The Gift of Insufficiency

Are you one of those people, that whenever someone offers help you are quick to say, “No thanks! I have it all under control.” Maybe you are one of those people who cringes at the idea of needing to ask someone for help. 

Or maybe you are the person who says, “Yes!” to everything and is the first to sign up, despite the fact that you are already five-feet-over-your-head deep in commitments. 

If that’s the case for you, could you also be the person who is stressed beyond measure? Could you also be the person that feels like she is sinking, and despite the many lifesavers floating around her, she doesn’t have the will-power to grab them?

Are you also the girl who never opens up about her struggles, because you can’t risk anyone seeing you as anything less than perfect? Are you the girl who is constantly asking for prayer for so-and-so, but can never ask for prayer for herself?

If not, I am. Why am I all these things? Why am I so resistant to asking for help, admitting I’m in need of support, and showing my weaknesses? Because I struggle against the self-sufficiency. 

The sin of self-sufficiency isn’t one that we discuss often. Probably because we haven’t taken the time to consider it to be a problem. Not only that, our culture is constantly preaching to us that we need to strive for self-sufficiency; be the girl boss that you are and run your business all by yourself, you can achieve your dreams all by yourself, you can be the church all on your own, you are capable of conquering your mountains.

Here’s the problem: That is all a detrimental lie. 

What’s wrong with this type of thinking? Why is this a sin? Why should I strive to put off my desire to be self-sufficient? The problem is that we are far from capable of doing it all on our own. Not only were we created for community, we were created as weak and feeble people in need of a truly self-sufficient and all-powerful God. 

This misplaced desire to be self-sufficient causes a number of problems: legalism, broken community, and idolatry.

The Legalist Self-Sufficient Girl

When we believe that we are self-sufficient and don’t need anyone’s help, we are more prone to believe the lie of legalism. The legalist believes that she doesn’t need Jesus’ holiness or sacrifice because her good works (prayer, inductive Bible study, service, diligence, spirituality, etc.) are sufficient to earn God’s pleasure. Though she would never admit this out loud, this is what her heart believes. 

With this thinking, she strives to be obedient and serve God in her own power. She has the power within herself to live righteously. Though she confesses her need for Christ, in her heart she shows no need for him. And so she strives and tires herself trying to earn God’s love. And whenever she sins or messes up, she sinks into sorrow and endeavours endlessly to somehow make up for her sin. If I study harder, if I love more, if I serve better, maybe God will love me more

The legalist believes that she doesn’t need God’s help to live a godly life. In passing, she may pray for God’s help, because it’s the Christian thing to do, but in reality she doesn’t see him as a necessary component of her obedience and her great service. She’s running fierce, her desire is to change the world for God’s glory, and yet she is seeking to do it all in her own ability. She wants to live righteously and put off sin, and yet she fights the flesh with her own flesh. 

Friend, I have been there, and let me tell you it is a futile run. You need God. You need to depend on him. You can do nothing apart from him.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 NASB

The gospel proclaims we need God. We were so deep in the muck of sin that we could not see God’s hand offering salvation—and if we could, we would reject it. But God, being rich in mercy, wiped the mud from our eyes and removed the scum from our hearts so that we could believe the gospel. He changed our sin-bent hearts to be hearts that desire to obey him—because we could never live the Christian life in our own strength. We are incapable of holding onto his hand, so he must continue to hold ours. That’s the gospel, but if self-sufficiency is what you desire, you can never rest in it. 

The Lonely Self-Sufficient Girl

Striving to be self-sufficient left me feeling lonely. Though others never saw my struggles and fears, there was a small part of me that desired to show them because I was tired of striving alone in my battles with sin and suffering. There were times I wished that my roommates in college would walk in while I was crying in my bedroom. 

My conceited desire to appear I “had it all together” left me in lonely sadness. What good did it do for me to appear strong before my friends so they would like me better if I felt lonely whenever I was with them? 

Striving for self-sufficiency is a lonely pursuit. But God did not design you for self-sufficiency. He purposefully designed the church and gifted each individual believer in such a way that they would need one another to function well. 

“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 NASB

This is why people get burnt out. They falsely believe either 1) that they need to do it all on their own, or 2) they can do it all on their own. Before you crash into inability and disaster, reach out to a fellow believer and ask for help. Don’t be afraid to show others your weaknesses. Be okay with admitting that you are not capable of running the show by yourself, whether that be with raising your children, running youth group, or organizing events at your church. Remember that God did not create you to be able to serve him in every way on your own, but made you dependent on the gifts and abilities of other people. 

The Idolatrous Self-Sufficient Girl

Ultimately, the self-sufficient woman is striving take the place of God. Though we may wish and strive for self-sufficiency, only God is self-sufficient. Only He creates from nothing, only He can self-sustain Himself, only He can work without rest, only He is capable of sustaining the world. And when you endeavour to model that attribute, you are seeking to be your own god. 

Jen Wilkin in her book None Like Him encourages us self-sufficient, idolatrous women to, “set aside the plate-spinning, ball-juggling, pink bunny idolatry of self-sufficiency. Only God is self-sufficient. Only God has no needs. You have them, and so does your neighbor. Be quick to praise God for how unlike you he is in this. Be quick to confess to him your tendency to trust your own resources rather than acknowledge him as your provider. Be quick to confess your needs to him and ask him to meet them.”[1]

Rather than seeking to be the supplier of all our needs and to run on our own strength, we must submit to God in our weakness. With Paul we should strive to proclaim, 

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NASB

Furthermore, we must learn to trust and dependent on God. In my idolatrous desire to be self-sufficient, I feared that God would not provide for me in the way that I wanted him to, so I needed to take care of myself. But God is our good provider, and He will “supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 NASB). How? In his total self-sufficiency. 

Self-sufficiency sounds great—being independent, fending for ourselves, taking care of all our needs—but in reality it is faulty pursuit to failure and sin. 

I know that terrifying fear of letting go of self-sufficiency and admitting I need help. The feeling reminds me of those moments at swimming lessons with my toes curling up against the ledge of the pool, my instructor telling me to jump, but my fears of deep water holding me rigid at the edge. Letting go of self-sufficiency is like jumping off that ledge. It goes against all my natural tendencies and desires and leaves me vulnerable, but it puts me in the exact place God wants me: insufficient and dependent upon him. 

I know it’s scary, but its time to give up our desire to be self-sufficient and become totally reliant on the all-sufficient, perfect God. 

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[1]Jen Wilkin, "Self-Sufficient," in None Like Him (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2016), 66.