The Dependency Syndrome | A Fork in the Road 1

In my travels around the world, I find people who wish they had more, who wish others would provide more for them, and wish life was easier than it is. Solomon described it:

The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.
All-day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.
-Proverbs 21:25–26 (ESV)

The poor will not work on producing anything of value, yet they keep on seeking and searching for money. They are looking for someone to provide for them without doing anything to earn the value they desire.

The dependency syndrome is when people look to others to be their source, avoiding personal responsibility by putting the responsibility for their life on other people. It has become a huge issue in many places around the world, particularly in poorer areas where well-meaning and good-hearted people have come to help the situation by providing for the needs of the poor.

I have plenty of experience seeing the extremes of poverty and the horrendous effect it has on people. I also have too much experience seeing how giving handouts to the poor only makes the problem worse. Kenyans are known for being very warm, welcoming, and hospitable. That has been my experience in traveling all over Kenya for the last 20 years. Even if they didn’t have much, they would still honor their visitors and give them the best they had. But the sad part is whenever I travel to a part of Kenya where there have been lots of missionaries and many handouts given, the people are no longer looking to honor a guest. They have become more poor and are looking for the guests to give them another handout.

When I travel to some places where the international aid organizations have done lots of work, the dependency syndrome is at its worst. One time, we traveled into a remote town towards the South Sudan border with Kenya, an area where the United Nations has had a large operation for years in order to provide aid into South Sudan. At the time, we were training pastors with a mobile Bible school curriculum, and we would come into a town or village center, meet with all the pastors, and offer to provide training. We would pay all of our own bills as well as provide the instructors, books, and materials. The only two things we asked for was a small fee from each student so there would be some sort of commitment from them. If we didn’t, we would have too many people come and go and it would be hard to bring them through a well laid out curriculum. Secondly, we asked the pastors to provide the venue for the training and suggested that they make one of their churches available so that no one had to incur further expenses.

This worked well everywhere we’d been, but in this area of foreign aid, the pastors came with a long list of complaints. For one, they were upset that we didn’t provide a meal at our initial meeting. Giving them a traditional cup of tea wasn’t enough. Secondly, they asked if we could provide a sitting allowance to come and listen when attending school. They were used to being paid an allowance for coming to attend the seminars that the foreign aid organizations were hosting. Third, if they were going to provide a venue, they would have to charge each student a fee for going to the latrine to relieve themselves. After all, they needed money to pay for someone to clean the latrine at the end of the day.

It’s a sad story, but free handouts only create dependency and make poverty worse. It certainly is scriptural to help the poor, but we need to do it in a way that truly helps. Paul instructed Timothy to help those that were widows indeed and could not help themselves (see 1 Timothy 5).

I could share countless other stories like that, but what we need to learn is true success comes by thinking in line with God’s word in all areas of life. Dependency thinking is contrary to the Bible. Proverbs 12:11 tells us, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.”

All of us were born without anything, and we were utterly dependent. Growing up is all about learning to transition from being dependent to being independent, from being a consumer to a provider, and from being a taker to a giver. The truth is we all have something inside of us that would prefer to be dependent and have someone provide everything we need. Staying in a hammock by the beach with someone else to cook for us and provide coconuts all day, or spending lots of time on the golf course or with our favorite pastime can sound enticing to most everyone. But such desires are nothing but daydreams unless we learn to provide value to others. It is only when we provide value to society that society, in turn, is willing to reward us with leisure and comfort.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be willing to help others. The Bible tells us we should. But “others” should never be anyone’s primary source. That’s when the dependency syndrome takes over.

We all get tempted to want someone else to do the hard work for us. At times, we all feel the desire to be dependent on others. That desire isn’t good, and it’s not from God. Kick it out!

This article is an excerpt from A Fork in the Road: Choose Poverty or Prosperity. It is a practical guide for winning at life, and can be ordered from