This post was written in the midst of our world experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Though it discusses topics specific to this time, its insights and scriptures can be appreciated at any time.
I love underdog stories—the kind of stories where people overcome adversity and accomplish something they never thought possible.
One of the ways my wife and I coped with pandemic lockdowns was binge-watching Cobra Kai on Netflix. This series is, of course, a sequel to one of the greatest underdog movies known to man: The Karate Kid (#2 according to Ranker. I guess we have to give it to Rocky).
In The Karate Kid, new kid Daniel LaRusso evolves from bully fodder to tournament champion over the course of 127 delightfully retro minutes. An unassuming Japanese handyman, Mr. Miyagi, teaches him the graceful art of karate as a means of self-defense.
Through his training, Daniel not only masters karate but also gains courage and confidence. I watched this movie repeatedly as a kid, inspired by the transformation Daniel undergoes through hard work and disciplined training.
Trainyourself to be godly. ‘Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.’
1 Timothy 4:7-8 NLT
Just as Daniel-san needed training to appreciate and master karate, so we need to training to rely on God. To be “godly” is to think about and rely on God instead of anything physical or human. Godliness promises great benefits to our lives, but it doesn’t come naturally. To fully rely on God, we’ll need to train ourselves out of relying on things we can see or feel physically, one of the biggest of which is ourselves.
Relying on ourselves sometimes seems safer, easier, and more comfortable than relying on God. Our own ideas, emotions, opinions, and effort are all things we can control. Self-reliance promises protection from harm and freedom from fear, but these are false promises. Self-reliance is limited because humans are limited; there are some things we just cannot do:
Jesus looked at them and said, “There are some things that peoplecannotdo, but God can do anything.”
Mark 10:27 CEV
In this devotional, we want to identify what self-reliance looks like, why it won’t work for us, and how we can start relying on God. When we do, we’ll become more confident and we’ll see God work through us in ways we never thought possible.
What self-reliance looks like
People can accomplish great things through talent, training, and hard work, but those who rely on God to do those things will have a much different experience than those who rely on themselves.
Unfortunately, we’re not always aware of our self-reliance or the problems it causes. For some of us, self-reliance is like breathing; it’s just something we do without thinking. Those of us who are religious may think we rely on God because we read passages of the Bible or go to church, but we don’t really trust the Bible more than our own emotions or trust God to answer our prayers.
The first step in training ourselves to be godly is identifying our self-reliance. Let’s take a look at a passage of the Bible that describes what self-reliance looks like.
Cursed is the one who trusts in human strength and the abilities of mere mortals. His very heart strays from the Eternal. He is like a little shrub in the desert that never grows; he will see no good thing come his way. He will live in a desert wasteland, a barren land of salt where no one lives.
-Jeremiah 17:5-6 Voice
When I read this, I am struck first by the word “cursed.” It sounds and feels so intense. However, according to its definition, it merely means “afflicted.”
Self-reliance is kind of like a drug. It promises quick relief, but it has serious side effects that cause “affliction” (pain and suffering) in our lives. Think about the following qualities in Jeremiah 17 as some of the negative side effects of the drug of self-reliance:
We become unfaithful:Our hearts stray from God and others. Self-reliance makes us unfaithful because, by definition, we are ultimately only relying on ourselves. We never allow ourselves to need God or other people, and there is a limit to the loyalty and intimacy we can experience in relationships.
We become underdeveloped:We don’t grow. Self-reliance gets us stuck because we avoid situations or opportunities where we don’t believe we can be successful. But the reality is that God often puts us in situations “over our heads” so we can grow.
We become unbelieving:We don’t see good things happening even when they do. Self-reliance makes us only trust what we can see or understand for the future. This leaves no room for what God can do.
We become unfruitful: Our lives feel barren. No matter how hard we try, there are things in life that are beyond our control. When we are self-reliant, we won’t see lasting fruit from our efforts because only God makes things grow.
We become uninspired: We see a “desert wasteland” when we look at the world. Self-reliance makes us hopeless about our circumstances, thinking we ultimately have no control over them. It is difficult to have hope or see purpose in the challenges we face.
We become unattached – We are or feel alone. Self-reliance makes us plan and take action by ourselves. We do not trust other people who can or will help us or who could even do a better job than we could.
