Special Guest Carlton L. Coon Sr. & Book Review of Light in a Dark Place: Encountering Depression

In Grief Observed, the famed Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) wrote, “When He (God) seemed most gracious, He was really preparing the next torture.” I have a massive volume of C.S. Lewis quotes carefully alphabetized, calligraphed, and categorized for ease of use. Not surprisingly, the publisher didn’t include the above quote. The image of Lewis questioning the goodness of God doesn’t jive with our perception of the preeminent Christian thinker best known for writing things like: “The great thing to remember is that though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” And yet, these two seemingly incongruent statements by Lewis make sense when viewed through the lens of his lifelong battle with depression. That battle intensified dramatically after Lewis’ beloved wife succumbed to the ravages of cancer, which is the primary subject of the work mentioned above (Grief Observed). But the melancholy portrayal of God “preparing the next torture” is a painfully candid example of Lewis momentarily allowing depression to taint his view of God. Eventually, in Grief Observed, he veers back into an understanding of God’s ultimate goodness.

Interestingly, despite Lewis’ transparency, it’s rare for Christian writers to discuss their battles with depression openly. And, in apostolic circles, it’s practically a graveyard of silence. Thankfully, Carlton L. Coon Sr. breathes life into that valley of dry bones with his book Light in a Dark Place: Encountering Depression. Coon isn’t self-absorbed but self-reflecting with a careful eye on practical helps for others battling the black dog of depression. Light in a Dark Place not only shines a ray of hope into depressed hearts but also brings a formerly taboo subject kicking and screaming into the spotlight. More apostolic books and resources need to be created on the complex topic of depression, as Coon mentions in the forward, but Light in a Dark Place will be remembered as the book that opened the floodgates.

Light in a Dark Place not only shines a ray of hope into depressed hearts but also brings a formerly taboo subject kicking and screaming into the spotlight.

Coon carefully explains the unseen and often misunderstood nature of depression, the root causes and indicators of depression, and the difference between situational and chronic depression. He outlines the temptation and peril of self-isolation and carefully approves the use of antidepressants, but not as a first resort. But most importantly, Coon calls those afflicted with depression to fight back: “Don’t settle in and make depression your permanent residence,” he warns. Light in a Dark Place isn’t a silver bullet or a magic pill. It doesn’t promise to cure depression in three easy steps, but it does equip the reader to fight with renewed vigor. A large portion of the book is comprised of down-to-earth strategies for warring against depression.

Don’t settle in and make depression your permanent residence.

I was particularly thankful Coon included a chapter on biblical characters who struggled with depression. For example, you can barely read through a few passages of the Psalms without encountering stanzas of raw, unfiltered melancholia. And it’s worth mentioning the Psalms weren’t written in a vacuum or hidden in secret journals. They were sung aloud in public as an act of worship. Meaning the author’s struggles were honest and transparent. If the Psalms were written by church leaders today, they would probably leave out the trials and focus solely on the victories. It’s difficult to imagine modern Pentecostals writing or publicly singing, “For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave. I am counted with them that go down into the pit: I am as a man that hath no strength: Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand (Psalm 88:3-5)”. Yet, we can’t appreciate the victories without understanding the battles. Therein lies the effectiveness of the Psalms. The transparency is what makes them so intrinsically relatable and transformative.

If the Psalms were written by church leaders today, they would probably leave out the trials and focus solely on the victories.

We can’t appreciate the victories without understanding the battles. Therein lies the effectiveness of the Psalms. The transparency is what makes them so intrinsically relatable and transformative.

Light in a Dark Place is not a call to wallow in depression or use it as an excuse for failure. Instead, Coon calls us to fling open the shades and let the light in so healing can be achieved. Sometimes that healing is instantaneous, and other times it’s a daily battle. Ignoring, pretending, masking, and super spiritualizing depression are recipes for defeat. The numerous statistics and anecdotal stories make that abundantly clear. A friend of mine once said that depression is deadlier than cancer, but no one wants to talk about it out loud. There’s truth in that statement. Perhaps this book will help ignite conversations and inspire more resources to help arm the Church to combat the epidemic of situational depression, PTSD, and mild to severe depressive disorders. If you suffer under the weight of depression or know someone who does Light in a Dark Place is a must-read.

Ignoring, pretending, masking, and super spiritualizing depression are recipes for defeat.


Ep. 41 | Carlton L. Coon Sr. (Encountering & Battling Depression)

9 Things to Remember When You’re Hurting

Hurt comes to everyone’s life in one way or another. For some, it’s more severe than others. Of course, when we use a generic term like hurt, it can mean physical, emotional, or spiritual damage. It can even be a potent combination of the three. It usually becomes a blend of the three because when we are hurting in one area, it bleeds into the other two eventually. A friend once said, “Don’t let your pain go to waste.” That’s stuck with me for many years. Every hardship has a lesson (or multiple lessons) embedded within it. Indeed, this is the essence of Paul’s anointed thinking when he wrote of learning to be content in every situation. (Philippians 4:11) Below are nine things to remember when hurting humbly written from one hurt person to another.

Below are nine things to remember when hurting humbly written from one hurt person to another.

1. You’re not the only one hurting.

Pain has a way of causing us to turn inward and become unintentionally selfish. It’s easy to forget that others are hurting too. Understanding others have pain, too, doesn’t minimize or detract from what we’re going through. But it keeps our pain in perspective when we realize others have their own unique hurts and problems. There are extreme times of trauma when we need those closest to us to drop everything and be available. However, those moments can’t and won’t last forever. It’s intensely selfish to assume our hurt is the worst hurt. It’s also incredibly freeing to know that we are not alone in our pain. Finding someone who has experienced similar difficulties and recovered is often the most encouraging thing we can do.

