Is it Okay for Christians to Read Self-Help Books?

I have a confession to make: I write self-help books.

No “Christian Living category” author ever wants to admit that they write self-help materials. Surely our work is far more important than mere self-help. But when we examine the deep recesses of our souls, we have to acknowledge there’s a whole lot of self-help in the books we write.

I have a devotional called Created for More that helps creatives do better work while also tapping into their walk with God. Then there’s also The Hidden Option, a book that helps you make decisions when none of your options seem good.

Because I write self-help books, I’ve had to ask myself a couple of questions: Is it okay for Christians to read self-help books? Is it okay for me to write them?

The Bible doesn’t actually say, “God helps those who help themselves.” The truth is, that’s a phrase we invented because it sounds right. Nevertheless, if you walk down the aisles of a Christian book store, you’ll find tons of books from pastors and thought-leaders about learning how to help yourself. And these books sell like crazy.

I have a Christian friend who’s a self-help junkie. Every time I sit down to have coffee with him, our conversation inevitably comes around to a new author he’s reading and his thoughts on how to lead a successful life. “Have you read _______?” Or, “It’s like what ______ says . . .” I’m pretty sure my friend’s self-help book budget surpasses some countries’ GDP.

At the same time, I don’t see my friend making much actual progress in life. Each time I talk to him, he’s still struggling with the same insecurities and drama. And that’s the problem with self-help books. Self-help books don’t tell the whole story for believers.

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with reading self-help books. But if that’s where you leave it, you’re only getting part of the way there. It’s like watching the first Lord of the Rings movie, but not finishing the other two—and seeing Frodo ultimately destroy the ring (#spoileralert).

Any ounce of self-help might give us a little bit of progress in life—which is great—but there are greater things available to us. Scripture says “we can do all things”; now that seems to be a self-help start. But it doesn’t end there.


1. God gives us the strength.

In John 15:5, Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” That means only through God can we overcome obstacles and make a lasting impact on people. To be honest, I’ve had a hard time with this Scripture in the past. I know if the Bible says it, I should believe it. But I’ve also seen people who don’t even believe in God seemingly capable of anything. The human spirit and our capacity to achieve is far greater than we even know.

But acknowledging the source of that potential is the key to letting God work in and through us so that we can do more than what we dare ask or imagine.


 2. Only God can tell us the things worth doing.

The reason it’s so important to understand the source of our power—that it comes from God—is that potential is wasted when it’s put toward the wrong things. For instance, what’s the point of becoming the wealthiest individual in your city if you’ve left a trail of broken relationships in your wake? Or what good is having tons of influence if you just waste it on your own vanity?

Being able to accomplish anything I put my mind to is a nice idea. But what if everything I’m striving for is ultimately of no value? Only God can guide me into doing tasks that will make lasting impact.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Self-help books can’t tell me what God has prepared for me to do.


3. Apart from God, we can only do human-sized things. With God, we can do God-sized things.

Finally, self-help books can’t tell you how you fit into the bigger story God is telling. What’s your role in the story of humanity? How depressing it is if your life only touches itself. But through God’s empowerment and direction, we can do things that will echo throughout eternity. Like the guy who stands up for injustice and infuses God’s perspective into the situation. Or the college student who invites her roommate to a Bible study—after showing months of unconditional love like Jesus does.

When we do our work intentionally for His glory, we get to showcase His splendor to the rest of the world. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” For me, that means my writing, though labeled tritely as self-help, can bring God glory—as I make Him the central focus of my books and not just a side note in a self-centered pursuit. One dumb book, written in Jesus’ name, can become a glorious thing. And the same is true for your life.

So yes, it’s okay for Christians to read self-help books. But if that’s all you’re doing, you’re missing out on something greater. Seek God for His direction and enablement, by praying and reading His Word.

Thank God for the strength He has given you, and ask Him where He wants you to direct that strength.

4 Questions God Asked Me When I Got Attached

Photo taken by Rebecca Roberts

For some seven years of my life, I longed to be in a romantic relationship almost every single day.

