In life there are two choices: believe what God says about who we are or to believe what someone else says about us.
In this first post in a series, I’m going to look at one of four false identities that the Father had to remove as part of my journey to wholeness and discovering who I am in Christ.
I am going to be very vulnerable so that I may bring freedom and release to others who are trapped in the same lies that I was. So please handle with care.
False identity #1: My identity is in what I do
God has designed us men to embody his transcendent/outward nature – his “doingness”. As such it is easy for us to mistakenly define ourselves by what we do. That’s why one of the first questions we men ask when we meet someone new is “what do you do?”
We forget that doing flows from being and not the other way round: What I do flows from who I am.
I was a secondary school teacher for about ten years who was dedicated to his work and had won awards and praise from staff and students alike. But truth be told I was a workaholic – typically putting in 76 hours a week and neglecting my wife in nearly every way.
Whilst I was aware that I was working very hard I never realised the depth of my problem until extreme circumstances exposed what was really in my heart (Dt 8:2-3). For many reasons my wife developed clinical post-natal depression and tried to kill herself. She was sectioned (‘forcibly’ admitted to a mental ward) and I was left home with a baby and a stressful job (which included being attacked by a student). I couldn’t cope and I had a breakdown. It was during this time of brokenness that I heard God tell me to quit my job for the sake of my wife and first child.
I was devastated: “what will I do? All I’ve ever done is teaching!” I didn’t realise it at the time, but the fear wasn’t because I wouldn’t be able to get another job it was because I didn’t know who I was apart from the job.
While I would never want to repeat these events I am so grateful that God allowed me to walk through something this extreme which was the only thing that could expose my problem, separate me from this false identity and then force me to hunger for Him to deliver me and show me my true identity in Christ. Only then would my priorities fall into place permanently.
Since we act out of our identity when our identity is in our job then our worth and value is in the job. Therefore we sacrifice our spouse, our children, our friends and our health to the job to become the best so that we have worth. If anything goes wrong in our job then we will spiral and be stressed/depressed and have no peace.
Ultimately, when our identity is in our job we worship our job. It is no surprise that we sacrifice everything on this altar.
- Do you define yourself by what you do?
- How would you react if you had to give up your job or your ministry for obscurity?
- Is Christ enough for you? Or do you need to get your worth through something else.
God is the great “I AM” (Ex 3:14) who is not defined by anything external to Himself. He is a self-sufficient community of Father, Son and Spirit. When we become united with Christ (1 Cor 6:17) – we become part of that eternal relationship. We are adopted into His family (Eph 1:5) become a children of God (Jn 1:12, 1 Jn 3:1). We can rest in our true identity, there is a place for us as His children.
This story had a happy ending – God provided another job (2 days before our money ran out) which had teaching as part of it but had far less pressure and no students who would attack me. In addition it has a better remuneration and flexibility that allows me to take off time to spend with the family. It is a blessing that I would never have imagined in my former life. And it is more of a blessing because as a Son of God I already have approval and so my work can flow out of that place of peace, this also means that I don’t need to fear others succeeding.
I would love to end the story (and this blog post) there and conclude with the real change that has meant that even though I could make far more money in other jobs – I’m not tempted by them because they would involve sacrificing my family. And that is something that the Father has rooted deeply into me through this experience.
However, the truth is that this was merely Chapter 1 in the story that God was writing in my life. I am still on the journey to wholeness.
A couple of years into my new job I started thinking that I got it because of my ability and not because of the grace of God. I started thinking that I was better than my colleagues.
This story had a happy ending as the Father has a great sense of humour. One day I happened to find my application letter so I thought I’d look to see how excellent it was (and give myself a well-deserved pat on the back). What I discovered was that in the very first sentence I had majorly misspelt the company’s name! How I was humbled. God is good – there is no way they could have missed that glaring error – this job is most definitely a gift from Him and not due to my feeble efforts.
Again I would love to finish this post here and just talk about the real transformation that happened in my work but after the victory here my identity problem sneaked itself undercover elsewhere – which is very common to us Christians.
I “baptised my brokenness” – in other words I “Christianised” my problem. Instead of finding my identity in my “secular” job and seeking approval there – I instead sought it within the church – becoming a speaker, a leader, a prophet and many other things. I was so busy doing the work of the Lord that I neglected the Lord of the work. My prayer life was for gaining words for others not listening. My bible reading was studying for preaching not letting it speak to me on its own terms.
God’s cure for this was the same as before – He needed to remove this false identity forcibly so that I could discover my true identity was in being a son.
