Written by Jonathan Malm, USA
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.