“God helps those who help themselves.” Benjamin Franklin made this Algernon Sydney aphorism famous by publishing it in Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1736. It’s a classic American saying, borne from the rugged individualism and pull-up-your-bootstraps mentality that helped build America. Unfortunately, it’s not true. And applying that mentality to your walk with the Lord can have devasting consequences. Today’s passage marks the beginning of much turmoil to come as Abram and Sarai try to help themselves to get God’s plan rolling.
- Have you ever fallen prey to believing the falsehood that God helps those who help themselves?
READ THE WORD: GENESIS 16:1-6 (ESV)
16:1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.
English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- In Genesis 12, God made his first promise to Abram that he would bear offspring and be the father of many nations. According to 16:3, how long had it been since that initial promise?
- Presumably because she was weary of waiting on God to fulfill his promise, what plan did Sarai devise to help God out?
- Abram did father a child through Hagar, but it caused deep divisions in relationships. How did Sarai trying to manipulate God’s promise harm her relationship with Abram? With Hagar?
- What can we infer from these intense relational hurts? Had Sarai, in fact, helped?
- Have you ever gotten impatient and attempted to help God along? What were some of the results? What does this passage teach you about waiting patiently for God to fulfill his promises?
RESPOND TO GOD
I think every one of us can relate to Sarai. We’ve all been tempted to apply human logic to a difficult or painful situation. When God doesn’t seem to be coming through with his promises—when the timing makes no sense at all—it’s easy to convince ourselves that maybe God does help those who help themselves. But that’s just not biblical. And it’s certainly not faith-building. As with Sarai, however well-intentioned we may be, when we manipulate to help God, we may get our desired outcome, but we will not get peace. Abram got a son, but he was not the son of promise, and he would bring turmoil into relationships for generations on end. Waiting on God is not easy, but not waiting on God generally turns out to be even harder.
- Ask God to give you patience and endurance as you wait on his best for your life.
- Pray that you’ll rest in his promises and refrain from manipulating to “help” him along.