I imagined that a relationship would bring me someone who truly knew and loved me, and vice versa. We’d be so happy sharing our life, joys and fears, and helping each other grow closer to God. We’d understand each other all the time and weather the storms of life together. Our love would bring us both self-fulfillment and fullness of life.

When I got into a relationship around two years ago however, I found that the reality was quite different from my ideals. God had to lead me to confront many unhealthy defense mechanisms I never knew I had.


1. “Do you trust Me?”

There were many times—especially during moments of misunderstanding and conflict between my girlfriend and I—when I strongly felt the need to defend myself. I did whatever it took to prove my point to her, to defend my position so that I didn’t have to apologize, to manipulatively use what she said to me before against her, to withdraw from her emotionally when I didn’t want to get hurt further, and to undermine her in a passive-aggressive way, among other things.

Over time, God helped me to understand that these defense tactics arose from my underlying fear of being hurt. Furthermore, He led me to realize that this boiled down to the fact that I didn’t trust God enough to protect me from hurts. I eventually learned to apologize to my girlfriend and repent before God.

God brought to mind that my best role model comes in the person of Jesus. When He was arrested, beaten, spat on, mocked, whipped, and crucified, He kept silent throughout this ordeal and chose not to retaliate even though He was never in the wrong and could have called upon legions of angels to crush those who were mistreating Him (Matthew 26:53). Jesus trusted the Father totally. He knew that God would vindicate Him and right the wrongs done to Him.

So when God asked me, “Do you trust Me?”, He was asking me if I would trust Him, just as Jesus did—enough to give up my “rights” and to let Him work in me and my relationship in the midst of my fears and wounds.


2.“Why don’t you live out what you want to see?”

Another major defense mechanism I’ve had to come face to face with was blaming. When God asked Adam why he ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam blamed Eve for giving it to him, and Eve blamed the serpent for deceiving her (Genesis 3:8-13). Whenever issues arose, I too found myself blaming my girlfriend. “If only she’d change,” I’d think, “then things would be fine.”

This was something God wanted me to die to as well. He convicted me to take ownership of my own issues and to work on changing myself first. One day, as I was grappling internally over some issues between us, God asked me, “Why don’t you live out what you want to see?” Instead of me expecting her to change to fit me, God challenged me to set the tone for what I’d like to see in our relationship.

He brought to my mind the picture of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. When Jesus served His disciples in this manner, He modelled for them what the full extent of love looked like, and told them to do likewise (John 13:1-17). In the same way, I am to take leadership by role modelling the kind of behavior I would like to see in my relationship with my girlfriend.


3. “If she doesn’t change, would you still love her?”

Another time when I was wrestling with an issue that I perceived as a problem with my girlfriend, God asked me, “If she doesn’t change, would you still love her?” That question caused me to search my heart and ask myself if I really loved her as unconditionally as I claimed.

God was reminding me to accept and love her—unconditionally.


4. “How does Jesus love you?”

One night, after an argument with my girlfriend, I lapsed into another one of my unhealthy thought patterns: comparing and complaining. I thought of how I would do certain things for her, but she didn’t seem to do the same for me. As I began comparing, I began complaining about things I felt were unfair in our relationship.

In the midst of this, it occurred to me that since my girlfriend and I were journeying towards marriage—in which the husband is to love his wife as Jesus loves the Church and the wife is to love her husband as the Church loves Jesus (Ephesians 5:22-33)—I had to prepare for that by learning how to love her in a Christ-like way.

That’s when God asked me, “How does Jesus love you?” It stopped me in my tracks, because I realized that Jesus’ relationship with me is very unfair. He reached out to me in love even when I was God’s enemy (Romans 5:10). Now that I am a Christian, He still loves me more lavishly than I can ever love Him, He gives me more than I can ever give back to Him, He forgives me much more than I deserved to be forgiven, and He gives me more grace than I should ever dare to ask.

I understood at that point that I was to love my girlfriend in this way. Instead of complaining about any perceived unfairness between us, I was to commit to out-give and out-forgive her, and to always give her more love and grace, because that’s how Jesus loves me. The Holy Spirit was reminding me to be like Jesus and to love like Jesus.


