Thursday, June 2, 2011

The How-To Syndrome

One of the common features of our culture is the abundance of how-to and self-help information available. Books on such subjects form large shelves in bookstores and libraries. These also are prominent in Christians circles. The impression is often given that it is impossible to have a romantic relationship, raise children, have a career, or, in the Christian context, grow in Christ or run a church without detailed examination of such material to make sure we are doing it the right way. It is amazing how previous generations have been able to manage such things without these detailed instructions.

But I am convinced that in many cases this creates more problems than it solves. We are given the impression that if we just follow the advice that is given, we can have a perfect marriage, perfect children, perfect career, perfect spiritual life, and perfect church. But in the real world it does not work that way. This can end up putting the individual on a treadmill of frustration, trying to achieve these goals. Or if someone manages to convince themselves they have reached the ideal and have everything under control, they can become complacent and be blindsided by problems when they come. Also, if someone else is involved, we can end up pressuring them to follow the instructions we believe will make the relationship reach our expectations. If they refuse or they try and fail, from our perspective, to make the grade, this can result in major problems in the relationship. Therefore, we can destroy a relationship by trying too hard to improve it.  There is a general problem here that when we trust in our own abilities and ideas (even if those ideas originally came from another human being) rather then trusting in God, we are setting ourselves up for failure (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 31:1).

Based on Scripture, the most important thing is being saved by God from our sins, and this is something He does and we obtain through faith in Him (Romans 3:21-31; 4:1-8; Ephesians 2:8,9). Now as a result of this, we are called to obey Him (Romans 12:1,2; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:11-14), but God promises to work in us to change us into who He wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). In all the aspects of our lives we can expect problems (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 1 Peter 4:12,13), but we can trust God to ultimately bring us through them (Romans 8:28-39; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 4:17,18). Also, perhaps a certain amount of common-sense recognition of the limitations of what we can expect in the real world can be helpful here. Now I am not saying you should throw out all your self-help books. Some of them can have useful information if put in the right context. But we need to put them in perspective. After all, people did these things for many generations before such books came along.


  1. What ever happened to common sense? Not much of it around here in California, especially in the realm of religion and politics. Example: our ex-governor... Arnold :-(

  2. I have to agree that common sense is not that common any more. I sometimes wonder if rejecting God and His word doesn't end up in losing perspective even on ordinary things.

  3. "We are given the impression that if we just follow the advice that is given, we can have a perfect marriage, perfect children, perfect career, perfect spiritual life, and perfect church."

    I'll add self help sermons to the list. I grow tired of hearing young guys (some old ones too) proclaim answers that I know do not work.

  4. The quick answers look so much better when you haven't tried them. I knew all about how to make a marriage work before I got married.