Why vacillate on so simple an issue? Ministers like myself are called upon all the time to speak in churches and seminars, to teach classes in Bible colleges and to submit articles for publication. In my own church, I teach at least six times each week and host a live radio program two days a week.
The Bible requires me–and everyone expects me–to “Preach the Word” and to “be instant in season, out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). So why even ask whether writing the article is something I am supposed to do?
Living the Scripture
During his reign over Judah, King Asa was confronted by two crises that tested his dependence on God. In the first instance, he relied on the Lord, who delivered him and his kingdom from being destroyed by a “huge host.” In the second instance, however, he turned to the king of Syria for help (2 Chronicles 16:7-9). Why would he do this? Had he learned nothing from his first victory?
It is possible that in the second campaign, the thought of relying on God did not even occur to Asa. The challenge was not as great as the previous occasion and, besides, there was enough gold in “the treasuries of the house of the Lord and of the king’s house” to lure Syria into a treaty and provide him protection (2 Chronicles 16:2-4). Also, when all was said and done, his strategy worked. As long as Asa had the resources and cleverness to manage the situation on his own, why bother God with it?
What Asa missed, however, is that it was God’s desire and will that Judah trust Him. God wants to involve Himself in every aspect of the lives of His people. He did not covenant with them to be present only in emergencies, but to dwell among them, to be their God and for them to be His people. God desires that we should live in a real, moment-by-moment, total dependence on Him.
I find the same tendency in myself that I see in King Asa. If I have the resources to meet my challenges in life, my first impulse is to rely on those resources. If I am able to resort to my checkbook, it may not even occur to me to acknowledge my dependency on God. Yet I find warnings in the Scriptures, that “if riches increase, set not your heart upon them” (Psalm 62:10) and “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Before Israel entered the promised land, God warned the people that the greatest danger ahead would not be the adversity of their enemies but the prosperity of their new circumstances. The particular challenge of living in “great and goodly cities, which they built not, and houses full of good things, which they filled not, and drew water from wells which they dug not, and ate of the vineyards and olive trees, which they planted not; so that when they had eaten and were full that they forget the Lord, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Cf. Deuteronomy 6:10-12).
“The Arm of Flesh” (Jeremiah 17:5)
There are at least two good reasons why we would do well to never forget our total dependence on God: First, our day-to-day acknowledgement of our most basic human needs keeps our eyes turned toward God (Psalm 145:15). Every negative emotion, such as fear and despair, results from not bringing everything to God (Philippians 4:6). This is also how we lose awareness of God’s continued presence.
Second, we can be certain that a day will come when a challenge, hardship or ordeal will come that demands of us resources we do not possess (Psalm 49:5-13). If we have not learned God’s faithfulness in normal affairs of life, we are not likely to suddenly learn the calm assurance of faith when assailed by life’s greatest tests and trials.
When the Apostle Paul paused to think about the enormity of his responsibility, the question arose in his mind, “And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16). He recognized the reality of a demand greater than human resources could supply. Eventually, everyone arrives at this place of insufficiency.
But if Paul raised the question, he also provided the answer. How does one fulfill a calling that demands an abundance of supernatural resources? Through trust in God by way of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:4). Paul had to learn this lesson the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn to depend on God.
When suffering from what he referred to as “a thorn in the flesh,” Paul prayed that God would make it go away. When God did not grant his request, he repeated his prayer. After a third prayer God gave Paul a profound revelation, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Here is the sufficiency again that Paul asked about previously, that we need to receive constantly, and that God, who works His strength into us through grace, promises to provide.
Presumption Is Not Dependence
There is probably no greater statement of confident dependence on God than what Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:12, “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” Paul enjoyed the absolute certainty that God would take good care of all that Paul had entrusted to Him; namely his soul.
Nevertheless, Paul did not presume upon God’s grace but prayed over everything and acknowledged God in all his ways so that He would direct his paths (Romans 1:9-10). The difference between dependence and presumption is a critical lesson to learn.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, their first obstacle to possessing the land of promise was the walled city of Jericho, an important and formidable outpost protecting Canaan’s eastern border. Following the strategy God gave Joshua–which was to march around the city walls in silence for six days, then raise a shout and sound trumpets on their seventh circuit on the seventh day–they witnessed their first victory in the new land.
After Jericho, the small village of Ai blocked their path. After assessing Ai’s defenses, a few of Joshua’s officers recommended that Israel not bother to deploy its entire army, but that a contingent of two or three thousand troops could easily take the city. Do you see how they shifted from dependence to presumption? The shift was that easy and that subtle. Ai was no threat, certainly nothing like Jericho, so “make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few” (Joshua 7:3). Israel’s tragic defeat at Ai could have been prevented had Joshua and his officers fully understood their dependency on God for every step they took into the land.
