Throughout our “Personal Liturgy” series, we’re interviewing members of our church family to hear how they are impacted and actively fighting against the “joy killers” in their lives. This week, we hear from Midtown Lexington’s Vision and Teaching Pastor Michael Bailey as he shares with us how the spiritual discipline of prayer actively guards him in the fight against self-reliance.
How does self-reliance show up in your life?
You could say that self-reliance is often my default mode of operation. For example, when something breaks in the house or on my old F-150, I find no greater pleasure than being able to avoid calling the repairman and doing it myself. It’s probably fine for me to be self-reliant in those ways, but this mentality often bleeds over into my spiritual life, too.
The most common symptom of my spiritual self-reliance is prayerlessness. I think, “Oh, I don’t need to pray for this. I just need to figure out the solution. In general, my first response to problems is to plan instead of pray. This only increases with particularly stressful seasons. Instead of turning to God with my anxieties, I just aim to keep my head down and work my way through it. I would never say that I don’t feel like I need God, but my actions tell a different story.
Where have you seen personal growth or victory in this area?
On my own, stress was always a prompt to problem-solve before anything else. While I still problem-solve, I’m fighting to see feelings of stress as prompts to ask God for help and guidance before I try to just fix things. Stress is becoming a reminder to me that God is God and I am not.
How has your understanding of the gospel specifically impacted how you deal with self-reliance?
I’ve learned to see that self-reliance, in many respects, has its roots directly in the Fall of man. Life ruled by self was mankind’s original sin and subsequently lays at the root of all sin. The gospel directs my attention to the reality that attempting to do life on my own is precisely the thing Jesus came to die for. It’s not merely a personality wiring or a work ethic malfunction, but a sin - and at the heart of all sin - that required the cross.
What are practical steps or habits you practice to fight self-reliance in your life?
I’m type-A. So, if I don’t have structure, it doesn’t happen. To fight self-dependency, I created a “prayer spreadsheet” where I periodically list the things I need or want to see God do. I track the date that I prayed for it and the date God provided an answer. It might sound tedious, but this process has been such a help:
For one, the task of writing down my prayers reminds me I ultimately need God’s Spirit to do the heavy lifting regardless of how confident I feel in my abilities to accomplish things. It forces me, even for just a few brief moments, to confess to God my need for Him to act.
Secondly, it gives me a practical medium to actually turn over to God the big things that stress me out. Before, I’d believe theoretically that I needed to “hand things over to God”, but never really had a framework for how to actually do that. Sitting down and typing out my prayers has become the tangible way to say to God, “Okay, this thing? I need you here. And this problem? I can’t solve it without Your guidance.”
Lastly, it puts God’s faithfulness front and center. When He answers my prayers, I can’t avoid it. I can’t simply write it off to coincidence or what would have happened regardless. It’s a one-to-one relationship. I prayed and He acted. I can still remember the first time I checked off a prayer that God answered. I thought, “Wow…He really did it!” And the more of those prayers that get checked off, the more I’m encouraged to trust in God’s abilities over my own.
Have there been any scriptures that have been particularly helpful as you have dealt with self-reliance?
Yes, specifically Psalm 127:1-2 which says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
What encouragement would you offer to others in our church family as they seek to fight self-reliance in their lives?
I’d assume that for many of us who struggle with self-reliance, we don’t really consider it to be a sinful issue. We take pride in our work and our abilities to accomplish. The dark underbelly of our position though, is that it often leads us to feeling like the weight of our world is consistently on our own shoulders. So, my biggest encouragement to others would be to realize that it isn’t. He’s powerful enough to handle what you think you’ve got to do on your own.