When Self-Discovery Becomes Self-Worship

by Josiah Dangers

“What’s your Enneagram number?”
“What’s your Meyers-Briggs code?”
“What are your top five on Strengthsfinder?”
…Hammer or duct tape?
…Beaver or Golden Retriever?
…Which Disney Princess are you?
… Marvel villain?
…Pokemon character?

Can soul-care become idolatry? Can self-discovery become self-worship?
In the contemporary Church and in missions, we spend an inordinate amount of time helping people achieve a “healthy soul.” We endeavor to use every tool at our disposal toward that noble end. We administer various self-discovery tests and discuss the results. We talk to people about why they do the things they do, why they react the way they do, why they sin the way they sin, why they thrive the way they thrive, why they stress the way they stress.

But if we are not very careful, we can actually lead them on a journey of counterproductive introspection and self-absorption instead of leading them on a journey toward Christ. We will fail in our efforts to improve a person’s soul-health every time if we don’t help them to look up.

The Gospel key to soul health is to look up. The Gospel proclaims, “get your eyes off of yourself and onto your Savior.” The Gospel call is not to become a better version of yourself but to be crucified with Christ and become a new creation (Galatians 2:20). As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The call of Christ is a call to come and die.”


The Race
In Hebrews 12:1-2 we read that we are in a race: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Have you ever watched a stage of the Tour de France? How much time do those riders spend looking at themselves? Almost none. How much time do they spend looking over their shoulders? Very little – just the occasional quick glance. If you fixate on yourself while traveling at 30-60 MPH on two wheels that rival your pinky finger in girth, you won’t win the prize – you will win the prestigious “worst case of road rash” award as the rest of the peloton races ahead.

To be sure, each athlete in the Tour spends time in self-evaluation and preparation. The best riders spend an obsessive amount of time in training. However, the best ones are not fixating on themselves – they are fixating on the prize. They, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, discipline their bodies into submission for the sake of the prize. They recognize that who and what they are in and of themselves is insufficient to win the prize unless they train and become something that they naturally are not.

Sounds a lot like sanctification, doesn’t it?

What your soul needs is NOT to become more like you. After all, you are the primary cause of your soul’s sickness (Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 7:18). What your soul needs is to become less like you and more like Jesus (John 3:30). Granted, each one of us is designed to reflect certain aspects of the image of God. No one will ever reflect the fullness of the image of Christ. The catch is that so many of us spend our time and energy trying to discover what facet of the image we were designed to reflect instead of simply pursuing Jesus and allowing Him to call to life aspects of His image in us.


So what about all these tests?
Personality tests and the like can be useful. There are good ones out there, and there are many worthless ones. However, even the good ones are just tools. The Enneagram is not the Gospel. Nor is Meyers-Briggs, DISC, or any other test. Where they are useful, use them. After all, all truth is God’s truth, but nothing besides the Word has the corner on ALL truth.

These tests can be very helpful in identifying besetting sin patterns, areas of weakness or strength, causes of interpersonal tension or communication failures on teams, or even incorrectly deployed personnel. But please, for the sake of the Gospel, ask this question as you use them: Is my study of myself through this test causing me to become more like Christ, or is it leading me toward self-worship and idolatry?

With that question in mind, here are two potential pitfalls of self-discovery tests.

1. Excuses
That’s just me.  That’s the way I am.  That’s how God made me.  Deal with it.

Oh good… now we are blaming the Creator for our bad behavior.  Friends, that dog don’t hunt.  If you have a natural tendency to treat people badly, to be so driven that you hurt people in the process, to be reclusive, to be loud in self-promotion, to be arrogant or judgmental, call it what it is: sin.  Don’t ask others around you to accommodate it.  Put it to death!  Hate the sin in yourself enough to deal with it!  Repent where needed!  Use your list of weaknesses, needs, or sinful tendencies as a prayer list.  Run to your Savior and find freedom!