Pain has a way of causing us to turn inward and become unintentionally selfish. It’s easy to forget that others are hurting too.

It’s intensely selfish to assume our hurt is the worst hurt. It’s also incredibly freeing to know that we are not alone in our pain. Finding someone who has experienced similar difficulties and recovered is often the most encouraging thing we can do.

I had to undergo four open-heart surgeries as a child. I was six when they operated on my heart the fourth time. Not too many years after my recovery, Jonathan, my younger brother, was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent years of treatment (you can read more about those testimonies here). My family spent lots of time in and around hospitals. Huge chunks of my childhood memories revolve around painful medical procedures. I have a vivid memory of being very young, lying in a hospital bed with tubes in and around my body, feeling like the most hurt kid on earth. Suddenly, the door flung open, and two nurses wheeled in a young boy missing both his legs. He was groaning with pain, and at that moment, the realization dawned on me that my pain was not the only pain in the world. To this day, if I start to feel like my pain is the only pain in the world, I walk into a children’s hospital and remember that hurt is a universal human condition.

2. Hurt doesn’t give anyone a license to be a jerk.

Years ago, I heard an old farmer tell the story of how one of his prized Tennessee walkers managed to escape his stable on a warm summer afternoon. After hours of searching, the old man found his treasured horse hopelessly tangled in rusty old barbed wire fencing. It broke the farmer’s heart watching that majestic beast trying in vain to break free, but with every effort, the shards of barbed wire embedded themselves deeper into the bloody wounds. With soothing words and a cautious step, the old farmer inched his way towards the grand animal with wire cutters in hand. But he wasn’t careful enough; from the corner of his eye, he saw the hoof coming, but it was too late. He felt an explosive sensation in his head, and everything went black. When he awoke, the horse was almost dead, and he was too.

The old axiom is true that hurting people hurt people. Sadly, this creates a cycle of pain in the hurting person’s life. Hurting people isolate themselves by constructing self-imposed barriers between themselves and those who care about them the most. It’s difficult not to be caustic, sarcastic, and just a little narcissistic when hurting deeply. Truly hurting people may lash out at random strangers or their closest friends and family members at any given moment, alienating them further and intensifying their pain. Like the horribly mangled Tennessee walker, hurting people don’t necessarily mean to lash out or act like a jerk; sometimes, it’s just a reflexive reaction. Regardless, pain doesn’t give us the right to attack the people around us. And it only makes the situation worse.

Hurting people don’t necessarily mean to lash out or act like a jerk; sometimes, it’s just a reflexive reaction. Regardless, pain doesn’t give us the right to attack the people around us. And it only makes the situation worse.

3. All hurts can be healed.

There might be scars that never quite disappear. The healing may not come when and how we want it to appear, but God will send healing if we remain righteous. One of the most encouraging passages in the Bible is Psalm 37:17-19:

“The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”

The Bible never tries to sugarcoat the reality that the righteous will be afflicted, yet God will deliver the righteous from all their troubles. That little word all is so important because it encompasses physical, spiritual, and emotional hurt. There is no hurt that God cannot heal. There is no wound so deep that God cannot mend. And the righteous are never closer to God than when they are brokenhearted. Even while we are waiting for the healing, the Healer is with us.

There might be scars that never quite disappear. The healing may not come when and how we want it to appear, but God will send healing if we remain righteous (Psalm 37:17-19).

There is no hurt that God cannot heal. There is no wound so deep that God cannot mend. And the righteous are never closer to God than when they are brokenhearted. Even while we are waiting for the healing, the Healer is with us.

4. God is present even when you don’t feel Him.

The greatest saints in the Bible often felt as if God was absent in their trouble. Isaiah lamented, “God, where are your dramatic, awe-inspiring works of in my day?” He had heard of “times past” when God would “rend the heavens and come down,” when people “quaked in God’s presence.” But where was that God now, Isaiah asked? He shouted in dismay, “You have hidden your face from us.” (Isaiah 64:1-7) The psalmist Asaph cried, “We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be” (Psalm 74:9). And Gideon, right before God used him to destroy an entire Midianite army with only three hundred men, said to an angelic messenger, “If the Lord is really with us… where are all His wonderful deeds like the ones our fathers told us about?” (Judges 6:13)

If you want to learn powerful lessons about finding purpose in pain, read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It’s the true story of Corrie’s life during World War II and her family’s efforts to hide Jews from the Nazis. Eventually, the Nazis caught Corrie and her sister, Betsie, and threw them into a concentration camp. In Hitler’s death camp, they experienced unspeakable horrors. A little gem in the story is the recounting of Corrie and Betsie’s first night in Nazi barracks. The bunk beds were stacked three levels high and barely offered enough room for a person to squeeze into them. Usually, two or three ladies were forced to share single four-foot-wide rancid straw mattresses. While laying there fighting nausea because of the stench and claustrophobia, Corrie felt something bite her leg. “Fleas,” she cried! Looking closely, Corrie and Betsie realized the entire room was swarming with fleas.

“How can we live in such a place?” Corrie moaned. Betsie began to pray and ask the Lord to show them how they could endure this nightmare. Suddenly, a Scripture came to her mind that she had been reading:

“Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus …” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18)

Betsie was firm, “we must thank God for the fleas.” Understandably, Corrie was shocked and annoyed at the idea of thanking God for the fleas. Corrie couldn’t find it in her heart to thank God for something so awful.

As the weeks passed, Betsie’s health weakened to the point that, rather than needing to go out on work duty each day, she was permitted to remain in the barracks and knit socks together with other seriously-ill prisoners. She was a lightning-fast knitter and usually had her daily sock quota completed by noon. As a result, she had hours each day she could spend moving from platform to platform reading the Bible to fellow prisoners. She was able to do this undetected as the guards never seemed to venture far into the barracks.

