What does it really look like to be dependent on God?
Last year when I was deciding on what I was going to spend my life on, my sister told me something that, to be honest, really ticked me off (and pricked my pride). She had the audacity to tell me that I wasn’t dependent on God.
There I was, 22-years-old, dropping my career of public school teaching and beginning to apply to seminaries. I had no idea what I was doing. I felt a persistent call that I couldn’t ignore, and it seemed as though I was leaving everything familiar and comfortable in order to follow Him. In light of this, my 19-year-old sister was telling me that I’m not dependent on God, when I felt like all I could do at that point was trust Him. As a matter of fact, I felt as though I was more dependent on God and the Holy Spirit’s leading than ever before. But she was right.
What did I need to do to better serve Him? What did I need to do to be in the exact place He was calling me to be in? What did I need to do to accomplish my “big calling” in life? What choices did I need to make in order to be effective for Him?
Do you get my point? Everything was about me accomplishing something that would bring Him some kind of success. Now, those aren’t necessarily bad questions. Every Jesus-follower should stop to examine and question why they’re doing what they’re doing and believing what they believe. It is necessary for their faith to mature and solidify.
There’s just something in our flesh, in our human nature, that wants to earn what we get. We want to fix our own problems, and many of us have a lot of trouble with this verse: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, TNIV). We want to be self-made men and women. But the scripture goes on “ … not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9,TNIV).
The problem is that many of us are constantly trying to work. We are constantly trying to do, but God is waiting for us to cease to do. Here’s the point; in the words of Watchman Nee, “The Christian experience does not begin with a big do; it begins with a big done.”
There’s profound truth in that simple statement. How many times can I look back at my life and see a continuous history of me being so caught up in “ministry” that I’m not really ministering? We busy ourselves in an effort to accomplish God’s will for ourselves, but it’s time to stop and let God’s will be accomplished in us.
I’ve been a lifeguard for many years, and I’ve learned a few things about water rescue (other than getting hit on by 12-year-olds and yelling at kids for running on the pool deck).
There are three stages of a drowning victim: a distressed swimmer, an active drowning victim and a passive (often unconscious) drowning victim. The distressed swimmer is in the earliest stage of drowning but is able to momentarily stay afloat and call for help. A passive drowning victim is facedown in the water and is entering into advanced stages of drowning. An active drowning victim has his arms flailing straight out to the side and his face towards to surface fighting for a gasp of air.
This is the most dangerous type of drowning victim. In fact, unless someone is a professional water rescuer, they shouldn’t attempt to save an active drowning victim without proper equipment. Out of panic and sheer desperation, an active drowning victim will, with all of his strength, grab onto anything within reach in an attempt to survive. Many active drowning victims take others down with them.
I feel that as I look in the mirror and at much of the Church around me, I see a lot of active drowning Christians. In an attempt to “do” for God, our works flail about, and we busy ourselves with activities, teams, services, small groups and events—all the while spending a lot of energy worrying about the things we should be doing that we’re not doing. Many of us are “doing” so much that we begin to drown: we experience burnout.
The tragedy of drowning is that it’s often the victim’s state of panic that takes them under. Once they feel out of control, they panic and flail, lose their buoyancy and spend all their energy. If a distressed swimmer would take a deep breath, focus and relax, they would naturally be able to stay afloat. The more they thrash about, the further they sink. Similarly, Christian burnout is an unnecessary tragedy.
Sound familiar? When we feel uncertain in our “Christian performance” we often try to perfect our relationship with God with more works. It is our spiritual anxiety that leads to our attempt to earn our worth to God.
I’m willing to say that anyone who is living in total dependence upon God and is allowing His will to be at work in them—anyone who is doing only what God has called them and gifted them to do and nothing that they feel they must do in order to maintain their worth in His eyes—will never experience true burnout. They will go through trials and struggles, but they will never experience the kind of burnout that leaves you feeling empty, chronically defeated and leads you to seek the quick fix of sin for a desperate moment of release from the numbness.
If we find ourselves experiencing spiritual burnout, we cannot fix ourselves. We have to let our God heal us with His fierce and overwhelming love that is so great that we cannot even begin to understand it. This is our only hope (Ephesians 3:14-19, NLT).
A good lifeguard knows how to make an approach on a drowning victim and restrain them without putting themselves in danger. But often the swimmer will struggle hard when you first grab them from behind.
The swimmer’s fear prevents him from trusting himself to you even though you’re fully capable of saving him.
He doesn’t trust you. He doesn’t put his hope in the fact that you’re watching him and are both able and willing to rescue him. Sometimes a victim will struggle so much that you have to back off to let him spend all of his energy and go passive out of pure exhaustion before you can rescue him. God is waiting until we cease to do and just trust, to stop thrashing about with our works and start putting our hope in His nature. This can either be a conscious choice or happen because we don’t have the strength to move anymore.
Grace is not just God’s ability to act on our behalf, but also His willingness to do so. I don’t think we really understand how willing He really is. When, in our own efforts, we try to fix our brokenness, our works begin to flail and we panic our way into burnout. How many times have I tried to fix things my own way and ended up making everything even worse. But what can we obtain without our own effort?
We have to realize that the Christian experience begins with the finished work of Another. The work is not ours, but His. Our spiritual survival, our growth, even our being depends on God.
Read Shattering Paradigms: Part Two here.