Psalm 18:1-3, 31-33, 49; Lamentations 3:19-24; Philippians 4:10-13
One of the traits we obviously value most in ourselves and others is independence. Few accomplishments are more admired among most people than that of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps and rising to the level of virtual independence through personal effort and ingenuity alone. In fact, we probably consider this as our ideal.
The people we seem to admire most are those who are least dependent on others—the foreman more than the person on the assembly line, the administrator more than the administrative assistant, or the owner of the business more than those who work for her. This adoration of independence goes beyond the working world.
In the academic world we admire the student who needs the least amount of help in—and outside—the classroom or who makes it without a tutor more than the one who needs the tutor. I’ve heard parents make remarks indicating that they most admire the child who makes it on his own—without their help—the fastest or does the best, the quickest outside the nest. Our love of independence—because we think that independence means strength—causes us to have higher regard for those who appear to make it through life without the help of a psychiatrist, psychologist or pastoral counselor than for those who do have this need and do something about it. Our high regard for independence has national and international implications, too. We want to be the greatest power in the world, not “beholden” to anybody. We think we’re superior to all the other nations that the thought of an apology when we’re wrong is taken as an affront. We take the need to say, “We’re sorry. We’ve made a mistake,” as a sign of weakness and thus a lack of independence.
This love of independence is all around us. It even affects our spiritual lives; perhaps we should say that it especially affects our spiritual lives. Somehow we’ve let the drive for independence convince us that depending upon God is not good—that really strong, mature Christians learn to make it to a large extent on their own.
Independence is good, if it means doing or being what you can be in your own strength and through your own efforts. There is certainly unhealthy dependence. Independence is not good, however, if it means that we come to believe that we are totally sufficient in every way unto ourselves and can do all we need to do in every way in our own strength. We begin to believe that we don’t need others at all, and that may be a step or two away from deciding that we can make it without God’s help, too. I’m not talking about those who separate themselves from the church, having decided that they don’t need God anymore. I’m talking today about those of us in the church who are trying to live as if we don’t need God’s help in our day-to-day achievements and struggles, as if spiritual maturity means going it alone and merely “checking in” with God from time to time.
There is not a time in our lives—not even a day—when we can be at our best without the active presence of God, not only guiding us but also strengthening us for the tasks we undertake. Refusing or neglecting to receive the strength God is willing to give us is not spiritual maturity; it is spiritual carelessness. Spiritual maturity never means independence from God. Theodore Parker Ferris said, “You don’t grow out of this sense of dependence upon God; you grow up into it.”
Throughout the Psalms there are references to dependence upon God and His help. One such psalm is Psalm 18. This passage avoids two unhealthy extremes: (1) on the one end of the continuum, it avoids the suggestion of passive dependence—the state of assuming that God will do everything, even what we should be using our own abilities—strengthened by God, of course—to accomplish; (2) it also avoids the suggestion of independence from God.
To Be Continued