One evening when Corrie arrived back at the barracks, Betsie’s eyes were twinkling. “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” Corrie told her.

“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” Betsie said, referring to the part of the barracks where the sleeping platforms were. “Well—I’ve found out. This afternoon there was confusion in my knitting group about sock sizes, so we asked the supervisor to come and settle it. But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door, and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice as she exclaimed, “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said: ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’ ” God had a purpose for the fleas that Corrie could not see. She couldn’t see or feel God in that situation. But He was there all along!

5. Your response to hurt will determine whether you come out stronger or weaker.

Job lost everything: children, health, and wealth, but he refused to sin or charge God foolishly. (Job 1:12-22) Because of his righteous response, God gave Job more abundant blessings than he had previously. Joseph had visions and dreams from God, but his jealous brothers sold him into slavery. He was persecuted, falsely accused, tossed into prison, forgotten, ignored, but Joseph never stopped trusting the Lord. Not only was he restored, but God elevated Joseph to places he could not have imagined. (Genesis 41) Learning how to react correctly to hurt is possibly the most essential life skill we can learn.

Learning how to react correctly to hurt is possibly the most essential life skill we can learn.

Two thieves hung on crosses next to Jesus. It isn’t possible to adequately describe the agony of crucifixion. But crucifixion is one of the most excruciating and traumatic ways to die. Both thieves were suffering in precisely the same way. But one thief scoffed Jesus, and the other begged Jesus to remember him. (Luke 23:32-43) Beautifully, Jesus responded to the tormented thief begging for remembrance and promised him a place in paradise. (Luke 23:43) Our response to God while hurting can mean the difference between Heaven and Hell.

6. There are valuable lessons to be learned while hurting.

In his classic work The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrestled openly with the big questions of human suffering. He offers insights into revelations received during the most painful seasons of his life. Lewis wrote:

“I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed by such lines [where happiness and kindness abound and they always lead to good things]. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction… Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. … Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.”

Only through suffering could Lewis gain such insight into the nature of God. In my own life, I have only traversed the deepest wellsprings of revelation through grief. Some insights can only be achieved through pain. Some depths can only be explored in the darkest places. Some epiphany’s flash like lightning in the middle of terrible storms. Learn to look for lessons strewn about in the tempests of suffering, and you will find priceless gems sparkling in the mud.

Some insights can only be achieved through pain. Some epiphany’s flash like lightning in the middle of terrible storms. Learn to look for lessons strewn about in the tempests of suffering, and you will find priceless gems sparkling in the mud.

7. Anointing is forged and perfected in fiery furnaces.

In yet another definitive work, Beyond The Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis wrote:

“God loves us, so He makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering, we release our hold on the toys of this world… We’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering in this world is not the failure of God’s love for us; it is that love in action.”

Be careful praying for God to give you anointing; He will do it, but it will be painful. God will place you in situations where you will be forced to stand when everyone else is bowing down, and He will ask you to bow when everyone else is standing. The anointing will take you to the furnaces and fires of decision and sacrifice. The process is difficult, but the refining is worth it.

The anointing will take you to the furnaces and fires of decision and sacrifice. The process is difficult, but the refining is worth it.

8. Hiding from helpers only makes hurting hurt worse.

When Jonathan, my brother, was battling leukemia, I met a little boy in the children’s hospital. His name was Jordan, and he was very young and as you can imagine he was very scared. The doctors and nurses seemed to him very large and imposing, so he would try to hide from them when possible. This, of course, was extremely disturbing to his parents, who wanted him to get good treatment. But it was impossible to make that little boy understand why doctors sometimes do things that hurt so we can heal. He turned hiding from his helpers into a game of cat and mouse.

We, humans, tend to be like Jordan when we’re hurting. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we hide from the One and the ones who want to help us the most. However, this can cause serious damage and keep us from getting the help we so desperately need. Resist the urge to isolate and hide when pain is acute. Please don’t let fear, or pride, or shame, or anything else keep you from allowing helpers to help fix your hurt.

Resist the urge to isolate and hide when pain is acute. Please don’t let fear, or pride, or shame, or anything else keep you from allowing helpers to help fix your hurt.

9. Hurt is only a season that will soon pass.

According to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. There is a time for life and death, planting and reaping, killing and healing, destroying and building, mourning and laughter, there’s even a time for losing and winning. But there is one season the Bible never mentions, and that is a season for quitting. Because in the economy of God, there is no giving up. Quitting is not an option. Human reasoning says failure is not an option. But that isn’t so. God can handle our failures as long as we don’t quit.

The Bible never mentions a season for quitting. Because in the economy of God, there is no giving up. Quitting is not an option. Human reasoning says failure is not an option. But that isn’t so. God can handle our failures as long as we don’t quit.

The great thing about understanding that life operates in seasons is the accompanying knowledge that painful seasons will pass. Seasons are, by definition, temporary. Winter seems eternal, but it’s not. All the death gives way to life, and Spring bursts forth. So, never give up. Take courage and keep your faith because good things are coming your way.

The great thing about understanding that life operates in seasons is the accompanying knowledge that painful seasons will pass. Seasons are, by definition, temporary.

Winter seems eternal, but it’s not. All the death gives way to life, and Spring bursts forth. So, never give up. Take courage and keep your faith because good things are coming your way.

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10 Symptoms of Insecure Leadership (Article + Podcast)

Insecure leaders are dangerous to any organization. They are especially hazardous in church settings. Quick clarification, every leader has areas of insecurity. And, leaders have seasons of insecurity that aren’t permanent. Usually, because of extremely traumatic circumstances, exhaustion, or feelings of displacement in a new position, role, or environment. This article is addressing chronic toxic insecurities in leaders. Toxically insecure leaders destroy lives, organizations, and almost everything they touch if they don’t recognize their internal condition and correct it.

