One of the puzzling aspects of being both an independent, self-sufficient American (not to mention male), as
well as a follower of Jesus is the tension between initiative and dependence. On the one hand, I read the words of Jesus who says stuff like, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” That sounds fairly definitive- nothing. Or Paul, who says, “I labor with all of His strength, which so powerfully works in me.” And I nod my head in agreement, especially when I’m weary and overwhelmed or simply experiencing a moment of clarity about my finite-ness, my weakness, my inability to make anything of significance happen. In those moments, I readily acknowledge my dependence and my need for Jesus.
But I get confused, too. While I really do believe that Jesus is the One who must supply the strength, the guidance, even the direction, it seems that I have a part to play, too. As I read the Bible, I don’t perceive Scripture advocating for passivity- as if I am to sit idly on the couch, waiting for Jesus to magically animate my limbs like a puppet master. It seems that I’m to actually supply something in this equation. I suppose we could call that initiative, though to be theologically honest, we’d have to say that God supplied even that.
So what to make of this? One friend said it this way, “God will work in you and through you, but He won’t work for you.” OK, makes sense. But I’ve also experienced plenty of situations where God did plenty on my behalf (the gospel being the pre-eminent example) without me doing a single thing. I’ve also heard this one, “Pray like it all depends on God and work like it all depends on you.” That sounds cute for a quip, but honestly that doesn’t make either biblical or practical sense. If I work like it all depends on me, I’ll probably end up leaving God out altogether.
So I don’t have a neat little answer for this one. This seems to be a kind of paradox, a bit of dilemma that is not meant to be tidily resolved. My sense is that we are to live in the tension of both full surrender to God’s direction and dependence on His strength and power, along with a recognition that we need to get up and move forward- a deliberate step at a time. I see this tension in Philippians 2, where Paul instructs us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (effortful movement) “because it is God who works in you to will and act according to His purpose.”(God’s the One who does it).
So I’ll try to answer the question like this: Is it all about dependence or is it also about my initiative? And the answer is “Yes.” But mostly Him. Really.