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Overcoming the Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

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“You’ve got this.” “You are enough.” The cultural wisdom of our day seeks to boost confidence and performance by promoting self-sufficiency. We desperately want to have what it takes to meet the demands of our dreams and responsibilities. Christians will acknowledge that this thinking displaces God, but we are more influenced by the logic of self-sufficiency than we admit. This influence is compounded when we fail to realize that self-sufficiency is a code word for pride. Pride thrives when it can hide behind safe-sounding words.

An illusion hides truth by presenting an attractive facade. It’s a deception that leads us away from God. Self-sufficiency is just such a fantasy because it blinds us to God’s provision and presence. Apart from God’s Word, do you ever think of your life as a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14) or as withering grass (Isaiah 40:7)? Me neither. It’s scary and humbling to consider our utter lack of strength and resources apart from Christ. We are created dependent and we are sinful by nature. But how does remembering that our lives are fragile help us to know and follow God?

Seeing our frailty helps in two ways: we see that self-sufficiency truly is an illusion, and we see that God desires our radical, daily dependence. We aren’t self-sufficient, and God doesn’t want us to think we are. God wants us to see His generous provision and to deepen our reliance on Him every day. When we stop looking to self for fullness and start looking to God for his grace and strength, we become followers who more clearly display the matchless power and kindness of our Savior.

Seeing the Trap
Biblical pictures of the folly of self-sufficiency abound. Take Nebuchadnezzar, for example. His boastful words of self-sufficiency are still in his mouth when the word of the Lord comes against him in punishment (Dan 4:30-33). Nebuchadnezzar utterly ignores God’s hand in bringing him to power and giving him skill and resources. Or consider Peter. The Lord Jesus plainly prophesies of Peter’s denial, but Peter boldly asserts (twice!) that he would never do such a thing (Matt 26:32-35). Peter blows it big-time because he trusts in himself and looks to his own resources to stand firm.

In addition to Scripture, God has built daily reminders into the rhythms of our lives to confront the illusion that we can handle life alone.

  •     Do you need air to breathe that you didn’t produce?
  •     Do you require sleep at some point during a twenty-four hour period?
  •     Do your brain cells receive information without your conscious input?
  •     Can your body heal itself from a cut or a cold?

God is generously and constantly giving us measures of energy, health, consciousness, sanity, and reason. Without these things, we would be unable to function. No wonder the Lord compares us to grass that withers when He breathes on it (Is 40:7)! The problem is that we ignore these reminders and suppress the truth so that we can continue thinking we are independent. Leaning into this illusion will either promote anxiety and despair (when we see that we aren’t able to handle the demands of life) or pride and self-righteousness (when we seem to achieve what we want). Just like the examples from Nebuchadnezzar and Peter’s lives, relying on self will always lead toward destruction. The consequences may not be immediate, but they are certain.

Tackling the Illusion
Some will push back at this point and say, “I’m a Christian and though I hate to admit it, there are days I barely think about God after I close the Bible from my morning reading and prayer. How do you explain what I did all day if we aren’t self-sufficient at some level?”

Anything we do without active, conscious dependence on God is God’s grace. He is pouring out his blessings on people who don’t deserve his care and don’t recognize Him as the source of all they have and do. The Bible clearly proclaims our non-sufficiency. Jesus says, “. . . apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We can do nothing apart from His generous grace that allows us to function without an awareness of His provision. And we can do nothing of eternal value that brings glory to God apart from Jesus. Considering our frailty is not meant to create despair but dependence and hope in the Lord.

Overcoming the illusion of self-sufficiency is about being so radically God-centered in our thinking that we use the details of our daily lives to petition, praise, and thank God. If we cherish the reality that every good gift is from the Father of Lights (James 1: 17), then we will be full of gratitude and joy. If we embrace the truth that we are to serve in the strength that God supplies so that He gets all the glory (1 Pet 4:11), then we will beg Him for His help and trust Him to give it. If we recognize that God loves for us to seek and depend upon Him for every need and every emotion, we will continually lift up the cup of salvation so that He will fill it (Ps 116:12-13).

When we recognize that God is the source of every good that comes to us and that flows from us for His kingdom, His matchless character and generosity will shine. Seeing our God-dependence every day brings deeper humility, joy, and gratitude into our ministries. We can eagerly fight the illusion of self-sufficiency because we serve an All-Sufficient Savior.

Andrea Lee serves as a biblical counselor for women at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. She has a Masters of Arts in Biblical Counseling from The Masters University (formerly The Masters College). Andrea has been married to her husband, Darien, since 2006.
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