I went to India and saw more miracles in a week than I had in my whole Christian life. My wife went to Bethel’s school of supernatural worship and tangibly encountered the Father. Normal church life was not enough any more. God also called me to speak more honestly about my struggles with pornography and to teaching children godly sexuality. Very quickly it became clear that the church was not comfortable and we had to choose between conforming or being obedient to our calling. We left the church and were told by one of the leaders that we would “never have any influence” and this curse fed my brokenness.
We started an organic church and I was desperate to make it succeed to prove them wrong but of course it couldn’t until I was made whole. The turning point was when everyone left except two people who were at that time very broken. That was the moment I had to choose.
I said to God “even if there are only ever these two people – I will pour my life into them”.
It was this obedience to Him in the midst of obscurity that changed things around – because as we are faithful with little, God will entrust us with much (Mt 25:21). It’s in the obscurity that character is truly formed.
This story also has a happy ending as the church grew and like David, we saw the misfits and broken people transformed into mighty men.
However, we did our job of discipling so well that they all left to pursue their God dreams around the country.
Whilst my wife and I were proud spiritual parents, suddenly we found ourselves at the beginning again.
The pattern of transformation on this journey to wholeness had come full circle yet again.
It’s often then that Satan will whisper to us that we are back in the same place – that nothing will ever change.
The reality is that our growth into maturity is helical.
We are going round a mountain on the way to the top. When we come round the mountain and experience the “same place” again – we are actually further up. We have experienced more of the goodness of the Father, we have developed our relationship and our trust in Him and so the “same place” is an opportunity to draw on the grace that He has deposited and go even deeper with Him.
As someone once said: “God never lets us fail a test. He allows us to take it again and again until we pass”.
Each time I yield to Him and let His Spirit have His way wholeness is brought in that area.
Then my journey takes me to a new place where I repeat the process. Just like the Israelites gradually drove the nations out of the Promised Land – so we too we drive out the brokenness until our lives become the perfect image of who we are seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 2:6).
I love the Father’s great sense of humour. This wasn’t the post I was going to write. I thought I was going to be writing on my other false identities – but I felt His prompting last night to include this area. Each time I was writing this part, He asked me to include the next chapter in my journey and in this final chapter I discover just how much He has hoodwinked me.
Tending the garden of our souls is an ongoing process. Every day we must water the good plants and pull up the weeds. However, sometimes we don’t realise that a new plant is actually a weed until it begins to flower.
At this stage in my life I am dedicated to writing blog posts and books to help others escape the traps I fell linto, so that readers will stand on my shoulders and go further than me.
As I reach this point in this post I realise that God has set me up to show that a new weed has grown up in my life whose root is still the same false identity and it’s only now that I see it for what it is.
I have chosen not to look at how many books I sell or how many people read my posts as I seek to write in obedience to Him only. But I have to confess to you now that I have started to put my identity into what I post on social media.
As a consequence I have started to base my worth on how many likes my facebook posts receive. If I don’t get (m)any then it sends me into a spiral. I confess that I often spend time thinking of the perfect post and the best time to post it in order for it to get noticed. And if I haven’t got anything worthy of notice then I don’t post – sometimes days at a time.
I knew that this was becoming an issue but it’s only as I’ve written this blog entry that I realise its root. Satan wants to tell me that I’m always going to have this same problem no matter what I do. But I am further up the mountain and I have already removed so many of the weeds in the garden of my soul.
Now I recognise it for what it is – I can crucify this part and offer it afresh to the Father to be transformed into increasing likeness of Christ in me – the hope of glory (Col 1:27).
Father, thank you for your continued work in my life. Thank you that I am being transformed daily from glory to glory. Thank you that you will complete the good work you started in my. Thank you for showing me that I have put my identity and my worth in my social media posts. I’m sorry that I’m drinking from a source other than the river of life. I’m sorry that I have sought my value in something other than being you loved child. I renounce this identity and surrender it to you in the name of Jesus. Fill me with your Spirit of sonship that cries out ‘abba Father’ and give me my daily bread to live on. I ask that you would use this post for your glory –that many of your children will be set free and find their true identity in Christ. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.
I don’t have to fear this area now. God is more than able. Every time it crops up in the future I just have to confess it, surrender it to Him and receive His Spirit in return. Soon it will be nothing other than a whisper that is devoid of power. For the truth sets us free (Jn 8:32).
PS Now you know – you are most welcome to keep me accountable and ask me “how is it going?”.
The next three posts in this series will actually cover what I originally planned (unless the Father has other surprises in store for me):
- False identity #2: My identity is in my sin
- False identity #3: My identity is in my brokenness
- False identity #4: My identity is in my diagnosed condition