Christians pray for
different circumstances all the time. Obviously, the Bible teaches us
to pray for our needs. Jesus himself prayed repeatedly for release
from his circumstances. “Abba, Father, all things are possible
for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you
will” (Mark 14:36).
So it’s not wrong to pray
for different life circumstances… at least sometimes. But it’s
noteworthy that, after praying in Gethsemane, Jesus’ whole demeanor
Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear… So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
John 18:10, 11; ESV
Would it have been right for
Jesus to keep praying for rescue while on the cross? We have a
Scriptural answer: No. His mockers told him to pray for
rescue. Jesus refused and thus remained faithful to his calling.
How we apply this timing to
our own lives is a riddle I can’t solve for everyone. But we won’t
solve it for ourselves if we don’t acknowledge the following truth:
Sometimes it is wrong to
pray for different life circumstances.
As a general rule I think it is less damaging to pray (when you shouldn’t) than to not pray (when you should). But it is worth checking if praying for rescue is functioning in your mind as a placebo for dealing with the life God wants you to live and grow in.
Consider the case of a young man or woman who wants to get married and, for whatever reason, cannot find a suitable spouse. Is his life on hold until God grants his prayer? Or is he rather supposed to grow in wisdom and serve God in whatever way is open to him. The answer is self-evident.
it’s much easier to assume that it’s God’s job to change undesirable
circumstances and not give thought to how we are supposed to be
changed by them. People pray for a grand rescue, much like other
people buy lottery tickets. But the
results of winning the lottery are surprisingly ambiguous.
Financial “rescue” doesn’t work the way it is expected to
Wait but Don’t Waste Time
is a scene in C. S. Lewis’ Prince
that illustrates the kind of wisdom God wants us to demonstrate.
Prince Caspian’s forces are facing a much more powerful foe.
“Now,” said Peter, as they finished their meal, “Aslan and the girls (that’s Queen Susan and Queen Lucy, Caspian) are somewhere close. We don’t know when he will act. In his time, no doubt, not ours. In the meantime he would like us to do what we can on our own.”
C. S. Lewis
result was the devising of the strategy to challenge the enemy leader
in single combat. It was an idea that didn’t look very promising but
would probably delay a battle. Amazingly, the challenge was accepted
leaving High King Peter to face a powerful adversary with no sign of
Aslan suddenly arriving to save his life.
But God doesn’t call us conquerors (Romans 8:37) to never use us in battle.
point here isn’t really about prayer so much as about how much time
we spend imagining what we want rather than how we might deal with
where we are and move from there, not by science fiction
teleportation, but step by step in our own shoes. “The
discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on
the ends of the earth” (Proverbs 17:24). “Whoever works his
land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits
lacks sense (Proverbs 12:11). Prayer is not a worthless pursuit, but
clinging to fantasies about an alternative universe in which you are
not only a happier but a better person probably is. To rework
Proverbs 20:13, “Love not imagined circumstances, lest you come
to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.”
perhaps Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount also work backwards.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will
be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble”
(Matthew 6:34). Likewise, don’t magnify the day’s trouble by spending
your time thinking of a miraculously better day. Deal with the day
you are in.
Want Better Circumstances but God Wants a Better You
What concerns me is that you pray for different circumstances when God chose the circumstances because he wants a different you. We all know the clichédstory about a man on the roof of his house during a flood who turned away two boats and a helicopter because he had prayed for God to save him. But after he drowned God told him he had sent him the boats and helicopter in answer to his prayer.
So when you ask God to send you new circumstances, perhaps he is sending you into those circumstances. If God helps those who help themselves then perhaps you are the help God is sending you.
I have more to write about this, but this post is long enough for now.
I remember, back when I was a child, how excited I would get by the introduction to episodes of the TV show the Six Million Dollar man.
