I was having lunch with two friends earlier in the week. One of them shared about the struggles of an organization he was helping to lead. Somewhere through his sharing I blurted out “Can I get on the board of directors? Maybe I can help. Maybe I can support your agenda for change.” I am sure my desire to help was genuine, but as I reflected on what I said, I thought, how arrogant I was. In offering to help, I assumed that I could help, that my help was needed, and perhaps worse of all, that God wanted me to get involved. Here was Soo Inn lapsing into his Messiah complex again.
Ironically the previous Sunday I had preached on Exodus 2:11-23. Moses intervened to rescue a Hebrew who was being beaten by an Egyptian and ended up killing the Egyptian (vv.11-15). Instead of this being the first blow in the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt, it was an act that led to Moses fleeing Egypt in failure. Moses had responded to a need but he had acted unilaterally. He had not consulted the Lord as to what he should have done and when.
We can understand why Moses acted the way he did. After all he “was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action (Acts 7:22 NIV).” He was a very capable person. He had every right to be confident in his ability to make a difference. God had to humble him for forty years in the desert before Moses would move from self-confidence to God-confidence. When God called Moses subsequently, Moses’ protested because he did not believe he could do the job (Exodus 3:11-4:17). Moses had been cured of his Messiah complex. That was when the Messiah could use him.
In the same lunch a brother shared that he was having a serous health problem. It was a reminder of his mortality. He was feeling down because there was so much more he wanted to do. His health was a reminder that he would not have the time to do all that he wanted. I went into my sage mode and shared that limitations could be a mercy. When we can no longer do all that we want to do, we are forced to go back to God and ask Him what precisely are the things we must do. Without the restrain of limitations we will try to do everything and there will always be many legitimate needs out there. In trying to do everything we fritter away our lives and may end up missing our life calling. We may do many things and end up not doing the one thing we are called to do (Philippians 3:13).
We shouldn’t need a major health problem to be reminded of our mortality. Last week a dear friend passed away. He was 56. I will be 56 next year. Am I working on the things God wants me to work on? We live in a society that prizes productivity. Daily we are called to do more. But doing more does not mean we are doing the right things. As followers of Jesus, our lives are not need focused or productivity focused. They must be God focused. Daily we need to be quiet before the Lord and say with Samuel: “Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10b NIV),” and await our instructions.
It also helps to listen with friends. I was with two other friends yesterday. This is an ongoing triad I am committed to. The three of us meet up once a month to share our lives and to help each other in our commitment to follow Christ. One of the things we do in the triad is we help each other with our vocational issues. The last time we met I had shared with them how I was (once again) pulled in different directions as to where I should be investing my time and energy. Yesterday they came back to me with wise questions and good suggestions that really helped me to understand what I should be doing at this chapter of my life. Thanks guys.
At 55 I no longer need to be convinced that I do not have all the time in the world to do all that I want nor do I have the energy to do all that I think I should do. But clearly I have not been completely healed of my Messiah complex. Maybe it is like alcoholism. One is never completely healed. One chooses to renounce this hubris one day at a time.
We can all learn from John the Baptist. He was utterly clear that he was not the Messiah (John 1:20). As John Stendahl reminds us:
The messianic impulse, the assumed role of rescuer of the other, can be an egoism that diminishes and destroys . . .
In this context, it is salutary that we should remember Johns’ pointing away from himself and to Jesus. We are not, any nor all of us, the Messiah. That position has already been filled. To let Jesus be our Christ, our anointed savior and rescuer, may still entail seeking to be engaged in his saving work and mission — of course it does — but it also commands us to humility, a letting go of our seducing desires either to rescue or to be rescued by others. We already have a Messiah, and he ain’t us. (“Messianic Complex,” Christian Century, November 20- December 3, 2002, p. 17)