Note: The content below closely follows the tone and narrative of my book, Sweet Dependence. Whether you have read the book or not, I pray you are encouraged by the post and reminded once again of the joy found in relying on Christ.
Grace + peace.
“I can do it myself.”
We’ve all heard a child declare this common phrase. Whether the children I babysit or my own nieces and nephews, these five words are proclaimed with confidence and determination.
Perhaps the child has just been released from the bondage of training wheels and is ready to fly forward on two wheels. Eyes focused, they wobble at first as their straddled legs leave the ground – momentarily. They start to tip to one side. “I got it,” they’re quick to declare as we extend a helping hand. “I can do it.” Taking a deep breath, they wave us back. “I can do it myself.”
No doubt their fierce independence is developing. They are confident in their ability and resolved to be free of the training wheels … and the helping hand. We understand their desire for independence and certainly encourage these (not so) little ones to grow into mature individuals. But with the same breath, perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves that the same degree of independence must be true of our lives with Christ. Surely, as adults and experienced followers of Jesus, complete dependence upon our Lord and Savior is no longer necessary. We’ve grown up.
In reading the familiar words of Psalm 139, we find comfort: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb …” We acknowledge our dependence upon Christ to form our bodies and breathe life into us. But surely now as adults, we can manage on our own. “We can do it ourselves.”
Over the years in my relationship with the Lord, I have naturally assumed that the spiritual maturity I craved and saw in older believers was linked to independence. Certainly one day, with a bit more experience under my belt, I will have enough grace, patience, strength to live the Christian life.
The growth I craved in my walk with the Lord began to unfold, but a heightened sense of independence wasn’t the result.
No, the reward of my maturity in Christ has been and continues to be the increased awareness of my utter dependence upon Him. And it has been through a difficult and painful season that the Lord has redefined what it means to live completely dependent upon Him.
We are slowly losing my father to a degenerative neurological disease that is shutting down his body and his mind, simultaneously and subtly. As one of his primary caregivers, I am daily reminded of my dependence on Christ. Beyond just an occasional call for divine assistance, dependence has become a defining reality for my entire Christian life.
This ugly disease has altered my dad’s mind and body as well as introduced a shift in our relationship as father and daughter. I am now feeding the one who taught me how to ski, dressing the one who played catch with me in the backyard, lifting up the man who held me in his arms. Through this drastic change in both our lives, the Lord has shown me that the greater measures of love, grace, patience that are now required of me can only ever come from Him. My dependence upon Christ has been real and necessary in the deepest way. I cannot care for my dad apart from Jesus. I cannot extend grace, forgiveness, love apart from Christ. I am wholly dependent upon Him.
I know my life will not always be characterized by this kind of daily heartache and loss. But I also know that this season of suffering goes beyond a “life lesson.” Dependence is far more than the cerebral acknowledgement that “God is in charge of my life.”
Dependence is much grander and reaches far deeper.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the apostle speaks of the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ his Lord. To gain the greater reward, namely Christ, Paul has cast aside his former striving, his past religious life – a time when he had every reason to boast in his ability. He writes that everything he had prided himself in before is nothing – it’s garbage! – compared to gaining Christ, to knowing Jesus.
I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:10-11)
We may be tempted to read Paul’s words and simply applaud his humble trust in Christ and label his reliance as admirable but not something we need to imitate. Paul seems to anticipate this reaction from his readers and says, just a few verses later,
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (v. 17)
Paul is serious in his exhortation (encouragement). Our dependence is the doorway to knowing Christ our Savior.
It is through our dependence on Him alone that He molds us into His very image. This process of being made like Christ, of living in complete dependence upon Him, spans a lifetime. The end goal of this journey is one Paul rejoices in; indeed his boast is grounded only and ever in Christ.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Phil. 3:20-21)
The truth of Paul’s words is piercing. Here is a man who has experienced countless trials and known suffering intimately, and still his joyful boast is in knowing Christ! Wholly abandoned and dependent upon His Savior, Paul rejoices in the surpassing greatness of knowing his Savior.
I cannot help but join Paul in his joy, for through the heartache and grief I know so well and the rich reality of dependence I’ve come to experience, I can only boast in Jesus Christ, my Savior whom I love and know in greater measures than I ever have before.
Even on the darkest days, I know I am not treading on ground unknown by my Savior. The One who invites me to deeper dependence is the One who is fully acquainted with my grief and has borne my suffering. The heaviness of pain is not foreign to Him. The One who calls me to abandon my self-sufficiency and rely upon Him is the One who came to this world, clothed in my humanity, to save me from my sin and restore me to a right relationship with the Father.
Dependence turns many of our natural inclinations upside down and certainly flows upstream from our society’s understanding of strength and independence. Indeed, the whole of Christ’s gospel message is characterized by inverted truths and paradox, and dependence upon Christ is no exception. In our weakness, He is our perfect strength; in our inability, He is our full sufficiency; and in our lack, He is our generous provider. In dependence, we draw near to our Savior, for we realize how much we need Him, every hour of every day.
We come to see that our dependence, our closeness to Jesus, is our source of strength; our very life is found in Him.
In her devotional, Beside Bethseda, Joni Eareckson Tada writes of her own journey of quadriplegia and the glorious reality she’s uncovered in depending on Jesus. “I have suffered, yes. But I wouldn’t trade places with anybody in the world to be this close to Jesus.”
This close to Jesus.
At the heart of dependence is the reward of knowing Jesus. Even in the midst of suffering, I would not trade places with anyone to be this close to my Savior.