The idea that a person could become “better” through technology was entrancing to me… at the time. Much much later I got introduced to the idea—probably from hearing it from Crossfit’s publicity—that one could become a “stronger version” of oneself through training. Indeed, even if we did have the “plug and play” bionics envisioned in the TV show, Steve Austin would probably need training to control his new limbs in a normal fashion. Then he’d need more practice to run faster or lift more. Bypassing the need to train is difficult, even with super-powered tools.
vision of becoming a better version of oneself has proved entrancing
to some. Some iteration of that goal is part of the Christian life.
Recently, Pastor Bill Smith tied the need for people to engage in
physical training with the Dominion Mandate. He
wrote in part:
Through these years I have been able to reflect a little bit more on biblical rationale of maintaining healthy disciplines. Caring for and developing our bodies is rooted in the nature of our creation. God created man from the dust of the ground and commanded man to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. The agricultural images used are not superficial metaphors. There is a correspondence between man and the ground. Men plant seeds in women and fruit is born from the womb. We are living, walking, breathing ground. Our bodies are gardens that need to be cultivated in many ways. We learn things about ourselves by observing how the ground is glorified. One lesson we learn is that our bodies need attention to be fruitful or healthy. Our bodies need to be cultivated and nurtured, fighting back thorns and thistles, in order that good, healthy fruit can be produced.
We cultivate our bodies through “plowing them up” with physical activity and “fertilizing them” with proper diet. The first plot of ground for which God has given us stewardship is his little garden that is our body. It is His body and caring for it properly is part of our dominion mandate. We should learn how to bring our own bodies into subjection. As we do that, then we are better able to fulfill the other aspects of our dominion mandate.
is an excellent argument. But how much time someone should devote to
plowing and fertilizing will depend on one’s level of health, one’s
needs, and one’s other responsibilities. (Also, it will depends on
one’s knowledge of what kind of investment one’s body requires and
what kind of return is probable—an area that is rather
controversial.) While I recommend Smith’s post for your
consideration, I think there’s another level of dominion over body
and mind that is universally mandated.
might be called to cultivate your body as your health, but you are
called to cultivate your body as your self.
of all, remember that taking dominion over anything requires some
of behavior in mind and body that are one’s strength to transform the
world in some way. If one cannot get up in the morning (or get to bed
on time to awaken in the morning), one isn’t going to take dominion
of much of anything.
note that the Apostle Paul compare growing in godliness with athletic
Have nothing to do with irreverent,
silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily
training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it
holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1
Timothy 4:7–8; ESV).
You could almost paraphrase the first sentence as “Get up off the couch and stop looking at your phone.” There is obviously something in common between physical training and pursuing sanctification. Paul says something similar to the Corinthians:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27; ESV)
So what is the similarity between
bodily training and training in godliness?
When a person engages in strength
training (to take one kind of training) he’s hoping to improve his
muscles’ capacity to produce force. He’s looking for Steve Austin’s
bionic limbs. But that not all he is doing. He’s also improving his
skill and improving his ability to try heavy loads without
mishandling them. He’s learning to do activities that intimidate him
and follow a prescribed course of action even when he feels tired or
Most athletic endeavors are similar.
They involve learning new habits and patterns of behavior as well as
improving skills, strength, and stamina.
Some aspects of that training aren’t
primarily about changing your biological capacities, though it may
happen at the same time. It’s more like taming an animal, which is
explicitly invoked in the Bible as a model for self-control:
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well… For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:2, 3, 6-8a; ESV).
There seems to be a common
misconception that Godliness involves hearing and reading
instructions about how to live and remembering these directions all
the time, applying them in the various circumstances that come about
in one’s life. But most of life isn’t about that sort of
improvisation. We are creatures of habit and we have to train
ourselves in Godly habits if we are to become more Godly. Christian
growth is much like natural growth and maturation.
I have written before, a baby will play with his hands and feet
and put them in his mouth because he perceives them as externalities.
He doesn’t know how to control them at first. He’s not sure they
are part of him.
By the time he is two, that stage
is over. He has “brought” his limbs “into” his consciousness.