Insecure leaders are dangerous to any organization. They are especially hazardous in church settings. Quick clarification, every leader has areas of insecurity. And, leaders have seasons of insecurity that aren’t permanent.

If you’re a leader, check yourself for these symptoms. Better yet, ask your spouse or someone you respect if you are showing any of these symptoms. If you are, it doesn’t have to be terminal. You can adjust, grow, change, and become a truly dynamic leader. Facing our flaws is always challenging, but it pays big dividends later on.

Maybe you’re concerned someone close to you is a toxic leader. If so, please understand a toxically insecure leader will display at least three or more of these symptoms. Be careful not to misdiagnose a leader because they exhibit one or two of these symptoms from time to time. However, if you find that you are working with or for a toxically insecure leader, you would be wise to distance yourself if and when possible. Otherwise, you will be pulled into their injuriousness as either a collaborator or a victim.

King Saul is a prime biblical example of a genuinely toxic insecure leader. He was anointed, impressive, loved, and gifted, but his unbridled jealous insecurities prompted him to hate David. King Saul’s insecurities sent him down a twisted path of self-destructive behavior. Tragically, when a leader like Saul falls prey to their insecurities, they can unleash a whirlwind of hurt. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Below are ten common symptoms found in toxically insecure leaders. However, along with each symptom, there is a helpful prescription listed.

1. Insecure Leaders are Easily Offended

Not only are they offended easily by genuine affronts, but insecure leaders are angered by a seemingly endless list of perceived slights. Insecure leaders continuously feel as if they are being disrespected, attacked, taunted, or rejected. The insecure leader’s posture of offense reveals selfishness as their deeper character flaw. Because they view everything through the lens of self, they filter everyone’s actions as being about or directed at them. Insecure leaders speak and act against their real or perceived offenders often. They go on long crusades demanding respect or diminishing those who seemingly refuse to admire them.

Insecure leaders continuously feel as if they are being disrespected, attacked, taunted, or rejected. This reveals selfishness as their deeper character flaw. Because they view everything through the lens of self…

The Prescription for Easily Offended Leaders

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook offense.
Proverbs 19:11

We overcome offenses by looking up to God. It really is that simple. The apostle Peter reminds us that it is an honor to suffer offense – even unjust offenses – if we are mindful of God (1 Peter 2:19). To be sure, Peter’s readers were dealing with offenses more severe than the kind Westerners typically face: physical abuse (1 Peter 2:20), ridicule (1 Peter 4:4), fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12). But learning to overlook the most significant offenses usually begins with learning to forgive the smallest. Enduring slander begins with enduring a sarcastic remark. Enduring a beating begins with enduring a cold shoulder. Being mindful of God in everyday offenses trains us to be mindful of Him when the worst comes.

The daggers others throw your way will become in God’s hand chisels to fashion you into the image of Christ
Scott Hubbard

Offended leaders must rest in the knowledge that God sees all offenses (Hebrews 4:13), God will settle all offenses (Romans 12:19), and God can satisfy us amid offense (Isaiah 58:11). When offense comes, it’s always tempting to allow bitterness, revenge, fantasy, distraction, pleasure, or self-justification to bring temporary satisfaction to our grievance. But only God can fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). Only God can call us back from darkness (1 Peter 2:9). We can always rise above offense by lifting our eyes to God.

Learning to overlook the most significant offenses usually begins with learning to forgive the smallest. Enduring slander begins with enduring a sarcastic remark. Enduring a beating begins with enduring a cold shoulder.

We can always rise above offense by lifting our eyes to God.

2. Insecure Leaders Pass the Blame

Confident leaders are comfortable accepting responsibility for their mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, drops the ball, and gets it wrong from time to time. But insecure leaders find creative ways to blame others for their failures. They pass the buck to anyone or anything they can find. Because insecure leaders refuse to acknowledge their own mistakes, they never learn to correct them.

Furthermore, individuals forced to take blame unfairly on an insecure leader’s behalf are deeply wounded. Understandably, this creates constant turnover and turmoil in the leaders serving underneath an insecure leader. At the root of the blame game are an insecure leader’s ego and pride. Passing the buck begins by uprooting pride. Once pride is gone, humility can confidently take its place.

Insecure leaders find creative ways to blame others for their failures. They pass the buck to anyone or anything they can find. Because insecure leaders refuse to acknowledge their own mistakes, they never learn to correct them.

At the root of the blame game are an insecure leader’s ego and pride. Passing the buck begins by uprooting pride. Once pride is gone, humility can confidently take its place.

The Prescription for Blame Passing Leaders

For we are each responsible for our own conduct
Galatians 6:5

God resists prideful leaders who lack humility (James 4:6). On the other hand, God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Thankfully the passage of Scripture doesn’t stop there. It goes on to provide us with the exact prescription for curing pride: Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:8-10, English Standard Version).

3. Insecure Leaders Tear Other People Down

Insecure leaders can’t help themselves from tearing other people down verbally, not necessarily to their face, but behind their backs. They are careful to couch their criticism as a concern or something innocuous, but they intend to tear down their perceived competition. Insecure leaders feel threatened by talented, gifted, or well-liked people, and they make it their mission to belittle those people cleverly.

Insecure leaders feel threatened by talented, gifted, or well-liked people, and they make it their mission to belittle those people cleverly.

