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 have been coping with the pandemic is by binge-watching the charming Netflix series Cobra Kai, which is, of course, a sequel to one of the greatest underdog movies known to man (#2 according to Ranker. I guess we have to give it to Rocky).
In The Karate Kid, we watch new kid Daniel LaRusso evolve from bully fodder to tournament champion over the course of 127 delightfully retro minutes. He learns to fight from unassuming Japanese handyman, Mr. Miyagi, who teaches him the graceful art of Karate as a means of self-defense.
Through this training, he gains courage and confidence. I remember watching it repeatedly, inspired by the transformation he undergoes in the movie through pure hard work and disciplined training.
And just as Daniel-san learned to appreciate and eventually master karate, so should we train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). To rely on God is to admit that self-reliance ultimately does not lead to the growth and security we long to possess.
God has been working to train me for years. I am now becoming more aware of this great need for myself. Preparing this devotional has helped solidify some of the lessons God has been trying to teach me.
Focus on God, not your problems
As human beings, we all have limitations. Some of us spend too much time focusing on our limits, while others avoid them because of how it makes them feel. We have to have a clear understanding so we can know where we can look to God for help.
We can see from the following passage how insignificant we are as humans compared to God.
He existed in the form of God, yet he gave no thought to seizing equality with God as his supreme prize.  Instead he emptied himself of his outward glory by reducing himself to the form of a lowly servant. He became human!Philippians 2:6-7 TPT
This passage for me is both humbling and inspiring. It’s humbling because it states that Jesus became lowly like a human, yet inspiring because Jesus is a perfect example for each of us. He had the same limitations we have yet lived an amazing life.
Do you see yourself as lowly? Are you aware of your limitations?
In this study, we want to identify what self-reliance looks like in response to these limits, why it won’t work for us, and how we can start looking to God.
What self-reliance looks like
People can accomplish great things in life through talent, training and hard work, but we can do this by either being self-reliant or God-reliant. Let’s take a look at a passage 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
Whenever 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.”
Think about the following qualities in Jeremiah 17 as negative side effects of the drug of self-reliance (in other words, the kind of person self-reliance makes us):
- Unfaithful – Your heart strays 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. There is a limit to the loyalty and intimacy we can experience in relationships.
- Unmoved – You 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.
- Unbelieving – You 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.
- Uninspired – You look at your life circumstances as unbearable or as a victim – 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.
- Unattached – You 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 or who can do a better job.
Hopefully, this helps you identify whether you are experiencing any of these side effects of self-reliance. Now, let’s take a look at why self-reliance doesn’t work.
- 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?
Why self-reliance doesn’t work
People choose to be self-reliant because they believe it will work for them. Let’s take a look at a couple of Scriptures which show how it doesn’t.
“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, at length, the pointlessness of endless human toil and labor. I encourage you to study it out further on your own, but here are a few key verses that help me.
- Ecclesiastes 1:16 – Seeking to have the most personal wisdom is an endless chase.
- Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 – Seeking a life of self-satisfaction is empty.
- Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 – Seeking a life filled with accomplishments and wealth is unsatisfying.
- Ecclesiastes 2:17-20 – Taking pride in personal hard work ethic ends in frustration.
The Bible is clear that striving on our own power and strength leaves our life without meaning.
We also miss out on God’s plan for our life, 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 with our life.
“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.
- 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 rely on God
Hopefully by now you can see your limits and want to learn how to be God-reliant. 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 side effects from the drug of self-reliance, there are side effects to being God-reliant. Here are some side effects you want to experience:
- 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. We can always 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.
- Catalytic – Catalytic means causing a reaction of change. When we are God-reliant we will be able to produce the fruit of helping 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.
Afterward, my wife read me a key passage 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 and 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 rather 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 Facebook, 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.
- What qualities of a God-reliant person do you want?
- Where is a sacred space you can go each day to pray?
- 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 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 ok. Train yourself until it’s a reflex to pray instead of getting angry and expending more human effort.
Wax on, wax off.
Check out these additional devotionals to learn more about how to rely on God: