Spiritual self-reliance

A couple of weeks ago, our sacrament meeting theme was “Spiritual Self-Reliance”. Interestingly, most the speakers didn’t really speak about spiritual self-reliance. Instead, they mostly discussed our dependence on God and Christ. So I got to thinking…

The Church is a church of doing. We emphasize good behavior, acts of charity, ordinances, family home evenings, service, scripture study — even food storage. We have employment specialists and welfare services that are intended to help people be temporally self-reliant. Church leaders frequently teach of the evils of consumer debt and the need for financial preparedness.

Does the Church similarly emphasize spiritual self-reliance? In what ways? And for me, a more important question: what is spiritual self-reliance?

After all, the scriptures teach that we “rely wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” In the particular passage just quoted, Nephi seems to be saying that up through baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, we rely wholly upon Christ. So there seems to be some room for interpreting that we become more “self-reliant” after that point. This would seem to be in keeping with the idea that salvation is free, but exaltation is not.

However, later on, Moroni speaks of those who were baptized into the church: “And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.” This seems to indicate that our reliance on Christ continues.

And one of the things I love most about Mormonism is its emphasis on the communal nature of exaltation and temporal salvation: it is not to be found merely in an individual relationship with God and Christ (though that is essential); it is to be found in building Zion and in the sealing together of the human family. In such a context, what does spiritual self-reliance mean? How does it relate to scriptures that warn against trusting in the arm of flesh? What about the Book of Mormon lessons about those who depend on their own strength rather than depending on the Lord?

And on the other hand, doesn’t the Lord want us to develop in our “independence in that sphere in which we are placed,” and isn’t the power “in [us], wherein [we] are agents unto [our]selves“? Is there a paradox that needs reconciliation?

What does spiritual self-reliance mean to you, and how important is it?

10 thoughts on “Spiritual self-reliance

  1. Spiritual self-reliance to me means that in situations, where I am called to step forward and be identified (usually in confrontations) as a representative of Christ, I hold my head high and am willing to testify of the truth no matter what the consequences.

    The best example, to me, is Stephen. Even when he was being physically assaulted he stayed true to his convictions and saw God the Father and Christ.

    I find another factor of spiritual self-reliance to be the choices I make when I am completely alone. No one around to monitor notice my behavior. Examples, such as, when driving in my car, am I still courteous? Do I sling evil thoughts at those drivers with whom I disagree?

    Another part of spiritual self-reliance that must be included is emotional self-reliance. Do we bend at the slightest challenge? Do we feel our lot is harder than those around us? Are we able to withstand the thorns and arrows ina constant barrage without being drawn down into a pit of despair?

  2. To me spiritual self-reliance is taking responsibility for my own spiritual growth, gosepl instruction, receiving ordinances, etc. Yes, there is a role for the Church, and God is never excluded, but I don’t need to see the bishop every time I have a problem or a gosepl question, and the motivation to live and progress in the gospel should primarily come from within, not from home teachers, bishop, family or whoever.

  3. I would have to agree with Jared. There are those who rely on church to feel the spirit. They haven’t sufficiently developed their testimony so that they can have the spirit to be with them always. At first “Spiritual Self-Reliance” sounds like an oxymoron, but we can’t rely on everyone else to do it for us, and that’s the beauty of the gospel, that we are accountable in our own sphere and we can develope our relationship with the lord ona personal level.

  4. I agree with others that spiritual self-reliance means taking responsibility for our growth. Far too many rely on the testimonies of others or expect others to give them the evidence to believe. (You see that a lot in academic arguments about the gospel)

    At the same time though the Lord has clearly told us to be anxiously engaged in a good cause and not have him do everything for us. The brother of Jared was the best example. He went and figured out how to light the barges and then went to God. I think we expect God to do a lot for us that is fully within our own power. I like to think that for most things we give God the veto power, but we’re in charge of figuring things out and doing it.

  5. Clark you seem to be saying that the brother of Jared went out on his own initiative and came up with a plan to light the barges, then presented it to the Lord, and got approval. These verses show that Jared asked the Lord what to do first, and it was only after the Lord had returned the decision back to him that he went out and came up with a proposal.

