Lost in a Maze of Self Reliance
Listening for God’s voice to get out.
Note, I first ran this blog in 2015 to a strong, positive response. Based on the state of the world and conversations with leaders over the past several months, it seemed appropriate to run to again. I hope it blesses and challenges you. – SR
Sometimes leaders lose their way. Amidst personnel challenges, cultural pressures, financial uncertainties and self-doubt, we can find ourselves muddling along, not sure where we are going. Unexpected challenges, unsuccessful strategies, criticism of our best efforts and the rapid pace of change can combine to bring us to the place of uncertainty, lack of direction and even despair.
Do you feel sometimes like you are more wandering than leading? Are you feeling stuck in a maze with no sure idea where to go next? Here are two steps that steward leaders can take to help them get out.
The first step is admitting how you got there. It is the goal of our enemy to take us off the sure road and lure us into a maze of uncertainty. He does this whenever we take our eyes off of Christ, even just for a moment, and look to our own strength, skills and wisdom to get us through whatever challenges we face. The more we rely on our self or others in place of God, the deeper we wander into a maze of problems and pressures that ultimately overwhelm us. The first step is to acknowledge where you have yielded to the temptation to go your own way and rely on your own strength.
Self-reliance is the subtle dethroning of God from the center of our lives. In the life of the leader under siege this does not happen overtly, but subtly. The enemy does not storm in and demand that we deny Christ and take the throne of our lives by force. Instead, it happens in little ways, edging its way into our lives. It is the result of a slow loss of daily intimacy with God and it most often produces spiritual stagnancy.
We can’t ‘do’ our way out of this maze. Instead, we overcome self-reliance with surrender. The key for us here is that spiritual stagnancy is a symptom of our ‘doing’, not our lack of doing. The more we seek to ‘do’, the more we fail to ‘be.’ Douglas Webster writes,
“Taking initiative is not the starting point for spiritual growth…Instead of a quest for success there needs to be a rest for the soul, from which life’s meaning, purpose and significance issue.”
We see that even here we must identify and avoid the temptation to our ‘doing’ dominated way of life. For it is easy here to insert our self as the primary actor in this process. By doing so, we undo and destroy the very thing we are seeking to attain. Hannah Whitehall Smith put it in simple terms,
To state it in brief, I would say, that man’s part is to trust, God’s part is to work…Plainly the believer can do nothing but trust, while the Lord in whom he trusts actually does the work entrusted to Him…Your part is simply to rest. His part is to sustain you; and he cannot fail.
Are you trying to work your way out of your current mess? Are you relying on your own strength to solve the issues you are facing? Perhaps that is the root of the problem.
The second step is the process of getting out. We must not be duped into believing that if we just work harder we can get us out of the mess we are in. For the steward leader there is another way.
The way out for steward leaders can be illustrated by an experience I had participating in a challenge course with some business colleagues. In one exercise we were blindfolded and placed in a maze constructed of ropes tied between trees. We were told to hold on to the ropes with both hands and work our way through the maze to find the way out. Megan, the woman who administered this particular challenge, walked around us saying, “Raise your hand if you have a question or need help getting out of the maze.” At first, this seemed like a polite but unnecessary offer. Pride and self-determination (fueled by a competitive streak we all shared) spurred us on in a frantic effort to find the opening in the maze and emerge from its entangled web.
For fifteen minutes, I groped my way around in a futile attempt to find the way out. Thinking strategically, I worked the perimeter looking for that small opening in the rope that would set me free. No luck, the perimeter was closed. So, I worked my way to the middle, taking the counterintuitive route, clever as I was. I arrived, signaled to Megan and asked quietly but confidently, “Megan, am I out?” “No, sorry,” she replied. Now I was irritated. I tried the perimeter again and my anxiety began to grow as Megan announced the names of the persons who were ‘out of the maze’. As nearly half the team had found their way out my heart raced wondering if I would be last. Panic (fueled by pride) began to set in. It was apparent that there was no physical way out of the maze. The entire perimeter was closed. I stopped my frenetic groping and took a moment to think about my inability to find my way out. What was I missing? I had to think, try harder, figure it out. “C’mon, Scott. You can do this…” Just then I heard Megan’s sweet offer again, “Remember, raise your hand if you have a question or need help getting out of the maze.”
Did you hear it? I finally did. Shaking my head at my own stubborn self-reliance, I realized I missed the solution that had been right in front of me all along. All I needed to do was to hear her voice, consider my own inabilities and take a humble posture. This wasn’t a strategic or physical or analytical challenge, but a test to see if we would continue to rely solely on ourselves to our absolute infuriation.
Finally humbled, I raised my hand, and when she came over, I said, “Megan, I can’t get out of the maze. I’m stuck. Can you help me?” At once, she lifted the mask from my eyes, smiled, and said quietly, “Congratulations, you’re out.”
Jesus proclaimed that he is ‘the way, the truth and the life.’ He promised that after he had ascended he would send the Comforter who would ‘lead us into all truth’. Do you believe him? If so, I encourage you to lay your life and your leadership into the hands of the one who not only knows the way but IS the way. Cease your striving long enough to hear the sweet voice of the Comforter saying, “talk to me, invite me in, ask for my help if you want to know how to get out of this situation.”
If you will ask humbly for the Spirit’s guidance and reject the temptation to find your own way out he will most assuredly set your feet back on a firm and sure footing.
Do you want to get out of the maze? Jesus is the Way.
 Webster, Douglas. Discipline of Surrender. (InterVarsity, 2001), p. 13
 Smith, Hannah Whitehall, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1952, pp. 27-28, 43.