Like Israel, our shift from dependence to presumption may be almost imperceptible. Yes, we are truly grateful when God intervenes and wins an important victory in our lives. But immediately afterward we venture forward on our own as if we do not have to depend on God for the small things. Many Christians fall into the trap of presumption. In fact, this was the source of Paul’s frustration with the “foolish” Galatians, “Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3).
Dependence on God is not something we muster in emergencies; it is the realization that apart from His will we cannot presume even our next breath. Dependence sees God as being everything; presumption sees Him merely as a resource for dealing with crises. Dependence is an expression of faith; presumption is an act of pride (2 Chronicles 25:19; 26:16). Dependence is confidence in God; presumption trusts the arm of flesh. Dependence surrenders the need to control everything; presumption attempts to seize God’s throne.
Dependence As Opportunity
Zerubbabel was one of the Israelite leaders who returned from Babylon after the exile. He brought with him thousands of other Jews and orders to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Although they returned with high hopes and sincere eagerness, they were not prepared for the utter devastation that confronted them.
Faced with mounds of rubble, the hostility of border enemies, and the magnitude of the reconstruction that had to be undertaken, the small force of Jews quickly lost heart. So instead of rebuilding the temple, they turned to the restoration and remodeling of their own homes (Haggai 1:2-11).
At that time, the prophet Zechariah received a vision from God of a weird contraption. He saw beside the menorah lampstand that provided light in the temple two olive trees, one on either side with pipes from the lamps that fed oil directly into lamps. When asked whether he understood the meaning of the vision, Zechariah said, “No, my lord.” He was then told, “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts'” (Zechariah 4:6).
What God was telling Zerubbabel and the people of Judah–what He is telling us–is, “Depend on Me to do the impossible. Do not calculate what can or cannot be done by the standard of your own strength and ability. Instead, depend on God and remember that the things that are impossible with men are possible with God” (Zechariah 4:1-7; Luke 18:27).
I stand in amazement at the great work God is doing in our world today. In fact, God’s work is far greater than the available human resources. Therefore the Lord is searching worldwide for people who will totally depend on Him to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (2 Chronicles 16:9; Ephesians 3:20).
Then, after God’s hand has worked mightily through the lives of these men and women, they will continue to acknowledge their dependence on Him by refusing to take any glory for themselves, but like Paul will say, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
Now the Opportunity Is Ours
These are the reasons I have to pause before I agree to write an article or undertake any endeavor that may come my way. The moment I tell myself, “I can handle this one, it’s small and it will be easy,” I run the risk of moving forward in pride rather than faith. I have learned, not only by Scripture but by experience as well, that “Pride goeth before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18). I have no desire to repeat those earlier mistakes. I want to always be certain that my confidence has not shifted from its center in Christ Jesus.
You will find that in the same passage where Jesus said, “Without me ye can do nothing,” He also explained that His Father is glorified when we “bear much fruit” and that this is what qualifies us to be His disciples (John 15:5, 8). Our dependence on God, like a branch’s dependence on the vine, is the necessary connection with Him to guarantee a fruitful life. What sort of fruit does God want from us? We know that above all else, He desires that we should love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our might (Deuteronomy 6:5). How can we show God that we love Him? By giving Him our complete trust.
Have you ever reflected on the fact that this lifetime is all the opportunity we are given to show God that we love Him? When we leave this world, enter heaven, and for the first time realize the magnitude of God’s infinite love for us, we are going to want to return His love with all that we have to offer. Merely saying, “I love You, Lord,” will hardly seem adequate to express the depth of our love.
We will wish we could do something to show God the truth of our words. But that opportunity will be gone. We can demonstrate the reality of our love for God now, but there will be no need for “trust” in heaven. There will be nothing to be gained by saying, “If only I knew then what I know now, then I would have lived in complete dependence on God.”
If we fail an exam, there will be another opportunity to be tested and get it right. If we lose one job, we have a chance to perform better in our next employment. But after the grave, there is no second chance to live this life over. We have this one opportunity and no other to put our trust in God. My friend, let’s make the most of it.
Scripture quotations are take from The Holy Bible, King James Version.
Chuck Smith began his ministry at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa 42 years ago and has watched God expand it to a worldwide ministry of hundreds of churches and a Bible college with 52 satellite campuses in the United States and abroad.