The devil is insidious. It’s not like he builds a trap and waits for you to fall into it. He’s much to clever for that.
Instead, he is like Hansel and Gretel. Hansel took bread and dropped bread crumbs so they could find their way back home after the wicked step mother kicked them out. When they decided to try and return home, the birds had eaten the bread crumbs that marked their way home.
After days of wandering, they discovered a large cottage built of gingerbread and cakes with window panes of clear sugar and a candy-cane door handle. Hungry and tired, the children begin to eat the rooftop of the candy house. Then, the door opens. A hideous old witch emerges and lures them inside with the promise of soft beds and delicious food. Unaware that their hostess is a bloodthirsty witch who built the gingerbread house to lure children into her cottage to cook and eat them, the children enter the house.
We all remember this fairy tale. The children escape, return home, and find that the wicked step-mother had died.
This could be our story. The devil lures us in one step at a time. We find ourselves lost, but there is nourishment waiting inside his cottage. We go in only to discover his deceptive plot. He plans to destroy us – to eat the very life out of us.
That’s what happened to me. I followed the bread crumbs of admiration and accolades into the woods starving for recognition wanting to be somebody.
My compulsive personality caused me to think of nothing but being successful. That meant striving for perfection in my performance thinking it would get me noticed and bring me the attention I so desperately craved.
I became my own idol. I worshipped myself and my times of success that got me noticed. “Good job, Dan. Way to go!” I was recognized one time for my success in the number of people I baptized. I was second in my state convention and called out by the Executive Secretary at a state evangelism conference. I was proud even though I tried to act humble about it. I was even smug thinking I was better than some of the pastors who had not baptized anyone or who had baptized only one or two that year. Visions of leading conferences on how to build a successful church danced in my imagination. And, that’s just one example of many.
I rationalized that I was working for the Lord. I was doing the Lord’s work so I thought. But, little did I know that the way home marked by bread crumbs had been eaten by the birds. I was lost and couldn’t find my way home.
I had neglected my family and just about everyone and everything else in what I thought was the Lord’s work. But, it was really for myself. I, I, I was building a large church and that pleased the denominational executives and some in my church as well. I had made myself into an idol enjoying the worship of others who praised me. And, I worshipped and congratulated myself as well.
But like the idols of old built of wood and stone, the Lord destroyed them. And, He destroyed me! He is a jealous God and will not tolerate any idol worship. So, He brought me to my knees. I lost everything. For the first time in my life, I was humbled.
Our sinful flesh and our number one adversary distract us from true worship. Our motives and our vision get distorted in the glare of the spotlight focused on us.
The devil takes us to a high mountain and shows us the kingdoms of the world and tells us we can have them. A little misplaced ambition here and a little greed and lust there, and before you know it, we are sitting and eating in the devil’s cottage. We’re worshipping the unworthy.
Some perhaps like me try to flip the switch because we want the current of our universe to run in the direction of our cravings. However, it want work. We short circuit.
The devil tried that with Jesus. On the high mountain, he showed Him the kingdoms of the world. “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.’
“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
If Jesus had taken the bait, all worship would have flowed away from its true course. Christ would have given up his rightful place as Lord of all. But, all the kingdoms of the world aren’t worth that.
But, I took the bait. I was proud of my achievements and accomplishments. I thought I was somebody important. I was jumping through the hoops and working my way to the top. That kind of pride is destructive, and I was headed toward a great fall that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put back together again.
Pride like that built a wall around my heart to protect my heart and to stop my feeling of emotional pain in an attempt to relieve me of that pain.
For example, even with success, I couldn’t feel my depressive episodes and talked myself into believing everything would be all right. After all, “God works everything for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” according to Romans 8:28. I rationalized using Scripture.
Moreover, I couldn’t manage the anger I felt when my ideas were challenged. “They just aren’t in God’s perfect will for our church. They are not spiritually mature. They are babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1) so I thought.
The devil tried to turn Scripture around on Christ, but it didn’t work. However, it got turned around by me.
I felt no shame because of the wall of pride I had built around my heart. I was egocentric. My favorite question was “How am I doing?” It was all about my achievements, good works, and self will. I had built an idol to myself and worshipped it faithfully.
In my pride, I was a controller. I couldn’t risk someone screwing up my church that I had built. I always got in the last word at committee meetings, and more times than not, they saw it my way. I was even called a dictator by one disgruntled member! I honestly believed that if I had proposed building a rocket ship to the moon that they would have asked, “When do we begin?” How’s that for power and control? I was in heaven so I thought.
I was happy in those moments when everything was going my way. I had used my will power thinking it was God’s power to achieve worth and fulfillment. But, it was a temporary fix because success is fleeting. The good feeling of accomplishment was counterfeit. After one success, I immediately sought another. I bought program after program to bring my church and me success. However, I found that success is never satisfied. There is always another goal to achieve and another mountain to climb until exhausted and empty, you run out of gas and retreat.
The devil had me lock, stock, and barrel. And, I came crashing down.
I never will forget the long days I spent in morbid introspection. Asking God “Why? I blamed God. I blamed everyone but myself and couldn’t take responsibility for who I had become.
After several days in darkness, the light came on. I realized that the Lord just wanted me. That he loves me after all. That he accepts me with all my shortcomings, and He desires to redeem me and to make me emotionally and spiritually whole. And, that the most important thing is living in right relationship with Him and others.
I asked for forgiveness. A peace and contentment swept across my heart. And, I was free. Truly free from my performance based identity.
I had discovered I was really powerless and no one had died leaving me in charge. I could let it all go. All of it! And, I would be OK. God is really in control whereever I am. That feels good. That is fulfillment. That is gladness because I found my greatest joy is simply being who God created me to be.
“So letting your sinful nature (pride and self-will) control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
(Note: I am grateful to Chip Dodd and his insights in “Voice of the Heart” and the November 8 reading in “Worship the King” devotional by Christ Tiegreen for ideas that led to this post.)