This is a blog from the series, “Loving Freely“.
DAN CRAIN HAD THE PRIVILEGE OF SPEAKING AT DESIRE STREET’S “THRIVING LEADERS SERIES” HTTP://WWW.DESIRESTREET.ORG/PARTNERS/THRIVING-LEADERS-SERIES/ . HE SPOKE ON A TOPIC CALLED THE “UNDERBELLY OF SERVICE: WHY THE FALSE SELF PLAGUES SO MANY MINISTRIES.”
YOU CAN WATCH THE PRESENTATION HERE: HTTPS://VIMEO.COM/219781733
THIS IS A BLOG SERIES BASED ON THE CONTENT HE PRESENTED AT THIS WORKSHOP. WE HOPE YOU FIND IT BENEFICIAL AS YOU LEARN TO SERVE OTHERS FREELY!
(For those wondering, yes, this is me riding a cow in Bumpville, PA.)
“You were a bum in High School.”
I could only nod in agreement and chuckle. The words were said by an older man who was the father to a girl I went to High School with after we ran into each other at a restaurant a few years after graduating from High School. He knew about me and in many ways I was a bum.
I goofed off. I had terrible grades. I failed off the sports team a couple of times. I also did crazy things like ride our holstein dairy cows when I was bored after milking cows. I knew I had a brain, but never really applied myself. I falsely believed that I was a no good failure and developed a deep shame and self-hatred for myself.
I was a failure in everything, except sports, particularly basketball. Basketball did something different for me. It felt really good during the game to shoot threes and watch them go in and to hear the crowd go wild and hear people say, “Way to go Danny-boy”.
In those moments I wasn’t a failure. I wasn’t a bum. I was something.
So I falsely accepted this lie, if I perform, I am good. If I do something meaningful, I am good.
So I became a performer in life because of the voices in the back of my brain constantly telling me that I am no good. The unfortunate thing is that when I went to college and Jesus completely changed my life and led me into ministry, this core lie was never dealt with.
Ministry did something for me. It became a way of covering up the fact that I was not a failure. I was no longer a bum. I was a college graduate that was a successful youth pastor, or so I thought. My motives were less than pure in ministry and paralleled those of the older brother in the fields working to gain his Father’s approval. As long as I performed, I was good.
This all came crashing down after I burned out and spent the next seven years outside of vocational ministry trying to discover who I was apart from ministry.
My false self is like the older brother in the fields working in Luke 15 trying to prove my worth by what I do. It’s driven by the need to constantly prove itself because of the false belief that I am not the Fathers child. This then makes ministry a tool by which to show that I am good and loved by the Father. Listen to the words Jesus uses for the older brother, “Look! All these years I’ve been serving you, and never disobeyed your orders.” His motivation was un-pure and driven by the need to prove himself because of his core lie that he was a bum.
In this paradigm of false belief, there was no understanding of original glory. There was no awareness of the deep love of God that He had chosen me before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. I wasn’t operating from creation, but from the fall, with the false belief that if I worked hard enough, I could gain the acceptance and approval of the Father and be good.
I live sometimes with the false belief that helping and serving others affirms my goodness. Henri Nouwen in “The Return of the Prodigal Son” says it like this; “But there are many other voices, voices that are loud, full of promises and very seductive. These voices say, “Go out and prove that you are worth something.” Soon after Jesus had heard the voice calling him the Beloved, he was led to the desert to hear those other voices. They told him to prove that he was worth love in being successful, popular, and powerful. Those same voices are not unfamiliar to me. They are always there and, always, they reach into those inner places where I question my own goodness and doubt my self-worth. They suggest that I am not going to be loved without my having earned it through determined efforts and hard work. They want me to prove to myself and others that I am worth being loved, and they keep pushing me to do everything possible to gain acceptance. They deny loudly that love is a totally free gift. I leave home every time I lose faith in the voice that calls me the Beloved and follow the voices that offer a great variety of ways to win the love I so much desire.”
When ministry is driven out of the false self, it becomes a way of getting or proving something. Years ago my counselor said to me, “Ministry is such a great measurement tool. You stop doing and you’re no longer good.” In this place there is no concept of grace. No understanding of a gracious and loving Father that is just looking to give us good gifts despite the fact that we’ve never done anything to earn them. When I am living out of my false self I am like the older brother toiling away in the fields not aware that God’s already been at work in the field.
This form of ministry has no concept of grace and resting in God’s work, not ours. It’s all performance based and constantly trying to earn something. I can’t do anything to earn my salvation or be influential in ministry and this drives me crazy, because it’s the opposite of the Christian message. Recently a friend and pastor said to me, “We forget Jesus words to Peter in Matthew 16, ‘and on this rock I will build my church,’”. Jesus is referring to the confession of Peter that, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
It’s His work. Not ours.
We don’t need to do anything to contribute to God’s work, only respond to what He’s already up to. We don’t need to prove ourselves, be right, sound right, solve or fix any of the worlds issues, because that’s up to the one that is in the world reconciling all things. We only respond to His voice as His beloved children.
I am not made right because of anything I can do for others, I am made right only through the cross of Christ. That’s good news. How do we earn something that isn’t ours to earn? It’s something given to us freely.
This is why silence and being with Christ in the scriptures are so important. It literally forces us to face the older brother in us that can’t stop working. It helps us process the emotions of the day and how we’ve been triggered off our Island of Peace in our souls. It’s also why Sabbath keeping is vital to those in the ministry of reconciliation and justice.
So, my fellow reconcilers, rest in the knowledge that at this very moment, if you are in Christ, you are the beloved of God and don’t need to do anything to prove you’re worth or value by working in the fields through serving others. You are made good, so now go and do good.
At this very moment, you are God’s beloved child in Christ. Unlike the older brother in Luke 15, you have no need to work to prove you’re worthy or valuable. You are fully loved and embraced by the glorious God of the universe. May you rest well this weekend knowing that God delights in you and everything He has is yours and you don’t have to work for it.