Identifying and Overcoming Deficit Thinking

There is a plague that has been overtaking Christians by the myriads. No, it is not a disease in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, it is a condition that is self induced and self imposed by wrongful thinking. This condition can overcome any born-again believer in one of two ways: by allowing our Adamic nature to have dominion over us or by adopting the thinking of this present age. The dreadful plague that has swept across the Christian world is deficit thinking.

First, I will give the definition of this hideous monster. Next, I will convey a description of deficit thinking which includes using three negative biblical examples followed by four brief biblical models of non-deficit thinkers. Finally, I will give a biblical strategy which leads to the dethronement of deficit thinking.

The Definition of Deficit Thinking

I was first introduced to the term deficit thinking from Dr. William Lawrence who teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary. He writes in his excellent book Effective Pastoring that "a deficit thinker is someone who thinks he is nobody who must make himself into a somebody by what he does." Therefore the deficit thinker identifies himself not by who he is but by what he does.

The Description of Deficit Thinking

This insidious disease can infect people from all walks in the Christian life. It has struck pastors, professors, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, Awana workers, home-school mothers, church secretaries and treasurers, and blue and white collar workers just to mention a few. This disease does not discriminate; it will attack those who are widely respected in their occupations (heads of ministries, etc.) as well as those who are scarcely recognized for their work or service.

Deficit thinking can subtly creep up and overtake a pastor who values his worth by how effectively he teaches, preaches, or by the size of his church. It can infiltrate Bible Colleges and Seminaries when the professors estimate their self worth by their number of academic degrees hanging upon their office walls or by how many churches ask them to preach or teach a seminar. Sunday school teachers and Awana workers are prone to this dreaded disease when they allow their platform to make them special. It can even impact a church treasurer because he believes he controls the churchís purse strings which makes him somebody or a church secretary because she perceives her worth is derived because of the proprietary information she possesses.

The deficit thinker can become a dangerous person because they no longer function by the power of Godís Holy Spirit but rather are motivated by their fallen nature. The Bible is replete with examples of deficit thinkers. I will share three illustrations: two from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

Miriam and Aaron are indeed blessed Israelites. The author of the book of Exodus first mentions Miriam by name in Ex. 15:20 where she is recognized as Israelís first prophetess. In the very next verse she is leading the women of Israel in worship after viewing Godís devastating judgment on Egypt and Pharaohís army. She is credited with having a leading role in Micah 6:4 which says, "For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." Aaron also witnessed the vast power of God as demonstrated in Egypt and would later serve as High Priest. You would think this tandem would be proud of their brother Moses and content knowing the true God whom they represent as choice servants of Yahweh.

However, they are not content with their station in life. Num. 12:1-10 tells the ugly story of their jealousy of Moses. Miriam (the ringleader) and Aaron are envious of Mosesí relationship with God and therefore concoct an accusation against him (Num. 12:1). This is a smokescreen and the real issue lies in v. 2 by which Miriam and Aaron ask two pertinent questions, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?" God then reveals their manipulative ways which are caused by their deficit thinking (see Num. 12:6-8). Their deficiency is derived because they were striving to become important by virtue of what they would do rather than by who they are.

Another classic Old Testament example of deficit thinking is found in Num. 16. Again, there is a case of jealousy because Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On were not content with their placement as Israelites within their various tribes and respective areas of service (see Num. 16:1-9). They envied Mosesí role and planned on sharing what they perceived to be his glory. I wonder how many pastors have suffered similar attacks from within their ranks because of deficit thinkers who were not content in their ministry role? Nonetheless, God vindicated His man and supernaturally vanquished the rebels.

A New Testament illustration of deficit thinking is found in Acts 5. The residents of Jerusalem were experiencing a severe famine in the land and some believers were selling their property and distributing the proceeds to meet the needs of the poor (Acts 4:32-37). Barnabas is praised for his sacrifice. Well, two deficit thinkers, a husband and a wife by the name of Ananias and Sapphira had conspired to pretend to imitate Barnabasí unselfish act and acquire a reputation for themselves (see Acts 5:1-11). God didnít approve of this duplicity so He killed them for lying to the Holy Spirit who is described as God (Acts 5:3-4).

