“God’s design for our life is that we should be dependent.”
– Professor John Wyatt, University College London
Last month, I began a series of reflections on discipleship by focusing on the theme of non-conformity. In this column, we will briefly explore the trait of dependence.
For most Americans, dependence is a very uncomfortable subject. Preferring to see ourselves as rugged individualists, we romanticize about characters such Ayn Rand’s main character, Howard Roark, in her novel Fountainhead. Reliant upon no one, he follows only his own inner sense of direction.
As disciples of Jesus, we pursue a very different path — not to autonomy but to obedience; not to ascension, but to surrender; not to seizing control but to yielding it. Indeed, the concepts of lordship and dependence are at the very core of Christian discipleship.
As the InterVarsity community continues to experience an extended season of blessing, we must be ever vigilant to guard against seeing our cleverness, hard work, and piety as the primary reasons. Such thinking — even if unspoken — is not only wrongheaded but highly dangerous.
The Wilderness Paradigm
The difficulty of living in a dependency mode is illustrated by Jewish refugees fleeing from Egypt over three millennia ago. In one of the greatest chapters in Scripture, Deuteronomy 8 captures the tension well.
For four decades, the Lord had led the community through many hardships, provided manna, and even maintained their clothing. His greatest concern as they stood on the brink of entering the Promised Land? That they would take credit for the produce of the land and praise themselves for their beautiful homes, saying “My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.”
In other words, the Lord’s fear was that His people would see themselves as self-made and self-reliant. The presenting issue remains the same for us today. Who calls the shots in our lives? Who gets the credit when things go well?
The Illusion of Independence
How easily we are seduced by the myth of control. Seeing ourselves as the masters of our own fate — captains of our destinies — we are co-opted to believe that we control circumstances and the future.
The reality, of course, is quite different. How much control do we really exercise over our genetic composition? Over macro economics? Over cancer? Over a drunken driver in the next lane?
In the classic TV program, The Twilight Zone, a curmudgeon librarian is portrayed as loving books more than people. When an atomic blast occurs while he is in a protected vault, he is actually thrilled to find that his books have survived but the people are gone.
All goes well until he trips and breaks his glasses, rendering reading impossible. With no one to repair his spectacles, the chilling reality of his dependence becomes abundantly clear.
Dependence vs. Risk
Let me confess: losing control is perhaps the most difficult aspect of following Jesus for me. As a “Type A” personality, I enjoy plotting out adventures and relying on my own wits. Some of my best college memories involve hitchhiking across country.
We must be careful never to confuse dependency with risk-aversion. The paradox of discipleship is that the more we rely on Him, the more risk we experience. The more control we yield, the bumpier the ride.
As we live out our daily lives, our dependence upon Him should become more and more evident. It becomes clearer just how dependent we are upon His goodness and grace. As a result, we respond to His initiative, live in obedience to His word, and minister out of love for Him.