When I was a very young boy, I went with some older boys into the woods to help them build a “cabin.” As with all children, it was more in our imagination than a reality. The older boys knew little about construction and I knew even less. After we had chosen a spot, the other boys realized they needed some tools, so they went back to fetch them and left me “in charge.” After what seemingly felt like a long time, like Saul waiting on Samuel, I decided action must be taken. I went in search of them, but in the process became lost. I panicked. Desperate, I decided to head back to the place we were preparing to build, but I couldn’t locate it. With tears streaming down my face, I cried out to God to save me, to show me the way back. Moments later, I saw the boys and was filled with great joy and relief.
Even as a young boy, I proved the maxim: There are no atheists in foxholes. Desperation most often leads to us crying out to God for help. This is likely why so many only seek God when they reach the end of their own efforts to solve the problems they encounter.
Recently, I talked to a young man, a believer, who admitted he approached life as an independent operator, seeking to be self-sufficient in every circumstance. While intellectually he acknowledged his need for the Lord, practically speaking, he said, he attempts to handle life on his own and succeeds most of the time.
He reflects, what I would term, an innocent arrogance. He does not believe he is greater than God or more able than him to handle his life, but he conducts his life in a way that contradicts his claim. Up until recently, he did not read the Scriptures or pray seeking guidance from the Lord. Instead, he trusted in his own knowledge and abilities to navigate life. He admitted he didn’t feel the need for God at this point. In other words, he knew cognitively that he needed God, but practically he lived on his own.
This is the mistake so many of us make. We seek to live life on our own terms, pushing the Lord to the periphery (while still claiming allegiance to him), until we encounter something far beyond our ability to control or solve. Think cancer, a wayward spouse, the loss of a coveted and well-paying job, the death of a child. Only then will we humble ourselves and say, “Please help me, Lord!” This is why he allows these things to happen to us, in order for us to cry out to him and to realize our need for him. He did this with the Israelites countless times, as you will find throughout the Old Testament. However, like us, those moments of clarity didn’t last. As soon as they were rescued and found relief, they began back down the same road of independence. They eschewed God’s way in favor of their own.
The arrogance of the Israelites was not innocent. They outright rejected the Lord. Most of us, (my readers), however, freely acknowledge him. We participate in a church community; we give our financial offerings; we may even serve the church in various capacities. Yet, like the young man to whom I recently spoke, many of us are innocently arrogant. We don’t realize our complete dependence upon God. He is in many ways on the periphery of our lives. His Word doesn’t guide us; we depend on cultural cues or the models handed down to us from our parents. We pray for the sick around us, but rarely confess to the Lord our own sins. We may seek his guidance on a decision we need to make, but often set up certain parameters (e.g., I’ll go here, but not there; I’ll do this and this, but not that.). We act, in other words, self-sufficient.
Here is what I told that young man, which I have learned over the course of my life: I am totally dependent upon the Lord. My physical life is dependent on my brain and heart functioning properly. I have almost zero control over their functioning. Only God. I may have success in life through hard and persistent work, but who gave me the ability? Only God. I may even have talents that are astounding to those around me, but from where did they ultimately come? I may have nurtured them, but I did not create them. Only God.
Our sense of need may only be acute when we are desperate, but the reality for each of us is that our every breath and movement is wholly dependent on God. If we can remind ourselves of that, then we are far more likely to rely on the Lord not merely when times are desperate, but always. Our hunger for his Word will grow; our desire to pray will increase; and our desire to obey him will intensify.
While we may not feel desperate, when we recognize we are wholly dependent on the Lord for our lives, that will change our lives and place us exactly where the Lord desires us to be. May our prayer be like that of Isaiah: “Lord, be gracious to us; we long for you. Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress.” (33:2 NIV)
© Jim Musser 2019