Scripture Snapshot: Understanding How Self-Reliance Happens

I hate waiting. I want control. Waiting means I don’t have control, which makes me fearful, anxious, pressured, and stressed. What about you? Do you also experience emotional tumult when forced to wait, knowing what you want will be delayed or maybe never happen?
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He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. [9] So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. [10] Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him. [11] “What have you done?” asked Samuel. Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, [12] I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor. ‘ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

I Samuel 13:8-12 NIV

I hate waiting. I want control. Waiting means I don’t have control, which makes me fearful, anxious, pressured, and stressed. What about you? Do you also experience emotional tumult when forced to wait, knowing what you want will be delayed or maybe never happen?

One day while reading the Old Testament (something I highly recommend by the way), Scripture cleared up my superficial understanding of self-reliance. For me, self-reliance was primarily about trying to do things on my own without asking God for help. While this remains true, a snapshot of I Samuel 13:8-12 helped me understand the deeper issues of self-reliance.

  • I Samuel 10:8 – Samuel gives Saul instructions to wait 7 days until he comes to Saul
  • I Samuel 13:8 – Saul waits seven days but Samuel is a no show
  • I Samuel 13:8 – Saul’s men begin to scatter

At this point, Saul disregards Samuel’s instructions to wait 7 days until he arrived to make the offering to God. He takes control and says, “Bring me the burnt offering.” The key idea here is “he takes control.” Why? Once Saul saw his men scattering he undoubtedly felt some combination of fear, anxiety, stress or pressure. After all, as verses 11-12 make clear, his enemies the Philistines were assembling while his soldiers were scattering.

Saul is no different than anyone else. When we lose control, we feel any combination of fear, anxiety, stress or pressure. Those emotional responses can consume us, and to fight the terrible discomfort, we seek control.

The control we seek cannot be found in prayer, because this gives God control. Nor can it be found in obedience to Scripture, because once again, this gives God control. We prefer like Saul to think, feel, and act in the spirit of “Bring me,” to take personal control through human wisdom and effort. We decide the fastest way to ease our emotional discomfort from losing control is self-reliance.

What can we learn from this passage to help us choose God-reliance over self-reliance? There are three reactions found in verses 10-11 that if changed, will help us turn self-reliance into God-reliance.

Trust God By Waiting

I Samuel 13:10 says that just as Saul offered up the burnt offering Samuel arrived. If Saul had simply trusted God and waited, Samuel would have offered up the burn offering. Saul would then have avoided planting the seeds of disobedience and unfaithfulness, which eventually deepened to such a degree that it cost him his kingship (I Samuel 15:17-23).

We can avoid self-reliance by choosing to relax, trust God, and wait for his plan to unfold.

Let God’s Plan Unfold

But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

Psalm 106:13 NIV

I Samuel 13:11 describes the fear Saul used to justify his disobedience when it says, “When I saw that the men were scattering.” Saul made the common mistake of seeing “men” as his source of deliverance instead of God. His focus was on the men rather than God, and as a result fear consumed him enough to take matters into his own hands.

Once again, we can avoid self-reliance if we would simply trust God and let his plan unfold.

Keep Your Eyes On God

I Samuel 13:11 doesn’t merely point to Saul’s fear of scattering soldiers, but also his blaming of Samuel for being late when he says, “and that you did not come at the set time.” Once again, Saul is no different than you and me. His focus was not on what God was doing, but on the tardiness of Samuel, or what “man” was doing.

Self-reliance doesn’t limit itself to our own personal human effort. We can become self-reliant when we focus on and rely upon other people so much that we blame them when things turn out badly for us.

If we are going to avoid self-reliance, we must not only deal with our lack of trust and fear of waiting on God, but we must also stop looking to people as the key to positive outcomes. Only God can deliver the outcomes we long for, so we should keep our eyes on Him.

All of this teaches us a few simple lessons. We hate waiting, so we want control, yet it is this “waiting” and “giving up of control” that is God-reliance. This God-reliance is how the dreams God has laid on our hearts come true. Let’s learn from this passage about how self-reliance happens, how to overcome it, then rely on God to make our dreams come true.

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