Several years ago I bumped into a former student in the lobby of our main center. Chris had relapsed and was seeking readmittance into the program. Chris had been a model student and had done well on his own for several years.
Now he was deeply broken. I asked Chris what had gone wrong. With shoulders shrugged, he proceeded to tell me that he had been in the Word and prayer daily. He was involved in a local church. He was faithful in other spiritual disciplines.
After about five minutes, I interrupted him. “Chris, I know what your problem is. Not once have you mentioned Jesus. It’s all been about you and what you have and haven’t been doing. No wonder you’ve fallen. You’ve been relying on your own strength, your own efforts.”
Chris’ story is not unique. I know it all too well myself.
I remember a time when we were attempting to purchase a second house for our women’s program. We needed $77,000. I thought, “How hard can this be? A home to reach out to more needy women . . . who wouldn’t want to give to that?”
We had a special banquet in a great facility where we promoted the need. It was well attended. The Spirit moved. An influential leader took up the offering. I couldn’t wait to hear the results! And when they were in, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. . . less than $2,000—far from our goal.
Then I wrote a newsletter. I tried to get as crafty (I mean “creative”) as I could. Design, layout, wording, . . . you know, all so eternally important. Over the next five weeks a few more hundred trickled in. Another flop.
The day was fast approaching when the house was to go on the market if we didn’t have the cash. When the time finally arrived, I remember having it out with God. “This stupid house isn’t even for me, God! If you don’t want us to help more women, fine. It’s not my problem; it’s yours.” And then, more out of anger than faith, I said, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m done!”
Apparently, that was exactly what God was waiting for, because that very afternoon (I’m not kidding) I received in the mail the single largest check made out to the ministry that I had ever received (still to date). It was for $65,000 from someone I didn’t know. I raced out of my office and starting jumping up and down in the parking lot, screaming for joy! God had come through miraculously (and without my help, I might add).
I wish I could say that was the last of it. But that is only one of a million such examples of my proclivity to depending on my own ability rather than God’s. It is my natural bent.
And it is yours too.
We are all “Babel builders.” Remember the story about the tower in Genesis 11? The people wanted to make a name for themselves. So they got together, garnering all their strength, and set about erecting a structure that would reach to the heavens. The lesson: they thought they could climb their way into heaven independent of God’s help.
This is something we are always in danger of. It’s called works-righteousness. Legalism. Judaism. It has several different names. It’s the “do-it-yourself-get-the-glory-religion.” And it appeals every bit to our pride.
That was Chris’ problem. That is my problem. And it is your problem.
We must humble ourselves. We are not strong enough, good enough, or smart enough. We may succeed for awhile, but our house of cards will come tumbling down sooner or later. The original Babel builders found this out.
The insidious thing is that most of us don’t realize when we are building our own Babel. It may appear that we are relying on God when all the while we are subtly, unknowingly, depending on ourselves. Such was Chris’ delusion. He turned the means of God’s grace (e.g., prayer, Bible study, fellowship) into ends in themselves. His mentality was that if he simply worked hard enough doing the right things the right way he would secure for himself good things. No need for Jesus!
Oh, friends, we need a Savior to help us, guide us, protect us, forgive us, strengthen us, and provide for us. Without Him we can do nothing. Call out to him daily, hourly, minute-by-minute, and trust Him for his grace.
“Are you so foolish?
After beginning with the Spirit,
are you now trying to attain your goal
by human effort?” (Gal. 3:3)