If you fail under pressure, your strength is too small.
Proverbs 24:10 NLT
I really hate this scripture.
Not because it’s bad, but because it’s true. Whenever I stumble across it, my first thought is, “Aw man, not this again,” because there’s no getting around it. It makes me think of this clip from one of my favorite comedy specials:
This scripture kills me because I like to see myself as strong, capable, not needing anything from anybody. But when it comes down to it, the moment I feel pressure, I crumble. However, I’ve learned that this scripture isn’t meant to discourage us. It’s to show us we will never be strong enough, our strength will always be too small, and we need God to handle any pressure.
Unless the LORD builds a house, the work of the builders is useless. Unless the LORD protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.
Psalm 127:1-2 NLT
Nothing is possible without God. Unless God is with us, we’ll continue to feel like a failure or run ourselves into the ground. Let’s look at some scriptures on why our strength isn’t enough, and how prayer is so much more powerful than going off of our own strength.
Why our strength isn’t enough
This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.  They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.  “But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.  They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 NLT
This scripture is a perfect picture of what happens to our hearts and relationships when we try to be strong. If you’re religious or have been around church for a while, you may recognize this scripture. I know I’ve read it more times than I can count. But I think it paints a good picture of what it looks like when we rely on ourselves. When we just try to be strong, we will…
Feel stuck (“like stunted shrubs in the desert”) – When we are just relying on ourselves, our growth gets stunted, because we can only grow as far as we ourselves are capable. This leaves us feeling stuck, stagnant, and restless.
Have no hope for the future – Are you easily discouraged or faithless about the future? Maybe you’ve faced failure, have a weakness, or were hurt in a relationship that makes you feel like there’s no hope for the future. Though these things are difficult to deal with, having a fatalistic attitude toward them is a sign you are relying on your own strength.
Feel alone and isolated (“live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land”) – When we start feeling lonely, isolated, or distant in relationships, this is often a result of turning our hearts away from God, and trying to do everything ourselves.
Do any of these describe you? Not only does relying on our own strength hurt our relationships with God and others, but it hurts us as well. When we are constantly trying to be strong, we settle for less.
My people are guilty of two evils: They have abandoned Me, the spring of living waters; And instead, they have settled for dead and stagnant water from cracked, leaky cisterns of their own making.
Jeremiah 2:13 Voice
God wants us to rely on him not because he has some weird ego and wants to have control over us, but because he cares for us and knows it will actually make us stronger in the end.
When we rely on our own strength, we settle for pride, bitterness, loneliness, deceit, and stagnation – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Even if we did everything perfectly, it still wouldn’t do as much for us as God could.
Even perfection has its limits, but your commands have no limit.
Psalm 119:96 NLT
So even perfection is limited. No matter how hard you work, how perfect your behavior is, how well you can handle life, God’s way is still always better. So why not choose it?
Pause and reflect
What do you look like when you just rely on your own strength? How does it affect your relationships?
Okay, so we’ve established that we can’t rely on ourselves for strength. But we still need strength! Luckily, God’s got our back.
Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.  Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
Ephesians 6:11-13, 18 NLT
We’re not strong enough because the battle we’re in is a spiritual one. When we pray, God can give us the spiritual armor and tools we need to endure. But first, we need to get our hearts in a place where we are willing to let God move.
Asa prayed: LORD God, only you can help a powerless army defeat a stronger one. So we depend on you to help us. We will fight against this powerful army to honor your name, and we know that you won’t be defeated. You are the LORD our God.
2 Chronicles 14:11 CEV
Though Asa was the king of a nation, he was humble enough to admit that he couldn’t fight his battles alone. He recognized that God was more powerful, capable, and influential than he was, but this didn’t make Asa discouraged or insecure. It just humbled him – he saw he wasn’t strong enough, so he thought he better team up with the guy who was.
So much of my energy gets spent trying to prove to myself or other people that I am strong or capable enough. When I’m made aware of what I can’t do, I tend to get insecure, defensive, competitive, or just ignore that thing completely.
My pride makes me fragile – when I do well I’m terrified I’m going to do something to mess that up, and when I fail I become defeated and fatalistic. But the sooner I humble out and admit I don’t know what I’m doing, the sooner I can get help.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.
James 1:5-8 MSG
God doesn’t look down on us for not knowing what we’re doing. He’s not condescending, judgmental, or frustrated that we’re not where we’re supposed to be. He loves to help! All we have to do is have the faith necessary to go to him in prayer.
Once we are humble enough to admit that we need God, we can then do the work to believe that God both can and wants to give us the strength we need. This starts with being honest about where we’ve lost faith.
I wondered, “Has our Lord rejected us forever? Will he ever accept us again?  Is his love gone forever? Will he never again speak to us?  Has God forgotten what mercy is? Has his compassion changed to anger?”  Then I said to myself, “What bothers me most is the thought that God Most High has lost his power.”  LORD, I remember what you have done. I remember the amazing things you did long ago.
Psalm 77:7-11 ERV
We learn from this psalmist two doubts that can stop us from relying on God:
Does he really love me? (vs. 8)
Is he really powerful enough to help me? (vs. 10)
Not being honest about or dealing with these doubts may lead to us getting bitter or ignoring God. It’s not necessarily bad to think these things, but it’s our choice to be honest about them with God in prayer that will determine whether we get faith.
