Overcoming Ministerial Insecurities

This article first appeared as a guest posting on the blog www.searchofkings.net curated by Evangelist Timothy Hadden. The Search of Kings is a tremendous site full of well-articulated Apostolic content. Incidentally, Rev. Timothy Hadden is one of the premier evangelists of our day and the founder of Transition Ministries. Be sure to follow him on Twitter with the  handle @T_C_hadden for daily inspiration.

The Bible emphatically declares that the meek will inherit the earth (Mark 5:5). As many before me have pointed out, meekness is not weakness. In fact, meekness can only be actuated from a place of inner strength. We might even say that meekness grows in the garden of godly confidence. And make no mistake, although we are to avoid pride like the Ebola virus, ministers must walk in confidence.

A quick biblical study of the word confidence produces a wealth of commands like Proverbs 14:26, “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge.” Our confidence is not built upon ourselves but rather upon our faith in God. It took confidence for Moses to stand before Pharaoh over and over again. It took confidence for Joshua to march his army around an impenetrable city. It took confidence for Elijah to challenge the prophets of Baal. It took confidence for Gideon to send thousands of able-bodied soldiers home. It took confidence for Noah to build an ark having never seen rain. It took confidence for a fisherman to preach on the Day of Pentecost. It took confidence for Paul to plant dozens of churches in unfriendly environments. The list could go on and on, but you get the point.

We are using the word confidence because it is almost interchangeable with the word faith. Faithful confidence is the antithesis of insecurity. We know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith mountains will remain firmly planted (Matthew 17:20). Without faith revival will not occur, chains will not be broken, and the work of the Kingdom will be diminished. And yet, ministers are often afflicted with insecurity and plagued by depression.

If I sound judgmental or accusatory it’s certainly not my intention. As I have outlined in a previous article (Ministerial Depression – And How To Handle It), ministerial depression is usually a direct result of ministerial insecurity.

It may sound strange, but the first step to overcoming insecurity and discouragement is knowing that you’re not alone. Almost every great man of God in Scripture faced strong feelings of discouragement; a cursory examination of the Psalms makes that fact crystal clear. Even Jesus had moments of intense frustration that could easily be described as discouragement. How else would you describe weeping and lamenting over a faithless people (Luke 19:41-44)? Elijah literally watched fire fall from heaven only to enter into a severe season of discouragement. Gideon worked while hiding from the Midianites and scoffed when the angel called him a mighty man of valor. He was so discouraged that even angelic visitation didn’t invigorate him immediately.

Biblical examples aside, you may look across town and assume some other ministry is floating on air without a care in the world; nothing could be further from the truth. They have their own problems, failures, obstacles, and fears that you may never see. In fact, the higher you go within any leadership paradigm the more terrifying the view. If you’re mountain climbing the higher you go the more success you achieve, but you’re also facing new complexities and dangers at the same time. In fact, the danger becomes palpable.

With that in mind, comparison is often the culprit that ignites ministerial insecurity. My friend Mark Brown says, “A spirit of comparison comes from a spirit of competition, and competition comes from a prideful desire to be better than others. God resists the proud.” When we are proud God resists us, starting the cycle of insecurity and discouragement all over again. Prideful comparison is fundamentally ungodly and always leads to unnecessary discouragement. Remember when David disobeyed God and took a census of the people for the sake of comparison? It stirred God’s immediate anger. Resist comparison at all times.

Similarly, the pressure to compromise and the pressure to produce results also instigates insecurity. There is a disturbing trend festering that approaches ministry like a business, and pastoring like coaching. Preachers are increasingly pressured to lead their churches like a business and lead people like a corporate CEO. While ministry does contain aspects of business, shares traits of coaching, and even benefits from secular leadership skills it ultimately cannot be confined into those worldly paradigms. Trying to do so produces dissidence, dissatisfaction, spiritual anemia, and insecurity.

For example, if you measure spiritual success purely in terms of numbers, spreadsheets, and bottom lines you will always fall short. If you measure the success of a worship experience purely by talent, ambiance, and skill you will always be less than something or someone else. If you are led by trends, social winds, surveys, and opinions rather than convictions, doctrines, values, and timeless principles you will never lead with confidence.

Godly leaders understand that God does not measure success in the same way that businesses measure success. It’s not just about filling buildings, deep bank accounts, and slick productions. No. Ministry is about righteousness, truth, anointing, changed lives, transformed hearts, and right relationship with God and others. I would rather have a storefront church with two genuinely saved souls than a mega-church full of lost tithers. So the next time you feel the pressure to compromise for the sake of so-called success, remember that God does not measure success in the same way that carnal minds measure success.

