Excluding the possibility of God

Here’s something from Wayne Cordeiro in Sifted:

it is our unguarded strengths that become our greatest weaknesses…that point of vulnerability will be near to your God-given strength.

This resonates with me a lot.  More than I would like, in fact.  I guess that it is true precisely because it is our God-given strengths which most tempt us to self-reliance.  And self-reliance is always the place of weakness because, in its very nature, it excludes the possibility of God.

This is one of my fears.  You see, I grew up with an independent streak.  And three years in a very competitive study environment followed by another six years training and then working for a Magic Circle law firm and later a West End boutique practice didn’t exactly ameliorate that tendency.  If anything, it made it worse.

In fact, to ask for help in that City firm was out of the question and all of us trainees knew it.  We’d been employed because, supposedly at least(!), we were bright and could be relied upon to figure it out without wasting some senior lawyer’s time in having to tell us.  And, for the most part, I learned to survive without asking for help.  I learned to live by my strengths.  (And a lot of the time, to be honest, when I didn’t yet have that strength, to fake it till I could make it!)

My self-reliance became even more deeply engrained than it was already.  What my director of studies at university had once described as being ‘a bit too self-possessed’ had become an entrenched dependence on self alone.  A comment never made to my face, but read upside-down by accident in a set of introductory notes to a non-College supervisor about each student in this particular supervision (the other comment in respect of me was ‘family problems’; even now I smile at the reductionism inherent in this scribbled portrayal!), this comment had been remarkably prophetic about a trait which was no doubt there and which was to become ever more embedded in my self-identity as a result of pursuing these university studies and eventually a career in City law.

Some would say that self-reliance is a positive thing.  It means you don’t risk anyone else letting you down, after all.  You live or die by your own strengths and you don’t depend on anyone else.

But I am not so sure.

I think that self-reliance is contrary to what God wills for you and for me.

I think that we were made to live in dependence.  Dependence on one another and dependence on the One who made us.  And self-reliance thwarts that.  Our unguarded strengths enable us to depend exclusively on our own abilities.  They enable us to be self-possessed.

And they thereby exclude the possibility of God.

That is what frightens me.  Because the place where God is not, that is the place of true vulnerability.  And that is how my strengths, if left unguarded, will become my greatest weaknesses as they lead me away from a dependence on God, as they invite me to believe that, without him, I am strong.

I know my susceptibility to this.  It is easy to believe for a moment that I can control my life, that my strengths are mine and mine alone, that I do not need you and I do not need him.  And for a while, you know, he will let me believe this.  He will let you believe it of yourself too.  That we are strong in ourselves.  That we don’t need him.  Or each other.

Such a freedom to believe in the self, to depend on your own abilities, can feel like grace, surprisingly.  It can feel like the smile of God.  Because, truth be told, to use your strengths feels good.  It feels like you are living the life you were created to live.

But do not be deceived.

In the end, the real kindness of God is when he calls you back to himself, when he allows you to be wounded that you might remember whence your strength truly comes.

That’s when you know that he loves you – when he engages you in a Jacob fight.  A fight which you cannot win but which you dare not lose.  A fight which ends up testing your strengths and results perhaps in the dislocation of one of them, a dislocation which does not paralyse but is enough to gift you with the limp which evermore reminds you how much you need him.  That’s when you know that he loves you and that’s when you know that he will not consign you to the hell of self-reliance.

So let him test your heart today.  With the Psalmist, let us invite him to see if there is any offensive way in us.  For he is kind and does not treat us as our self-reliance deserves.  Instead, he is faithful to draw us more into the life of his Son, to conform us to his image and to free us from our cult of self.

And, as we surrender to the sometimes violent kindness of his work in us, let us be confident that though he wounds, he will also bind up; and though he shatters, he will also heal.

He has said that it will be so.

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