Each of us needs to be reminded (frequently, for me) that God’s great objective in dealing with his children is to teach us “to rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Somehow my natural instinct is to think that only as I use my wits and work hard can I get the circumstances of my life situation arranged so that a sense of accomplishment and peace will result.
This instinct is very foolish. How ridiculous for us to think that we are better equipped—have more wisdom and power—than God to secure the fulfillment which we crave. Even my craving for my own fulfillment is weaker by far than God’s great yearning to bring me to the place of full blessing. His love for us is greater even than a mother’s love for her newborn child: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).
But even when faced with considerations such as these, we still prefer to rely on ourselves. We don’t like to humble ourselves in giving another the credit for helping us. We deluge ourselves that no greater delight can be ours than contemplating how we have succeeded by our own wits and work.
An illustration of this comes from the account of the first winter ascent of Mt McKinley in 1967, as recorded by Art Davidson in Minus 148º. After about 30 days of climbing and waiting out storms in ice caves, three of the original party of eight reached the 20,300-foot summit. They then descended 1,500 feet and bivouacked for the night. The next morning, they were awakened by a gigantic wind, well above 100 MPH, roaring like Niagara Falls. The temperature was -45º F and this wind produced a chill factor of -148º. To keep from being blown off the mountain, the men dug an ice cave and crawled inside.
Only a series of sheer acts of providence enabled them to get back down alive. On the basis of merely a verbal description of where gasoline had been cached three years earlier, one man was able to find it buried under some rocks several hundred yards away and return with it to the cave without being blown off the mountain. Now they could melt snow and avoid incapacitation from dehydration. The five-day windstorm ended just as their last food ran out. But a white fog, which cut off all visibility, made descent impossible that day.
What little strength they had left for climbing down the steep ice wall to the glacier below was quickly ebbing away. They had ransacked a twenty-year-old cache of supplies near their campsite many times without success, but now, in desperation, the author grabbed his ice ax with frostbitten hands and, after frantically digging much deeper into the cache, found enough edible food to sustain them until the fog cleared the next day.
Despite stabbing pain from frostbitten hands and feet, they managed to get down the ice wall. But as they struggled toward the camp where they had left food and shelter, again they lost all visibility as another white-out closed in. In sheer desperation, however, they walked on blindly and managed to hit the camp, even though there was only one chance in 10,000 that they would find it and not plunge down the ice fall just beyond.
Cheered by the food they had and a night’s sleep inside an igloo shelter, they rapidly descended to lower altitudes the next day. But much to their dismay, an airplane dropped a radio to them, and through it they learned that “two Huey helicopters are on route to mountain … Do you wish be picked up?” Despite their being alive only through such remarkable provisions, these mountaineers still wanted the pride of being able to say they had completed the first winter climb of Mount McKinley. One said, “You know if we are flown out, it’ll look like we couldn’t have climbed down. Everyone will say we had to be saved.”
Soon the helicopters were below the glacier near them, and through the radio they learned that a rescue party had come all the way from Seattle to help them. (On a previous McKinley rescue, a search plane had crashed killing the pilot.) Nevertheless, one of the party said, “We climbed the mountain, sat out a storm, and we’re now going to climb down.” For four hours or more, while pilots flew overhead, they resisted being rescued. Finally, when they saw another tremendous storm rapidly sweeping down on them, the agreed to the rescue. In the rapidly rising wind, a helicopter was barely able to land at their elevation and take them on board.
We are all like this. Our greatest delight, we think, comes from being able to say that we accomplished things by our own powers. The humility involved in acknowledging that life and fulfillment comes by the work of another does not commend itself to us. That is why God’s great objective in our lives is to destroy our self-reliance, so that we can know the true joy that comes from relying upon him.
As with Paul, so with us. God accomplishes this objective by bringing us into great tribulation (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:8–11). When we are thus brought low, he causes his mighty Word to show up the proud intent of our heart for what it is (Hebrews 4:12). Thus, we gradually comprehend that our one task in life, our sole priority, is simply to live by confidence in the God who enables us by his grace to work hard and to succeed (1 Corinthians 15:10).
As we rely on God, we have fellowship with him which brings such joy as to make that yielded by pride mere garbage by comparison (Philippians 3:8). Then with such joy in our hearts, we will naturally want the even greater blessedness that comes from sharing God’s love with others.
Daniel P. Fuller