The Prescription for People Bashing Leaders

No one has ever made himself look great by showing how small someone else is.
Irvin Himmel

There are two self-serving reasons to stop tearing other people down, whether it be overtly or subtly. First, people just don’t like or trust people who manipulatively bash other people. People bashers tend to think they’re super slick in how they do it, but people quickly catch on to it. Secondly, the absolute fear of God should be a strong motivator to stop tearing others down. Especially if they are godly people. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up… (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)”. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He continues with an ominous warning: …do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). To grieve the Holy Spirit is to invite the judgment of God. If nothing else, selfishly avoid God’s wrath by lifting others up rather than tearing them down.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32

4. Insecure Leaders Avoid Necessary Risk

An aversion to necessary risks often paralyzes insecure leaders. This one is tricky to spot in a leader because sometimes, risk aversion is wisdom. However, good leaders know risk is unavoidable, healthy, and necessary from time to time. We might call it a leap of faith, or stepping out by faith, or moving forward. Insecure leaders avoid these steps of faith to the detriment of the people depending on them for guidance.

A Cowardly Confederate General

Bright red blood contrasted sharply with the brilliant white snow on a bone-chilling February morning in 1862. Confederate troops under the command of General Gideon Pillow were trapped in Fort Donelson near Dover, Tennessee. General Ulysses S. Grant’s federal troops had them nearly surrounded, and union reinforcements were arriving regularly. General Pillow and his officers knew if they didn’t fight their way out, they would be starved out or frozen out by General Grant.

Federal ironclad boats steamed up the Cumberland River to shell the confederate fort into submission. But southern cannons barraged the ironclads so mercilessly they were forced to retreat. This long-range victory heartened the southern soldiers and emboldened them for battle. The plan was to break through enemy lines and regroup with reinforcements in Nashville. General Pillow realized it would be a bitter fight, but he was shocked to see more union soldiers than expected just over the hill’s crest directly between them and their escape route.

Deafening rebel yells pierced the frosty air as Pillow’s men fiercely charged union lines. After only an hour of fighting, it was almost impossible to see snow because of the crystalizing crimson stains. Miraculously, Pillow’s men busted through federal lines opening up a clear path to Nashville. The breach was only temporary and needed to be exploited by rebel troops quickly. General Pillow needed to give fearless and decisive leadership. But the confederate leader was frozen by more than just the icy winter temperatures. Fear paralyzed General Pillow, causing him to retreat to the fort’s temporary safety rather than continue fighting to ultimate victory.

Pillow’s cowardly decision caused 14,000 confederate troops to be captured and imprisoned by General Grant. Many historians consider this a turning point in the Civil War in favor of the union army. Ironically, General Pillow was able to escape during the night and avoid capture. He left subordinate officers behind to face the wrath of General Grant. This story is a classic example of a fearful, toxically, insecure leader.

The Prescription for Fearful Leaders

If the fear of loss conquers me, the reality of failure will consume me.

Michael Dooley

The psalmist said: I sought the Lord, and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4 KJV). The prescription for fearful leadership is God-centered leadership. Leaders who pursue God and strive to follow His direction are delivered from fear and filled with confidence. It sounds overly simplistic, but it’s not. It’s common sense once you understand that God knows the future, and if we know God intimately, He guides us into the future. Great leaders aren’t without worries, but their faith in God overwhelms their fear.

Don’t let fear overwhelm your faith; let faith overwhelm your fear (Psalm 34:4).

5. Insecure Leaders Attack Questioners

Confident leaders encourage and invite questions because they relish the opportunity to cast their vision. Conversely, insecure leaders view most questions as insults to their intelligence and authority. Often, insecure leaders will berate, avoid, or ignore questioners even from those closest to them.

Confident leaders encourage and invite questions because they relish the opportunity to cast their vision. Conversely, insecure leaders view most questions as insults to their intelligence and authority.

The Prescription for Leaders Who Attack Questioners

Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable — and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.
Peter Nulty

James 1:19 tells us that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Even good leaders lose this ability over time if they don’t carefully guard against the mentality of using their authority to silence questions and input from others. But the solution to this problem is simple and self-serving. Leaders who shut down questioners and run over input are robbing themselves of knowledge, and knowledge is power. Allowing others to speak doesn’t mean you have to accept what they say or agree with their advice. If a questioner has a legitimate need for clarification, give it. If a questioner has a real concern, hear it. You can learn a lot from the things people ask and say out loud. Listening gives leaders a distinct advantage in moving forward. Listeners understand trends, anticipate problems, realize needs, inspire loyal followings, and find unusual opportunities.

Leaders who listen understand trends, anticipate problems, realize needs, inspire loyal followings, and find unusual opportunities.

6. Insecure Leaders Rarely Offer Thanks or Congratulations

To the insecure leader, saying thanks is acknowledging they needed help. Giving a compliment distracts from their achievements and spotlights someone else in their way of thinking. They’re uncomfortable with both scenarios, so they rarely say thanks or give genuine compliments. This leaves their team feeling totally unappreciated and disrespected.

The Prescription for Leaders Who Rarely Offer Thanks or Congratulations

You’ll never be great and ungrateful at the same time.
Unknown

Learning to express thanks and compliment others when deserved is a sign of strength, not weakness. Rewiring your brain to think this way might be difficult, but it’s necessary. A further benefit of a verbally thankful and complimentary leader is the positive impact on the people around them. Morale is boosted; productivity increases, loyalty skyrockets, and the leader’s visions are carried out faster. Try it, and you’ll see immediate positive results.

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Romans 13:7, English Standard Version

Learning to express thanks and compliment others when deserved is a sign of strength, not weakness.

7. Insecure Leaders Take Credit for Other People’s Work or Ideas

A strong leader takes blame and gives the credit. A weak leader gives blame and accepts the credit.
John Wooden

Insecure leaders are more than willing to steal somebody else’s great idea or take credit for others’ accomplishments. Leaders ready to steal credit have allowed their insecurities to turn them into liars and frauds. Any leader that sinks to this level is beyond toxic. They are intentionally venomous and should not be trusted under any circumstances. Run!

