God intends that our everyday struggles and suffering as Christians would first highlight, then annihilate our self-sufficiency.
The Biblical concept of “the flesh” is the natural human bent toward autonomy from God, or in other words, our bent toward self-sufficiency. It’s not just a tendency toward bad behavior (that is, toward sinful actions), but it’s a tendency toward doing even good and Godly things in our own strength or wisdom–depending on our own resources rather than on relationship with God. And that pretty much sums up self-sufficiency!
So when suffering knocks on my door, what is my automatic response to the pain? Do I immediately or primarily look to my own resources to resolve the difficulty? Do I throw a pity-party for myself because I can’t figure out how to relieve the pain? Suffering highlights our self-sufficiency when it reveals that our automatic response to pain is to turn inward to our own resources.
And when suffering pulls up a chair and settles in to stay for awhile, how do I respond? Do I sink into despair when every solution I’ve tried comes up empty? Do I explode in anger toward God’s unfairness in allowing me to experience this? Or can I pray as the psalmist “Help me O God!” or say with the Apostle Paul “that I may share in Christ’s sufferings”? Suffering not only highlights our self-sufficiency but then works to annihilate our self-sufficiency by ushering us into situations that are clearly beyond our ability to control or resolve–situations that force us to depend more deeply on Christ’s resources alone.
So when I find myself complaining to God in exasperation “I can’t do this!” what is actually being revealed in my heart is a fleshly expectation that I should be able to figure this out on my own. Of course I can’t do this. I was never meant to do this on my own. But as long as life runs fairly smoothly and I succeed in managing the bumps and bruises that come my way, I deceive myself into thinking I can do life on my own. Therefore if God is to grow my character toward greater maturity in Christ, my self-sufficiency must die–and suffering is most often the instrument that He uses to bring that painful but good purpose about.