A few personal notes I took from a Dars-e-Akhlaq held by Ayatullah Misbah Yazdi on February 27th, 2013 on the topic of Tawakkul.
الشيخ أبو الفتوح الرازي في تفسيره: عن أمير المؤمنين (عليه السلام)، أنه مر يوما على قوم، فرآهم أصحاء جالسين في زاوية المسجد، فقال (عليه السلام): (من أنتم؟) قالوا: نحن المتوكلون قال (عليه السلام): ((لا بل أنتم المتأكلة، فان كنتم متوكلين فما بلغ بكم توكلكم؟) قالوا: إذا وجدنا أكلنا، وإذا فقدنا صبرنا، قال (عليه السلام): (هكذا تفعل الكلاب عندنا) قالوا: فما نفعل؟ قال:
 (كما نفعل) قالوا: كيف تفعل؟ قال (عليه السلام): (إذا وجدنا بذلنا، وإذا فقدنا شكرنا).
 Source, مستدرك الوسائل – الميرزا النوري – ج ١١ – الصفحة ٢٢٠
Paraphrased translation of the narration above: Imam Ali (as) came across some idle people who were sitting in the mosque and he said: “Who are you?”. They replied: “We are those who put their trust in Allah (mutawakiloon);” . Imam Ali asked, “How is your tawakkul in Allah” They said, “We eat when we get food, and we have patience when we do not get it.” Imam ‘Ali stated, “That is the very nature of dogs.” They asked him to explain the true meaning of tawakkul; upon which Imam (as) said: “[Tawakkul is]: When we get, we give to others; when we do not get, we thank Allah.”
The individuals in the gathering were those who did not put any effort to earn their livelihood and considered not putting any effort, as putting confidence in Allah (swt). However, the Imam equated that behaviour to the behaviour of dogs. He implies that we must try our best to improve our own conditions and trust in Allah’s Power and Wisdom in the sense that He will be the one who will make our efforts fruitful. Upon your success, utilize what you get and give to others; help others out. And if you do not get what you expected, still remain thankful to Allah (swt).
The hadith above has many angles. One angle is tarbiyati in the sense that it tells us to avoid laziness. Don’t complain, if you don’t get something. Tawakkul in reality, is an act of the heart. Not an apparent act. Doing a physical act or not doing an act isn’t a sign of tawakkul or a sign of a mutawakkil (the signs are not always physically apparent). Imam Ali (as) used to work hard, and was not someone who just sat there with an aba and hoped that God will give him food or money. Tawakkul of course has levels and they are linked to the ma’rifat of Allah (swt).
However, is it the “work” or “studying” of someone that gives them the sustenance or knowledge? To illustrate an example, is it the pen writing or the writer? It is the irada (will) of the person – the pen itself is nothing without the writer. Likewise, the work, studying etc. that one does are all simply means (like the pen), but it is the irada of Allah (swt) which is behind everything.
What about if you get work done through people? Is it the same thing as getting it done through a pen? People can say, there is a difference because the pen, the sun, wind etc. are bai-ikhtaiyaar (don’t have a choice of their own) and they are in the hands of Allah. However man has ikhtaiyaar. To describe the point furthermore, a farmer can do tawakkul a lot easily, because after all the work he has done, he can leave it in the hands of God to let it rain. However, if you are dependent on some other man to get work done for you, is it dependency on him or still on God? Even in this case, we must realize that tawakkul belongs solely to God and no 3rd party.
When Bani Israel came to Egypt, Musa (as) said, in this city the oppressors need to be fought against and God will give you victory. Bani Israel said to Musa, this is a war between you and your enemies. You fight and we will meet you after your victory since you said God has guaranteed it. You and your God can go ahead and fight. That is the wrong type of tawakkul, because it is running away from putting any effort.
When we are in a class, at the bottom of our heart we may think and feel that this book is giving us knowledge, or this teacher is giving us knowledge. But don’t realize that if God doesn’t want us to get the ilm, no matter how much we study, nothing will ever happen.
The difference between a mutawakkil and a ghair-mutawakkil is that a Mutawakkil knows that every act is in the hand of God. They may both be doing the same acts, but it is the conscious knowing of who is behind these acts, that makes one a mutawakkil.
Another issue: itimaad bai-nafs. Don’t trust anyone else but Allah, however instead we trust our nafs. We say, “we can do it”, especially in this century with all the worldly development and achievements man has made. Furthermore, should man trust his own qudrat (power, capabilities) or leave everything on the trust of others in order to get work done? Obviously one must trust their own ability, and not depend on others. However, the blessing and capabilities that God has given to you, make sure tu utilize them to the best (we have examples of people who have utilized their physical abilities, such as tight-rope walkers etc).
But remember, these are physical opportunities and levels of progression. Our spiritual opportunities are even greater, however we often don’t even consider looking into them.