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15. Thoughts on Independence

Leadership, Integrity and Nation building.

I am writing just after the 9th July 2016, the 5th anniversary of South Sudan’s independence from Sudan. It is also the 60th year of Sudan’s independence from the United Kingdom, and nearly three weeks since my country, the United Kingdom, voted to leave the European Union.[1]

Independence is a strange thing, far from totally explained by these dictionary definitions: “freedom from control by another country or organisation; the ability to make decisions and live your life free from the control or influence of other people”.[2]

In the middle of the word ‘independence’ is the word ‘depend’. “If one thing depends on another, it is changed or affected by the other thing”.

At the finishing end of ‘independence’ is the word ‘dependence’ which means: “a situation in which someone needs someone or something else in order to live or succeed”.

Many people everywhere want independence because we want to be free of outside influence and control. Yet as independents we soon realise we need other people and other countries in order to live. We must do business deals with them to earn our way in world life.

God planned for communities of human beings from the time of creation onwards. He made male and female with, together, the ability to reproduce and grow families, Genesis 1:26-28. All this was “very good”, verse 31.

Experience teaches us that independence may not be a good thing. Each person needs others simply in order to live. Alone he cannot be employed, she has no one to sell her produce to, we cannot converse on our own, we have no advisors or counsellors if we are by ourselves when facing life’s issues. Every country needs others to trade with, to partner with for major events like dam building and river flow control, like gold mining, refining and selling, like developing modern city hospitals and distributing impregnated mosquito nets to the rural poor.

When we struggle for independence – and then we get it – suddenly we realise it is not exactly what we thought it would be. When we are enslaved or exploited we have an idealism, “If only we can be free, everything will be OK”. Yet when we become free, ‘we’ soon fall out with one another because my hopes are not the same as your hopes for our ‘freedom’. We quickly become disillusioned with our new state. What we thought it would bring us, it does not.[3] The blamegame starts, often leading to serious falling out between previous friends. A friend who becomes an enemy is hated – but wrongly so according to Jesus, Matthew 5:43-48.

Our Lord Jesus also said: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”, Matthew 5:5. Notice, it is the ‘gentle, the humble, the considerate and the courteous’ who will inherit, not the mighty![4] If we Christians really listened to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapters 5-7, letting Him address and apply it to our 21st century circumstances today, we would together be changed to become the alternative society with a strongly attractive witnessing presence that He wants us to be. We must show our quietly dependent trust in our Saviour and Lord. The two candles lighting each other at the top of my bimonthly Encouragement articles are meant to show one Christian passing the light of Christ on to another. The more we do this the more our Lord Jesus will be spreading His light. As we trustingly depend on Him so He can more effectively use us.

Proverbs 3:5-6 reads: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to (acknowledge) Him, and He will direct your paths (make your paths straight)”. No Christian should wish to be independent of God. We must ‘trust’ Him, rely on Him, believing He is always good and honest in His dealings with everyone.

We do not always have a choice over our national independence, although many could and did vote in Sudan before July 2011 and I voted in the United Kingdom during June 2016. (Even I am too young to remember 1955/1956, , though I witnessed many a firework celebration on 1st January when Brenda and I lived in Khartoum!).

But we all have a choice about depending on God or preferring to go our own unthinking way, “Lean not on your own understanding”, Proverbs 3:5.

Every day most of us will use fuel of one sort or another. It may be petrol or diesel for a car or a bus. It may be home electricity generated from hydro or oil, perhaps even nuclear power plants. It may be solar energy, using the sun to cook or power our phones and calculators. It is very difficult to live without trusting someone or something else to provide power, even charcoal for preparing food.

Think about this as a lesson in dependency rather than independence.

  • Thank God for the people we do not know, and probably will never see, but who nevertheless help us most days.

  • Thank God for His plan to make us dependent on one another.

  • Ask God’s forgiveness for events we have allowed to make us selfishly independent and even resentful of others.

  • Commit yourself to being one of God’s real partners through whom His light can shine brightly, piercing the dark, dark world where we live.

“Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”. “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock”, Matthew 7:21, 24.

Let us get building!

Discussion guide

Using this chapter and Scriptures quoted

1. “Many people everywhere want independence”. Why is this? What are people looking for? Does this apply to children from parents? Younger people from older people? Name any other situations you can.

2. What was God’s intention in Genesis 1:26-31? Does His “very good” apply to human dependence or being independent? Justify your answer.

3. Everyone needs other people. What is wrong with trying to live completely on your own and in control of your own affairs? Why?

4. How can you be “one of God’s real partners through whom His light can shine”? Express this in turn, in relation to your family, community and national life.

[1] In order above: 9th July 2011; 1st January 1956; 23rd June 2016. [2] Macmillan School Dictionary (Macmillan Education: Oxford) 2004. [3] John Stott Christian Counter Culture (IVP: Leicester) BST series, 1974, p.15. [4] John Stott Ibid. p.42-44.


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