Because the psalmist was honest with God about his fears and doubts, he could actually see God for who he was, as he expresses in verse 11. This is what our times with God should look like – being honest about and uncovering the doubts that stop us from relying on God, and then finding scriptures that remind us of who he is.
I am standing in absolute stillness, silent before the one I love, waiting as long as it takes for him to rescue me. Only God is my Savior, and he will not fail me.  For he alone is my safe place. His wrap-around presence always protects me as my champion defender. There’s no risk of failure with God! So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?
Psalm 62:5-6 TPT
Our times with God are meant to be a safe place. When we do the work in our hearts to be humble, honest, and get faith, we can come to God in absolute stillness and confidence. There is no risk of failure with God, so there is no need to try to be strong or put up a front, and we can surrender to let God do the work.
Pause and reflect:
What doubts do you need to be honest about?
How can you choose to be humble and ask for help today?
What can happen when we use God’s strength and not ours
When we let God take over, that’s when amazing things happen. We enjoy life, we accomplish more than we ever thought we could, and we are able to strengthen others too.
We enjoy life
I’m energized every time I enter your heavenly sanctuary to seek more of your power and drink in more of your glory.  For your tender mercies mean more to me than life itself. How I love and praise you, God!
Psalm 63:2-3 TPT
Do you feel exhausted or burnt out? Oftentimes when I’m overwhelmed, I look at my circumstances and think that sleeping more, isolating from people, or doing things that make me feel good (shows, social media, video games, etc) will give me the rest I need.
Or I think that if those circumstances just changed I would be happier and more refreshed. While it’s not bad to take breaks, this is never going to give us the energy we need. Our circumstances could never change, but we could still be energized and content with God.
“Figs might not grow on the fig trees, and grapes might not grow on the vines. Olives might not grow on the olive trees, and food might not grow in the fields. There might not be any sheep in the pens or cattle in the barns. But I will still be glad in the Lord and rejoice in God my Savior.”
Habakkuk 3:17-18 ERV
Even when our life isn’t how we want it to be, we can still be happy when we have God. Our circumstances can be difficult, our relationships can have conflict, or we can even make mistakes and fail hard. But when God is our strength, we still enjoy life.
Blessed are those who make You their strength, for they treasure every step of the journey [to Zion].
Psalm 84:5 Voice
Do you treasure every step of the journey, even the hard, frustrating, and messy ones? On our own, these steps are overwhelming and feel too difficult to handle. But with God, we can treasure and enjoy every step, no matter how messy.
We accomplish more than we thought we could
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power  that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 1:19-20 NLT
This scripture is inspiring to me. The power we have access to when we spend time with God is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead! So no matter what seems impossible, we have access to the power that can achieve it.
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”  When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied.  Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”
Matthew 9:27-29 NIV
The impossible is accomplished according to the faith we have. So the more we believe God can do, the more he can move in our lives. I remember when my family was looking to adopt. At seven years old, I didn’t understand the amount of time, paperwork, and process so many go through in order to adopt.
So that fall when I matter-of-factly told my mom that I prayed we would get my new brother by Christmas, she very gently had to break it to me that probably wouldn’t happen. But I was sure and firmly said: “Well I prayed for it. So it’s going to happen.” Lo and behold, my now brother spent Christmas with us that year.
I so often don’t have that same, simple faith I did at seven years old. When setbacks come, God takes longer to answer, or doesn’t answer the way I want him to, I very often settle for a mediocre faith. But that is why I constantly need to go through the process of being honest, turning to God, and having faith strong enough to believe God can do the impossible.
We strengthen others, too
We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally-not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation-I don’t want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God’s deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part.
2 Corinthians 1:8 MSG
When others are going through pain, it can be easy to feel helpless. What could we possibly do to help them? But as this scripture says, prayer plays a crucial part in others’ relief and growth.
Maybe there’s someone in your life who lives far away, who you don’t see often, or even who won’t respond to the help you try to give them. Or maybe they are going through something you’ve never been through, or have pain in their life that isn’t going away anytime soon. You may not feel like you can do much, but what you can do is pray.
“But Simon, I have prayed that your faith will be strong. And when you have come back to me, help the others.”
Luke 22:32 CEV
Jesus told this to Simon Peter right after he explained that Peter would betray him three times. Rather than get upset, angry, or give up on Peter, Jesus had faith for him. This is because he was praying for him, so he was able to see past the hurt and mistakes, and have vision for who he could become.
When we pray for others as Jesus did, we become convinced of their potential even when they don’t see it themselves. This allows us to stay strong even when they fail or hurt us. This faith is what allows us to keep fighting for them and helping them grow.
What is something you have given up praying about? How can you choose to have faith about that today?
Who is someone in your life you can believe in and prayer for?
There is so much power that comes from choosing to pray instead of going it alone. After you’ve developed this conviction for yourself, talk to a few friends about it. The Bible makes it clear what is possible when even just two people are united in prayer together (Matthew 18:19-20 NIV). What could you accomplish if you chose to pray together rather than trying to be strong on your own?
Here are further resources that can help with choosing to pray instead of trying to be strong.
Read the book of 1 Samuel to look at the difference between characters who relied on God in prayer and those who relied on their own strength.
Read these three studies to help you go deeper in your prayer life: