Paul’s ship sailed from Crete unadvisedly and was caught in a harrowing storm at sea. The passengers and crew were bracing for their imminent demise when Paul stood up to speak:

And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God,whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. [Acts 27:22-25]

How many of us could wish for an angel to appear during our darkest moments to tell us that everything is going to be okay! How we long for that divine assurance in the midst of the storms of life that God has not forsaken us and that He will deliver us!

But suppose that we do receive such a promise. How would we respond? How SHOULD we respond? In Sketches from the Life of Paul, we see how Paul’s fellow shipmates reacted:

At these words hope revived. Passengers and crew roused from their apathy, and put forth all possible exertion to save their lives. There was much yet to be done. [LP 267.1]

Does it seem strange to you that the response to such hopeful reassurance was for them to exert MORE effort to save their own lives? Does it not appear to be a disregarding of the promise or even a faithless spurning the grace of God? Why are they working harder when an angel already assured them of deliverance? The rest of the paragraph is enlightening:

Every effort within their power must be put forth to avert destruction; for God helps those only who help themselves. [LP 267.1]

God Helps Those Only Who Help Themselves

Does this statement bother you? I know I found myself recoiling when I first read it. The notion that God would only help those who “fix” themselves first seems antithetical to the very heart of the Gospel! To think that God may condescend to help us only if we “tried hard enough” is a hopeless thought.

But is that really what this passage is saying? Could it be that we are reading into the statement our own cultural biases? The following passages helped resolve the tension in my mind:

Herein is revealed the outworking of the divine principle of co-operation, without which no true success can be attained. Human effort avails nothing without divine power; and without human endeavor, divine effort is with many of no avail. To make God’s grace our own, we must act our part. His grace is given to work in us to will and to do, but never as a substitute for our effort. [PK 486.3]

Prayer and effort, effort and prayer, will be the business of your life. You must pray as though the efficiency and praise were all due to God, and labor as though duty were all your own. If you want power you may have it, as it is awaiting your draft upon it. Only believe in God, take Him at His word, act by faith, and blessings will come. [4T 538.2]

Those caught in the storm with Paul were not being faithless when they exerted more effort, rather they were putting their faith into action. You see, when we have God’s promises, we don’t cease all effort because He’s promised; rather we work with all our might because we know we cannot fail. We put forth our effort in cooperation with divine power because faith without works is dead.

God helps those only who help themselves? It simply means that God can only help those who choose to cooperate with Him.

Cooperation with God: Success is Guaranteed

Christ promised that He will come again, and He made it plain that the Gospel must be preached in all the world before the end will come. Do we believe His promise? Will we cooperate with Him to fulfill it?

Like those sailors and passengers on the storm-tossed sea, we have the “more sure word of prophecy” ensuring deliverance from this world of sin. Will we respond with the same urgency and tenacity to save as many others as possible from ruin? May we apply our efforts with all diligence, not because our efforts merit anything, but because in cooperating with God’s promises, we know our cause can never fail.

In cooperation with Him,

Alistair Huong 
Executive Director

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