Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Fallacy of Self Help Programs


Today I want to talk about something that has been around for a long time in and out of the church.  It is a multimillion dollar industry.  Today I want to talk about Self Help programs and how they relate to a Christian.  I think God's word gives a very clear and concise answer as to the efficacy of a self help program for a Christian.
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."  Mark 8:34 NKJV
The first part of becoming a Christian is to deny yourself.  We are not supposed to help ourselves.  We are not supposed to elevate our selves.  We are not to rehabilitate our selves. And we are certainly not to amplify our selves. We are to deny them.  That is why a Self Help program is wrong for the Christian.  That is why it will never succeed in the life of a Christian in truly finding joy.  If anything, it is going the complete opposite direction in the way you should be going.  You see, self help programs are all about satisfaction of the self.  It is about self esteem.  It is about being self content.  It is about being in love with your self.  The problem is that self is the problem.  It is like fighting an infection by making the bacteria infecting you grow.  It is like fighting cancer by making the tumor even larger.  Self Help programs teach you to love yourself, to embrace yourself, and to satisfy yourself.  The Bible teaches you to deny yourself. 

I know that many self help programs try to incorporate God into them, but they use a clever twist of an old lie in order to lure their prey.  They may be well meaning by those who promote them, but their inspiration is from somewhere south of God's throne.  The key is that (unless it is a Christian program, which we will discuss later), they tell you that you can incorporate any god or some general form of "spirituality."  That alone should be a warning sign to run far and fast the other way.  Any program or anything that does not proclaim Jesus as Lord is not from God.  Any program that interchanges Jesus with any other god or uses clever words to turn Jesus into some other god (and many do by mixing their New Age lies with your faith) is meant to only pry you away from your faith.  Once they corrupt the pure image of our Lord as presented in His word, then there is no end to what they can do to your faith.  At first they will encourage you in your beliefs.  They will tell you that whatever god you believe in is fine and to make your faith part of the program.  The problem is that there is only one God and it is the God of the Bible.  Jesus is unlike any other false god and so it is impossible for Him to be compatible with any program that does not elevate Him as Lord.  At that point when you enter the program with your faith, you have turned Jesus from the true and living God to just the one you relate as some general deity the program ascribes to believe in.  That is the beginning.  The end is even more tragic. 

The end is your self elevated above that of God.  I know many of you think that would never happen, but the fact is that submission to God undermines the so-called healing of self.  It is not about how God desires you to live, but about how God helps you live in the way you desire.  God goes from Lord to servant and you go from servant to lord.  It is no longer about conforming yourself to Christ, but about Christ conforming to how you are taught to relate to Him.  He becomes your guide taking you where you want to go and not you being led to where He desires to take you.  The fact is that it is impossible to follow God and a self help program because they are not compatible in any way. You already undermine His authority by taking up the effort to elevate yourself.  You are in rebellion by the very fact you are in a program and that rebellion will only end with you worse off than you were to begin with. 

The thing is that all self-help programs are essentially the same.  They all have their unique twist in an effort to repackage the same failed lie, but they are all essentially the same.  All of these programs are flashes in the pan that lead to heartbreak and disappointment.  If that were not true, why do they all seem to fade into obscurity?  Any and all self help programs start out with infomercials and celebrity endorsements.  They have charlatan doctors to back them up and sell millions of books.  Sooner or later those book sales fade and the promoters retire to the millions they made out of the many hurting hearts they deceived with their lies.  If any program really had the answer, why would it fade away?  If self help programs really had any benefit why do those books sit and collect dust or end up at garage sales being sold for a quarter?  They are all failures. 

So what is a Christian to do about depression or a low self esteem. What is a Christian to do if not feeling satisfied about life.  First of all, I am not talking about clinical depression.  That is a disease and knowing people with mental illness, I know there is no self help program around that would held.  It is an illness that must be addressed just like any other illness.  That said, what is a Christian to do?  There are many Christians who go through things in life that gets them down.  There are many who feel unreasonably miserable about themselves.  The answer is not from some guru, though, who is only out to get your money.  The answer is in God's word.  The answer is in denying that self and allowing God to create your identity in Him.  The fact is that low "self" esteem is something we should have.  There is nothing good about self, which is why we must deny it.  Pity parties, sin, selfishness, and the like are all elevations of self.  Self can not be rehabilitated or improved.  That is why God tells us to deny it.  The key to happiness begins in the Beatitudes. 
Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.  Matthew 5:3-4 NKJV
The fact is we are supposed to go through a time of seeing ourselves for who we really are.  That leads to a healthy low self esteem as we realize how poor in spirit we are when compared to God. We then mourn for our unrighteousness.  We see ourselves for the failures we are.  Here is where self help goes astray.  We are taught to fight that poverty of spirit and that our mourning is all wrong.  Considering it is that poverty of spirit and mourning for our unrighteousness that are the keys to truly being happy in God, the further you stray from that the further you will ever be from truly finding joy.  We are supposed to have that emptiness.  We are supposed to have that poverty of spirit.  But the reaction is not to fight them, but to embrace them as the truth of who you are.  That may sound completely illogical in that finding joy is by embracing your poverty of spirit and lack of righteousness, but God's ways are not our ways.  You see, when we empty ourselves before God, when we come to Him in a spirit of admitting who we are instead of denying it, then He will fill us. 

So what of those Christian self help programs from those such as Joseph Prince, Joel Olsteen,  Rick Warren, et al.  These are all just a more "Christian" twist on the same lies.  They teach the elevation of self and the satisfaction of the flesh.  They are no different in reality than any other self help program.  They also will end the same.  I mean when is the last time you heard of Rick Warren since his meteoric rise to fame?  Joel Olsteen is not as popular as he once was either.  Joseph Prince will soon follow.  The fact is they do not have the answers, they just have good marketing and teach a message that tickles the ears of self.  In the end, they still elevate the self and in the end, those people fall right back into whatever misery they were in.  The problem is self and so elevating it, even in a pseudo-Christian setting will still end the same failed way.

Many of these programs, including the Christian one, start with a premise that God loves you.  That is true but it is not long before they stray from the truth.  You see God does love you just as you are.  God loves you so much He sent His son to die for you.  God loves you so much that He wants to spend eternity with you.  God also loves you so much that He does not want to keep you in the sad state we are when He finds us.  He does not want us to elevate who we are in some attempt to justify our belief that He does love us by feeling better about our selves.  No, He wants so much more than that!  He wants to prove His love by working in you to make something better.  As we seek and follow His will, He will lead us to where He created us to be.  As we deny our selves, those problems of self will fall to the wayside.  That is how a Christian in prison can still rejoice in the Lord. That is how Christians living in poverty live each and every day in the faith that God will provide for them.  That is how someone with a terrible and terminal disease is full of peace about the end to come.  Self help teaches the focus on self where the prisoner will focus on the prison he wants to change, the poor person will focus on his poverty, and the sick person will focus on his illness.  In those cases, happiness is predicating on changing those situations.  When you deny yourself and place your focus on God, though, something happens.  Those circumstances mean less and less. When your focus is on God, life's circumstances are not as important.  When your eyes are on the God of the Universe and your heart is seeking after Him, what else can matter?  When your eyes are on the promise to come, what failures in life can matter?  Focusing on yourself will never lead you to happiness.  Focus on Jesus, meditate on the promise of eternity to come, rejoice in the treasures that await you in Heaven, and love God with all that is in you.  The fruit of that will be joy and peace you could never understand or imagine.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NKJV

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