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Wrestling with Self-Doubt

A few nights ago as I slept, I dreamed of a strong wind blowing a bunch of hot air balloons high up in the sky in the same direction. What does it mean? Does it represent the church in some way?   I don’t know.   There is a lot I don’t know. And that can make me both a good and a ba…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
A few nights ago as I slept, I dreamed of a strong wind blowing a bunch of hot air balloons high up in the sky in the same direction. What does it mean? Does it represent the church in some way?
I don’t know.
There is a lot I don’t know. And that can make me both a good and a bad leader. That dream about balloons may be just the fruit of my inner angst. Or maybe God is speaking to me. People who look to me for leadership no doubt hope it’s more of the latter.
Leaders & Pride
Leaders are supposed to have dreams that take us to places God wants us to go. They’re supposed to be confident and to help followers be confident. 
But too much of that looks like bluster. It looks like Donald Trump on a bad hair day. A little self-doubt would go a long way in Trump’s (or Clinton’s) campaign.
Self-doubt is a cousin to humility. Proverbs has a lot to say about it. For example, “Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor.” (Prov. 29:23) or “Before a man’s downfall, his mind is arrogant, but humility precedes honor.” (Prov. 18:12)
We need the word of the Lord, but even Moses was full of self-doubt. Self-doubt is a gift insofar as it pushes us toward dependence on God.
Caught in this place of ambiguity, the best leaders invite others into the leadership equation. Instead of issuing edicts, they lead conversations that connect groups to wisdom. And an appropriate amount of self-doubt can create space for those conversations to happen.
In this age in which the total amount of human knowledge doubles annually, there’s so much that we can’t know. That’s why God gave us his Holy Spirit. It’s why he had the apostles appoint elders and deacons.
In the San Blas Islands, the Kuna Indian elders have a large thatched roof hut where they meet. Hammocks are strung from pole to pole. They sit there and talk until they have consensus.
The Japanese have a similar process. They call it nemawashi – big decisions are made through consensus building.
What decisions are you responsible for? What is your track record of decision-making? Where are you on the continuum of self-doubt and overconfidence? How are your nemawashi skills? 
Paul described our conundrum as “seeing through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). We humans were born frail and die frail. In between, let’s not lean not on our own understanding. Let’s recognize our dependence on the one who made us and lean toward him.

Comments (22)

  • Seth…As your friend since 1984 prior to crossing paths at Wheaton College my deep hope is that you hear my honoring comments here. You live what you preach. Have a path of validation. Sponsor others on to greatness. Innovate. Love. Forgive. Pursue. Don’t stop. You are a leader of the first order.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Butch. You are such an encourager. And you have known me all these years and seen my self-doubt. We need encouragement more than we admit.

  • I will always remember our long talk sitting at the newly built church building in Nsoko that had no walls but the roof and the floor. Our conversation was you asking the questions probing while I had to come up with the answers. Your questions raised more questions within me about what God was doing through me. Thank you for that moment because now as a leader I no longer have the answers but only questions to my teams. In the questions they are able to question and we implement great programs that touch lives. I love you Seth and enjoyed working with your organization and I am taking this “to the death”.

    • Gift – it’s good to hear from you and to know that you are doing well. Thanks for the kind words and love – I am blessed by you! Stay in touch.

  • As you were talking about the dream you had about the balloons….Eph. 4:1-16 came to me…
    This was Paul writing….I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, BESEECH you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all LOWLINESS and GENTLENESS, with LONGSUFFERING, bearing with one another IN LOVE, endeavoring to keep the UNITY of the Spirit in the bond of PEACE. There is ONE body and ONE Spirit , just as you were called in ONE hope of your calling; ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism; ONE God and Father of all, who is ABOVE ALL, AND THROUGH ALL AND IN YOU ALL. But to EACH ONE of us grace was given according to the measure of CHRIST’S gift……vs. 11…And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers, FOR THE EQUIPPING OF THE SAINTS FOR THE WORK OF MINISTRY, FOR THE EDIFYING OF THE BODY OF CHRIST….TIL we come to the UNITY of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the FULNESS OF CHRIST; that we should NO LONGER be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, may GROW UP in all things INTO HIM who is the head–CHRIST, from whom the WHOLE BODY, JOINED AND KNIT TOGETHER BY WHAT EVERY JOINT SUPPLIES, according to the EFFECTIVE WORKING by which EVERY PART does its share, CAUSES GROWTH of the BODY for the EDIFYING OF ITSELF IN LOVE.
    We must humbly stay under HIM. We can do ALL things THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens us. Jesus HAS BEEN MADE WISDOM unto us. There is ONE way, ONE truth and ONE life and that is Jesus! This was on my heart strong with what you shared. Leadership trickles down. A leader that gets Eph. 4 will lead strong because they truly know the ONE that makes them strong and good leaders they will in turn make. In my studies, it showed the Greek word for “know”…is know…THE ACT. When we actually act on what we know, then it is far more than head knowledge and being able to quote some scriptures but it is actually applying those scriptures in our daily living. We ARE living epistles and we ARE being read by men (men, women children and, saved and lost alike!) The question to leaders is How are “you” being read? Every good leader starts out as a good follower and even more so the believer who allows God to lead and humbly follows His plan. God truly is the One who will lift up this person’s life and then lead others to follow.
    Thanks for sharing. I appreciate your challenging thoughts in your blogs!