The Prescription for Leaders Who Take Credit for Other People’s Work or Ideas

It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.
Harry S. Truman

A leader willing to lie and steal another person’s credit has no other recourse but to repent before God. And the offending leader must make it right with those they have harmed (Matthew 5:23-24). The Apostle James doesn’t mince words when calling out selfishly ambitious people who play games with the truth. You’ll notice in the text below he calls them unspiritual and demonic. Nothing short of spiritual reconciliation with God and those offended will help a fraudulent leader.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3:14-18, English Standard Version

8. Insecure Leaders Shoot Down Good Ideas

When insecure leaders are presented with good or even terrific ideas, they often shoot them down (or steal them, as we covered in the above point). They just can’t stand the thought of someone else having a better idea or solution. This ultra-selfish leadership style harms everyone because it stifles creativity, productivity, ingenuity, and originality. If a leader always shoots down fantastic ideas without a reasonable explanation, they’re leading from insecurity; however, if they have plausible reasons, they probably do not lead from insecurity.

The Prescription for Leaders Who Shoot Down Good Ideas

Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.
Bernard Baruch

The Bible often speaks of obtaining lots of good advice from wise counselors (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 20:18) before making a decision. Insecure leaders must break the habit of desiring to be the smartest person in the room. Instead, great leaders understand that any organization is built on the successes and intelligence of everyone involved. Understand that an organization that consistently shoots down really good or even terrific ideas without reason will be mediocre at best.

Insecure leaders must break the habit of desiring to be the smartest person in the room. Instead, great leaders understand that any organization is built on the successes and intelligence of everyone involved.

9. Insecure Leaders Run from Needed Confrontation

Most people don’t enjoy confrontation or uncomfortable moments where they look like the bad guy. They want the glory, not the gloom. But insecure leaders take that mentality to a whole new level. They often delegate confrontational moments to their subordinates because they lack the confidence to face a conflict head-on themselves. Or they simply leave problems unsolved, unconfronted, and unresolved rather than face needed conflict. Confrontation avoidance can significantly harm an organization over time.

The Prescription for Confrontation Avoiding Leaders

Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.
Ronald Reagan

The goal of all healthy necessary confrontation is to be assertive, not aggressive. At the root of chronic conflict avoidance is the fear of rejection. For many leaders, this is a deeply ingrained fear that’s hard to overcome. But the fear of rejection must be overcome, or it will destroy the leader and the leader’s team. Addressing the fear of confrontation and rejection begins with baby steps. Start by reevaluating self-worth and reimagining outcomes of conflict (many positive things come from necessary conflict).

10. Insecure Leaders are Easily Flattered

A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.
Proverbs 29:5

Flattery is a lie, masquerading as encouragement, from a selfish motive to manipulate the hearer to achieve the flatterer’s covert purpose. Whether or not flattering words have truth in them, their goal is deception. A leader easily seduced by flattery is foolish and will make unwise decisions. Insecure leaders enjoy the temporary buzz flattery produces because it artificially inflates their wounded egos.

Flattery is a lie, masquerading as encouragement, from a selfish motive to manipulate the hearer to achieve the flatterer’s covert purpose. Whether or not flattering words have truth in them, their goal is deception.

The Prescription for Easily Flattered Leaders

The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.
Norman Vincent Peale

Flattery is the enemy we all love. It feels good going down, but the poison of it doesn’t take long to kick in. That’s why people say flattery is like gum; chew it but don’t swallow it. We shouldn’t believe every good thing we hear about ourselves, nor should we believe every negative thing we hear about ourselves. Learning to overcome flattery’s deceitfulness involves a few paradigm changes: One, learn to value truth over desired truth through prayer. Two, be wary of people who praise excessively. Three, discount those who tear down others to build you up. Four, confront the love of flattery in your own heart and learn to recognize that weakness. When leaders understand their propensity to be manipulated by flattery, they begin to build an immunity to it.

Flattery is the enemy we all love. It feels good going down, but the poison of it doesn’t take long to kick in. That’s why people say flattery is like gum; chew it but don’t swallow it.

We shouldn’t believe every good thing we hear about ourselves, nor should we believe every negative thing we hear about ourselves.

Overcoming flattery: Learn to value truth over desired truth through prayer.

Overcoming flattery: Be wary of people who praise excessively.

Overcoming flattery: Discount those who tear down others to build you up.

Confront the love of flattery in your own heart and learn to recognize that weakness. When leaders understand their propensity to be manipulated by flattery, they begin to build an immunity to it.

15 Ways to Win the Battle Within (Article + Podcast)

I like statistics. But I know from the glazed looks people give me when I bring them up that most people aren’t like me. So, rather than bore you with the minutia of details, let’s just say folks are battling depression on an epic scale. Indeed, in general, temptation is an ever-present problem, and even Christians seem to be struggling with feelings of despair. Not to mention other emotional issues like fear, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, lust (including pornography), greed, envy, jealousy, and the list goes on. And those are just the natural issues that human beings face; demonic attacks are prevalent as well. Sadly, many people don’t even realize they’re entangled in a spiritual battle.

Each of the above problems begins in the mind. Every sin starts with a thought, and if that thought is not dealt with properly, it will produce a sinful action or reaction. The battle for peace is fought in the mind. The battle for joy is fought in the mind. The battle for purity is fought in the mind. Satan engages your mind first because what you think about the most is what you will eventually do. If you engage your mind with darkness, you will be drawn towards darkness. If you engage your mind with righteousness, you will be drawn towards righteousness (Philippians 4:8). That’s what Paul meant when he said, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Romans 12:2)”. Again, in Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul refers to the mind’s battle in relation to holiness and overcoming the old “sinful” way of life. The old mind produces old sins, but a renewed mind produces holiness. In verse 25, Paul illustrates the first fruit of that new mind is truthfulness with our neighbors. The state of our mind informs the status of our actions. In other words, garbage in, garbage out, and vice versa.