It’s really about how much I love Jesus

One year ago, when I was telling a pastor about the various difficulties I was facing in my relationship with my girlfriend, he said, “Your relationship with her is actually about your relationship with Jesus.” I didn’t fully understand what he meant back then, but I now see his point: Unless I know Jesus and grow in living and loving like Him, I cannot love my girlfriend well. American writer Liz Wann, addressing women, wrote, “If you want your boyfriend to turn into a husband who loves you like Christ, make sure he is walking with Christ. How else can he love you like Him?”

So, in order for me to be more Christ-like, I need to first know Jesus and walk with Him so closely that, as I’m more and more transformed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18), it becomes clear to others that I have been with Him (Acts 4:13). This involves me being willing to die to myself, so that Jesus can live in me (John 12:24-25).


Dying to myself, loving like Jesus

To be sure, my girlfriend and I are very happy together and we do share our joys and fears with each other. We’re growing in knowing and loving each other better over time and in drawing each other closer to God. But the intimacy and understanding we have now didn’t just occur easily, but came through a hard-won process of learning to be more Christ-like.

Throughout this time, God has taught me that giving up the self is the way to true self-fulfillment, and that dying is the way to fullness of life. I don’t get it right all the time, but I am committed to dying to myself, so that I can love my girlfriend—and, God willing, future wife—with the love that our Bridegroom Jesus has for His Bride, the Church.


When I Died to Myself At Work

Written By Joel Li, Singapore

Several weeks ago, my church mate commented about the attitude of an intern working in her organization. Whenever he did not know how to do something, she said, he would keep quiet instead of seeking help, or say that it could not be done. And whenever someone gave him feedback, he would take it with great displeasure.

“Why are young Singaporeans so hard to teach?” my friend ranted. “Why can’t they take criticism or just ask if they don’t know?” My immediate response was, “Well, they haven’t been humbled in the school of hard knocks yet.”

Later, as I mulled over what my friend had told me, I realized that we all have a tendency towards egocentricity. I, too, had once been like that.

I was brought up in a Christian family and have been a Christian for many years, having dedicated myself to the Lord when I was serving in National Service years ago. But becoming a Christian was just the start of a journey in which God used many situations and people to mold me. While National Service taught me to be tough, my time studying overseas taught me to fend for myself. The church I attended in Melbourne, meanwhile, taught me to love God more.

But it was at work that God molded me more and more into His image. I was humbled, challenged, showed grace, and taught to show grace to others.

I came to realize quickly that things did not revolve around me. I learned that putting myself first was not beneficial to the organization, and that the best working environments were usually those in which people were willing to own up to their mistakes, to put aside their egos and fix their mistakes, and to work with others without pushing their own agendas.

Christ calls His people to deny themselves and to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

For me, this meant swallowing my pride and listening to correction when I made mistakes; seeking help humbly when I did not know how to do something; and giving others due credit when they offered me help.

I must admit that “dying to self” will continue to be a hard process. Many times and in many situations, I find my pride and sense of self-importance rearing their ugly heads as I slip back into old habits and react the same way I criticize others for doing—blaming others.

I’ve also come to realize that “dying to self” is more than just changing what we do or do not do—it is also about having a right attitude. We must not only do the works of Christ but also embody the attitude and character of Christ as mentioned in Philippians 2:1-10. There are times that I have done all the right actions but without the right attitude. Within my heart, unhappiness to others or a sense of injustice continues to fester.

As members of the body of Christ, we can help each other grow in this aspect by listening to and speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This means pointing out each other’s wrongs when necessary, in a loving manner, and receiving feedback humbly when it’s given.

In this New Year, my resolution is to depend on Christ for strength to live for Him (Galatians 2:20). I know I will be able to achieve this only with God’s strength.

5 Signs that We are Preoccupied with Ourselves

Let’s just be honest here: We’ve all got some narcissistic tendencies. No one’s exempt. That being said, I don’t mean to offend anyone with the points below; hopefully, they serve as useful indicators to help us identify these tendencies and nip them in the bud.

1. I Am Reading This Article

That’s right. If you’re reading this article right now, you’re probably someone who has some level of self-absorption. You want to know if you’re too obsessed and occupied with yourself. That’s not entirely a bad thing, though. The problem comes when we are concerned about our own well-being only, sometimes even at the expense of others.