Never hide behind a number on a test.  That number, that descriptor, that code, should only serve to illuminate your need for Christ and your potential as a new creation in Christ.  You will only be free from your sin and reach your potential in Christ, or as Paul puts it, “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:13) as you fix your eyes on Christ and become more like Him.

2. Pride. 
Our natural tendency as humans, regardless of our activity, is to compare ourselves to those around us. How easy it is to end up thinking: my list of strengths is cooler, more dynamic, more flexible, more impactful, or just plain better than yours.  I scored higher than you.  I am more balanced that you.  I’m more ______ than you.  I might have this weakness, but at least I don’t have THAT weakness like they do!

The Bible has a word for this line of thinking: pride.  One of the seven deadly sins, pride will manifest itself in the form of self-idolatry in a heartbeat.  Self-idolatry is one of the most insidious forms of idolatry because it is so hard to self-identify. It’s like dirt on your forehead – it’s perfectly evident to onlookers but invisible to you.  It’s only visible when looking into the mirror of the Word – the perfect, liberty producing law (James 1:24,25).

When you see your sin, your weakness, and your brokenness, join Paul in declaring, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a)


As we seek health for our souls, we must never allow soul-health to be the center of our pursuit.  Pursue Jesus.  As you do, you will discover that your soul will find its rest in Him. As a follower of Christ, your default in seeking to understand yourself should be to run to the Word of God.  What does God say about you? What does His Word say about your sanctification?  How does He want you to treat people?  How does He want you to communicate? Listen first and foremost to His voice and allow Him to guide you into all truth (John 16:13).


Josiah’s African roots go way back. His grandparents were career missionaries in D.R. Congo, and he grew up in Uganda, where his parents are still missionaries. Josiah studied at John Brown University, where he met and married Autum, his wife of 14 years. He spent eight years serving first as youth pastor and then as worship pastor at a local church in Colorado. In 2015, he moved to Uganda where he served as a camp director. He’s now back in Colorado serving as the Director of Missionary Care and Development for New Hope Uganda and as a worship leader at Woodmen Valley Chapel. Josiah and Autum have five adventurous children.

I’m Not Very Good at Gratitude


I like to think of myself as a content, happy person: my life is good, and I lack for nothing.

At least I used to think I was content and happy. That was before I realized — to my horror — that my prayer journal was filled with lament. Not thankfulness, not appreciation, but lament, through and through.

I have an everyday journal where I like to complain to God — er, pray. And I have an extra-special journal where I record the lyrics to my favorite worship songs. But until this year, I didn’t have a place to chronicle my gratitude.

I thought perhaps this was a problem for me. That maybe it’s one of my incongruous places: a place where my orthodoxy doesn’t match my orthopraxy. A bottle-necked area of my life. A cramped space in my soul that needs expanding.

Like many of you, I’d read about the importance of practicing gratefulness, of writing in a dedicated gratitude journal. Ann does it. Crystal does it. Good heavens, even Oprah does it. So I thought I’d try it.

And you know what I discovered? I’m terrible at it. I couldn’t think of specific things to be thankful for. I kept running into trouble thinking over my day and looking for the blessings. I couldn’t always find good things. All I could see was stress — and that very fact troubled me.

I could think of general things; I’m a very thankful person in the general. I’ve written all about my general love of creation, my general love of Cambodia, my general love of the church, my general love of worshiping, my general love for my husband. And those generic things were the only things I could think of when I started this venture. They are the things I kept recording on the pages of my pretty, pink journal.

Now don’t get me wrong, gratitude in the general is GREAT. But I’d like to inscribe more specifics into that journal of mine. I’d like to flex my gratitude muscles. I’d like to learn how to reflect on my day and see the “patches of Godlight” in it.

And I’m starting to. I’m noticing the little things and memorializing them. I’m seeing the small joys and giving thanks. But I’m a novice, a beginner. I haven’t yet learned gratefulness in the particular.

Then again maybe that’s what the gratitude journal is all about.

Do you struggle with gratitude, either in the particular or in the general?

How do you cultivate contentment in your heart?

What are you thankful for lately?

originally appeared here