Why Self-Help Doesn't Really Help

The self-improvement market was worth $9.9 billion in 2016 (thanks to a little research data). Did you know you can think and grow rich and only work 4 hours each week? Since you’ve freed up so much time because you’re highly effective, you can have your cheese moved, be an untethered soul, learn the 48 laws of power, understand big magic, and wash your face!

I’m guilty of sarcasm. I Googled “top self help books” and before I even started typing “self” Google had me predicted: 


I’m not trying to knock a decent read (although, some of the authors of the books above are certainly in question right now in the media). In fact, I’ve read some of these books. I’ve used a business coach for a few years now, too. I like researchers such as Brené Brown. But, let’s be super clear: there’s only one Way that will help us, and it’s not a self-approach, it’s a Savior-approach. Without God’s power and truth activated within the bounds of Scripture, The New York Times Best Seller books are just self-help.

We’re only going to cover John 13:1-17 this week because Jesus shows us concrete examples of how we can have purpose, perspective, and blessing. I’ll pass up a human’s writing any day to take in the divinely-inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).

1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

  • Jesus knew…” Jesus had lived His life on this earth for the purpose and anticipation of this upcoming moment. Previously, He knew His hour had not yet come (John 2:4) and was under divine protection (John 7:30 and 8:20). I often say that God’s Word should be a heart knowing, not a head knowledge. Jesus knew it was time for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. This brings so much comfort to me and prompts me to look beyond the cross just as Jesus did. Did it say, “…the hour had come for Him to be betrayed, beaten, tormented, and die?” Nope. It didn’t describe the moments He was about to experience, it described the greater perspective.

  • This should be an encouragement to each of us and cause us to pause and ponder whether we have perspective beyond the cross we’ve picked up (Matthew 16:24). There’s your helping of p’s (or peas) for the day: pause, ponder, perspective.

  • “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” John chapters 13-17 provide Jesus’ farewell message to His disciples. Since we are His disciples now, too, we should pay close attention to His words and have a deep understanding that loves you. And, not just a generic love—He loves you because you are His own. There’s a depth and intimacy intertwined in those words. You are His own. And He loves you to the end…as well as the beginning when you see Him and become like Him (1 John 3:2).

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 

  • “It may be that a better translation is the devil had already made up his mind that Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, should betray him. Satan looked for a man to betray Jesus, and had probably cultivated Judas for a long time. Now the choice was made. Judas was his man.” (Guzik)

  • Jesus knew. Here’s that phrase again that we saw in verse 1: Jesus knew. Again, this should cause us to pause, ponder, and seek His perspective. Jesus’ perspective was this:

1.       He belonged to the Father. Likewise, we can know 1 John 4:4 says, “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people [speaking of false prophets], because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” Know Whose you are!

2.       All things were under His power. As a believer, you are blessed with the same Spirit that Jesus had. In fact, God poured out the Holy Spirit abundantly on us through Jesus Christ our Savior according to Titus 3:6.

3.       He had come from God. Jeremiah 1:5 tells us that before you were born, God knew you. He set you apart. You were part of God’s plan and came from Him.

4.       He was returning to God. Whether by death (2 Corinthians 5:1) or Jesus’ second coming (Revelation 19), we will return to God.  Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines the word maranatha. It is an Aramaic word that means, “our Lord comes,” or is “coming” (see 1 Corinthians 16:22) and it’s a word several of my sisters in Christ use—typically when we’re tired and broken by this world. We’ll just text each other “maranatha” as a cry out to Jesus to “Come, Lord Jesus!”

  • The point in sharing these four truths is so you will pause, ponder, and have perspective about what Jesus knew, and what He desires you to know. Let’s live knowing that we belong to Him, we have His power, He wanted us, and we get to go home soon and very soon!

so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

  • Even though these men were about to forsake Him, Jesus laid aside thoughts of Himself to think of others. You rarely find a self-help book with that prescription on it. Right now, the latest female-written, self-help book and podcast is Girl, Wash Your Face. I’m not here to tell you what to read and not to read or that there’s not wisdom inside those pages. However, I am here to lovingly share this: Wash some feet. Jesus will take care of your face, your heart, your dreams, and the like when you “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness...” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus also promises later in John 13:17 that when you do these things (aka: have a genuine servant’s heart), you will be blessed.  

