The Secret of a “Crossed-Out-I” Life

Helen Roseveare, an English missionary doctor who served in the Congo, told of a profound moment in her ministry when she learned the secret of a flourishing Christian life.

It happened after she’d lived four years in the Congo. Things weren’t going the way Helen planned. She had grown irritable, impatient, and short-tempered. She was near total exhaustion from carrying an impossible workload and endless responsibilities.If she was going to endure for the long haul, something had to change. More than anything, Helen needed to seek God’s forgiveness and restoration. In her book Living Holiness, she records her spiritually wrecked state:

I felt crushed by my own wretchedness and oft-repeated failures. I knew I was unworthy of the title missionary, and I yearned to know the secret of a closer walk with God and of a new in-filling by the Holy Spirit. 

Helen turned to an African church elder, Pastor Ndugu, and his wife for help. Sitting by the fire in their hut, the pastor opened his Bible to Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (ESV). Next the pastor drew a straight vertical line in the dirt floor with his heel saying, “the capital I in our lives—selfis the great enemy.” 

After a long pause, Pastor Ndugu spoke the hard truth, “the trouble with you is that we see so much Helen that we cannot see Jesus.” The flames of the fire must have felt like a hot knife puncturing her heart. The pastor went further to offer a piece of practical advice. He knew that Helen drank a lot of coffee so he suggested that each time she waited for the steaming beverage to cool, she should pray, “Please God, cross out the I.” 

Pastor Ndugu lifted his heel to draw again. This time, he etched a horizontal line across the I he’d previously drawn and repeated, “Please, God, cross out the I.”1 Marked in the dirt was a simplified theology lesson: the cross is the “crossed-out-I” life. From that day, Helen sought, however imperfectly, to allow the Master Potter to have His way in her life, undoing and remaking His vessel to reflect His glory. More of Jesusless of Helen.

Like Helen Roseveare, in my early years of leading women, I needed to learn the crossed-out-I life. Too much of my ministry was all about me. Behind my back, I was called the “pistol.” (This comment was clearly not meant as a compliment.) I was life-taking in the way I pushed my personal goals forward and rolled over people who didn’t agree or blocked the path (in the nicest way, of course). I wasn’t seeking God’s glory nearly as much as pursuing Leslie’s glory. I was in total control and happily so. You get the picture: there wasn’t much Jesus shining through.

The Cost of Life-Taking Leaders

Leaders like me could get the job donebut at what cost? You don’t have to look very far to find a trail of wounded people, deep regrets, sin, and ministry fruit that may appear lush but perishes quickly. The worst of it is that life-taking leaders tarnish the beauty of the gospel.

Perhaps you’ve been steam rolled by life-takers: power-hungry, self-focused, demanding, productivity-driven bullies in the church or the workplace. This is a far cry from the way of Jesus who modeled a radically different leadership style. The ever gentle and humble hearted Savior laid down His life, His rights, His plan in exchange for the Father’s will. “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). The kingdom of heaven cuts across the grain of our human thinking. God’s kingdom is upside down: the greatest is the least; the last is the first; the slave is free; the cross is a crown.

The difference between the life-giver and life-taker can manifest in brash or subtle ways. Sometimes, like the legalistic Pharisees, our life-taking ways are securely locked away in the unseen attitudes of our hearts. We can appear to be the most focused and zealous workers for the Lord while being blinded to the reality that something isn’t rightuntil we’re confronted by the cross of Christ that exposes and detoxes our hearts. 

Transformed from Life-Taker to Life-Giver

I’ve led both ways and I’m thankful the gospel continues to transform me from a life-taker into a life-giver. My focus and confidence are no longer rooted in self but in my glorious Savior, who is the source of continual joy and soul refreshment. Death to self is the ticket to paradise: a life freed from pride, control, and selfish independence.The crossed-out-I life.

Do you desperately need Jesus to help you fulfill your daily calling to serve Him? I hope so. How blessed are the weak and needy leaders! The more we are stripped of natural abilities and self-reliance, the more we will thrive in ministry with an overflowing power from the Holy Spirit. More of Jesusless of self.

You’re invited to start your own journey from life-taker to life-giver by joining Revive Our Hearts on Tuesday, August 2 for an online training event, Life-Giving Leaders. We’ll walk you through the steps to become the ministry leader you were created to beone who embraces the call to sacrificial leadership. My hope is that God will raise up a new generation of humble servant leaders who can chip away the life-taking cultures around us so that the world can clearly see more of Jesus.

Learn to lead as Jesus did, giving life to those around you every step of the way, with Life-Giving Leaders: an online training event for women’s ministry leaders from Revive Our Hearts on Tuesday, August 2, from 7–9 p.m. (EDT). Be encouraged and equipped by seasoned leaders to embrace the call to loving, sacrificial leadership. Register now!

1 Story of Pasto Ndugo and Helen Roseveare as told in: Piper Noël, Faithful Women & Their Extraordinary God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 160.

About the Author

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett

Leslie Bennett has led Women’s Ministry in two local churches, and serves on the Revive Our Hearts ministry team. She connects with women’s leaders around the world in the Revive Our Hearts Leader Facebook Group and as host of online … read more …

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