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The Danger of Self-Reliance

The Danger of Self-Reliance


I squinted at the ocean in disbelief. Did that lady really just flip out of her kayak? There were absolutely no waves! In fact, the water looked more like a lake than the Pacific Ocean. Why did she suddenly fall in?

I carefully rocked my kayak a bit, testing its stability. Feels pretty sturdy to me. Glancing back to the woman “overboard,” I understood why she was having trouble. Rather than calmly pulling herself up in the center of the craft, the poor lady—obviously not much of an outdoorsy person—was flailing around as she struggled to get back in her kayak. The tour guide—trying hard to hide his smile—paddled over to help steady it, and the lady was soon back in proper position.

She lifted her paddle with an I’m-going-to-show-this-kayak-who’s-boss expression on her face. She looked so determined, I thought she would surely out paddle me! But, as soon as she plunged it into the water, she flipped over again.

I stifled a laugh.

The tour guide again assisted the lady back into her kayak, but she still didn’t wait for his instructions. She fell out yet again!

By now, the other kayakers were staring at her, so the tour guide told his assistant, “Why don’t you take the rest of the group to the next spot while I help Mrs. Smith back into her kayak. We’ll catch up with you in a minute.”

As I paddled away, all I could think of was poor Mrs. Smith. She must have been so embarrassed. If only she had sat back for a minute and listened, maybe she wouldn’t have ended up soaking wet and humiliated.

Don’t we all tend to rush ahead? Overly self-reliant, we think, “I’m gonna get to the other side no matter what! I can do this!” Then we plunge our paddle into the water and promptly tip over.

When we don’t wait for God’s instruction in any area of our lives, we end up in a big mess. This predicament is not something unique to our generation. People have been trying to accomplish things in their own strength since the beginning of time. Abraham and Sarah, for example, took matters into their own hands. They essentially said, “God said we were going to have a child and the baby’s not here yet. Let’s help God out a bit.” They didn’t stop and seek God’s instructions; they just acted. And Abraham ended up in a heap of trouble (that we’re still struggling with today).

Or consider Moses’ story. He wanted to free his people from the Egyptians, but rather than waiting for the Lord’s instructions, he tried to free them in his own strength. And what happened? A disaster. He killed an Egyptian, fled for his life, and ended up wandering in Midian. It was not until he was still that God revealed His plan to him via the burning bush. And God’s plan worked perfectly! Silence before the Lord always trumps rash self-reliance.

We’re not much different than Abraham, Sarah, and Moses. We too like to “take the paddle” and get moving when in reality we should be listening to the Lord. Sometimes we are so frantically trying to achieve that we don’t realize how unbalanced we are. Perhaps our family is falling apart, our devotions are faltering, our health is failing, our prayer times are dwindling, or our church involvement has become uninspired. All of a sudden we find ourselves in the middle of the ocean of life asking “How did I get here?” and "Where is God in my life?”

What will help us get out of that mess? Seeking the Lord. Not positive thinking, reading dozens of self-help books, or relying on our own strength. We simply need to spend time listening before the throne of God.

Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord.” 

In our instant-gratification/get-it-done American culture, it is so easy to slide into self-reliance. How do we keep from making that mistake? Do we wait around for God’s voice to thunder from the sky? Do we pray twelve hours a day and do nothing else?

Here a few simple reminders that I’m finding helpful as I try to avoid self-reliance and enjoy God-guidance:

1) Stay humble

Do you know what one of the sins God hates is? Pride (Proverbs 8:13). Pride often shows up in the form of self-reliance. We think, I can do this on my own, God. I don’t need to consult you or listen to anything you might have to say. I’ve got this. And then we find ourselves tipping over and falling apart. If we remember who we are (mere mortal humans who are here for but a vapor of time!) and look at ourselves humbly, then we will be a lot less prone to push aside the Creator of the universe.

2) Remember the world doesn’t depend on you

So often we think that if we don’t do something about it right now, the world is going to fall apart. But “God managed the world very well before we were born, and he will manage it quite as well—when we are dead” (Spurgeon).

3) Listen actively to God

Sometimes we assume waiting on the Lord means…well, means doing nothing. Or we improperly label procrastination as “waiting on the Lord.” But neither of those is a proper definition. Charles Spurgeon explains waiting on the Lord this way: “Wait at his door with prayer; wait at his foot with humility; wait at his table with service; wait at his window with expectancy.” (Spurgeon Commentary on Psalm 27:14) That is active waiting.

4. Obey 

“Beware of not acting upon what you see in your moments on the mountaintop with God. If you do not obey the light, it will turn into darkness” (Oswald Chambers). Once the Lord has spoken to you, obey immediately. Remember, though, that immediate obedience may involve actively waiting on the Lord. 

So, the next time you’re tempted to rush ahead, will you instead sit back and listen to your God? Not only could it save you from plunging into a sea of trouble, but you will be blessed.

"But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him” (Jeremiah 17:7).

Felicia Alvarez lives in Southern California and loves avocados, sunshine, and serving her Savior. Currently, she teaches dance to over one hundred students and is working on her second book. Connect with Felicia on her blog or Facebook—she would love to hear from you.

Publication date: November 5, 2013