My first job after college was at a residential ministry where my coworkers and I often weathered spiritual battles and weariness. We mentored adolescents struggling with past trauma and ongoing stressors, and the process of ministering faithfully frequently tested our own emotional and spiritual reserves. In this stormy context, our leaders exhorted us to rely on God. It sounded simple, like the popular phrase “Let go and let God.” I imagined it meant praying more and trying harder to lean on him in every moment. I thought if I could just focus on God enough, I would be relying on him.
But as I went about each day, I would inevitably forget. My mind would wander to fears and uncertainty. When I became aware of my distraction, I sometimes felt a twinge of shame. Must not be trying hard enough. Ugh. I never consistently remember to focus on God and ask him for strength.
My leaders’ reminders to rely on God were true and good. But at the time, I didn’t understand what they meant. As a result, I frequently relied on my own willpower while believing I was relying on God. I reduced trust in God to thoughts about God—and then I trusted in my own efforts to think about him hard enough.
Relying on God is not a matter of mental willpower; it’s a lifestyle. It’s a holistic shift in daily focus, and it involves mind, body, and soul.
But relying on God is not a matter of mental willpower; it’s a lifestyle. It’s a holistic shift in daily focus, and it involves mind, body, and soul.
When we find strength in God, we are not simply sending out requests to a distant deity who can solve our problems and make us feel stronger. Through faith in Christ, we can know God personally. And, by his Spirit, God himself empowers and encourages us. He knows us intimately and empathizes with our suffering. Dwelling in us, the Spirit is our ever-present counselor, comforter, companion, and advocate. We are not alone. God is with us (Isa. 41:10).
In the context of this relationship, we practice and express our reliance on him in several ways. Here are four.
1. Heart Habits
We rely on God by trusting he will do what’s best, even when we experience suffering, loss, and sacrifice. Our anxiety is often rooted in trying to avoid suffering. Instead, Christ calls us to willingly take up our cross and follow him (Matt. 16:24). Rather than resenting difficult circumstances, we trust God even when we don’t understand his plans.
We also practice reliance by seeking God’s will and expressing our need for him in prayer. A habit of praying every morning, for example, can help set our minds on God throughout the day. When we begin a day by focusing on God’s promised presence and admitting our need, we prepare ourselves to notice his constant provision and presence (Ps. 5:3).
2. Physical Habits
We have been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), and God has appointed us as caretakers of Holy Spirit temples (1 Cor. 6:19). To faithfully live out this calling, we attend to our physical health by meeting our God-given needs and not devoting our bodies to sinful activities.
From Genesis 2 onward, Scripture points to the importance of rest. Without adequate rest (both sleep and Sabbath), we have far less ability to focus on God. During an Ask Pastor John podcast, John Piper stated, “It’s crystal clear that my sanctification level rises and falls with eight hours of sleep versus five hours of sleep.”
By setting aside the demands of daily life and resting, we choose to trust that God is in control, and we allow him to refresh us physically and spiritually. Likewise, nutrition and exercise are practices of reliance that can help us focus on God. By choosing to respect our physical needs, we accept the limitations God has designed in us.
3. Mind Habits
We all struggle with discouraging thoughts and emotions, especially amid trials. While we may not be able to stop experiencing a specific thought or emotion, we can choose to define reality by the truth of God’s Word rather than by our own minds. We “take captive every thought” (2 Cor. 10:5) by bringing truth to mind and choosing to believe his promises, no matter how we feel in the moment.
We need a solid knowledge of truth to effectively take thoughts captive. By studying and meditating on Scripture, we build up a foundation that allows us to answer our thoughts and emotions with God’s Word. Regular devotional times, group Bible studies, and sermons contribute to this reservoir of truth.
4. Communal Habits
Especially when our difficult circumstances involve betrayal or abandonment, it can be tempting to withdraw from others. But God demonstrates his own love and goodness through our love for each other in the church (1 John 4:12). When we commit to a church community, we live imperfectly together while rejoicing in Christ’s perfection. We can be vulnerable and acknowledge our need for grace, rather than clinging to a mask of perfection. There we find accountability, maturity, and fellowship (Heb. 10:24–25).
In the church, we rely on God by leaning on our brothers and sisters in Christ. We were designed for relationship, accountability, and discipleship; there’s no reason for shame in seeking help from a pastor, counselor, or mentor. Our relational God delights in the interdependence of his people.
All of this may seem daunting—more items to check off the “good Christian” list. Far from it! Even when we fail to rely on God, he never fails to extend grace to us through Christ (2 Cor. 12:9). As we gradually mature in these habits of reliance, every failure along the way brings another opportunity to rely on him. We will inevitably struggle in heart, body, mind, or community, and so our ultimate reliance on God is demonstrated through daily embracing his undeserved grace and never-failing love.