Or he has “extended” his self into his hands and feet. They are
part of him now. They are tools. He has dominion and from there he
can do new things.
consider teaching a teenager to drive. Once you know how to drive
you no longer think, “I need to slow down so I had better push the
pedal on the left.” If you are thinking that way, then you don’t
know how to drive yet. But when you do learn, the car is part of your
body. You never need to think about the controls.
It is true of language. You can
no more think of the individual letters in order and the sounds they
make as you read this post, than you can drive by first thinking
about what the controls for the car do. Language, both written and
spoken, is experienced without noticing the different parts that,
when you were young, you had to figure out.
This is a helpful way to think
about wisdom in the Bible. The same principle applies to learning to
listen before you speak or learning to restrain anger.
When a teen first gets in a car,
the car’s power scares him. It bucks and jerks. Why is the engine
But it is not rough. You just
don’t have control. The car couldn’t function without an engine
and brakes. You need those things. But you need to know how to use
them right. The same with your emotions. You have to learn to drive
them or else they will drive you off the road.
his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of
understanding (Proverbs 17.27).
Whoever is slow to
anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts
folly (Proverbs 14.29).
Good sense makes
one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense
The vexation of a
fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult (Proverbs
A fool gives full
vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back (Proverbs
These are barely decisions at all
but much more habits
of behavior. They are how you drive yourself in a way that glorifies
God and keeps you out of unnecessary traffic jams. Some are also
habits that give
you the time you need to reflect when reflection is called for.
If you are going to respond
correctly when someone makes you angry, you are going to have to do
more than simply plan to remember how to act when that happens.
People end up apologizing for their reactions precisely because they
react before they think. By the time you remember that “the
prudent ignores an insult,” you have already made your “vexation
It is all about how you train
your body. When a person who has been known for his temper learns
that it displeases God, he is being called upon to adopt a new
behavior pattern. That takes effort and time. One cannot simply
forget ingrained habits. One has to break them and build new habits.
Note that James’ comparison of
controlling one’s tongue to taming an animal is a reference to the
Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth (Genesis 1:28).
So I think Pastor Bill Smith is
right when he says,
The first plot of ground for which God has given us stewardship is his little garden that is our body. It is His body and caring for it properly is part of our dominion mandate. We should learn how to bring our own bodies into subjection. As we do that, then we are better able to fulfill the other aspects of our dominion mandate.
But by “body,” I think
the Bible means that we must take bring our selves,
into subjection. We were rescued from “your futile way of life
inherited from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18; NASB). We have a
new discipline we are called to impose on our bodies, new behavior
patterns that make a new culture when others join with us.
addition to being are first “little garden,” we should also
say that our bodies (including our minds) are our first mission
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18b-20; ESV; emphasis added).
calls Christians to train others in obedience. It also calls each one
to train himself. Our calling to the nations includes a calling to
disciple our hands and feet and eyes. We are summoned to obey and
that means we are summoned to train our body parts to be more
that way we make ourselves into better, stronger, and more godly
versions of ourselves.
In the Bible, fatness is such a blessing, that it is especially hard to understand why wicked men are permitted to enjoy such a state. It requires a theodicy and faith in God. Thus:
For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
Psalm 73:4-7, ESV
With that in mind, let us look at the Biblical data on gluttony. The
first reference to gluttony refers to it as evidence of a capital crime:
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, “This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”
Deuteronomy 21:18-21, ESV
Note that Jesus himself hints that his opponents, who call him a glutton for spending so much time eating with the “wrong people” are actually trying to get him executed as a rebellious son” (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34).
While a modern reader might think this means parents can simply have
their child executed at will for being disobedient, I think the more
informed reading is that this child has grown up as a career criminal.
The point of the passage is that even his parents must witness against
him. As a repeat offender he is liable to capital punishment and his
parents must not choose blood over the community and the Law of God.
But why associate gluttony and alcoholism with such capital offenses? Before speculating, let us look at other data in the Bible:
Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.”
Proverbs 23:19-21, ESV
Proverbs 28:7 also mentions gluttony. “The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding,/ but a companion of gluttons shames his father.” This corresponds to the passage in Deuteronomy, but it doesn’t seem to do much to explain the content of the sin. The sin of joining the wrong kind of companions, however, is one of the first sins mentioned in the book of Proverbs. The son is to resist the lure of those who offer a life of plunder.
