The book of Proverbs is known around the world for being a treasury of practical life wisdom. Written over 3000 years ago, its truths are as impactful today as they were in antiquity. As it has been well said, we are a product of our choices, Solomon’s words for the wise echo the same:
“If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you alone will bear it.” Proverbs 9:12
There is something to be said about the import of personal decisions. Yes, outside influences affect our lives, and there are some things we cannot change, but the major direction of each person’s path is directly related to that person’s decisions. There is really no way around it.
Lots of people argue against this. And it makes sense. If we say we are the product of our decisions, and our life is a mess, what does that say about our decisions? The sad truth is, few people want to own up to the bad choices they make.
On the other hand, if things are going swell, we like to take the credit for it. In this kind of scenario, we like to think we are a result of our decisions.
If you look closely into any mature life, you will find the overall tone and status of each person’s existence is tied inextricably to their decisions. I clarify this with the word “mature” because this clearly does not apply to many unfortunate children who suffer fates entirely forced upon them by older people. In those situations, the children never had a chance to make decisions. Rather, I’m talking here about people who are free to make choices.
It is also important to note one’s choices are not merely choices of action, such as a decision to go somewhere or do something. Choices of attitude are just as important. Sometimes, even more so.
Ben Franklin, statesman of early America, weighed in on this idea when he said so famously: “…let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us. “God helps them that help themselves…“ Many mistakenly believe this phrase is a quote from the Bible, but it is not. It is a saying from ancient Greece, found in the writings of Aesop.
The question is: what did Ben Franklin mean by this statement, and how does it apply to a person who follows the wisdom of God? Let me first make clear this concept of “helping” oneself could easily be misconstrued to mean that God will only help those who feel sufficient in themselves to better their life. In other words, lifting oneself by pulling on the bootstraps. A sheer impossibility.
While we can’t know for certain what Franklin had in mind when he emblazoned that phrase on history, we can know what Solomon meant. And what did Solomon say? “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself…” Solomon, inspired by God in all his writings, wrote in perfect synthesis when he also said:
“He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.” Proverbs 28:26
So how to reconcile being wise for oneself, but also not trusting in one’s heart?
Simple. DECISIONS. We make decisions. You make a decision to be wise (follow God’s direction) or you do not. I do the same. And this true for all people. It is the decisions that people make, day to day, week to week, year to year, all through life. And those decisions render the color of each one’s life.
To say that God helps those who help themselves is amazingly accurate. It may sound boastful, arrogant, even self-sufficient. But in truth, it is just the opposite. You see, when people choose to follow God’s wisdom, they choose to not rely upon themselves. Instead, they choose to rely upon God. When one does the right thing, or thinks the right way, that person is making a decision based upon God’s revealed wisdom. And from whence came this wisdom? Oh yeah, the Bible. 🙂
The absolute best I can do for myself is to learn (through reading Scripture) what is wise, what is good and right, and do likewise. And how does God respond when I do this? He blesses and guards me:
“Righteousness guards the one whose way is blameless, but wickedness subverts the sinner.” Proverbs 13:6
“The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied with his.” Proverbs 14:14
In the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Solomon had a lot to say about fools. But Solomon’s words for the wise were just as powerful. He repeats again and again the central truth of practical living: your decisions will make you. Either they will be good and right, and your life will be blessed, or they will be foolish, and your life will suffer.