I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing self-help clichés: “be all you can be” … “Just do it” … “Man up!” … “Girl power!” … “Tap into the power within!”
What bothers me the most about these hollow platitudes is their underlying message. They promote a self-centred philosophy of self-sufficient humanism that fosters unrealistic expectations. They imply that whatever challenges life may bring, if we just “dig deep” and “push through”, then we’ll be OK.
The truth is, there is nothing Biblical or Christian about being self-made or self-sustaining. It’s a lie from The Pit designed to deceive, divide and discourage.
The Bible makes it clear that a victorious and fulfilling life is achieved by building healthy relationships, first and foremost with our Creator (cf. Gen. 1:26-27), and secondarily with our fellow image-bearers (cf. 1 John 4:7-21).
No one is able to solitarily withstand the challenges, disappointments and setbacks that life brings. We all need help and support along the way. God is our only reliable source of strength, which He graciously dispenses to His faithful children who call on His name (cf. Psa. 103). That is the uniquely Christian worldview.
Even the ‘giants of the Faith’ drew their strength from God, not from within themselves. Let’s look briefly at a few Biblical examples.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:9)
On the cusp of the greatest challenge of his life, Moses’ anointed successor had every reason to feel inadequate for the task ahead. Joshua was chosen by God to lead Israel into the Promised Land occupied by godless pagans who were intent on their annihilation (sound familiar?). Recognising his apprehension, God encouraged Joshua by reminding him that the battle was already won. God had prepared the way. Joshua simply needed to rely on God’s strength, follow His lead and step out in faith.
It’s worth noting that God graciously comforted Joshua at least five times, using the same phrase on each occasion – “Be strong and courageous” (Deut. 31:6-8, 23; Josh. 1:6-7, 9). God knows that we too need regular reminders to trust in Him. Far from being disappointed by our frailty, it brings Him great joy to meet our needs (cf. Jer. 29:11-14; Rom. 8:31-32; Eph. 3:14-21; Phil. 4:19).
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! ... Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” (Psa. 27:13; 31:24)
Whether he was fighting lions, bears, giants, evil kings, treacherous generals or even his own rebellious son, David’s life was characterised by life-threatening and life-shaping conflict at every turn. David knew from experience what it means to “wait on the Lord”, resisting the temptation to take matters into his own hands.
No Biblical author wrote more eloquently or pervasively about his dependency on God. There is arguably no greater source of encouragement for the Christian in all literature than the Psalms. They are a precious gift we dare not neglect. A Psalm a day keeps the blues away!
“And he said, 'O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.' And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.” (Psa. 27:13; 31:24)
Captured as a youth and carried off into exile, a bright, young Jewish boy named Daniel rose through the ranks to serve at the highest levels of government in two expansive foreign empires over seventy years. Daniel became one of the greatest leaders of all time. His wisdom was unparalleled in his day. Kings relied on him and sages envied him. If anyone had the right to be arrogant and self-sufficient, it was Daniel. Yet, he faithfully and humbly took to his knees every day seeking wisdom and strength from God (cf. Dan. 6:10).
During one particularly frightening and spectacular vision, the angel Gabriel conveyed to Daniel one of the most encouraging messages in all of Scripture: “Don’t be afraid… you are very precious to God”. This is true of you too. All God’s children are precious in His sight (cf. Isa. 43:4; 1 John 3:1)
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13)
Jesus prophesied that Paul’s life of service would be distinguished by much sacrifice and suffering (Acts 9:15-16). As chronicled in the book of Acts and attested to by Paul in his epistles (cf. 2 Cor. 11), he experienced a seemingly incessant barrage of hardship and tragedy in return for his years of faithful ministry. He had more justification to call it quits than any other Biblical character. And yet, he kept persevering, against all odds. How did he do it? By submitting completely to God’s sovereign plans.
It takes a lifetime of humble surrender and hard-learned faith to understand and appreciate the wisdom behind the enigmatic declaration made by Paul in “…when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). What a bizarre concept. You’ll never find that statement in a secular self-help book.
Only a sold-out child of The King can begin to make sense of what it means to be that dependent on God. He often chooses to withhold His sustaining provision until we create space in our heart for Him by getting out of the way. That’s why God said in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Like Paul, the greatest missionary who ever lived, we need to let go of the controls and let God take charge. Every time we resist His offer of help, it is a wasted opportunity to tap into His omnipotent power. Why settle for mud puddles when an infinite supply of Living Water is at our disposal? (cf. John 4:10-14).
“The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." (Exod. 14:14).
Living a life of dependency on God is counter-cultural. It comes with a hazard warning because it runs against the postmodern current of self-authoring humanism. Choosing to align ourselves with Jesus by submitting to His will as outlined in His Word is becoming increasingly difficult to hide. It will get us noticed! The world doesn’t like it when Christ followers reflect His light onto their dark playground (cf. John 1:1-11).
The question is, do we want to be self-sufficiently weak, or God-dependently strong?
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple. For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent; He will lift me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.” (Psa. 27:4-6)