Chapter 4

Sufficiency Embracing Inadequacy

The bumper sticker reads, “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” It sounds like very clever advice—until even the beam your rope is tied to comes crashing down.

Sometimes life becomes overwhelming. We can’t stand up to the heartache and pain of tragic circumstances in our families without being affected. It brings us to a renewed understanding of our inability to process life in a fallen world.

Yet, unless we are at the brink of disaster, we often tend to live in a way that reeks of independence and self-reliance. We pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and press on, convinced that by the strength of our own will we can do whatever we set our minds to.

This is deep and tragic self-deception. We can sing, “I did it my way,” but the fact remains that we place ourselves in great jeopardy when we rely on our own adequacy.

In writing to a self-satisfied congregation in the city of Corinth, the apostle Paul warned:

So if you think you stand firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 CORINTHIANS 10:12).

The apostle understood that we simply do not have the adequacy we claim when facing the serious issues of life. No amount of defiance can compensate for the lack of wisdom, strength, and justice needed to navigate the pain of this world.

Perhaps this is why so many former professional athletes struggle with the adjustment to life after sports. On the playing field, everything is under control. Everything makes sense. Everything is manageable. But in retirement, life shifts to a different arena—one where their athletic prowess is less valuable.

When athletes live most of their lives in an “artificial” world where their skills are designed to manage a specific kind of controlled life, they can develop a kind of confidence that is, in fact, an illusion. Once they retire, the things that gave their lives equilibrium get tossed aside like a rag doll in a tornado.

Such athletes are symbolic of all of us. We simply are not equipped to manage life in our own strength and wisdom.

Christ responded dramatically to the unfortunate self-sufficiency displayed by the people he created.

In Jesus’s day, this bent toward self-sufficiency was embodied in the religious establishment—and the religious establishment was equated with the city of Jerusalem. Luke describes a time when Jesus looked out over the city:

As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes (LUKE 19:41–42).

Why did he weep? Perhaps part of the reason for his grief over the city is seen in the days following his entry. As Jesus taught in the temple, he accused the religious leaders of Israel of pride and arrogance—in essence, religious self-sufficiency. It was a failing that would not only destroy them but all who looked to them for spiritual direction.

In the end, however, it was heartache, not anger, that fueled Jesus’s words to them:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing (MATTHEW 23:37).

There was something deep within the people that split the chasm between themselves and Jesus.

Those closing words reveal that there was something deep within the people that split the chasm between themselves and Jesus: “You were not willing!” Here was the all-sufficient Christ, the holy God himself, lamenting the self-sufficiency of fallen human beings and its drastic consequences. That brokenness traces lines down his face at the gates of Jerusalem—the tears of a God whose heart was broken.

The people were not prepared to encounter this kind of God. Even today, with these stories of Christ part of our picture of God, the idea of a broken-hearted God is difficult to really understand.

The Lord Jesus Christ—Son of God and Creator of the Universe—experienced deep brokenness as he grieved over the stubborn self-reliance that caused, and still causes, men and women who are the objects of his love to reject him. It’s a powerful contrast.