There was only one way to help him, and it was the only way precisely because he didn’t want my help.
My son was four years old and struggling to assemble something too advanced for his age. He was getting increasingly frustrated, but despite the empirical evidence of his inability, he refused to accept his limits. Instead, he tried harder and harder, but with each new attempt, his annoyance grew.
I wanted to take over and assemble the item at that moment, but then it hit me—my son needed to experience his weakness so that he would ask for my care. So, I walked out of the room and left him on his own, angry, incapable, and exasperated.
I didn’t leave because I was mad or needed peace and quiet. Nor did I think walking away was the best way to “punish” him. On the contrary, I walked away because I loved my boy, and that course of action was the best way to get him to recognize, seek, and appreciate my love.
In my imperfect, finite parenting wisdom, I had confidence about what would happen next. I knew my son would not be able to do what he was fighting so hard to do independently, and it was only a matter of time before he gave up, admitted his weakness to himself, and sought my help.
Sure enough, about a half-hour later, I heard the pitter-patter of his little feet down the hallway floor. He peeked around the corner and said, “I can’t do it.”
I asked, “What do you want Daddy to do?”
And he said words that were good for his heart to say: “I need your help.”
It was a striking spiritual illustration for me to watch and learn from. Even in our earliest years, we deny our weaknesses. We think we know more than we do and have more abilities than we have. We want to believe that we don’t need the wise words and able arms of our Father.
We desperately want to be independent.
Two days ago, on July 4, the United States celebrated Independence Day for the 246th year in a row. I love national holidays, fireworks, and summer barbeques as much as anyone, but for human beings made in the image of God, “celebrating independence” is never something we get to do—in a spiritual sense, I mean.
You and I weren’t created for independent living. Even in a perfect Eden, Adam and Eve were dependent on God. Then, add to this the fact that sin leaves us desperately broken and weak. We all need strength beyond our own and wisdom that we’ll never independently possess.
God will “walk away” down the hallway of life and let us experience our weakness once again to remind us of who we are, what we need, and what he’s provided for us. Of course, he’s never actually disappeared or abandoned us, but he will allow us to feel on our own so that we will seek and celebrate the strength and wisdom that can only ever be found in him.
When he does this, it is not an act of divine anger but a response of tender parental grace—the kind of grace you and I will continue to need until grace has finished its work.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, ESV)
But it doesn’t end there. Even more amazingly, God grants us supernatural power and wisdom via the means of the Holy Spirit, who lives inside each of his children. We simply are no longer left to the resources of our own strength.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV)
Have you humbly asked for that power and wisdom once again today? Or are you celebrating the delusion of your independence?
Paul David Tripp
1. What have you seen someone doing recently that they had no ability to do on their own? Think of someone different than a child—maybe a neighbor, a co-worker, your spouse or sibling, or any other adult. Did they immediately ask for help, or did they fumble and make a mess of the task at hand?
2. What have you attempted recently that you had no ability to do on your own? Don’t just consider a physical task or an assignment at work. Broaden your challenge to the relational and/or spiritual realm. Did you immediately ask for help, or did you fumble and make a mess of it?
3. Why was it so hard to ask for help? Why was it tempting to think that you can achieve the task at hand on your own? Be specific and consider your heart.
4. Look back on past accomplishments. In what ways are you not able to take 100% of the credit? Even unknowingly at the time, in what ways were you dependent on others to achieve what you did? Ultimately, are you taking credit for what only God could produce?
5. Have you ever felt abandoned by God or that he walked away from you? Do you have that emotion in any way today? Could it be that the Lord, in love, was/is allowing you to experience weakness so that you would rely on him?
6. What do you need to ask for help for tomorrow? Write a list of all the tasks you have in front of you that you are incapable of achieving on your own. Use this as an exercise to create a sense of dependence and humility. How can you pray for each item on that list?