With that in mind, one of the great deceptions of our time is the belief that compromise always produces growth. Consider this, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publically or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. They live with the same Grasshopper Complex the ten spies articulated when they told Moses that the Promise Land was unconquerable (Numbers 13). In other words, they are defeated without ever going into battle. That’s the real tragedy of insecurity, we are defeated on the battlefield of our own minds before even attempting to accomplish what God has called us to accomplish.

Flashes of insecurity are not sinful nor are they unusual, but living there is toxic. Prolonged insecurity is really a reflection of an inner lack of faith in God’s power, purpose, plan, and process. Remember, insecurity is the source of negativity. Choose faith over fear and lead with godly confidence.

5 T rust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).

Is That Really You God? – How to Hear God’s Voice

Every sincere Christian has endured seasons where they desperately needed to hear God or know his will. Loren Cunningham’s book Is That Really You God? (Hearing the Voice of God) delves into this topic headfirst. It’s an older book with timeless information. I found it helpful and insightful. Loren digs beyond platitudes and easy answers, burrowing down into the meat of the question. Incredibly fascinating are her thoughts on learning to differentiate God’s voice from our internal voices and the world’s external voices. She walks us through the transition of young Samuel mistaking the voice of Eli for the voice of God. She further illustrates Samuel’s maturation process and spiritual development, noting that as Samuel matured, he quickly recognized the voice of God, and others heard the voice of God prophetically through him. We’ll delve into that later in this article. Loren’s book inspires many thoughts in this article.

Learning to Listen

If you’ve never read the book The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, do yourself a favor and get a copy. It’s an outstanding book on prayer. Arguably, however, Batterson’s lesser-known book, Whisper (How to Hear the Voice of God), is even better. In it, Batterson makes the compelling case that God speaks to us far more than we realize, but we are too distracted to hear His voice. Like Elijah’s infamous “still small voice” encounter, we risk not hearing because there’s so much noise in our lives. An old Jars of Clay song called Headphones captures our culture perfectly:

I don’t have to hear it

If I don’t want to

I can drown this out

Pull the curtains down on you

It’s a heavy world

It’s too much for me to care

If I close my eyes

It’s not there

With my headphones on

We’re all so uncomfortable with silence, yet the noises, distractions, hectic schedules, and conversations might just be drowning out the still small voice of God. Recently, Taylor (my wife) and I were in a fast-food drive-thru window. I asked the smiling guy at the window several questions while he bobbed his head pleasantly. Oddly, he didn’t respond to a single request. Then suddenly, I noticed the little white oblong circles resting in his ears. He was absorbed in music only he could hear, happily oblivious to my increasingly frustrated requests for napkins. I think we’re all guilty to some degree of being like that McDonald’s earbud guy with God. We get so caught up in the rhythm of earthly things we don’t even know how to unplug and listen to heavenly things (For more on that subject, read 6 Reasons We Think God is Silent When He is Speaking).

Don’t Stress Out

I think we overcomplicate seeking the voice of God. To be fair, intensely spiritual people mystify the process and unwittingly represent hearing God’s voice as something for the elite among us. This isn’t so at all. It’s really not complicated. As long as you want to please and obey God, He will reward you for diligently seeking His voice (Hebrews 11:6). Submit to His Lordship (2 Corinthians 10:5, Proverbs 3:5-6). Resist the enemy and silence satanic distractions (James 4:7, Ephesians 6:10-20). And expect God to answer (John 10:27, Psalm 69:13, Exodus 33:11). Destress, demystify, ask, listen, and God will speak in His time.

Let God Speak in the Way He Chooses

God always answers, but it isn’t always with an audible voice. Rarely does His voice thunder down from Sinai or explode from a burning bush. So allow God to speak to you in the way He chooses. For example, God may talk to you in one of the following ways: Through His Word (Psalm 119:105), dreams (Matthew 2:12), visions (Isaiah 6:1), quiet inner voice (Isaiah 30:21), other people (Proverbs 24:6), the Church (Hebrews 13:7), prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:7-11), angels (Hebrews 1:14), or signs (Judges 6:36-40).

