sending Hushai to Jerusalem to counsel Absalom worked out well for David does not prove more action is better, or that a strategy of prayer on its own is always the wrong move.

But there’s something about David’s spirit that suggests to me he was on the right track. Both his prayer and his actions seem to follow naturally from this attitude:
“If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him.”
What seemed good to God was good enough for David.

Asking and Acting

It’s the same line that Joab used when the Israelite army was surrounded by Ammonites and Syrians: “Let him do what seems good to him.” It’s the spirit of the Lord Jesus, who said, “Not my will but yours.” For the Christian, it means that we do the best we can to accomplish the task God has set before us with the tools at our disposal, while asking his blessing, acknowledging that we cannot succeed without his help and that, having laid these things before God, determining that we will be content with whatever outcome pleases him. Whether we are acting, or praying, or both, a surrendered will seems to be where we need to start.

So does God help those who help themselves?

Depends, doesn’t it. But if we ask in faith, we will probably act in faith too.

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