Do You Seek Self-Help or God’s Help?

As a lover of productivity, I can be lured by the siren song of self-help books written to solve my every problem. Their promises of an organized life in three simple steps and renewed joy from a change in wall color pull at the fabric of my lazy little heart. Three simple steps sound cushier than a long process of sanctification, and (I’m sad to admit) reading advice from an unknown author sometimes feels easier than praying to my heavenly Father.

To be fair, many of these resources offer advice that has improved my life. They’ve shown me which hours of my day are most productive, how to be present for those around me, and how to arrange my kitchen so the spatulas are close to the mixing bowls. But no matter how insightful, their biggest promises (happiness, relief from anxiety, peace in my home) almost always fall flat because they aren’t providing what I really need.

Like Martha in Luke 10, my felt needs aren’t my real ones. In the familiar story, Martha was sure that her greatest needs were to get help in preparing a meal and to receive Jesus’s affirming nod at the injustice of her situation. She was wrong. Jesus informed her that only one thing was necessary, and to her surprise, it wasn’t any of the things she was “anxious or troubled about” (Luke 10: 41).

Imagine the Lord telling us that we may not actually need the kids to stop fighting. We may not need a more understanding spouse or better friends or career success or that person to hang up their towel for once in their lives. We may not even need what the influencers tell us we can’t live without. What we need, the Lord informs us, is to come to him, enjoy his presence, and sit under his Word.

Self-help resources meet felt needs and offer useful tips. God’s help meets real, soul-level needs and realigns our lives. Consider these four questions to identify where you are looking for help.

1. Do you pick up your phone or your Bible in the morning?

Many of us check our phones within minutes of waking, not simply because of big-tech strategies to hook us, but because we’re looking for shortcuts to joy. Scrolling through social media or reading online advice makes us feel productive, but is that feeling real or are we forfeiting true help? 

Daily communion with our Creator and Sustainer brings true aid, shaping our hearts and inspiring our vision. Regular time in the Word communicates to God, others, and our own souls that you need God’s help more than you need anything else today! The crinkly pages of Scripture offer no shortcuts, only the Way himself. In them, God meets, guides, and fills us as we begin the day together.

2. Do you self-talk or God-talk?

Self-help affirmations abound. “I am ready!” “I am strong!” “I am enough!” Though confidence has its place, proclaiming our own worthiness is awkward at best, especially in an upside-down yoga pose. Soon enough, as the minute and hour hands tick, we find that we’re not enough. Life is too big for us. We need an ever-present help that doesn’t fade away.

Maybe reciting mantras isn’t your thing, but consider whose voice you listen to throughout the day. Is it God’s or your own? Do God’s truths counteract your fears and worries, or vice versa? Do you talk to the Lord about tricky situations or simply loop them over and over again like an anxiety playlist for your soul? Self-talk bounces around in its own echo chamber. Prayer sails to the throne of God who knows exactly how to help.

3. Are you a complainer or a thanker?

Complainers can’t understand why life doesn’t work the way they want it to. If life is a series of challenges that can be self-helped away, why do more keep appearing? The self-help industry has spent millions to convince us that we are all we need, but we always come up short. When self is both the asker and answerer of our questions, we find ourselves in a frightening place: a place where problems become the emphasis of our lives and all that’s left to do is complain. 

Jesus changes that. Through his death and resurrection, God welcomes us in, flinging wide his gates and calling us to come. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,” urges the writer of Hebrews, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). God draws us near to give us gifts of mercy and grace. We see our true needs met in him, and gratitude flows from our lightened hearts.

4. Do you set your hope on earth or heaven?

A problem-free planet sounds charming. If we could all just meditate, work out, sleep eight hours each night, and get along, life would be pretty great. But a godless utopia would not be great. Without God’s presence, it would be more like hell than heaven.

External problems aren’t our greatest threat, and fixing them shouldn’t be our highest goal. In Colossians 3:2–3, Paul instructs us to “Set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

In Christ, our lives are more than the solving of problems—infinitely, gloriously more. They are opportunities to live in the sweetness and thrill of union with the Savior himself, who invites us to come to him with every need, burden, and joy. In him we experience eternal welcome.

It’s wise to seek advice on business and relationships and how to repaint your mailbox, but it’s far wiser to seek and study and savor the wisdom of God, our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

You Are Welcomed book cover

You Are Welcomed

When you feel overwhelmed by life’s demands, trials, and emotions, you are not alone. God welcomes you into his rest and peace. In this ten-week devotional, author and women’s ministry leader Trish Donohue helps women who are weary turn to the Lord, put down their burdens, rest in his welcome, and then welcome others to walk with Jesus too.

About the author

Trish Donohue

Trish Donohue serves as Director of Women’s Ministry at Covenant Fellowship Church and is the author of Between Us Girls: Walks and Talks for Moms and Daughters and You Are Welcomed: Devotions for When Life Is a Lot. She is a pastor’s wife and mom of four who lives with her family in West Chester, PA.

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