Make Sure Your Heart Is Clean

The psalmist said, “If I regard sin and baseness in my heart (that is, if I know it is there and do nothing about it), the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). If the Lord won’t listen, He certainly isn’t going to answer. I’m reminded of a beautiful, albeit, underappreciated older song called Welcome Home by Shaun Groves:

Welcome to this heart of mine

Buried under prideful vines

Grown to hide the mess I’ve made

Inside of me come decorate, Lord

And open up the creaking door

And walk upon the dusty floor

Scrape away the guilty stains

Until no sin or shame remain

Spread Your love upon the walls

And occupy the empty halls

Until the man I am has faded

No more doors are barricaded

Come inside this heart of mine

It’s not my own

Make it home

The Axehead Principle

2 Kings 6:1-6 describes a fascinating miracle in the ministry of the prophet Elisha. One day a group of prophets, evidently Elisha’s students, asked to build a larger meeting place. So they asked Elisha to come with them to the Jordan River to cut down trees, and he did. Later, while one of them cut down a tree, his axehead fell off into the river. “Oh, sir!” He cried. “It was a borrowed axe!” “Where did it fall?” the man of God asked. When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the ax head floated to the surface. “Grab it,” Elisha said. And the man reached out and grabbed it.

Because the story is told with no specific spiritual application-supplied countless principles, are attributed to this miracle. However, the one I’ve found most helpful is The Axehead Principle of going back to where you last experienced it. In terms of prayer, go back to where the Lord first spoke to you. Then ask, have I done what God initially told me to do back there? Go back where you lost connection with God and listen for instruction.

The Wise Men Principle

Just as the Wise Men individually followed the star and were led to the same Christ, so God will often use two or more spiritually sensitive people to confirm what He is telling you (2 Corinthians 13:1). We should seek God’s voice or confirmation of God’s voice from two or three (not just one) spiritually sensitive people. This principle helps protect us from emotionalism, naivety, discouragement, and satanic deception.

Learning to Recognize God’s Voice

As previously mentioned, God doesn’t usually speak or sound the way we expect Him to communicate. For example, before becoming the venerable prophet, young Samuel heard God speak in the middle of the night but mistook it for the voice of Eli (1 Samuel 3:1-10). Samuel had never encountered the voice of God, so it was unfamiliar to him. It took three promptings before Samuel realized it was the Lord. And even then, Samuel only understood because Eli had enough wisdom to explain that something supernatural was happening. That event was a defining moment for Samuel. As he grew in anointing, he learned to easily recognize and proclaim the Word of the Lord (1 Samuel 8:7-10, 1 Samuel 12:11-18).

It strikes me that spiritual encounters escape us because we have preconceived expectations of how they will happen. We expect thunder when God is whispering. We expect comfort when God is confronting us. We hardly plan for the supernatural in the mundane moments. Moses only heard God speak because he investigated the burning bush (Exodus 3:3). But he didn’t go into the desert to find God. He was just tending his father-in-law’s flocks. Likewise, young Samuel didn’t go to bed expecting a Divine calling. I wonder how often we miss God’s voice because we’re too ensconced in the ordinary to notice the extraordinary? In my life, there have been many times I sought God with bitter tears with no response, only to have God speak while monotonously driving down the road.

Relationship is the Reason

Moses reached such a place in his relationship with God that he would go inside the Tent of Meeting, and God would speak to him face to face as one would talk to a friend (Exodus 33:1). Ultimately, relationship is the reason God interacts with us. We are His children, and God longs to have a deep intimate relationship with us. I admit that reality is still difficult for me to accept at times. Why does the Maker of the universe love me like that? He does, though. Despite my hard head and thin skin, He loves me, and He loves you too. If you make intimacy with God the goal and not the means to an end, God will respond. In other words, if the desire to hear God’s voice is rooted in selfishness, pride, arrogance, or ambition, God will likely remain silent. Or even worse, speak a terrifying rebuke.

Divulge Cautiously

Remember when Joseph told his family about the dreams God gave him (Genesis 37)? They weren’t too thrilled. Be careful publically divulging things God said to you privately. Don’t talk about direction, revelations, or illuminations God gives you until He permits you to do so. There are four pitfalls in speaking about the words God spoke to you: One, we can feel a sense of pride when God speaks to us, and we want to share it for our glory. Two, we can be presumptuous in thinking we completely understand what God said to us. Remember, God often shares things progressively (in stages). Three, if we don’t wait for the green light from God to speak, we might miss His timing and method. Four, others may not be ready to receive what God gave us. Their hearts might need time to prepare before hearing (Luke 9:36, Ecclesiastes 3:7, Mark 5:9).