Nobody wants to die! Everyone wants success! I think this might be the biggest struggle for Christians and Christian leadership in our narcissistic, self-centered culture. We lead people to seek a Father who let his Son die to bring forth life! We follow a Savior who died to self: “Not my will…but Your will, Father.” We worship a God whose ways are so counter-intuitive that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were spiritually blinded by their own self-preserving vision of how God should work. And most all of us think we’re immune to the same disease! That’s a problem.
We all get deceived! Peter was deceived by his own vision of what He expected Messiah to do. Jesus rebuked him, “Get behind me Satan!” Years later, Peter was blind to his actions, and Paul had to correct his self-absorbed old ways (Gal 2:11-14). Yet I find that most Christian leaders rarely consider the thought, “I too may be self-deceived, spiritually blind in some area!” The thought rarely crosses our minds.
And lest you think I’m being judgmental, let me just say—I’m absolutely convinced that I have spiritual blind spots. I would tell you what they are…but I don’t know! Sometimes my wife tries to point out my blind spots to me, but she’s always wrong about them—so I’m still not sure! Sometimes my closest staff tries to hint at what’s wrong, but they never fully understand!
You get the point?
Identify anyone with a problem, and you’ll be identifying someone who resists the suggestion that he has a problem. That’s self-deception–our very human inability to see that one has a problem. As Christian leaders, it’s easy to spot in marriages we counsel, in staff relationships that cause us grief, in other organizations–yet we rarely consider that we may have the same problem!
God wants to put to death our own self-justifying ways that gain identity or security in how we lead, or how things go, or how others behave, or how life should look. We all have a false self that resists dying and finds all sorts of subterranean paths of escaping death. This is because we’ve counted on this false image of self to give us life, identity, security, love…in place of God—but we don’t realize it until we feel this life threatened! Then we fight like hell to keep it alive!
But here’s what I keep learning the hard way—God loves us too much to leave us in the dark. As Jesus said, “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35). We must die to certain ways of seeing ourselves that keep us in the dark. We must die to ways of doing life that blind us. We must die to old ways of leading, or expectations of where God’s path to the “promised land” will take us. It’s why Jesus said we must die daily, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
Here are some signs that something needs to die: Your spouse or family keeps telling you they miss you or need you, and you feel defensive rather than sad. Your body’s telling you the false self is hurting it—eye twitches, rumbling stomach, sleep problems, headaches, Monday morning adrenaline “hangovers.” Your staff or volunteers hint that you’re “too high control” or need to trust them more. Others try to teach you and you feel resistance—“I’m supposed to be the teacher not the learner.” You often feel unrecognized, underappreciated, or left out. You quickly find blame to “explain” all that does not go well.
God wants us to become the kinds of people who can bring His kingdom will and ways to light the world around us—but “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). So God allows us to hit walls where nothing works as expected, where others wound and hurt us, where God even lets us down, where life as we know it feels like it’s dying. Let it die, and you will live. Let it die, and you will be free to live for God and lead like Christ.