5 Signs the Enemy (Not God) Is Winning in Your Life and Leadership
This was written by Carey Nieuwhof and originally appeared on his website.
Only the crazy people believe in evil and an actual Enemy, right?
Well, that’s kind of what I used to think too.
As a young Christian, I believed that what the scriptures taught about evil was accurate, but accurate in a this happened thousands of years ago kind of way. And most people who talked about evil today were, well, a little off balance or just didn’t understand science well enough.
Then I got into church leadership. And all of us a sudden what I read on the pages of scripture about a battle between Good and Evil started to feel like last Tuesday. Not every day, but some days.
Maybe you’ve felt that too.
You’re not alone.
Talking about the work of the enemy is not an easy task.
The challenge, I think, lies at the extremes. There are some Christian leaders who never talk about Satan and others who talk incessantly about him. You know what I mean. In the case of the latter, every time the toast burns or something doesn’t go their way, Satan is behind it and it’s time for an exorcism. Neither extreme is particularly helpful.
In a similar way, the greatest mistake I believe you can make with evil is to overestimate or underestimate its influence.
It doesn’t have ultimate power, but it also isn’t powerless. Evil is active. And in some way, it’s probably influencing your thought life, ministry, and family right now. At least that’s what the scriptures claim. And Jesus himself acted as though evil was very real.
The scripture’s understanding of the battle between good and evil began to explain a good deal of what I was feeling inside of me as a leader, but also around me in relationships, in culture and even, sometimes, in the church.
Again… please don’t hear extremism in what I am saying. But even if you’re skeptical about evil, you might also have noticed that we do live in a strange world, with headlines that inevitably depress, good leaders that get derailed, again and again, people that struggle against each other and against themselves.
It’s like there’s a virus in the system that we just can’t seem to shake. Because, of course, there is.
Even writers like Steven Pressfield, who don’t profess a Christian faith, acknowledge that there’s a force in the universe that works against good when it comes to creating enduring art.
C.S. Lewis, of course, treated the subject of the presence of evil in the world masterfully in the Screwtape Letters, written during the ravages of the second world war. It’s a book that has not lost its punch seven and a half decades after its publication.
The key to overcoming the activity and influence of evil in your life and your world, of course, is to recognize it.
When you expose it to the light of Christ, evil loses its power.
So, in the hopes of shedding some light on evil’s activity, here are some of the signs I see that show evil is alive and well in the lives of leaders and churches.
1. YOU’RE BEING DIVISIVE
If there’s one strategy Satan comes back to again and again, it’s creating division. And why wouldn’t he? It works.
Strangely, in our culture, some Christians wear their divisiveness as a badge of honour. It’s not. It’s actually a badge of evil.
How do we know division is a sign of the activity and presence of evil?
Paul actually defines which human behaviour is motivated by God and which is motivated by the enemy in Galatians 5.
He begins by listing the characteristics of people whose lives are under the influence of evil.
Ready for the list? Here it is:
Impurity and debauchery
Fits of rage
Sadly, too much of that sounds like church.
Even if you remove the sexual sins (which, tragically, are often present too), the list sounds like a job description for self-righteous Christians. But, actually, it’s Satan’s job description.
Contrast that with what the Holy Spirit generates in peoples’ lives. When the Holy Spirit gets hold of a person, a culture and a church, he produces:
The contrast could hardly be sharper.
But wait, you say, what if my conviction is from God? Come on Carey, this doesn’t mean we just all lie down and hold hands and sing songs, does it?
Sure, occasionally we need a Martin Luther to nail 95 theses to the door. But most of us are not Martin Luther. And most of the time it isn’t 1517.
And even if you need to ‘take a stand’, it’s probably not a stand for Jesus if it ultimately produces more division and bitterness than it does unity and love.
Sometimes love is tough, but love never ends tough. It ends sweet. It ends in reconciliation. And it ends in justice and hope. If your love doesn’t end with hope, it’s not love.
Regardless, if your definition of Christianity is characterized by hate and division, it’s not Christianity.
2. YOU’RE GROWING ARROGANT
Arrogance can creep in so easily among church leaders.
There are two primary ways Christians succumb to arrogance: success, and by using a common but false definition of ‘maturity.’
Let’s start with the first. The most difficult test of character is not failure. It’s success.
Here’s why. It’s pretty easy to be humble when you’re failing. It’s just far too easy to take all the credit when things go well.
As a result, leaders of growing churches and ministries almost always have a daily fight with arrogance. Or at least hopefully there’s a fight. Because if there isn’t, arrogance will win. Every time.
I know in my life as the church has grown, as more people have read my blog or even listened to my podcasts, the battle against claiming credit is daily.
I remember that when our church was little, I regularly prayed: “God, write a story so big here that only you can possibly claim credit.”
The truth is, God has. Our church or my wider ministry has impacted far more people than I ever dreamed or could possibly have pulled off. But I still have to fight myself to make sure that I’m not trying to snatch credit for anything God has done in my life or ministry.