Every sin starts with a thought, and if that thought is not dealt with properly, it will produce a sinful action or reaction.

If you engage your mind with darkness, you will be drawn towards darkness. If you engage your mind with righteousness, you will be drawn towards righteousness (Philippians 4:8).

My personality is very susceptible to depression. That’s not easy to say because many Christians are so used to emotionally faking it that they think they’re making it. They’re kicking the emotional can down the road until the inevitable day of reckoning. Hands down, the number one question posed to me when counseling: How can I win the battle that’s raging in my mind (or some variation of that)? The answer is not a simple one. Most people want a silver bullet that makes all the struggles go away immediately. To be sure, there are powerful offensive weapons, but none of them are lasting without a strong defensive shield. You can rebuke the Devil, but he’ll just come back around if you leave your defenses vulnerable.

Below is a list of fifteen things that will truly guard our minds. Each item listed is a powerful defensive shield for your mind. If you’re looking for a shorter Twitter-friendly list, just know, there are no shortcuts to safety.

1. Get some rest (Psalm 4:8).

Have you ever been so tired you didn’t care about anything anymore? Exhaustion has a way of draining us physically and emotionally. There are times it can’t be avoided, but there are also times when we simply haven’t made rest a priority.

2. Help somebody (Hebrews 13:16).

We should help others because it’s the right thing to do. But there are benefits attached to helping others. It takes our minds off ourselves and our problems. Helping others forces us out of selfish habits and self-destructive thoughts. It’s incredible how quickly our attitude can change when we empty ourselves out in the service of others.

3. Only listen to Christian music.

Fill your mind with godly music that is uplifting. Yep, and the more it talks about Jesus, the better. Listen to it a lot. Nothing has more ability to impact your mind and mood than music. Everything about music is designed to lower your guard and capture your attention. When you fill your mind with sinful lyrics, you’ve opened yourself up to spiritual attack. You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular secular song that doesn’t glorify either casual sex, cursing, violence, drinking, drugs, cheating, lying, greed, lust, godlessness, hopelessness, despair, or divorce. That list could be a lot longer, but you get the idea. By listening to that kind of music, you are handing your mind over to the enemy. If it walks like the world and talks like the world, it probably is the world. Oh, and if you’re in the world, your prayers lose their power: The prayers of a righteous man avail much (James 5:16).

Everything about music is designed to lower your guard and capture your attention. When you fill your mind with sinful lyrics, you’ve opened yourself up to spiritual attack.

By the way, everything listed above applies to all your entertainment choices—everything from books, magazines, movies, television, the internet, games, and more. Surely, you can’t be entertained by filth and wonder why you long for filth. Surely, you can’t watch horror and wonder why you battle anxiety. Surely, you can’t watch (and laugh at) immorality and wonder why you’re full of lust. Clean it up, throw stuff out, make a covenant with your eyes and ears. Take Philippians 4:8 seriously, and you’ll be surprised how quickly your mind will be renewed. Everything else on this list of defenses will be weakened if you regularly subject your eyes and ears to worldly entertainment.

4. Spend time daily reading the Bible.

If you need direction, search the Scriptures. If you need encouragement, search the Scriptures. You need the Word daily. Why would you leave your most significant resource untouched? The word is a lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119:105), which means it protects us from painfully stumbling and falling. But it’s also a sword (Ephesians 6:17), meaning it is our greatest offensive weapon against the enemy. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, his strongest offense and defense was the Word (Luke 4:1-13). If you know what is written in the Word, you will learn how to respond to temptation confidentially.

5. Pray, really pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Sincerely, pray, and ask God for strength. Pray until the Holy Ghost falls. Pray when you don’t feel like praying. That’s usually when you need to pray the most. Pray for the Lord’s will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 6:9-13). Pray your way through the Psalms. It’s good to get alone with God in a private place, but some of my best prayer meetings happened in my car driving down the road. That’s what it means to pray without ceasing, being ready to pray at a moment’s notice.

Don’t just pray when you need something. Pray because you want to be close to God. Put some praise in your prayers. Talk to God about your hopes and dreams, doubts and fears, pains and triumphs, and all the in-between stuff too. We’ve all known people who only called when they needed something. Don’t be that way with God. Be that person who maintains the relationship in the good times and the bad.

Don’t just pray when you need something. Pray because you want to be close to God. Put some praise in your prayers.

6. Remain obedient to the Bible in your personal life (even when no one is looking).

Disobedience invites the demonic (1 Samuel 13:14). Even worse, disobedience stirs God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:6). Disobedient Christians are miserable because they are fighting demons and suffering the Lord’s anger at the same time. Disobedience produces guilt, condemnation, pain, and spiritual resistance. The pain that we suffer while in disobedience is intended to draw us back to repentance. Much like the prodigal son who needed a pig pen before realizing he needed to go back home. If you’re living in disobedience, things will get progressively worse until you repent and make things right with God.

The pain that we suffer while in disobedience is intended to draw us back to repentance. Much like the prodigal son who needed a pig pen before realizing he needed to go back home.

7. Spend time talking with godly, Holy Ghost filled people who will encourage you, not discourage you (Proverbs 13:20-25).

Choose your inner circle wisely. Those closest to you will impact your attitude and your mind the most. Your most intimate friendships should not be with unwise or ungodly people. Be kind to everyone, but your deep friendships should be with Holy Ghost-filled encouragers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it hurts.

Your most intimate friendships should not be with unwise or ungodly people. Be kind to everyone, but your deep friendships should be with Holy Ghost filled encouragers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it hurts.