Instead of being self-absorbed, psychologists say it is more beneficial to be self-aware—where we understand the inner motivations and desires which shape our behavior and actions. Self-absorption can lead to dissatisfaction, whereas self-awareness causes us to be introspective; it prompts us to consider how we can change our negative attitudes and live more enriching, fulfilling lives that not only benefit ourselves, but also others in the process.

2. I Find Myself Criticizing Others Very Often

It is biblical to encourage and spur other people on, especially those closest to us. We are told in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 to “encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

But have you ever felt a strong need to correct someone, to the point that you’re frustrated if: One, you are unable to communicate it to them; or Two, they don’t heed your advice or just can’t seem to make sense of it? If your answer is yes to either, then you might be operating from some kind of unrealistic standard, first for yourself, then for the people around you. If you constantly feel frustrated with others, or realize that your friends want less and less to do with you, these are warning signs.

There was a time in my life when I was completely dissatisfied with everyone I knew. No matter how much time, concern, or affection my friends showed me, I was always finding some new way to put them on a guilt trip and make them feel that they were selfish and did not care for me.

What should we do? We need to remember that all of us are still in the process of becoming better, by a process called “sanctification”. Jesus Himself displayed great patience and love to those who were criticized or hated by society, such as the tax collectors and the prostitutes. While He did not condone their behavior, He corrected them gently and gave them room and time to make amends.

Similarly, we could learn to be patient and forgive not only our friends for their moments of folly, but also ourselves as we are being transformed from the inside. The Bible says: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

3. I’m Always Worrying Over Improving Myself

Are there traits in your life that you really can’t stand, but no matter how much you try to “fix” yourself, you find yourself inevitably lapsing back into the same habits? For example, are you trying to change your lack of discipline, but can’t seem to avoid procrastinating and wasting time?

We may make a resolution to change our lives, and see things seem to get better for a while. But within a few weeks, or months, we find that the old habits are back, and end up disappointed, angry, and upset with ourselves.

May I suggest that it’s because we’re focusing too much on ourselves, and trying to do everything on our own? We are always in a turmoil because we don’t let go; we don’t really believe that God is big enough to settle our problems, and we don’t really trust that He will.

We’re using our own might to change ourselves—no wonder we keep failing! Let’s trust in God and let Him take over.

4. I Feel Like I’m Always Talking

Have you ever paused for a moment in a conversation and suddenly realized that you were the only one talking? Well, maybe it’s because you haven’t stopped talking! Relationships are all about two-way communication.

If we deliberately shift the attention from ourselves and make the effort to listen to others, we’ll learn to care for the well-being of others. We would learn from people’s experiences and avoid the same mistakes in our lives. There is great wisdom in the Turkish proverb, “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold”. Could it be that even though you’ve been friends with those around you for a long time, you don’t actually know what they are like, or even what they like?

Sometimes, this may be true in our relationship with God too. We spend all our time going to Him with our prayers, our needs, and our concerns. But have we ever paused to consider what He has to say to us?

5. I Have A Fear Of Building Real Connections

For many years, I struggled with being able to care for others truly and sincerely. When I related to people around me, even those whom I love, I was always thinking of how to ensure that what I did would be reciprocated. How could I serve him so that he would always be faithful to me? What could I buy for her so that she would love me even more? And even: What could I do for God so that He would never leave or forsake me?

Eventually, I found myself disappointed when people didn’t respond the way I wanted them to, and when they failed to meet my unrealistic and selfish expectations. For a long time, I could not see a way out—until I realized that I had to first understand what being in a relationship actually meant. And the lesson came from the first and most important relationship in my life: my relationship with God.

The first thing I learned was that His love for us was unconditional. God loved us even before we existed. And despite all the times we’ve run away from Him and rebelled against Him, He has never ceased to love us for who we are. When I understood this, I began to learn to love others—just the way they were. It was not about what they could do for me, or even what would happen if they left me, but it was about how God wanted me to love the people He loved, unconditionally and selflessly. Relationships are not transactional exchanges.