Each month we ask two writers to reflect on a quote by Dr. Stanley. For December, Kayla Yiu and John VandenOever discuss humankind’s seemingly universal, unrelenting temptation to live independent of God—and what it looks like to truly depend on His Spirit. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s book Finding God's Blessings in Brokenness:
Our growth does not move us toward independence. That’s a pattern in the natural, physical world: children grow up to live independently of their parents. Spiritual growth, though, is marked by increasing dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. Ultimate spiritual maturity is a state of total dependence on the Holy Spirit to govern, guide, and guard our lives.
“Spiritual growth, though, is marked by increasing dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
by Kayla Yiu
The first time I truly tasted independence was when I bought a car. I remember going to banks, pretending to know what I was doing and feeling as though I’d tricked them into approving me for a loan. I researched different makes and models, weighed what was important to me (reliability and price) against what wasn’t (gadgets and features), and actually enjoyed negotiating with the salesperson. And when I finally pulled out of the parking lot in my new-to-me ride, I was so proud—I had done it all on my own. And my parents were proud, too.
It’s strange to live in a world where this kind of independence is considered a virtue and at the same time, a hindrance for Christians. Depending on the Lord is the root of what it means to follow Him, and yet our friends, coworkers, and family members—Christian or not—remain impressed when we accomplish something unaided. Unfortunately, this cultural tendency, deeply embedded in our values and institutions, isn’t going anywhere, and as long as we’re alive, we’ll be tempted toward autonomy.
Every thread of my life has been woven by Him, and whether I’m aware of it or not, I am wholly dependent on His love and power.
So how do we live with this tension between dependence and independence? I think about my first car, and if I could go back, I would have consulted my parents for guidance with the loan—asked them what interest rate to aim for, terms to avoid. I also could have asked them to accompany me on the test drive and share negotiating tips. I would have thanked God for a job that allowed me to build savings and for a college degree completed without student debt. That also meant I’d thank Him for my parents, whose goal to pay my tuition made that possible, and for their steady jobs and education. In fact, every detail and story leading up to my driving away from the dealer was a demonstration of my utter dependence on others.
Paul wrote to the church in Colossae that the Lord is “before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), and the same is true of my existence today. Every thread of my life has been woven by Him, and whether I’m aware of it or not, I am wholly dependent on His love and power. We can move through our days believing they’re our doing (and keep the Lord at arm’s length), or we can talk to Him about all the ways He’s been present and grow in awareness of how much we need Him. At the end of the day, the struggle of dependence is not about who is in control—it’s about what kind of relationship we want to have with God.
by John VandenOever
One year in elementary school, our assignment was to grow a potato plant in a jar of water. With toothpicks, we speared our spuds and kept them balanced on the rim, away from the bottom of the glass. In time, greenery began to shoot from the vegetable, which was a pleasing sight. Until it began to rot.
Too often in life, I’ve lived like that transplanted potato. Only I’m not a tuber, but a branch of Christ’s true vine (John 15). Scripture also compares believers to trees that yield fruit with leaves that don’t wither (Ps. 1:1-3). These metaphors teach that our faith should grow in abundance, with beauty to rival all of God’s flora. This happens as our branch remains connected to the vine or as our tree is rooted in its soil. In the same way, the Christian must be ever-reliant on Christ for life and growth.
So why do I often act like an independent vegetable? What has convinced me that I can produce something good on my own? I’ve had a tendency—probably you have, too—to operate as if the Christian life is a belief system that, once mastered, provides a rudder to navigate the world. I behave as a Christian, attempting kindness toward others, generosity toward good causes, and “right thinking” about the issues I encounter. Within myself, I’m convinced of what maturity ought to look like, so I might as well get on with it.
But when I live this way, I fail to see the necessity of Christ’s lifegiving power through my union with Him. Instead, I rely on what has been acquired and imagine it is sufficient for making sense of my problems as well as those of the world.
I’ve had a tendency to operate as if the Christian life is a belief system that, once mastered, provides a rudder to navigate the world.
Rather than thirsting for God to satisfy our needs, heal our wounds, and forgive our sins, we’ll cast our knowledge at people and problems. Our view of God’s holiness will dim. We’ll justify ourselves more freely and judge others more fiercely. And we’ll accept the delusion that right thinking alone has the power to transform a thirsty, wounded world.
Paul offered this counsel to the Colossians: “Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (Col. 2:6-7). It’s at once simple and complex.
We can’t “potato” our way through life without continual nourishment from God. We grow by being rooted in Him, not by taking steps of independence. In other words, our deepest satisfaction and growth aren’t gained by mastering the Christian life—they result when we continually hunger and thirst for Christ’s presence and power.