Hannah Anderson A few years ago, I found myself going through a period of intense anxiety and stress. From the outside, my life looked fine. Besides serving in my local church, God was opening up more and more opportunities to serve through writing and speaking. I began traveling to events, sharing God’s word, and helping church leaders craft their approach to women’s discipleship. But internally, I found myself feeling overworked, unappreciated, and worn out. At night, I’d lie awake worrying about all the things I needed to accomplish, while the failures of the day replayed through my brain.
I was shocked to realize that I was struggling with pride.
Those of us in Christian ministry can be the first to overlook our pride because we often think of pride as a certain swagger or sense of entitlement. The politician who glad hands his way through a crowd. The pop star who lives a life of opulence and privilege. That’s not us. We’re busy serving others. We’re sacrificing to make the world a better place. But pride manifests itself in many ways; and sometimes it manifests itself in a messiah complex.
Simply put, a messiah complex happens whenever we confuse our identity with God’s identity. We may never believe we deserve God’s glory, but we might slowly begin to believe that we possess His power. We might begin to believe that saving the world rests on our shoulders. We might begin to believe that we’re superhuman. And as a result, we end up burned out, stressed, and anxious for the simple reason that we’re taking more on ourselves than God ever intended for us.
One reason we can slip into messiah complexes is because we honestly want to reflect Jesus. We talk about being a servant like Jesus, about incarnating His life before others and being His hands and feet. And while these things are all true, we must never forget this: We are not Jesus.
In Philippians 2, we read that Jesus left heaven’s glories to come to earth; but we must never forget that we can’t leave heaven’s glories because they are not ours in the first place. We can’t condescend because we are already at the bottom. When Jesus humbled Himself to take on human flesh, He was coming to meet us where we are. He was coming to embrace the limits of being human. So too, if we want to truly model Jesus’ humility, we must embrace the limits of being human ourselves and submit our work to God. We must fall face down in the dust, acknowledging His transcendence and our dependence. And here, when we’re stripped of our sense of importance, when service is replaced with humility, He can finally use us.
And here, safe in the will of the Father, He will give us rest.
Hannah Anderson lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and is the author of Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul. She writes for a variety of publications including Christianity Today and In Touch Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @sometimesalight.