The 1 reason your greatest gift can become your greatest weakness

Whilst everyone is shouting, fan into flame the gift on your life, it’s imperative that you know how to handle fire when you get it so you don’e get burned! Truth is, your gift, when it’s fully functioning has untold potential to do incredible good. But if mishandled in this one specific way it has just as much potential to undo everything you’ve worked for.

The who before the what

Before I talk about what this one thing is I need to give you some background info on who we often see this in. Pharisees. Whatever you do keep reading! I know many people might see that word and immediately zone out thinking, I know all about them… but do you?

The Pharisees were passionate about God. Zealous for his glory. Persistent in prayer. Never missed church. Always gave to the poor. Followed all the rules. Knew the Bible back to front (most of them memorised up to half the Old Testament!).

Sounds like a good person to be right? Isn’t that the description we all would want said of us?

Right idea, yet ever so wrong

The Pharisees had the right idea, they genuinely started out as wanting to honor and follow the God of their fathers. Yet somewhere along the way they began to go off track and keeping the rules became more important than knowing the one who made them.

Worse still, keeping the rules began to give them a sense of greater worth and value; they began to be disgustingly proud of themselves. This, pride, is why Jesus confronted them and opposed them with such harsh rebukes and criticisms.

This really should be a warning to us all. It’s possible to start out with the right idea and the best intentions but still go off track if we’re not careful.

It was an accident, I promise

I remember as an apprentice I was pouring resin from a large 44 gallon drum into smaller containers. This resin was very thick and poured painfully slow. So I would leave it pouring and come back 20-30 minutes later to check on it.

One morning I arrived at work before anyone else and to my horror discovered that I had left the tap on the resin open over night and the floor was completely covered in resin. It was an accident (a very costly one!).

The thing is, no one ever sets out to make a mess like that, no one ever sets out to become a bigot or a over zealous religious nut. No one ever sets out to become what we now refer to as a Pharisee, it happens by accident because people stop checking in on themselves.

Accidental Pharisee by Larry Osborn

Accidental Pharisee

In his bookAccidental Pharisee, Larry Osborne (Pastor at North Coast Church and contributor on Christianitytoday.com) walks you through this process of how one can start out right and yet subtly wind up in the wrong place, a place they never intended to be.

What surprised me was how often I was able to identify myself in the pages of his book. 

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So many times I had to sit back and have a little heart to heart with God as I thought to my self, wow… I can’t believe I I caught in this trap. It can happen so subtly.

Osborne, with fatherly gentleness and Biblical genius, exposes 6 of the most common traps that good Christians fall into and how easy it is to accidentally become pharisaical in following Jesus without even realising it. Here’s how Osborn himself summarises these 6 things…

The six common traps (then we’ll talk about “the one”)

First and foremost is a deepening sense of frustration and disdain for those at the back of the line. Instead of a Jesus-like compassion for those who can’t keep up, we view them with cynicism and a cocky arrogance.

The second warning sign is a spirit of exclusivity. When thinning the herd becomes more important than expanding the kingdom; or raising the bar becomes more important than helping people climb over it, something has gone terribly wrong.

A third indicator is the addition of extra-biblical rules and expectations. Few of us would see ourselves as legalists. We think we’ve moved on from old school legalism… But the spirit of legalism still runs strong. We now judge people by what’s in their driveway and how big their house is.

A fourth symptom is a pattern of idolizing the past. Whether it’s the New Testament church or the scholars of old, we tend to give them a free pass for their failures. But the present day Bride of Christ and the current crop of leaders that Jesus has put in place are assailed for their blind spots, failures, and feet of clay. Like the Pharisees of old, we rip on the living prophets and then build monuments to them once they die.

A fifth sign that something has gone wrong is a quest for clone-like uniformity. Jesus had room for Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collector. Yet sometimes, the more biblically grounded we become, the less room we have for anyone who hasn’t yet learned all that we’ve learned. The result is a circle of fellowship that’s tighter than Jesus’s circle of acceptance.

The sixth and final indicator that we’re becoming an Accidental Pharisee is something called “gift-projection.” It’s the toxic belief that my calling is everyone else’s calling. It disfigures the body of Christ by insisting that ears become eyes and hands become feet. It looks like passion for the mission. But in reality, it’s chocolate covered arrogance.

The 6th one is the ‘One’

Whilst I identified parts of myself in various chapters of the book (and completely agree with him on all 6), what really stood out to me and continues to stand out to me is how often Gift Projection is the natural bias of many Christians. I’ve done it so many times myself, only now that I am aware of it am I starting to see things differently.

Gift projection is effectively this; it’s saying that in order to be a mature believer you will experience God the way I do, care about the aspects of his kingdom that I do, get passionate about the type of service that I do and order your spiritual life the way I do. And here’s the kicker… If you don’t do as I do and value what I value – then you must be an immature Christian and a lesser person, or worse…

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him? Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:20-21-22)

Gift projection is taking the unique expectation that God has on your life because of your gift, your calling, your anointing or your ministry, and assuming that God must also have the same expectation on everyone else who claims to follow Jesus.

This is what Peter did when he looked at John; what about Him? To which Jesus replied, yeh? What about him? 

Why gift projection is your greatest threat

When a person starts to move into gift projection mode, they begin to ‘lovingly’ criticise people, judging them ‘in love’ and identifying what they are doing wrong from a spiritual perspective.

They aren’t looking at their sin, it’s something else… Slowly, the devil tempts them to start looking down on other Christians for not being holy enough in the way they’re following Jesus. It slowly starts to manifest in a look, a glance, an attitude… they give people a patronising smile that says, when you grow up you’ll see things the way I… 

Pride begins to take over and here is why that’s so dangerous to your life in Christ and the effectiveness of your gift…

You cannot love people while looking at them through proud eyes

People simply will not receive your gift if they feel like your eyes are proud and not full of mercy and grace. Jesus was moved with compassion for the people so they received him and gathered around him in ways that the Pharisees only dreamed of!

