By Michael Criner
When I entered the ministry as a high school senior, I had far more passion than wisdom. Like so many others before me, I didn’t know what I didn’t know; and I didn’t know what I couldn’t do!
As Daniel Kahneman says, “We’re blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know.” That’s my point; I didn’t see it coming.
Early in ministry, I didn’t have a seminary degree, so I studied diligently because teaching the Bible was serious work! I lacked ministry experience, so I prayed more than I strategized because, well, without the help of the Holy Spirit, I was sunk!
As a younger pastor, I didn’t have great leadership skills, so I did all I could to love pretty much everybody! I didn’t have much money, so whether it was cheap noodles or dollar menus, I did my very best to trust God with what little I had.
But I didn’t see it coming.
When I became a pastor of a rural church in need of revitalization, I didn’t care much about my future; I was simply trying to follow Jesus, commit my ways before Him, and obey Him in every step.
Then it happened: someone told me I was a “good pastor.” These words stopped me, scared me, and even haunted me. Why? Because if I’d become a good pastor, then that meant I could become a bad pastor.
In a flash, I took my focus off the power of God entrusted and promised to me in the Holy Spirit, and I put my focus on my own performance. I didn’t make time to meditate on God’s Word, even though I read it every day.
I didn’t take time to intimately and privately pray, even though I was an expert public pray-er. Sermon preparation soon became a cheap substitute for diligent time in God’s Word.
Instead of deep and meaningful friendships, I worked hard to make myself appear more spiritually mature than finding my identity in being a son of the King.
I didn’t see it coming.
I’d become comfortable in my relationship with God, and it almost cost me everything.
To say the above sentence out loud is well, embarrassing. Jesus was clear; we can gain the entire world and lose our soul at the same time (see Matthew 16:26).
I’d gained much: church growth metrics were positive, my family was well loved and connected, but I was too comfortable with God. When I say “comfortable,” I mean complacent, lazy, distracted, passive, and independent from God. I lazily bought into thinking my performance FOR Jesus mattered more than my posture at the FEET of Jesus.
I lazily bought into thinking my performance FOR Jesus mattered more than my posture at the FEET of Jesus. Ugh! I told you, I didn’t see it coming!
So how did I get out of that rut? I asked for three things:
1. I asked God to reveal me to me.
I needed an honest assessment with God, and I was too close to see it. So I invited God to reveal the real me to me, and thankfully, He did. The process was humbling, difficult, saddening, but also strangely freeing.
I was able to actually be honest with God with what God already knew to be true! The person God revealed to me didn’t distress me because God reminded me, “That’s the Michael I died for!”
2. I asked God to revive me.
This is the power of the gospel at work! The gospel at its core is the good news that God sent His Son Jesus to live the life we were supposed to live, die the death we deserved, and rise from the dead so sinners who repent and trust in Jesus will be forgiven and given eternal life!
When I asked God to revive me, I was asking God to repurpose and recenter my life in Him.
3. I asked God to renew me.
When I was finally honest with myself and was revived, I asked God to renew me. That’s when I was enabled to walk with a different amount (and kind) of confidence.
But this time, it was different–the confidence wasn’t in my comfort but the Comforter.
One last thing, while I never saw this coming, I have confidence Jesus did, which makes me want to serve him as I did at the beginning.
Michael Criner (@michaelcriner) is the husband of Abigail, father to Adele, Ruth, and Talitha, and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Bellville, Texas. Dr. Criner earned his B.A. from Howard Payne University and both his M.Div and D.Min from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Text-Driven Contextualization. He also posts a daily devotional at Reclaim the Morning.