Humility is the displacement of self by the enthronement of God. ~Andrew Murray

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

  • Peter was clearly uncomfortable with Jesus washing His feet. It was a “proud humility” that Peter was displaying—and we’re all guilty of doing the same. Sometimes we’re uncomfortable with Jesus washing our feet (sin), too. There is a shame that comes with sin and it can be difficult to expose the dirtiness and allow Jesus to wash you when you feel incredibly unworthy. Maybe that’s you today. If it is, my encouragement would be to not do what Peter did. Don’t argue with what the Savior desires to do for you. Simply receive what He came to do with a heart of humility.

  • Jesus made it clear that if we are not cleansed by Him, we have no deep, intimate connection with Him. Jesus emphasized that it had nothing to do with us. He didn’t say, “If you’re not a great Bible teacher, you have no part with Me.” He didn’t say, “If you aren’t constantly striving for perfection, you have no part with Me.” Nor did He say, “If you don’t clean up your life, you have no part with Me.” The emphasis of a true disciple’s life is the grace of Christ Jesus.

  • David Guzik wrote this in his study guide of John 13, and it burned my heart a bit, so I know I’m guilty: “Sometimes we show a servant’s heart by accepting the service of others for us. If we only serve, and refuse to be served, it can be a sign of deeply rooted and well-hidden pride. ‘Man’s humility does not begin with the giving of service; it begins with the readiness to receive it. For there can be much pride and condescension in our giving of service’ (Temple).”

  • There’s also an Old Testament parallel to the feet washing. Charles Spurgeon tells us that “The priest of God, when consecrated first, was washed from head to foot, and so baptised into the service of the sanctuary; but each time he went to offer sacrifice be washed his feet and his hands in the brazen laver.” Physical washing was an illustration of spiritual cleansing. When we choose to follow Christ and accept Him, we are washed once and for all. But as we walk in this world, we get dirty feet. The dirt of sin must be washed away so we don’t experience a permanent infection. Confess your sins and let the water of God’s Word wash over you today! Then, keep walkin’!

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

  • Jesus provided the perfect action with the perfect attitude. That’s why I believe it’s so important to study the life of Christ (which was empowered by God). He spent only 33 years on this Earth, and His conduct was flawless. So often, I will have the right action and the wrong attitude, or vice versa. It takes both, and it should make us cry out to God and say,

“I am powerless without you, God. Give me your strength of action and attitude.”

  • “In the world they criticize: this is the business of the public press, and it is very much the business of private circles. Hear how gossips say, ‘Do you see that spot? What a terrible walks that man must have had this morning: look at his feet! He has been very much in the mire you can see, for there are the traces upon him.’ That is the world’s way. Christ’s way is very different. He says nothing, but takes the basin and begins to wash away the stain. Do not judge and condemn, but seek the restoration and the improvement of the erring.” (Spurgeon)

  • Wash some feet, beloved. Get a bowl of God’s water and wash away the discouragement and the defeating dust of this world for others like it talks about in Ephesians 5:26 (“...to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…”)

  • Finally, a gentle warning about the temperature of the water you wash with. We don’t want to wash with water that is too hot or too cold. We want it to be a tepid water. What I mean by that is if we only give people the truth all the time, it will burn. If we only give them love (grace), it will cause their heart to become too cold because we have not appropriately corrected them (and God disciplines those He loves, Hebrews 12:6). We must have a balance in all things: truth and love dwell together. Let’s be thoughtful about the temperature of the water we use on others. (And yes, I’m writing this to myself. I like hot showers, hot tubs, and share that hot tendency with others…I’m working on it, too). Amen.