Gluttony is never associated with such fatness as we find mentioned
in Psalm 74, but rather with poverty and a refusal to work—which is
often accompanied by a life of crime necessitated by a lack of
sufficient income by honest means. The evidence indicates that
gluttony’s relationship to poverty is twofold. First, expensive food can
leave the eater impoverished (“expensive” here would probably mean
tavern fare). Second, people who stay up late eating and drinking tend
to want to sleep late into the day, and thus miss opportunities to labor
for wages. Thus, those who choose this lifestyle are likely to be
tempted to join and gang and rob the people who do labor of their wages
so that they can finance that lifestyle.
Gluttony, thus, is a form of foolish consumption that also has a
negative feedback loop in that it encourages sloth. It ties into
repeated themes in Proverbs, for example: “Whoever loves pleasure will
be a poor man;/ he who loves wine and oil will not be rich” (21.17).
One final reference is from Paul’s letter to Titus “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons’” (1.12). This gives us the content association of “lazy” with glutton. Rather than envision Paul haranguing Christians to go to the gymnasium more often, I think the most likely interpretation is that Paul addresses this later (3.8) when he expresses his concern “that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” This corresponds to other expressions of Paul’s pastoral concern (for example, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (1 Thessalonians 3.10) and works well with the Proverbs passage.
I remember listening to the practical theologian Dave Ramsey speak of
someone who, after tracking his spending for the first time, realized
he and his wife were spending $1200 every month on restaurant dining
(this would be in the nineties). The man, shocked at his own stupidity
said he finally understood why they had nothing saved for retirement:
“We were eating it.” According to the Bible, that was gluttony—and it
would still be gluttony if both of them were buff exercise enthusiasts.
(Ironically, paying for a gym membership on a credit card could actually
be closer to gluttony than eating a Supersized Big Mac meal).
Before The Objections Come In
What I am saying seems to make the Bible irrelevant to a great deal of cultural noise about the dangers of obesity and the health/fitness industry. That’s because it is irrelevant and pastors should have little to say about it as pastors and teachers of God’s word.
I think that much of of the “fitness industry” and the cultural noise is likely a bunch of silly nonsense that will someday be recalled by historians with the same feelings we get when we watch a historical drama on television and see a physician cut and bleed a sick patient. Perhaps I’m overreacting to some degree. It is hard to say with any certainty. But I am quite confident that we would be better off getting our ethical data, especially our standards for judging other people, from the Bible rather than from the current consensus.
I especially think we should not be attaching vice and virtue assumptions to people’s body composition and eating habits. One is supposed to train oneself to not lust after people for sex, but restrict the enjoyment of sex to one’s (opposite-sex) spouse. Nothing like that is ever taught in Scripture about food in the Bible (the food laws were temporary and had nothing to do with eating too much). It is no surprise that such taboo thinking produces permanent psychological damage in young people and even kills some. One’s health, in general, is a form of wealth. And, to the extent one has influence over one’s health, conserving and improving it is a matter of stewardship and wisdom. But that is done by planning, executing the plan, and cultivating habits within that plan–not by condemning people for eating when they are hungry or judging them for being larger than you think they should be.
For those who want to get an idea of how questionable the current “science” of health and fitness might be, I would suggest starting with The Diet Myth: Why America’s Obsessions with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health by Paul Campos (formerly The Obesity Myth). They can also look at The Fat Nutritionist. Liberating the Bible from the fitness consensus—that often can’t seem to deal accurately with statistics, control groups, or the assignment of cause and effect—is a feature, not a bug to this post.
An earlier version of this essay was originally posted at Theopolis.
This is a controversial question in American political culture right now. Some strongly advocate for legal restrictions on gun ownership and possession. Others strongly favor the restriction of the legislature and the rest of civil government to the dictates of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights. As they see it, an armed populace is ultimately safer from crime and can’t be controlled as easily by domestic or foreign governments.
even if a young man believes in the Second Amendment in this way, it
may be a stupid decision to purchase a gun. His thinking may be
clouded with slogans and visions from action movies rather than a
sober evaluation of his actual circumstances and risks.