I have shared with you three examples of people who were deficit thinkers. Now I will offer four brief examples of non-deficit thinkers lest you be left with the impression that the Holy Scriptures donít mention such persons. The four people are the Lord Jesus, Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus.

If anyone seemingly had the right to be a deficit thinker it would be Jesus because of all His accomplishments (the creator and sustainer of the universe, etc.). Remember, the deficit thinker believes that he becomes somebody by what he does. However, Jesus did not embrace the mindset of His age (Mark 10:35-45). Phil. 2:6-7 says, "who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant (literally a slave)." Phil. 2:8 then describes Him sacrificing His life for us.

Paul imitates his sacrificial Lord because he views his own life as a drink offering (a willing sacrifice) for the saints in Philippi according to Phil. 2:17. The apostle then ascribes to his young associate Timothy the following accolade that is written in Phil. 2:20, "For I have no one like-minded (literally like-souled), who will sincerely care for your state." Next, Epaphroditus mimics Jesusí example and is willing to lay down his life for others. All four of these non-deficit thinkers have one chief characteristic in common: a non-preoccupation with self.

The Dethronement of Deficit Thinking

How does a Christian dethrone deficit thinking? The answer lies in understanding the nature and the work of each of the members of the Trinity in our lives. God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit equip us not to be deficit thinkers.

God the Father has created us in His image (Gen. 1:26; James 3:9) and has given us the right to be called children of God. I am privileged to have three sons. I could choose to introduce them to people by giving their names and some of their major accomplishments in life. This activity would promote deficit thinking to my sons because Iím emphasizing who they are by what they do. I choose rather to proudly introduce them by name and let people know that they are special because they are my sons (although Iím also proud of their accomplishments in life!). Isnít this how God views us? 1 John 3:1 says, "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the children of God." He deems us special because of who we are (His children) and not by what we do in order to become somebody.

The eternal Father lavishes us with love. He has demonstrated this remarkable love to us because He sacrificed that which was most dear to Him (His Son) in order that we may have life eternal (Rom. 5:8; 8:32). This loving God has also seated us positionally in heavenly places with Himself so that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). He also grants us an inheritance (Rom. 8:17). We should be content who we are because of how the Father has graced us.

Jesus Christ has redeemed us and has granted us forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7). Ponder the marvelous truth that the eternal Son of God has personally died for you and that even now you possess the gift of eternal life. He continually serves us as mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), High Priest (Heb. 7:25), and advocate (1 John 2:1-2). No wonder Paul writes in Col. 2:10 "you are complete in Him who is the head of all principalities and powers." You are special because of who you are in Christ!

The blessed Holy Spirit who is the third member of the Godhead has also graced us. He has baptized us into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). We have His stamp of approval and ownership upon our lives because He has sealed us (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). He fills (controls) us repeatedly as we seek Christ and yield to His will (Eph. 5:18). This filling gives us joy (Eph. 5:19), a thankful spirit (Eph. 5:20), and a submissive life (Eph. 5:21). Not only does the Holy Spirit fill us but He also bears fruit in us and through us (John 15:1-8; Gal. 5:22-23). As we contemplate the Father, Son, and Holy Spiritís ministry to us, our hearts should be replete with gratitude for who we are because of God.

In closing I would like to point out that God is not displeased when we strive to serve Him well. As the body of Christ we are called to serve our God (Eph. 2:10). Nonetheless, we should not strive to serve Him in order to become somebody. Rather, we should recognize that we are special because of what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has done for us. By the grace of God may we become non-deficit thinkers and experience the power of Godís Holy Spirit so that we might bring Him great glory! "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen." 2 Cor. 13:14

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