The goal of Christian leadership, after all, is not to get people to follow you. It’s to get people to follow Jesus.
If the battle against pride isn’t daily, pride will win.
A second way that arrogance creeps in is when Christians falsely characterize Christian maturity as knowledge.
If you listened to many in the church these days, you’d think knowledge equals maturity. The more you know, the more mature you are.
Scripture suggests that’s a false test. After all, as Paul points out, knowledge puffs up; love builds up.
Knowledge makes you arrogant. Love makes you humble.
As a leader, I need to be daily transformed by love and humility. When I do that, I resist the devil.
3. YOU’RE STARTING TO BLUR MORAL LINES
Occasionally leaders move from relatively deep obedience to an extraordinary moral breach overnight, but usually, it’s far more subtle than that.
As C.S. Lewis says in the Screwtape Letters, “the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
So how does this happen?
Often it happens when you start to compromise on the small things. Maybe you take a few deductions you shouldn’t on your taxes. Or you don’t report some side income. Or you get a little too close emotionally to someone you’re not married to. Sure… nothing happened. But deep down you know something is happening in your heart.
Or maybe you just shade the truth a little in conversations to make yourself or the situation look better than they really do.
The first moral lapse is always the hardest. Then it gets easier from there.
You may be asking God for more in your life or leadership, but whenever you ask God for more, he usually asks you what you’re doing with what he’s already given you.
If you’re not faithful in the little things, you won’t be faithful in the bigger things.
Obedience may seem boring or inconvenient in the short-term, but it’s richly and deeply satisfying in the long term.
If you refuse to compromise now, it becomes much easier to resist compromise in the future.
4. YOU’RE DISCOURAGED
So the first three things were sins of commission.
But even if you avoid all that, the Enemy loves to take you out from the side. One of his favorite weapons is discouragement.
I’m no good.
I’m not making a difference.
I always mess up.
What’s the point?
I might as well give up.
We’ve all been there. But I believe that none of those messages are from God.
Want a little hack? Read the book of Ephesians, and everywhere it says “you” or “us” just substitute your name. Put your name in the blanks below:
Even before he made the world, God loved _______ and chose _______ in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt _______ into his own family by bringing ________ to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.
I know that’s a little cheesy, but it actually helps you battle well.
The best antidote to a lie is the truth. So ground yourself in the truth. And also in the truth about yourself.
If you’re discouraged, just remember, God is less done with you than you are.
5. YOU’RE FULL OF SELF-PITY
If discouragement is left unchecked, it grows. Self-pity is discouragement on steroids.
Self-pity chisels in stone what discouragement whispers.
It tells you there is no out. That this is the way it will always be. And it simultaneously tells you it’s all your fault and none of this is your fault. Paradoxically, you believe both.
Self-pity is dangerous because it moves you to the sidelines.
Living in a state of self-pity means you don’t need anyone to take you out of the game because you’ve taken yourself out.
It’s an incredibly effective strategy and completely counter to the gospel.
The final thing self-pity does is rob us of all joy. Satan can’t steal our salvation. But he can steal our joy. And he delights in doing it.
Don’t let him.
If you’re stuck in self-pity, though, how do you get out?
Here’s what I’ve found helpful. Self-pity is basically confession without repentance and forgiveness.
Self-pity leaves you acknowledging that there’s a big problem, but not fully owning it (confession) and moving forward (claiming forgiveness). It’s acknowledging sin without claiming hope.
The Gospel never leads to self-pity. It leads to transformation.
So if you’re struggling with self-pity, you’re part way there. Just keep going. Get past confession and onto repentance and forgiveness.
If you recognize yourself in this post, just know there’s help and there’s hope.
While my latest book isn’t all about good and evil, it is about things like cynicism, compromise, pride, emptiness, burnout and more: the issues almost everyone struggles with and no one expects.
There is hope. And there’s help.
I tackle seven key issues in my best-selling book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.
I not only outline how each of the seven challenges shows up in your life, I show you how to combat them and beat them.
There’s an antidote to each of the seven and some very practical steps you can take so issues like cynicism, pride, irrelevance and emptiness no longer define your present or your future. And once you’ve burned out, you don’t need to stay burned out. You can thrive again, and I show you how.
You can pick up your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here (hardcover, AudioBook or Kindle) and once again (or for the first time) discover how to thrive in life leadership.
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
Those are 5 signs I regularly see at work in my own life and that I see other church leaders battling against.
Again, knowing what they are is half the battle. If you don’t recognize Satan’s strategies, it’s hard to defeat them. But once you see them and hold them up to the light, they lose their power.
Obviously, this is a short list. What other signs do you see? How are you combatting them?
Reposted from https://careynieuwhof.com. Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church. He's the author of several best-selling books. Carey's previous books include Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, co-authored with Reggie Joiner. Carey speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth.
He is passionate about helping people thrive in life and leadership, both personally and in leadership. He and his wife Toni live north of Toronto, Ontario and have two grown sons. In his spare time, you'll catch him barbecuing on his Big Green Egg, cycling or boating.