The #1 Sign You’re Edging God Out
Warning signs are important: a light on your car’s dashboard; the sound of a siren behind you when you are driving; distant thunder before a storm hits. Doctors take your temperature and blood pressure to look for warning signs about the state of your health. We also must check for signs to alert us that our hearts may be out of alignment with God.
What are the warning signs that we may be falling into the trap of pride or fear? And what safeguards can we leaders put in place to prevent this from happening?
Warning Sign #1: The “I” Factor
During a session in which he was receiving counseling, a pastor expressed excitement about his transition to executive pastor of a multisite church. His wife, however, had recently pointed out to him that his tone was curt, and his patience was short. She told him his “inner grump” was alive and well. He acknowledged that this was his typical first line of response to challenging circumstances: he was afraid that he was not good enough to do everything the new position required.
His counselor had noticed that, as he was initially describing the situation, almost every sentence he spoke had begun with I. The heaviness in his voice indicated he felt great pressure to have all the answers and to not disappoint anyone: “I’ve got to . . .” “I can’t let people down.” “I have to work long hours, and my family doesn’t understand.” The I factor warning sign was there, suggesting that this pastor was depending on himself instead of on God.
What about you?
Listen for the I factor in your conversations. Note any words or thoughts that depict you as less than (fearful) or more than (prideful). Notice whether you too often direct a conversation back to yourself or you interrupt someone’s story to tell your own. Are your conversations laced with I, my, or me? Are you others-focused or self-focused? If the latter, consider this a warning sign that you may be on the path to Edging God Out.
“Am I to Have No Rest?”
The following true story tells of an encounter between Abraham Lincoln and one of his army officers.
During the Civil War, President Lincoln was visited by Colonel Scott, a commander of the troops guarding the capital. Scott’s wife had drowned in a steamship collision in Chesapeake Bay. He had appealed to regimental command for leave to attend her burial and comfort his children, but he was denied. He took his request to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who also refused. In his ultimate appeal, Scott was the last visitor allowed to see Lincoln in the presidential office late on a Saturday night.
As Scott recalled, Lincoln listened to his story and exploded. “Am I to have no rest? Is there no hour or spot when or where I may escape these constant calls? Why do you follow me here with such business as this? Why do you not go to the War Office where they have charge of all matters of papers and transportation?”
Scott told Lincoln of Stanton’s refusal. The president replied with equal fervor that, during this time of war, everyone had burdens to bear. He sided with Stanton and denied Scott’s request. Lincoln again suggested Scott go to the War Department, and if they didn’t help him, Scott was to bear his burden until the war was over. Colonel Scott returned to his barrack, brooding.
Early the next morning Colonel Scott heard a rap at the door.
It was the president. He took Scott’s hands and apologized, saying, “I had no right to treat a man with rudeness who has offered his life to his country, much more a man in great affliction. I have had a regretful night and now come to beg your forgiveness.”
He had arranged with Stanton for Scott to go to his wife’s funeral.
Pause and Reflect
We are prone to making poor decisions when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. So we need to HALT when any of these factors are present.
In the Lincoln case, consider the following:
- What were the internal and external forces that caused Lincoln to first respond in a self-serving way? Note which of the HALT factors might have been present.
- Describe a time when you faced a similar leadership decision. What was your response? Were you a serving leader or a self-serving leader? Why?
- What had caused Lincoln to change his mind by the next morning?
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