  • In many businesses today, leaders require ideas regularly from all employees regarding how goals can be reached. Anything that can make things go better, faster, smoother, etc. From many ideas, leaders choose the best and implement those, with recognition of where the ideas came from going back to the source. Posibilites come from everyone, decisions come from the leaders. One such manufacturing plant I know of has an output of product per man hour 900% higher after 20 years. And employees are veryhappy working there.
    I seem to recall that Henry Blackaby, (Experiencing God), used this technique in leading his church. He surveyed everyone regarding what they were hearing from God, and generally found many hearing the same thing. That’s frequently the direction he went, after prayerful consideration himself regarding the direction.
    This works in business and should even more so in the Church, where Christ is the leader we all follow. He can speak through the least of us, leaders that maintain humility to not value their ideas more than others ideas and decide the clearer path to follow Christ will lead the best.
    That’s you Seth, as reflected in this post.

  • You know those moments when God sets you up? This post was one of those. I’ve been in a season of dryness, silence, and dormancy for a while, now. Even knowing that God is using this time to prepare me for what is next, it’s still causing self-doubt. Am I accomplishing anything? Am I effective, at all? Did I do something wrong? Did God leave?

    I was praying about it, this morning, and telling God that I can’t fight this one, on my own. I need Him to step in and do SOMETHING, to still my doubt and help me keep hanging on through this time when it seems like NOTHING is happening. And I stopped by here. My first words when I saw your title were “are you serious?” Then I kept reading. Balloons, and specifically hot air balloons, are just one of those symbols between me and God that remind me He loves me and that I’m still going the right way. And I so desperately needed to hear that from Him. I don’t know what your dream meant for you, but for me, it was a desperately needed reminder that I am on track and don’t need to worry.

    Regardless of your self-doubt, and if this is also a desert season for you, God is producing fruit, even when you are unaware of it. Thank you for being obedient to write this. It was an amazing picture, for me, of the body of Christ building itself up, even though (and partly -because-) we have never met. You’re leading young adults closer to God, even when you don’t realize it.

  • I love when God gives us significant dreams. Have you ever been on a hot air balloon? You are at the mercy of the wind. You have some flexibility with how high or low you travel but the direction all depends on the winds direction. It seems we, the church, are the balloons all traveling higher and faster as He/Holy Spirit takes us. Thank you for sharing that.

    Good word Seth. We are dependent on one another and Holy Spirit. I think self doubt is a good thing, lest we should think so highly of ourselves, like we have all the answers or know it all. There should be a mutual submission to one another, because it’s together that we are the body. Love your heart on this.

  • Doubt or self doubt did not seem to fit for me. Dictionary’s def “to be uncertain about. Hesitate to believe. Consider questionable. To distrust ( or have no trust in). At some point it is settled in you that there are no qualities that you can own about yourself bringing glory to God. Once this is a KNOWN fact to yourself…it’s settled. Never again do you go back to self doubt because it has been settled what you are here. Then the glorious part. He becomes more because even self doubt cant take control of your thoughts any longer. I am what God made me no more, nor less. Completely dependent always and good reason to doubt SELF.. I think that’s just us and still God glorifys Himself in us. Now that’s the amazing part! Good to consider..feel the freedom in CHRIST alone!

  • After leaving the above comment Ps 62:5 “popped” into my head having memorized yrs ago..”My soul waits in silence for God alone for my expectations are in Him.”

  • Thank you for sharing that with us Seth. I’m currently thinking a lot about the question: How can a broken tree bear fruit?

    Would love to hear your opinion, maybe God will give you another blog to write…


    • Piva, Jesus gave us the example with his life – he was wounded for our iniquities – and he explained the message in John 12:24 “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

  • Those of us that love you (and there are many) do not take lightly the weight you carry, we pray for you. You are not alone.

  • “I don’t know” does not seem a sign of weak leadership but a sign of strong, godly leadership.

    One thought of mine.

    Second thought: Yes, Moses was full of self-doubt but over time he became less so, until by the end he seemed rock solid. Leadership is a process that winnows out the chaff of self and over time reduces us to wheat so we can become bread for the world.

    The point we reach is “I don’t know” and I can’t do this.”

    Both voiced by Moses at the beginning of his call. {For some of us, that comes at mid-point after we’ve had the revelation we aren’t such hot stuff after all. Ha.}

    By the end though, Moses was confident. Because by the end He had met God face to face and could be trusted to speak for Him.

    Still, we note, open to blowing it. Like hitting the rock in anger when he was supposed to speak to it, as God directed.

    However, he took his chastisement quite well (better than I would have) and moved on to finish in fine fashion. We can only plead God’s mercy and faithfulness that we will do the same.

    We will never escape our humanness till we take our last breath.

    We’re not supposed to.

    Why would we then need Him?

    Thanks for another thought-provoker, Seth.

  • To briefly clarify: I was referring to myself in that mid-point comment. I actually used to think I knew almost everything and could do anything I set my mind to. Eternally thankful for some very hard lessons regarding that.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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