Pause and reflect
What has your attitude and perspective been about self-reliance?
What self-reliance “side effects” do you see in your life?
Are there any other side effects you see in your life?
I hope this helps you identify self-reliance in your life. Now, let’s take a look at why self-reliance doesn’t work.
Why self-reliance doesn’t work
We choose to be self-reliant because we believe it will work for us. To train ourselves to be godly, we have to tell ourselves the truth. Let’s take a look at a few passages of Scripture that show us how useless self-reliance really is.
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.
Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 NIV
The book of Ecclesiastes discusses the pointlessness of endless human toil and labor. I encourage you to read this book further on your own, but here are a few key verses from it that help me.
The Bible is clear that striving for our own power and strength leaves our life without meaning.
We also miss out on God’s plan for our lives because we cannot achieve the impact God plans for us without his help. Jesus taught all about this impact and described it as bearing fruit.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5 NIV
Jesus is teaching us that we cannot live a fruitful life, a life filled with lasting impact, without learning to be attached to God and becoming God-reliant. The good news is that we can all learn to go from self-reliant to God-reliant.
Pause and reflect
How have you believed self-reliance has been working for you?
What kind of impact do you want to have in your life?
How do you need God’s help to live a life with that level of impact?
How to fully rely on God
Now that we can see some of the limitations of self-reliance, let’s look at a scripture about relying on God to give us an illustration of what living this kind of life looks like.
But blessed is the one who trusts in Me alone; the Eternal will be his confidence. He is like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots beside the stream. It does not fear the heat or even drought. Its leaves stay green and its fruit is dependable, no matter what it faces.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 Voice
This passage describes a life much more inspiring than the passage that we looked at in the beginning of this article. Just as there are negative side effects from the drug of self-reliance, there are positive benefits to being God-reliant:
Confidence. When we live God-reliant lives, we will always have a secure source of confidence, just as a tree sends out its roots to find an overwhelming plentiful source of water. We can be confident in any situation when we know God is with us.
Courage. God-reliance overcomes the fear of the hardest circumstances because we know we have extra strength from God to handle almost anything.
Change. When we are God-reliant we will be able to produce the fruit of helping ourselves and others change, no matter what challenges we face.
So how do we become God-reliant? I am in the process of learning this myself. One big lesson for me came a couple weeks ago after a prayer with my wife.
After our prayer, my wife mentioned that I prayed about all the top things happening and some of what I was feeling, but I pulled up short in giving all of my fears, anxieties, and stress to God.
I prayed to God but my focus was still on me, what I needed to do, what I needed to change, and who I needed to love. As we continued talking and I reflected on it, I realized that I never chose to believe God would help with what I was asking.
After this conversation, my wife read me a key passage of the Bible that has been helping me shift my focus to God.
Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.
Matthew 6:6 MSG
This passage teaches that we need to find a sacred space away from distractions so that we can pray to God simply and honestly. My challenge is that I hold onto some level of control instead of understanding my need for God and simply being honest with him about everything.
I recognize now that this means to be myself and talk about my fears, desires, dreams, frustrations, sins, insecurities, everything. Keep it simple. Tell God everything.
Don’t try to have a “good prayer,” but just really ask God for help, praying about the things you know you don’t have the ability or power to do. When you do this, your focus will shift from yourself to God.
This is not just about spending time with God praying in the morning or right before bed. Just as this simple and honest prayer shifts our focus from ourselves back to God, things are constantly vying to shift our attention away from God and on to ourselves. Common distractions include work issues, kid challenges, the incessant pull of social media, and the ever-dreadful news. If we are going to become God-reliant people, we need to be ready to keep shifting our focus back to God throughout the day.
Pause and reflect
What qualities of a God-reliant person do you want?
What would it look like for you to pray simply and honestly?
Relying on God is the process of telling yourself that you don’t have all the answers and committing yourself to prayer when faced with frustrating situations. It requires trusting that God not only cares but also is real and able to make a tangible difference in your life.
The next time you find yourself challenged by a particular limit or circumstance, take a moment to find scriptures that help your perspective and give you faith that you will be okay. Train yourself until it’s a reflex to pray instead of getting angry and expending more human effort, and you’ll find yourself growing in ways you never thought possible.
Wax on, wax off.
Check out these additional devotionals to learn more about how to fully rely on God: