I wonder how many of you have heard of the “Imposter Syndrome.” In case you don’t know, it refers to feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt that persist despite evident success and accomplishments.
For example, who am I to be the pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Bergen County, New Jersey, in this great nation of the United States? I’m just a hillbilly from the highlands of Southeast Asia. If I feel like an imposter or a fraud to hold my position, that’s called the imposter syndrome.
I was surprised that 70% of Americans suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s not a mental disorder and not part of the DSM5, but many people feel they have it. If you search “imposter syndrome” on Google, you get about 10 million results. That’s a lot!
Many students in Ivy League schools thought they were admitted by mistake. So, they worked extra hard to fit in until they discovered other students were in the same condition.
Many CEOs and top leaders also have that syndrome, fearing people might find out they don’t have the leadership qualities to hold the position, worrying people might someday discover they are frauds. Even Maya Angelou once admitted,
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” ~Maya Angelou
Albert Einstein also said he considered himself an “involuntary swindler.” So, if you feel you have imposter syndrome, you are not alone. You might wonder, “Who am I to be an Elder of the church?” If you ask that question, you are just normal.
On the other hand, narcissists would believe they rightfully deserve their position. That could be more destructive than imposter syndrome because those with imposter syndrome at least have some sense of humility.
Then, how do we walk the fine line between narcissism and imposter syndrome? Narcissism could sabotage your success, but imposter syndrome could make you anxious and settle for less.
The good news is Jesus has a solution for us in today’s scripture lesson. Jesus has a massive mission for you to accomplish, and he cannot leave his world-changing mission to people with imposter syndrome. He said,
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Jn 14:12).
That’s a huge responsibility, especially at times like this, as we are a much smaller congregation. We might be suffering from the imposter syndrome, thinking, who are we for Jesus to expect us to do greater works than he did? He must be talking about other more capable Christians or bigger churches.
However, we can’t hide behind imposter syndrome to avoid this calling unless we want to disappoint the Lord. Like it or not, we have greatness thrust upon us. As William Shakespeare wrote,
“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” ~William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
How many of you can say you are born great? How many achieved greatness? I am quite sure most of us belong to the third category. We have greatness thrust upon us.
We are near the end of Lent and in the Holy Week. Just as Jesus left the responsibility to reform the world to the twelve disciples, it’s time to think about the great mission he thrust on us.
It has nothing to do with whether we have the capability, but it has everything to do with our response to his calling to greatness. It’s not an option. Jesus doesn’t call us to stay caterpillars but to be butterflies. We have no time and reasons to settle for less.
Today, we must decide to end the imposter syndrome once and for all. So, let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to John 13:1-17. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (Jn 13:1–17).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
The secret to overcoming imposter syndrome is hidden in these two verses:
Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:16-17).
We have imposter syndrome because we think we are masters instead of servants. If we can turn our heads around and realize we are just messengers and not masters, we have nothing to be anxious about. So to end your imposter syndrome, decide today to claim your position as a servant or messenger. You have only one master to please and no one else. Imposter syndrome happens when you try to please people.
We live in a culture that teaches, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” (William Ernest Henley, Invictus). It’s a recipe for shipwrecks because humans are not created to be their own masters. The truth is, as Jesus said,
As he (Jesus) went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. (Mk 6:34).
Sheep are vulnerable creatures. They don’t have sharp claws to hunt, strong feet to run, or far vision to see; they are just sitting meat for predators. We are created to be loved and led by our Creator. To say that “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul” is equivalent to sheep saying they are their own shepherds. The lions, tigers, and wolves would love to hear that.
The scripture lesson begins by saying,
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1).
Did you hear that? Jesus loves you to the end. Because of him, we are no longer orphans, and we are no longer sheep without a shepherd. We don’t have to live in anxiety of the imposter syndrome pretending to be the master of our own fate, the shepherd of our own soul.
Only narcissists think they are the master of their own fate. That’s what Judas did. The next verse says,
“The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.” (John 13:2a).
Judas wanted to take control of his own fate and the fate of Israel. He was impatient with Jesus’ slow timing to rise up against tyranny. He crafted a crisis to force Jesus to act, proving he was really the Messiah.
Judas lacked the servant mindset. As a result, he created a disaster, but God used his betrayal as a vehicle to fulfill the prophecy.
Jesus knew he would be arrested that night. He will be leaving his world-saving mission to these weak and vulnerable disciples. Greatness has been thrust upon them. He must once and for all remove their imposter syndrome so that they wouldn’t settle for less.
“Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.” (John 13:5).
The washing of the feet symbolizes two things. Culturally, a servant of the host would wash the feet of the guests before eating, but there was no servant present. That became a teaching opportunity for Jesus to give them an object lesson.
When it came to Peter’s turn, he refused to allow Jesus to wash his feet. I am sure he meant with respect, but, as a Chinese saying goes, “Respect is not as good as obedience.” It means, when an elderly or a master offers you something beyond what you deserve, you please them by being obediently receiving it rather than refusing their offer respectfully. In other words, obedience is better than respect.
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8).
Jesus wants obedience. There’s also a spiritual implication because washing symbolizes cleansing and forgiveness. If we refuse Jesus’ forgiveness, we don’t belong to him. God offers forgiveness, but sometimes we reject it because we feel we don’t deserve it. That’s a type of imposter syndrome.
We know Peter loves Jesus and could not stand Jesus’ words of rejection, so he went to the other extreme,
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” (Jn 13:9–10).
Obedience means doing what the master requires. If you go over, it’s no longer obedience. Peter’s enthusiasm gave Jesus another teaching opportunity. Bathing symbolizes baptism—the total forgiveness of our former sin.
However, as we walk the streets daily, our feet get dirty, and we need to wash only our feet, meaning we only need to confess our daily sins. That’s why we have the prayer of confession at the beginning of the weekly service.
Jesus said all of them are clean except one. He meant Judas.
For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (Jn 13:11).
Judas was listening, and Jesus was hinting to him that he could be forgiven if he repented. After the crucifixion, Judas hanged himself. In one of the movies I saw, the risen Jesus appeared to Judas at the place he was about to hang himself, offering him forgiveness, but Judas ignored it.
Based on what we know about Christ, I think it reasonably depicts what could have happened behind the scenes. After all, he died for people like Judas, and Judas’ betrayal fulfilled the prophecy. Peter also betrayed Jesus that night, but unlike Judas, he accepted Jesus’s forgiveness after the resurrection.
Judas must have thought his sin was too deep to deserve forgiveness. Maybe he was too arrogant to accept the forgiveness—he wanted to be the master of his fate and the captain of his soul. It needs humility to receive forgiveness.
Then Jesus ordered us to forgive one another. I said “ordered us” because he left no options for us not to do so.
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (Jn 13:14).
We live in a fallen world and deal with fallen people. The only way to do great things is not to sweat the small stuff. Forgiveness clears the way for us to focus on fulfilling the greatness thrust upon us. Otherwise, we will be emotionally entangled with resentment, reclusion, and retaliation.
Unforgiveness is also playing the master’s role because God says, “Vengeance is Mine.” (Deu 32:35). When we play God, we surely will suffer from imposter syndrome. If we regard Jesus as our Lord and Teacher, we must obey his teaching and his example.
The only way to fulfill the greatness thrust upon us is to overcome imposter syndrome, and the only way to overcome imposter syndrome is by deciding to be the Lord’s servant and messenger—only him and no one else. If we make this decision today or renew this decision, we will fulfill the greatness thrust upon us.
Jesus concluded this teaching by saying,
Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (Jn 13:20).
He said something like this on other occasions too. He is saying, “Relax, you are just a messenger. When people insult you, they insult me. When people persecute you, they persecute me. When people receive you, they receive me.”
From the moment you decide to serve Christ and Christ alone, you don’t have to carry the burden of imposter syndrome. Let’s decide today to entertain the audience of One and only One, our Lord, and fulfill the greatness thrust upon us, just as the disciples did.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.
Amen! Bye now!