When Mirela and I loaded up our belongings and headed to the Pacific Northwest, we were filled with an incredible blend of expectation and zeal. We knew something major was happening, and God was going to let us be part of it. We didn’t have a grand plan. We just had a genuine desire to serve and start a church in Portland. It was a big adventure, and we felt like pioneers on the Oregon Trail. As we crossed the Walla Walla mountains in eastern Oregon, we listened to Rich Mullen’s song “You’re on the Verge of a Miracle.” We couldn’t wait to see mass revival in Portland. We were prepared for greatness.
The reality is and was, however, that life lived serving and leading others is hard. We have seen only a handful of people come to Christ and be baptized. Church conflict is constant. It seems as though every time someone joins our church, another person leaves. About a third of the missional communities we start fail. All the while, our city continues to be desperately far from knowing the riches of the gospel. My neighbors constantly reject the good news of Jesus despite our rich friendships. The city is not flourishing in the peace of salvation, but struggling in the chaos of brokenness. It doesn’t feel like the miracle is happening. We sometimes wonder, “When will the revival come? Will we be around to see it?” In moments like these, we hear lies. When we believe these lies, we stop cultivating a culture of discipleship. Here are the lies that stop us dead in our tracks and lead us to disillusionment:
“You are above this.”
This is the lie of strong pride—that the grunt work isn’t for you. I first heard this lie when I cleaned toilets for a church in Los Angeles. You may hear it while you are watching babies in the nursery Sunday after Sunday. Or when you get stood up once again by your not-yet believing friends for dinner. You hear it when your neighbors shun you for being crazy people who believe in Jesus. The lie is, “You are better than this.” When you believe this lie, you think you are entitled to fame. In reality, you are only entitled to be called a child of God, and that right was purchased by Christ. Don’t settle for position and fame. If you think you are above the job and task, you will not persevere in obedience.
“You are below this.”
Many times it also sounds like, “You don’t belong, and you don’t deserve this.” This is a lie attacking Christ’s ability to work in and through you. If you believe this lie, you believe that God is not at work, but you are the one at work. This lie leads to fear and rejection of your identity as a son or daughter of God. It is born out of comparison to others instead of Christ. What is so devastating about this lie is it paralyzes folks from obedience that would give God glory. No one is capable or skilled enough to do what God has called them to do. The Holy Spirit empowers us for the tasks and God is glorified in using us.
“If you were better, it would be easier.”
This one comes when things feel incredibly hard. It leads to self-loathing and increased suffering. This lie shakes your sense of purpose. You begin to place yourself as the focal point of God’s work and conclude you are either in the way or driving it forward. When things improve, you believe it is because you have done better and have earned it. When things fail, you are certain it is your fault. Similar lies are, “You have to be good to be used for good.” Or “You have to be smarter, better, quicker, more talented, more educated, rich and moral in order to do good.” This leads to a personal quest for self-rightness, excellence, and God’s job. This lie essentially says, “You are this city’s savior.” Eventually you quit in desperation because you have labored without a savior.
“If it isn’t happening now, it never will.”
This lie says, “Today is all there is, and God can’t work tomorrow. If God hasn’t answered your prayers for revival by now, He never will.” When you believe it, you lose perspective on the scope of life and count everything you are doing as worthless. You are no longer content in obedience alone but want to see what your obedience will create. This is nearsighted dreaming. This lie results in quick quitting or shrinking versions of worthwhile, God-given dreams. This is a lie people believe when they settle for less than the radical surrender and obedience God called them to. When we believe this lie we are saying, “God doesn’t care anymore or He can’t do it.”
“You are alone.”
This is the hardest one. Our sinful hearts leap to this lie when we are tired and discouraged. The goal of this lie is to isolate you and make you think no one else cares and no one else is coming to help. No longer are you being obedient to God’s work, but now you feel like a hired hand. It is as if God is paying you to establish a franchise of His kingdom and is looking for a return on His investment. Your belief in this lie says, “Jesus doesn’t love me or this city. He didn’t die for this city or for me. God abandons His people.”
We Believe The Lies in Isolation
Each these lies is a lie about God—who He is and what He’s done. We know they are false, yet we hold them like a child holds his or her favorite stuffed animal. These lies lead us into a downward spiral of self-doubt, isolation, and deeper disbelief. The Enemy steals joy with each lie.
As pastors and leaders, we are conditioned to know the right things and to look like we know what we’re doing. I’ve known and coached many leaders who are stuck in one of these lies but cannot bring themselves to admit it. These lies are spiritual mold; they grow in darkness. Tragically, many church planters and church leaders cannot even bring themselves to confess they’re discouraged or disillusioned. They hear the oppressive words, “It would be wrong to be disillusioned, what would people think? Everything would fall apart if people thought I struggled with the most basic of lies!” Or you might hear this: “What kind of pastor are you if you struggle to believe the gospel?” We often remain in lies because we’ve failed to bring them into the light.
It’s hard to cultivate a gospel-centered discipleship movement when you’re stuck in active disbelief in the gospel. In my father’s office is the beautiful painting of a pastor, exhausted and tired. His head is in his hands. He is weeping. On the floor, Jesus washes the pastor’s feet. This is the image of a discipleship environment I long for. The image of Jesus washing each of His disciples with His life, death, and resurrection. The image of Jesus preparing each of us for the feast. I also hear the words of Jesus to Peter: “If you don’t allow me to wash you, you cannot be part of me.”
Q: Which lie do you most readily believe? What is the impact of this belief on those you disciple?
Q: What keeps you from confessing this lie? Are you able to acknowledge your struggles?
Q: What would belief in the gospel look like for you in your circumstances?
Which lie do you most readily believe, and how can we pray for you to believe the truth?
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