    God does expect us to do whatever is in our power, but we should approach him for help from the outset, as did the brother of Jared. He may tell us what do do right off, and he may return the problem back to us to figure out and present our solution. It is important to note that the brother of Jared’s plan was completely dependent on the Lord’s personal intervention. The brother of Jared said, “behold these things which I have molten out of the rock. And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea. Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.”

    Sometimes I think that we spend too much time trying to do whatever is in our own power. We should be like the brother of Jared and go to the Lord early and often and then rely on the Lord to provide the miracles. We may have to propose solutions, to get and form the rocks, but he is the one that makes them glow. The object of our proposals should be to work together with the Lord and his power, not to do it on our own.

  6. Well, it wasn’t so much a decision of the Lord Jonathan than the Lord turning the question back on him and saying, “what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” The point is that the brother of Jared was left to his own devices to figure out what to do. Of course the Lord was involved since the Lord was the one who miraculously affected the stones. But my point was that the Lord doesn’t tell us what to do all the time. He expects some initiative.

    I disagree that we should ask God what to do in every circumstance. We can ask for vague help. But I think the Lord wants us to be agents and not bother him waiting for an answer for everything we do. Probably the better scripture is D&C 58. Of course that is more about being commanded in all things. So it doesn’t mean we don’t pray to God (nor do I assert such). Rather that we should pray for the Lord to direct us and often we do most of the work ourselves.

    I think if we go about expecting miracles for everything we’re going to be sadly disappointed. That’s not to say miracles don’t happen. They do. But the Lord wants us to be doing a lot on our own. Indeed that is one of the purposed of mortality.

  7. I agree with you Clark. I did not mean that we should pray over everything that we do. But at the same time I don’t think there is anything wrong with being open to God’s input in all things by the guidance of the holy spirit. I’m not going to pray over which package of peas to purchase, but I can be open to the possibility that the Lord may tell me not to purchase a certain package of peas, or even direct me to purchase a specific package. Otherwise, we would have no need of the Holy Ghost as a constant companion.

    While expecting miracles for everything is going to be disappointing, expecting no miracles is almost certain to result in confirmation. I think that we can, and should expect miracles generally, but not specifically.

    I’m not sure the Lord wants us to be doing a lot of things on our own. It depends on what you mean by on our own. There is value to puzzling over a problem and coming up with solutions and trying things on our own–it develops our problem solving skills. But there is a reason why we have teachers, and a reason why an apprentice works under the guidance of a master. Joseph Smith exemplified the kind of apprentice/master relationship I think that the Lord would like to have with each of us.

  8. I think all of this falls under the “Let us pray; then let us go and do.” principal. We should counsel with the lord in everything we do, but we shouldn’t wait around for his answer on everything. It’s in the doing I find that he guides me.

    For instance. I was assigned to give a talk within the first few weeks of my mission. I was very worried about it, I didn’t know what i would say. I tried writing the talk out over and over and still nothing good happened. I thought the lord had forsaken me for some reason, or that (more likely) I was doing something wrong. I prayed earnestly and still received no answer and so I told the lord that I left it in his hands. When I got up to the pulpit I knew exactly what I should say and the words I spoke were not mine. He didn’t not reveal them to me until I was on the stand. I think there’s an important principal there. The lord will guide us as we do.

  9. I do think the point Jonathan brings up is apt. We can’t go it alone in toto. Hopefully I didn’t imply that, but if I did then it certainly wasn’t my intent. Jonathan’s points bring to mind one of my favorite scriptures Alma 34:17-27

  10. I have always assumed that spiritual self reliance was synonymous with spiritual independence. Not independence from God, but independence from the testimonies of all others. The old cliché of “living on borrowed light” is what I think spiritual dependence (or reliance) means.

    In the end our faith should be strong enough to keep us faithful even if the whole rest of the world apostatizes. This is the position Mormon, and Moroni and Ether and others have actually been in before us.

    Of course such zeal or spiritual independence can be risky. There are all sorts of apostate splinter groups in Utah and elsewhere that believe they are in just that position I have described – the only actually faithful ones while the rest of the Church has gone astray. This hearkens back to the zeal and knowledge comments in Ryan’s “being weird” post.

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