Have you ever heard the story of the man who prayed that God would save him in a flood? He stood on top of his roof, praying that God would save him. Three different rescue teams tried, and when each asked if he was okay and offered to bring him to safety, he turned them down, declaring that God would save him. Eventually he ended up drowning in the flood, and when he reached the other side, he approached God unhappily asking, “God, I trusted in you, why didn’t you save me?”
And God looked at him in exasperation and answered, “I tried three different times to save you, but you turned down all the people I sent!” The moral of the story: while one can pray for something all day long, if he’s not able to see the ways God is opening doors and creating opportunities because he’s waiting for God to set everything right in front of him, he’s going miss out on all the ways God is trying to answer him.
This belief that “God only helps those who help themselves” is often greatly misunderstood. I have found in my experience that there are many who have a hard time finding a good balance between praying and doing. There are many who pray constantly for help in their situations, trust God more than anything, but whose faith that He will provide seems to keep them from taking a chance with the confidence that He will help them. It’s not because they don’t have enough faith to take a chance; it’s simply that they don’t feel it is necessary until God does the groundwork and then places it before them. But, on the other side of the issue, there are those who put themselves through great struggles and pain taking risks without putting their lives in God’s hands first, and don’t turn to Him until everything fails. Personally, I definitely have a bad habit of trying to figure out everything for myself, taking leaps of faith without the virtue to fly instead of fall.
While I do think that God often reaches down to pull people out of the hardest tragedies or deepest ruts to place them on straight paths, I also think that if we truly want to receive His help in our lives to the greatest extent we need to put actions to words, but also support works with faith. Just as faith without works is dead (James 2:17), works without faith are fruitless (Hebrews 11:4-7). “God only helps those who help themselves” does not mean that God does not reach out to the fallen or lost. It does mean that those who are actively seeking to do the best they can, while also praying for guidance, are the ones who are making themselves the most receptive to God’s grace. By their prayer they are showing God they want His help. By their actions they are proving to Him that they are willing to seize any opportunities He lays before them because they are motivated enough to bring about the solution and answer they are praying for.
Basically, Will Rogers said it best, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” With God, all things are possible, so once you’ve offered it all up to Him, and as long as He remains the reason and strength behind your actions, why wait? Gandhi’s wise challenge to “Be the change in the world you wish to see” does not have to be seen as a self-empowering, faithless “carpe diem”, but rather a chance to rise up as St. Catherine of Siena declares: to become what we should be, and “set the whole world on fire.”
All it takes is one step forward, a small leap of faith into God’s hands, to show Him you are ready to receive His grace and do His will. But, once you’ve offered it up, you have to jump first.
So, are you ready?