“Pull yourself up your own bootstraps.”
“You can do anything you put your mind to.”
"Believe in yourself."
These little sayings, so familiar to many in our culture, evidence an unrealistic philosophy of life. In a word, they are little motivations that promote self-sufficiency. Independence. Living one’s own way by sheer determination and perseverance.
But our God reminds us in His very personal name Jehovah just Who He is. He is the “I Am,” the Self-Existent one, the only Self-Sufficient One. Any cute saying that foregoes this reality fails to factor in the overwhelming reality that God Alone is self-sufficient.
A dear woman I know emigrated from a Communist country, using her wits to escape the regime in which she was undesirably employed. She managed to find a way to the United States and carved out her own existence when she arrived. That was years ago. Now she enjoys a somewhat comfortable life and sees the source of all goodness not as the Self-Sufficient God but her own independent spirit. The American dream worked for her. God? Not so much.
Another man I met totes a similar story. He had nothing when he left his home in Russia; but now, in his sixties, makes his living as a well-renowned architect. His designs, magnificent and distinguished, demonstrate exquisite artistry in the field. As he scrolled through multiple photos of his work, he bragged, “Who did this? I did. Not God.” For him, God is a non-reality, a Player who seems never to enter the stage of his life which, from his view, has been self-created and self-propelled.
And so we expect the unsaved to live, without recognizing their absolute dependence upon an Almighty God who created them. But centuries ago in this great nation, such was rarely the case. Even the unbelieving Ben Franklin, America’s well-beloved Poor Richard, yet put his eye toward Providence. It was the 81-year-old Franklin who, in the sultry days of the Constitutional Convention, viewed the mammoth task of forging the documents for a new nation, saw the deadlocks between the states, and addressed the Convention thus:
“I have lived . . . a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”
Franklin requested that the meetings begin with prayer, that God be consulted in the affairs of men. For, although he had refused the pleadings of George Whitefield to surrender his soul to the Almighty, he recognized this truth—ultimately, God reigns.
Such trappings of spirituality yet exist in our nation. Prayers at inaugurations and governmental ceremonies. “In God we trust” placed on our money. “Under God” stated in our pledge.
But today, Americans—even those who profess to know the name of Christ—too frequently fail to wait upon God as the only Self-Existent One. As the sun burns in the sky, affecting every living thing upon the planet, so our God infuses life into every dimension of life. He needs nothing from anyone and yet He speaks through His Word, beckoning believers to take of Him, learn of Him, wait on Him, and live in Him.
How does one live in this Self-Sufficient God? By yielding to His rulership in life. By submitting to His authority. By placing oneself under His dominion. By saying “yes” to this Eternal King.
Practically speaking, what does this look like? For a man named Mr. Pulsford of North Devon, England, in the early 1800s, that looked like willingly moving to a town for the specific purpose of winning souls to Christ. But Pulsford knew he couldn’t do it alone. Calling out in prayer to Almighty God, he went forward on his knees. In 1820, a Baptist church formed and converts from the town were baptized.
“I will not rock the cradle of the devil,” Pulsford was known to say. Apathetic Christians? Not in his place of ministry. Ones committed to fulfilling the Great Commission? That was his challenge to church members. Is it any wonder that, from his small church, ten towns became systematically reached with the Gospel—all under ministry conducted, not by paid preachers, but by Commission-oriented church members? Twice a month, preacher boys from his congregation had opportunity to preach. Eventually, five church members dedicated their lives to spread the Gospel as full-time preachers, a result of this Great Commission mindset.
For believers today, the call of Christ has not wavered. Self-sufficiency is inability. God-dependency stands counter to the methods and means of postmodernism. Great Commission believers, saturated by the truth of God’s Word, living in dependence upon the Spirit, and walking forth in faith to open their mouths with boldness—this is still God’s plan to grow His church, to affect our world, and to reach this nation with the Gospel.
As Franklin acknowledged that a kingdom could not be built without God’s aid, so we must embrace the reality that nothing short of God’s intervention in our lives can build His church His way.
Let us commit ourselves to following Him, opening our mouths to speak the truth of His glorious Gospel, and watching Him change our nation and the world.
One soul at a time.