My argument for this is simple and two-fold. The first reason is that handguns are expensive to purchase and also expensive to keep since practice with them requires the cost of ammunition and usually a designated place. The second reason is more important and universal: A growing stash of saved wealth is usually the main tool of personal freedom and independence, not a handgun.
loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will
not be rich” (Proverbs 21:17).
treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man
devours it” (Proverbs 21:20).
Undoubtedly there are circumstances in which a handgun (along with discipline and proficiency in using it) is more valuable than all the money in the world at that particular moment. But much of the entertainment industry is concentrated on people facing such scenarios, making them seem common. Outside of fantasy, those circumstances are quite rare for virtally anyone who is reading these words. As far as “resistance to tyranny” goes, the government has its citizens outgunned. Practically speaking, after the skill of staying out of trouble altogether, the most important tool one can possess in dealing with government hostility in the U.S. is the ability to afford a lawyer.
The most common villain every person faces throughout all the world and all history is poverty. It is a “robber” and an “armed man” (Proverbs 6:11; 24:34). This is true even in affluent societies. Financial emergencies and setbacks, personal and societal, are a hazard of life. Thus, the most important weapon to defeat that villain is a growing stash of cash, and/or an expanding bank account, and/or a compiling collection of assets designed to produce income or at least be liquidated (not things you acquire to consume, but things you acquire to sell or make money from). If, while doing that, you believe you can own a handgun responsibly, go ahead and get one. But without amassing some wealth, purchasing something that unnecessary and expensive is stupid.
The fantasy of needing to be able to deal with an armed opponent is distracting you from the real threat you face. The Second Amendment’s vision of human life may be true, but that doesn’t make a young man’s decision to purchase a handgun wise. Being distracted into giving up money you will probably need to acquire something you probably won’t need is irrational.
discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are
on the ends of the earth (Proverbs 17:24; ESV).
works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows
worthless pursuits lacks sense (Proverbs 12:11; ESV).
If you are dependent on and responsible for a car, for example, the ability to repair or replace it is probably a more pressing need than to deal with hostiles who have taken over Nakotomi Plaza.
problem is that, one either gets in the habit on saving money or of
spending all one’s money. Many people get set in this habit at an
early age. If you have the wrong habit, it is human nature to accept
it as normative and rationalize it. Instead of figuring out what is
the best way to live, we utilize all our brain power to justify what
we have already been doing.
When many American teens get jobs, they do so to be able to buy things they want over and above what their parents are willing to spend on them. This seems responsible but it means they get habituated to earning money for things they want to immediately purchase and use. That habit is insufficient for a productive adult life.
realize that they need to save, and assume that they will change
their behavior when they get a “real job.” But a lot of
people find that the “real job” barely covers real
expenses. Unless they’ve already cultivated the habit of saving
money, it will be very difficult to change their behavior. It is much
better to have already developed an obsession to save rather than an
obsession to have things you don’t need at the expense of saving. You
need to get to the point where depleting your savings causes as much
mental pain as not having some luxury you want.
always, God wants us to be wise in order to empower us. Nothing in
Proverbs indicates that it’s actually wrong to acquire and enjoy
luxuries. But that enjoyment needs to be done in a way that doesn’t
sabotage you as a person and rob you of financial freedom.
I find I need to add a footnote to my post concerning Benjamin Franklin and the quotation, “God helps them that help themselves.” I mentioned that some Christians hold the quote to the epitome of “the American religion” that is opposed to authentic Christianity.
But this blog post demonstrates that the saying isn’t original with Ben Franklin.
…this statement can be taken in an orthodox way and actually comes from the pen of the famous Bible commentator, Matthew Henry. Henry writes,
“God will help those that help themselves. Vigilantibus non dormientibus succurrit lex—The law succours those who watch, not those who sleep.” (Commentary on Joshua 5:13-15).
