A good example
She is famous among almost every group of Christians. She was disadvantaged, yet she did more than many of her generation. No, we are not talking about Mother Teresa. The woman in question is the widow the Lord Jesus watched, as she gave money to Him (Luke 21:1-4). Well, you might think she gave it to the temple, or its leaders, or some good cause, but He knew she was giving it to God. If we appreciate that fully, it might affect the generosity of our giving. This humble woman was just doing what all Israelites were called to do: to love God with everything and their neighbour as themselves (Deut. 6:5). It is really no different for followers of Christ (Luke 10:25-27). We too are chosen and called (Rom. 8:29,30), and called to become like Him. The Lord Jesus made it clear that He chose disciples to be completely dependent on Him, as He Himself surrendered all to God (John 4:34; 6:38; 9:4); that is one of the primary lessons of the well-known passage in John 15 about branches remaining in the Vine (vv. 4,16).
Remember also that the Lord cursed the fig tree that kept the goodness it received for its leaves instead of bearing fruit (Mark 11:13,14). Likewise our problem surely is that we are tempted so much to keep what we have so that we can be self-reliant. But that just brings a false sense of security. We are much better to hold very lightly to material things (1 Cor. 7:30-31), and value very highly the privilege of giving anything to God, relying on Him to refill our lives with what we need (Heb. 13:5). After all, He doesn’t need our gifts; it is us that need to give (Ps. 50:10-12; Acts 17:24-28; 20:35). How we approach giving can be like a barometer, measuring our commitment to dependence on God. God measures our giving by what we have left, as evidenced in the case of the poor widow. And in this context two of the things that may restrain our giving are wrong attitudes: firstly, about really who owns all that we have, and secondly, who can best decide how to use it. The widow evidently had a viewpoint that overcame these problems; she surrendered herself to God, the true owner and decision-maker.
Are you one of those Bible readers who values a daily aphorism (a short saying, full of practical value)? The book of Proverbs is full of them, and many godly people have included reading a proverb alongside their main reading for the day. Near the end of the book (30:8-9) the following saying arises:
‘Give give me neither poverty nor riches –
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.’
There is a lot of practical wisdom in these words, and we would do well to approach each day with this desire. It is interesting to note that dependence on God is not restricted to those who are poor. The wealthy are very exposed to an attitude of self-determination. However, Paul knew that both rich and poor alike can find contentment. He says: ‘I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’ (Phil. 4:11-13 NASB)
So dependence brings contentment, not based on our getting more and becoming self-reliant, but by giving more and finding satisfaction in what God supplies.
We are surely all tested in our dependence on God; you will not bump into anybody who has been exempted! But some will be tested more than others. Greater privilege brings greater responsibility, so we may expect that those who have been given more by God will be tested more in this than those who have least. So it is not surprising to find that a good example in the Old Testament is one of Judah’s kings. King Jehoshaphat had his reliance on God severely tested, but he proved true the New Testament aphorism that ‘God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able’ (1 Cor. 10:13). Jehoshaphat’s trial included being faced with an enemy army that seemed well able to wipe Judah off the map. In response to prayer, God sent a prophet to tell the king that, contrary to human expectations, victory was secure for Judah. God would fight for them. Now here is the thing that convinces us that Jehoshaphat placed absolute dependence on God. When he sent out his troops, who did he commission to lead them? Singers. Yes, singers; not archers or infantry or charioteers. And as soon as they began to sing praise to God, God kept His word and wiped out the enemy army (2 Chron. 20:21.22). Jehoshaphat had his failings, and it is true to say that his dependence on God was partly a result of being afraid, but God can use our fears to bring us nearer to Himself.
As the Psalmist said: ‘Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You’. Perhaps some of us would actually benefit from being exposed to loss of some of the things we rely on, so that we would be more ready to depend on God. Certainly it is clear from the Lord’s teaching in Matthew 6 that we should not cling to the very temporary pleasures of life, or even the practical ‘necessities’. We need to give them a proper place, and seek His kingdom and His righteousness. The Lord also emphasized to those He commissioned to witness for Him that they should travel with the minimum of everyday goods (Luke 10:4). These men went to places they might expect would refuse to welcome them, without taking anything to fall back on. They had to rely on God to provide what they needed, and He did! (v.17)
A healthy perspective
If we are prone to being too materialistic and self-reliant then, for starters, there are six things that we can instead pursue to combat wrong-headedness about material wealth. These are listed by Paul in his instruction to Timothy on the subject (1 Tim. 6:6-11). He concludes: ‘But you, O man of God, flee these things (which result from a love of money) and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness’. You cannot assess these in financial terms. You could try to rate yourself on each of them on a scale of 1-10, and then work on the weakest score. However, we are each susceptible to evaluating ourselves incorrectly, so we had better not try to do this independently. That’s not to suggest you or I simply go and ask a friend to do the rating. Rather, I should find myself in the company of the Master, and let Him work upon my spirit to show me how I am doing, and show me what is good for me. Dependence on God cannot be achieved without prayerfully knowing His presence. The Psalmist (84:11) knew the positive outworking of this when he said: ‘no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly’, for the rest of this psalm is a cry from the heart for nearness to God.
The churches that came into being after the Lord ascended to heaven were exemplary in their sharing attitude (Acts 2:42-47; 2 Cor. 8:2). This is the practical outworking of dependence on God. As we depend on Him to supply, we make ourselves available to be part of that chain of His supply to others by sharing what He has given us (2 Cor. 9:12). We may usefully consider whether the early growth in those churches was partly attributable to the way in which everyone in the church readily shared with everyone else. They gave up title to property, and fund-raised for the needy. James emphasizes the importance of this in our Christian testimony too (Jas. 2:14-17). We give up for a God who measures our giving by what we retain for ourselves. Our sense of need to keep back a great deal to maintain our personal security can become a fatal flaw (as Ananias and Sapphira infamously found out in Acts 5:1-11). We might almost hear the Son over God’s house still saying:
‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,’
Says the LORD of hosts,
‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.’ (Mal. 3:10)
Bible quotes from NKJV unless stated otherwise