For Greater Dependence
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
God must continually be at work on our tendency to rely on ourselves instead of on Him. Apart from our union with Christ and a total reliance upon Him, we can do nothing that glorifies God. We live in a world that worships independence and self-reliance, and because of our own sinful nature, we can easily fall into the world’s pattern of thinking. God has to teach us through adversity to rely on Him instead of our business acumen, our ministry experience, and even our goodness and morality.
The apostle Paul described a time when he and his band of men were “utterly burdened beyond our strength”; he saw, however the higher purpose in this: “to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) They had no place to turn except to God.
Paul has to learn dependence on God in the spiritual as well as the physical realm. His “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) was an adversity he desperately wanted to be rid of. But God let it remain, not only to curb any tendency for pride in Paul’s heart, but also to teach him to rely on God’s strength. Paul had to learn that it was not his strength but God’s grace-God’s enabling power- that he must depend on.
Paul was one of the most brilliant men in history, with an abundance of natural intellect. God also gave him divine revelations, some so glorious that Paul wasn’t permitted to tell about them. But God never allowed Paul to depend on either his intellect or his revelations. He had to depend on God’s grace, just as you and I do. And he learned this through severe adversity.
If God is going to use you and me, He will bring adversity into our lives so that we, too may learn experientially our dependence on Him.
As I write today I’m thinking about an old song the expresses the theme of dependency on God. It goes something like this:
Learning to lean, learning to lean
I’m learning to lean on Jesus
Finding more power than I’d ever dreamed
I’m learning to lean on Jesus.
This is the goal of every believer and only when we come to complete dependence on God is the old sin nature fully dead. Until the Fall, Adam and Eve were totally dependent upon God. They had to trust Him to know what was good and what was evil until they ate from the tree of knowledge. From that moment until now, our sin nature in its pride and ego presses us to trust in our strength and intellect to manage life’s problems. I’ve seen t-shirts that have the picture of a Bible on them with the words: “When all else fails, read the instructions.” I think this captures our drive for independence. We wish to make our our way on our own, not realizing that we are falling into the strategy of the devil to separate us from God and make us rebels against His will and desires for us. So God allows adversity beyond our strength and knowledge to teach us to become totally dependent upon Him.
As God led the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, His purpose was to teach them to trust and depend solely on Him for everything. At the Red Sea, He taught them to trust Him as the Protector and Way-maker. As they face an impassable object and hear the sound of the army coming to drag them back to slavery, they realize they have no means of salvation. Their response is that of fear and anger and hopelessness. They have not yet learned to trust that the God who brought them out of Egypt will also bring them in to the place of promise. This is quite often the lesson we have yet to learn. Sometimes when facing a challenge, we forget that the very same God who saved our souls from destruction is with us and for us and is able to meet our need, answer our prayer and provide our peace. At the Red Sea God proved His power and care and for a moment the Israelites rejoiced in it. Soon, however, as they faced another adversity- no water to drink or food to eat, they forgot their lesson and once again they resorted to complaining and fear and anger- the normal response to adversity- especially when the adversity is far beyond any human ability. In the midst of their complaining, God graciously provided water from the rock and manna from heaven. And once again they celebrated until they met the next obstacle.
As we read through Exodus, we find the pattern repeated over and over with the Israelites never seeming to learn the lesson of dependency upon God until at last God gives them up to their own ways and they die in the wilderness, never entering the land of promise.
Our lesson from this is that we might learn to fully depend upon God. Every person in the Bible who walked with God had to learn this valuable lesson. For most of them it was adversity that schooled them and brought them to the place of dependency. Only when we launch out into the deep so far that all our efforts and abilities aren’t sufficient will we learn to fully rely upon God.
We read that even Christ Himself learned to rely upon the Father for everything and in everything. And if the very Son of God needed to completely trust the Father, how much more so do we.
Whatever place you’re in today, whether in times of goodness or times of adversity, depend on God. Surrender your mind and might and ability and knowledge to the omnipotent God. Lean on Him, trust in Him and He will surely bring you into the place He has prepared for you. Understand that God loves you so much that He is willing to allow you to experience adversity if that’s what it takes to teach you dependence on Him. We don’t have to learn dependence only through adversity, although that seems to be the common way. We can choose to place our dependence upon God even while life is good so that when adversity comes we meet it with surrendered hearts and full dependence upon God. In the adversity, those who have learned to depend upon God will find the peace and strength and grace that is sufficient to bring them through.
Dr. John Thompson