In another place, Henry writes: “He gives strength and power to his people, and helps them by enabling them to help themselves…He will help the willing, will help those who, in a humble dependence upon him, help themselves, and will do well for those who do their best.” (Commentary on Isaiah 40:27-31).
So the saying may well represent the influence of a Christian heritage on Benjamin Franklin, rather than a deviation from it.
I know the proposition is not found in Scripture.
yes, I know that Benjamin Franklin was not a Christian.
And I agree the aphorism might be used to justify unchristian attitudes toward success or poor people, etc.
But plenty of genuine Bible verses can be used to justify unchristian attitudes and behavior. Many of them have been.
Benjamin Franklin being wrong about orthodox Christianity doesn’t
prove he was wrong about everything. It doesn’t even prove he was
less influenced by the Bible on a particular topic than are his
The fact that a proposition is not found in Scripture does not prove it is not derived from Scriptural teaching!
report that some people think that “God helps those who help
themselves,” is found in the Bible shows a lamentable level of
ignorance. It also shows a hopeful level of awareness of what the
Bible sounds like.
Some Christians in the Reformed tradition are the worst since they accuse the statement of teaching Pelagianism. But it does not do so. All we have to do is look at the context:
I have heard that nothing gives an author so great pleasure, as to find his works respectfully quoted by others. Judge, then, how much I must have been gratified by an incident I am going to relate to you. I stopped my horse, lately, where a great number of people were collected at an auction of merchants’ goods. The hour of the sale not being come, they were conversing on the badness of the times; and one of the company called to a plain, clean, old man, with white locks, ‘Pray, Father Abraham, what think you of the times? Will not those heavy taxes quite ruin the country! How shall we be ever able to pay them? What would you advise us to?’——Father Abraham stood up, and replied, ‘If you would have my advice, I will give it you in short; “for a word to the wise is enough,” as Poor Richard says.’ They joined in desiring him to speak his mind, and, gathering round him, he proceeded as follows:
‘Friends,’ says he, ‘the taxes are indeed very heavy; and, if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us; “God helps them that help themselves,” as Poor Richard says.
Benjamin Franklin, The Way Of Wealth
Obviously, this wasn’t a discussion of eternal salvation or of why some respond to the Gospel and others don’t. This was a frank challenge to people who wanted to blame others for their financial woes. For this reason, they were also prone to think that only others could make their financial lives any better. All that Father Abraham and Poor Richard can do for them is offer advice. It is up to them (humanly speaking) to follow it. He ends on the same note:
‘And now to conclude, “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other,” as Poor Richard says, and scarce in that; for it is true, “We may give advice, but we cannot give conduct.” However, remember this, “They that will not be counselled cannot be helped;” and farther, that “If you will not hear Reason, she will surely rap your knuckles,” as Poor Richard says.’
And Solomon agrees,
Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
the key point: if your resolution doesn’t have failure built into the
plan then you will probably fail to keep the resolution.
Some people make New Year’s resolutions and others don’t. Some forget their New Year’s resolutions before February comes. Some realize two weeks into January that they forgot to make any resolutions and feel they missed an opportunity.
So are those who opt out of New Year’s resolutions the rational ones? I’ve been tempted to think so. But recently a friend posted a quotation from G. K. Chesterton and it caused me to think differently:
“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”
I don’t understand everything Chesterton says here (Why should any resolution depend on making New Year’s resolutions? [but see note below]), but it does give me pause about scoffing at the custom. Some holidays are meant to commemorate important facets of life. While one cause of Mother’s Day and Father’s day is an economic need to sell greeting cards, another is to commemorate the value of fathers and mothers. Likewise, New Year’s Day serves more than one purpose. While New Year’s Day is used to track the years and dates by calendar, it has also become a commemoration of the value of a fresh start in human life.
beings need to pull themselves together and start anew in order to
So let’s say you normally make New Year’s resolutions but this year you got caught up in holiday drama at the end of 2018 and it distracted you. Now you realize that it is over a week into January and you haven’t even thought of what improvements you should make. Well, so what? The point of the holiday is to remind you of your need to become a better person. It’s not the date by which you MUST begin!
