I grew up in a culture that not only encouraged self-reliance, but truly celebrated it. There was no one more admired than the “self-made man.” Everything that was strong and powerful was wrapped up in the life of a man who made his own way. “Be a man!” was the rallying cry to the one who showed weakness or neediness. And the Bible verse to support such a view (which is not in the Bible), was the oft-quoted, “God helps those who help themselves.”
But self-reliance is both a lie and a trap. It is completely erroneous to think that one can provide for oneself all that is needed in life. And it is a falsehood that leads to the worst sort of pride. I say it is the worst, because pride in one’s independence and strength truly sounds like something to be admired. When was the last time you saw a movie in which the hero was weak, needy, and dependent. By the laws of movie making, the hero, towards the end, must draw from within himself the strength necessary to win the day. Who doesn’t want to be that guy?
The truth is, God never intended us to be self-reliant. Hard working? Sure. Diligent? Of course. But we were always to approach life with the understanding that God is our provider. He demonstrated this to the Israelites during their forty years of wilderness wanderings.
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.Deuteronomy 8:1-5, NIV
Many will recognize these as the words Jesus quoted when the devil tempted him to turn stones to bread.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”Matthew 4:1-4
We sometimes assume that by “every word that comes from the mouth of God,” Jesus meant only the special revelation of God in Scripture. But when we look back to Deuteronomy, we see that the context demonstrates that it is more. God not only provides revelation through His Word, but He provides all the things that we need in life. The warning to the Israelites was that they would not fall into the trap of relying on themselves and forgetting the God who brought them into the Promised Land. And it was the same with Jesus and the devil. The temptation was not about hunger. The devil wanted Jesus to rely on his own ability rather than trusting the Father for the provision of what He needed.
How many Christians are trying to “be strong” in difficult times?
- Are you emotionally tired, burned out, discouraged?
- Do you feel like you have to be the strength that others need?
- Are you afraid that if you don’t do something, then others will suffer?
- Are you lonely?
- Have you thought about suicide, divorce, quitting, or leaving?
- Do you wonder if God even cares?
If any of those questions grabbed your heart, or if perhaps you had thoughts even more difficult than those, then I have one encouragement for you: rely on God. Trust me, though that is simple to say, I know it is not simple to do. But it is the answer.
Try these steps towards relying on God:
- Read His Word. (You knew I was going to say that.) There is no doubt that the Word of God has power, comfort, peace, and yes, answers. But we must read it. If you wake up and assume the wisdom you have is enough for the day, then you are self-reliant. But if, instead, you seek His wisdom, then you are truly beginning to rely on Him. Get into His word today.
- Tell others what you need. One of the ways in which God meets our needs is though His other children. We are commanded to live in community for a reason. It is not about filling up church buildings. Community is about meeting each other’s needs. And when we do that, we are relying on God. It requires humility, of course, but that is not a bad thing. Practice these words: “I need help.”
- Pray. Just talk to God. Don’t worry so much about having the right words or attitude. You can talk to him when you are angry, sad, lonely, excited, scared, or frustrated. I promise you, He can handle anything you have to say. And when we talk, we begin to trust.
- Obey. One of the reasons we rely on ourselves is because we are afraid that if we don’t we will miss out on something. The cure for this is obedience to God’s Word. That means doing the things He tells us to do, and not doing the things He tells us not to do. Relying on Him for the outcome of an obedient life demonstrates our trust in Him to give us what we need. Ego-driven poor choices will never lead to the outcome God desires for us. So trust Him, and obey.
Share this with someone who might need it today.