The Danger of Self-Effort!

"Live Free or Die" is a popular series featured on Nat Geo. It is about a collection of individuals who have chosen to live a wilderness and austere lifestyle off of the land. These people are scattered throughout different parts of the country like North Carolina, Arizona, Louisiana and Washington. They are fiercely independent, self-motivated individuals who have chosen a solo-like lifestyle because of the freedom they have to live it anyway they like without interference from others. They think that if they succeed they have reached their highest dreams and aspirations, but they also know the risks of danger, deprivation and even death if they do not achieve their goals.

In a recent episode, a title page came up on the screen with a curious and somewhat humorous quote that was anonymously cited. The maxim simply stated, "The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm!" I immediately chuckled and thought about how appropriate this phrase is for those independent pioneers who are often in need of assistance to accomplish some project related to their everyday lives in that series. But, because they have chosen to go it alone, they find themselves without help except the help of their own hands!
Nehemiah prayed, "Lord, strengthen my hands!" (6:9, NET)

Though I have found the humor in that "helping hand" quote, I'm not sure I agree with it practically and especially, theologically. On the practical side of my analysis, I see those frustrated individuals trying to do everything by themselves as the best example of the fallacy of the statement that one's own efforts are the best help available.

I remember a time when Colbert, one of the old salts in the Nat Geo series, was so thrilled to welcome a close friend from the city who had come out in the wild to help him rebuild his burned down cabin. He acknowledged after a long day of working side-by-side how much easier that rebuilding effort became when he had the help of another's hands.

Then, there is the theology of our faith that reminds us that God's grace is foundational to everything from our salvation to our daily walk in Christ. The Apostle Paul stated this succinctly, "By grace you have been saved through faith... not of works lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). I had a seminary professor years ago who warned us not to practice a "boots-strap-pa salvation," a condition he coined about relying on works. They have their place for service after we have been saved, but we are not able to pull ourselves up by our own "boot straps" and self-effort to make us right with God. His grace saved us initially and that amazing grace works daily in the process of making us Christ-like.

The sustaining work of God's grace in a believer's life is evidenced through the faith community. I have been blessed by the fellowship of the church all my life. Encouragers have been available to help me carry burdens and losses. They have prayed with me, counseled me, and have joined hands with me during difficult challenges. I can state the obvious, "I don't know how others without a church family to lean on can carry the loads of life on their own!" There is a vivid image in the Scriptural account of Exodus 17:12. Joshua and the Israelites would not have prevailed that day in battle had Hur and Aaron not come alongside Moses to hold up his hands.

How many of us have tried to "go it alone" in our faith journey only to find defeat? Yet, how many of us have experienced relief and the blessings of Christian fellowship when we have asked other brothers and sisters for help? Truly, two (and three and dozens!) are better than one! (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Thank God for the community of faith!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.


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