other words, it is rational to use the customary holiday to remind
you to improve yourself, but it is superstitious and irrational to
treat the holiday as a deadline to begin a resolution. That would
actually do more to discourage people than to encourage better
“Failure” to “keep” a resolution involves a similar misunderstanding. The object of New Year’s Day is not to get a “perfect” year with an unbroken record. Human behavior doesn’t change overnight. You don’t wake up with new habits in 2019 because you wished for them at bedtime on New Year’s Eve 2018.
effort required to adopt a new behavior or habit isn’t a session of
intense “willing” it to happen. It takes the diligent tracking of
your behavior over time and a commitment to keep trying despite
is why not planning for failure is commonly fatal to a New Year’s
it betrays a wrong mindset. You are basically saying to yourself and
God, “Unless I can be a disciplined writer, or healthy eater, or
swole gym rat, a daily intellectual reader, or regular early riser, a
faithful prayer warrior morning and evening, or a weekly Bible verse
memorizer, etc, then there’s no point in bothering. And by “no
point in bothering,” you mean you should be left alone to remain
the subject of inertia as your unchanging (or, actually, slowly
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.
Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
Proverbs 13:4, 11 (ESV).
So don’t get discouraged about imperfect improvement. Track what change you are able to make and then make another, better resolution when the time comes. Or whenever you think it is appropriate.
[A reader contacted me and suggest that “a particular man” means a certain type of man. There are some men who won’t make resolutions unless prodded by a tradition like New Year’s Day. That seems obvious now, but I didn’t think of that option when I read it.]
It may seem strange to quote a political philosopher on a website dedicated to Biblical wisdom. But John Locke’s First Treatise on Civil Government was essentially a Bible study. A book had been published arguing that the Bible demanded absolute monarchy, reasoning that there was kind of authoritarian succession from Adam to kings. Locke exposed many flaws in the author’s argument. One of those flaws was that he left out the role of Eve and all mothers.
Thus, Locke points out:
“My son, hear the instructions of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother,” are the words of Solomon, a king who was not ignorant of what belonged to him as a father or a king; and yet he joins father and mother together, in all the instructions he gives children quite through his book of Proverbs.
This has ramifications outside (or perhaps before) politics. It means a young man who only respects his father is probably not on the path to wisdom.
Let me start with a brief story about a society in which some people had slaves and attempted to use those slaves for income:
David thought the interview had gone well so far. Huxley Industries needed a slave to answer phones, keep records, and do other office work. David needed some better income and he had a slave to rent. His slave could easily do the jobs that they needed to be done.
“So can your slave be here by 7:30 am every weekday morning?”
David’s heart lurched. “You start that early?”
Well, we need him ready to go before others come to work. We found this position works better if he starts a half hour earlier.”
“Is that a problem?” Sharon, the interviewer sounded completely non-judgmental about David’s slave. He was thankful for her professionalism.
“Well, I have my slave during most of the day,” said David, hating to have to admit the truth out loud. “Body is a good slave and I’m sure he could do the work here.”
“But I’m not completely his sole owner. His other master may make that 7:30 start time difficult to meet.”
“Someone else has ownership that early in the morning?”
David shook his head. Not in the morning, but usually late at night. Wine, Women, and Song are part owners from about 9 p.m. until pretty late. Getting up that early might be a problem.”
Sharon nodded. “That was actually why this position didn’t work with the last slave we tried to rent from someone.”
“Did Wine, Women, and Song have part ownership?”
“No,” said Sharon, “I think it was Late Night Television. It kept the slave up at night and when the other owner got full control back in the morning, the slave was too groggy to work for us effectively.”
“I appreciate talking to you about the job,” said Sharon. “But you have to understand lots of slaves can do the tasks we need done. Our problem isn’t the tasks themselves but the simple fact that the owners are not really total owners. You can’t really rent out a slave if you already share him with other masters.”