8. Avoid people, places, and things that will trigger a spiritual attack, temptation, or depression (when possible).

Eve would have been far less likely to eat the fruit if she hadn’t been near the fruit. The serpent didn’t show up until she showed up where she shouldn’t have been. Don’t set yourself up for failure by hanging around people and places that pull your mind in dangerous directions. Some things aren’t sinful by themselves, but they have emotional connections in your mind that trigger unhealthy thoughts. Avoid those things. For example, I have a friend who was addicted to heroin before he received the Holy Ghost. Every time he shot up, he would listen to instrumental jazz music and wait for the drugs to take over. Whenever he hears jazz music, all kinds of negative emotions come crashing down on him. If possible, he avoids jazz. That’s called wisdom.

Eve would have been far less likely to eat the fruit if she hadn’t been near the fruit. Don’t set yourself up for failure by hanging around people and places that pull your mind in dangerous directions.

Some things aren’t sinful by themselves, but they have emotional connections in your mind that trigger unhealthy thoughts. Avoid those things.

9. Get to church as soon as possible and grab the altar until God touches you (Psalm 84:3, Psalm 92:13).

There’s a reason we are instructed not to forsake the gathering together of godly people (Hebrews 10:25). It’s a blessing for our benefit (Mark 2:27). Even the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is written in the plural, not the singular: Give us this day our daily bread. We thrive as a community of believers. We were not made to walk alone. Faith feeds faith. Worship breeds worship. Joy is contagious. When we are weak, we need fellow believers’ strengths, and when we are strong weak believers need our encouragement.

We were not made to walk alone. Faith feeds faith. Worship breeds worship. Joy is contagious. When we are weak, we need fellow believers’ strengths, and when we are strong weak believers need our encouragement.

There is safety in numbers. The Bible refers to Satan as a lion looking for a person to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Lions are known for stalking enormous prey. They follow a herd and wait for one member of the pack to lag behind or become separated from the others. That’s when the lion pounces. A herd can defend itself from the lion’s attack, but a single animal becomes an easy victim. Years of ministry have taught me that many people avoid church when struggling to win the battle for their minds. That’s the worst thing a person can do in that situation. If you have to take a boat, train, plane, or walk in the rain: do what you have to do to get to church.

10. Worship the Lord all the time, even when you’re alone (Psalm 34:1).

This one might sound silly at first, but you should spontaneously worship the Lord throughout your day. If you love and appreciate the Lord, you won’t wait until Sunday to tell Him.

11. Add fasting to your prayers.

In Matthew 17:14-21, a father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for deliverance. The King James Version refers to the son as a “lunatic,” inferring that the possession and oppression were so strong it had destroyed the boy’s mind. The father had already taken his son to the disciples, but they could not cast the demon out. Of course, Jesus cast the devil out immediately, leaving the disciples wondering why they had been powerless. In verse 19, Jesus rebukes them for their unbelief (lack of faith), and in verse 21, He reveals the reason for their unbelief; lack of prayer combined with fasting. This demon was so strong that it required prayer and fasting to overpower it.

There are situations, attacks, oppressions, and spirits that require prayer and fasting to overcome. Fasting brings our mind and body into subjection. It cultivates spiritual awareness and sensitivity. Our mind is sharpened, and our spirit is quickened when we fast. And yet, this is the most underutilized tool in most people’s spiritual belt.

There are situations, attacks, oppressions, and spirits that require prayer and fasting to overcome. Fasting brings our mind and body into subjection. It cultivates spiritual awareness and sensitivity.

12. Keep a prayer journal.

For me, this has been one of the most helpful things I have ever done. I write thoughts, prayer requests, questions, goals, hopes, dreams, study findings, and testimonies. The Bible speaks of overcoming by the word of testimony (Revelation 12:11). We humans have a terrible habit of fixating on what we need God to do and forgetting what he has already done. This forgetfulness leads to anxiety. Remembering what God has done builds faith.

We humans have a terrible habit of fixating on what we need God to do and forgetting what he has already done. This forgetfulness leads to anxiety. Remembering what God has done builds faith.

13. Study a specific subject in the Bible.

Studying the Bible is different than just daily Bible reading. Find a subject that you don’t fully understand dig deeply until you understand it inside and out. Knowledge is power in the Spirit (Proverbs 24:5). Satan operates best in confusion.

Find a subject that you don’t fully understand dig deeply until you understand it inside and out. Knowledge is power in the Spirit (Proverbs 24:5). Satan operates best in confusion.

14. Stay busy.

Boredom is the Devil’s playground (1 Timothy 5:13). Too much free time will create a vacuum that trouble quickly fills.

Too much free time will create a vacuum that trouble quickly fills.

15. Listen to a lot of good anointed Apostolic preaching.

I highly recommend downloading the Holy Ghost Radio app and the Revival Radio app. They’re free, and they’re fantastic. You can catch my church Podcast here or on iTunes here. Of course, I’ve got to plug the Apostolic Voice podcast, but there are many great podcasts these days: My brother Nathan hosts a weekly podcast called Noteworthy, and it’s incredibly encouraging. Also, check out The Restorationist by Adam Shaw, Kingdom Speak by Pastor Daniel McKillop, and Simplify by LJ Harry.

Final Thought

The Devil attacks people’s minds immediately after powerful spiritual events. It was right after Jesus’ baptism that He was carried into the wilderness and tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11). There are countless other biblical examples, but you can be prepared and respond appropriately if you know this to be the case.

The Devil attacks people’s minds immediately after powerful spiritual events. It was right after Jesus’ baptism that He was carried into the wilderness and tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11).

AVP Ep. 8 | How to Win the Battle Within (Guarding Your Mind)