We too must be moved in our gift and calling by the love God has for people, just as Jesus was and still is.  Paul said that even if he spoke with angels and knew all kinds of amazing mysteries, without love he not only would have nothing, but he would be nothing.

Love is the standard. Not my gift.

My gift is not the only way God moves. But love is.

In the middle of the Bible God gave a list of things he hates. That’s right, the things he absolutely hates. Oddly enough, it’s not drug addiction or pornography or slavery. Why not, because things like slavery, the porn industry or drug addictions flow out of bigger, deeper issues, and it’s these things that God hates because of the damage and they do and the heartache they cause to us, his children.

So what is at the top of this list?

There are six things the Lord hates,
    seven that are detestable to him:
           haughty eyes,
        a lying tongue,
        hands that shed innocent blood,
           a heart that devises wicked schemes,
        feet that are quick to rush into evil,
         a false witness who pours out lies
        and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

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Haughty eyes is #1

Haughty; arrogantly superior and disdainful, “a look of haughty disdain”. Put simply; Pride. Looking down on people.

THIS is the number one thing that God hates and gift projection is indeed a pathway, not to the dark side but to something far worse.

Gift projection is the path to the kind of Pharisaical pride that blinds ones sense of love and compassion for God’s people and instead manifests in, why aren’t you more like me… you must be backslidden, immature or an unspiritual person. And in some cases, they might be – but it’s how you look at them that matters.

Do you see them as a lazy Christian that needs to get their act together? Or are they a wayward child that needs nurturing and guidance?

Do you see people who are not led of the spirit? Or are they simply being led by God in a way you haven’t or don’t experience personally? The danger is to see these people as some kind of second class citizen in the kingdom as though somehow our walk with God is more pleasing and grants us a better worth and value to the Father.

Sound extreme?

It is.

But it’s also accidental.

No one sets out to be arrogant but it happens. No one sets out to look down on other Christians, but we do it. No one seeks to be unloving towards other Christians, but it creeps up on us, attempting to steal the power within our gifts and bring disunity and strife to churches.

This is why your gift can become your greatest weakness.

When we allow ourselves to view the lives that other Christians are living, through the gift-lens that we are viewing our own lives through, slowly over time we can become harsh, critical, judgmental and hard hearted. The Pharisees weren’t hypocrites over night, it happened over years and years.

When we start to view others according to our gift and calling our desire can become more about seeing people follow Jesus the way we do instead of the way God is uniquely calling them to according to the gifts he has given them.

We’re not backslidden, we’re differently abled

Gift projection has a way of colouring our lens as we look at people and instead of seeing and celebrating their uniqueness, we see them as backslidden, dysfunctional or immature believers.

This is about spiritual superiority

Gift projection is believing the lie that your view on how to follow Jesus authentically and maturely has somehow given you a more superior spirituality than those who don’t quite get it yet.

Those people.

The ones that just don’t see it how you do.

The ones who think different, pray different, serve different, love different. This is not about Biblical morality or non negotiable principals of the Kingdom.

This is about the danger of calling your uniqueness something that is absolute white and everything else is absolute black. It’s saying that there is no grey, only my way.

Gift projection confuses the lane we’re in with the narrow path that leads to righteousness. There are many lanes on that path, not just the one I am in. Like runners in a race, they are all on the same track yet each has his own lane on that single track.

So too are we not all the same, we’re differently abled:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work… Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (1 Corinthians 12:4-6+14-17)

Difference is not disability. Some are doers and some are thinkers or dreamers.

Some are speakers and some are silent.

Some see the poor and their hearts bleed for them, while others see the rich and weep for their souls.

Some are spirit led in their planning, while others are more prone to being spirit led in a spontaneous moment.

Some preach and others work with their hands. Some lead and other follow. Some move in miracles, others in mercy.

Unchecked gift projection blinds you to the beauty in the body of Christ and limits your capacity to love her more fully as you use your gift to serve Christ and his church.

The remedy

Exhale. There’s good news. The remedy is actually very simple. Repent. Feel free to read that line again.

When you identify and acknowledge sin in your life, you disempower it by turning to God in repentance and confessing in faith your confidence in his death and resurrection. Once you clear the air and your heart with God, the process moving forward is also simple. Celebrate.

Repent from the things you feel the Holy Spirit speaking to you about, thank God that he reveals them to you so that you can – for unless He does we stay ever blind. Then begin to celebrate on an ongoing basis, the God-given differences you see in the people around you.

They don’t have to be like me to love Jesus. They don’t have to see or hear God the way I do in order to see or hear God. God is big enough to speak to us and through us all in a myriad of miraculous and wonderful ways; he’s God!

Celebrate the contribution each person makes to the body and to your local church and don’t sweat the rest. Because if everyone was an eye, the church as a body, would see a great deal but be deaf, mute and unable to move.

This book changed a significant part of my life and my paradigms as a preacher, a pastor, a father, a husband and as a brother, I have a printed copy of the cover with notes scribbled all over it posted above my desk in my office. I think it might be one of those books I will need to come back to ever year or two because accidents happen but I sure don’t plan to let one happen to me, I pray you won’t either. Scroll down if you’d like to make a comment or share this post.


Here from Larry Osborn himself as he speaks about Gift Projection.

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  • Excellent summary and analysis Andrew, thank you!

  • Marietta White

    So good! Excited to ponder, pray, put into practice and be guided by the Holy Spirit on this topic more! Thanks Andrew 😃