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Gauges and Blinking Lights: Warnings Signs for Christians

by Dallas Theological Seminary on July 7, 2006 in Articles

I’m no auto mechanic, but I do take note of the lights on my dashboard. I’m concerned if the “out of gas” light starts flashing. I grow even more attentive if the “overheating” gauge swings to the red zone, or if the oil symbol appears. When these lights flash, I get anxious about my car, my passengers, and my own safety.

Are any lights blinking on your personal dashboard? Especially if yours is a leadership role in which many people look up to you, consider the following warning lights.

PRIDE. As I think of my propensity to listen to my own press reports, the story of King Uzziah always gets my attention. In 2 Chronicles 26:1–15, we read that King Uzziah was on a roll. He had reigned successfully for fifty-two years (v. 3). He was famous, creative, and marvelously helped by God … until he became aware of his own power (v. 16). No longer would he listen to the reproofs of those closest to him. As a result he didn’t end well. In fact he ended his days as a lonely leper (v. 21).

I know I’m in danger when I hear myself embellishing my accomplishments.

PRAYERLESSNESS. Imagine being able to assess accurately whether something was accomplished through prayer or in the flesh. Ministries can run, and even seem to flourish, without prayer. Mark 9 records a story about the disciples’ inability to heal a demonized boy. They couldn’t figure out why they were so powerless. Jesus’ answer should be a motto in our churches: “This kind can come out only by prayer” (v. 29).

We might try some things without prayer, but driving out demons? Yet before sitting in judgment on the disciples, ask yourself, “What has our church accomplished lately that could be attributed only to prayer?”

I know I’m in trouble when I’m too busy serving God (even writing sermons on prayer) to spend time on my knees.

INSENSITIVITY. After attending a parenting seminar early in my ministry, my wife and I adopted a value that we come back to often:  No amount of success in God’s service is worth failure at home. I know “success” at home base requires all of God’s grace, but we do need to take seriously the principle in 1 Timothy 3:4–5: How can we manage God’s household if we’re making a mess of our own?

I know things are out of sync when I’m caring for God’s family while being insensitive
to my own.

JOYLESSNESS. The recurring refrain in the Book of Ecclesiastes (in chapters 3, 5, 8, and 9) reminds us that enjoyment of life is a gift from God. Charles Swindoll picks up that theme in the opening line of his book Laugh Again, where he writes, “I know of no greater need today than the need for joy. Unexplainable, contagious joy. Outrageous joy.”

Do you hate the very things in ministering to others that you once loved? Were you once full of vitality but are now dull and drab?

I know that my long-term survival is in danger when I allow ministry to rob me of joy and laughter.

FATIGUE. I once read about an amazing plant called Ibervillea sonorae. Apparently it can exist for indefinite periods without attention. One was placed in a display case in the New York Botanical Garden for seven years without water and soil. But even it had its limits. In the eighth year it died. Too many of us are like that plant.

I’ve experienced two near-burnouts in ministry. In both cases I became worn out to the point that I no longer cared. It frightens me to think that to my Christian friends I appeared successful, productive, and sanctimoniously busy.

I know a red light is flashing when my ministry output exceeds my spiritual intake.

IMMORALITY. Have you been taking liberties—becoming more intimate with members of the opposite sex? Like King David have you begun to feel indestructible? Everything appeared to be on the rise for David—until he committed adultery with Bathsheba. After that event (we read about it in 2 Samuel 11) everything declined. Joy disappeared from his life (Ps. 51:12), fatigue became the norm (32:4), and his family disintegrated.

In my seminary days I sat with a group of twelve seasoned pastors. One (a handsome Nordic type) asked, “Would you tell your wife if you noticed a woman in your congregation was romantically interested in you?” The group was split. Half said they would bear it on their own. The others said they would enlist the help of their best friend in life. I subscribe to the wisdom of that second group.

I know that the myth of the greener grass is a warning light I need to take note of straightaway.

IMPATIENCE. In Numbers 20 we read that God wanted Moses to do three things—take the staff, gather the assembly of Israel, and speak to the rock. He did the first two, and then he lost it. He struck the rock twice. The one thing he didn’t do was trust God with the outcome.

Are you patient? Craig Brian Larson in Pastoral Grit tells of one-step-forward, three-steps-back experiences in several small churches he pastored. Then he writes, “I must have patience. I cannot be intimidated by the expectations of others but must have a sense of security about who God has made me. And I must have faith in God’s Word despite what I see now.”

I know I’m in danger when I get impatient with people and with God.

If you were the sole driver in a car who took no notice of the warning signals, that would be unfortunate. But if you were the pilot of a 747, responsible for hundreds of passengers, or an air traffic controller, accountable for thousands of people, and you ignored the flashing lights, the results would be catastrophic.

I’ll never forget teaching these seven warning lights to a group of young pastors at a leadership seminar. Three of them approached me afterward and said, “Our worry is that several of those lights are flashing.” Which ones do you need to heed?

Rowland Forman (MA[BS], MA/CE, 1991), formerly a pastor in New Zealand, is director of curriculum development for the Center for Church Based Training, with offices in New Zealand and Texas.

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