The Jonah Complex

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jonah complex

Why is it that every human being is born with the same unlimited possibilities, yet only very few ever achieve great success? Is it luck? Is it chance or coincidence? Is it merely knowing the right people or simply being at the right place at the right time? We have our predetermined ideals about successful people, often we assume they were one of the “lucky ones” or they inherited daddy’s hard-work. But is that really a sufficient conclusion? Or is it merely an attempt to defer our attention from the real issues of success?

Success isn’t a magical potion or some supernatural phenomenon that requires rabbit feet or four leaf clovers! Success can be measured many ways and regardless of your perception of success, success is simply maxing out your potential. I know our world has placed dollar signs and job titles on success, but success can’t be measured by pay checks. Success is simply pouring all of your energy, resources and time into whatever it is that you do.

Jesus gave us a parable of success, we call it the parable of the talents. It’s found in Matthew 25:14-30… Jesus begins the parable “For the kingdom of heaven is as…” This is an indication that this isn’t just a story, but rather it is designed to teach a kingdom principle. So in this particular parable a man is leaving town and he begins to “deliver unto them his goods” according, the Bible says, to their “several ability”. To to one servant he gives 5 talents, to another he gives 2 talents and finally he gives his last servant 1 talent. Notice the master does not give out the talents equally, each servant only received enough talent to max out their abilities. 

Don’t ever get caught up in talent evaluation! Don’t ever allow the idea that you are not as talented as other people discourage you. God will only empower you to do what you can do. But always understand you may only have 1 talent, but your talent is just as important to God as the next guys 5 talents! And your 1 talent will make just as much a difference in this kingdom as the 5  or 2 talent individual!

Then the Bible says that the man who had been given 5 talents went out and he invested ALL 5 talents. And the result of his investment was 5 additional talents. The 2 talent man did likewise and his result was 2 additional talents. But the 1 talent man took a slightly different approach; instead of investing his talent, he instead buried it and hid it. And the Bible says that the master was gone for a long time, this man had plenty of time to find something to invest his talent in, instead he said I’d rather keep this talent and at least when the master returns I can give him back what he gave me.

Finally the master returns and now it’s time to check in on his servants and see what they’ve been up to. The 2 servants who had invested their talents were rewarded with a tremendous honor as their master excitedly announced, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” Then walks up the 1 talent servant, his head was down, his shoulders slumped and his feet were dragging as he tried to excuse his inactivity, “Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strowed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.” In other words, Lord, I know you can be a little demanding, so I didn’t want to disappoint you and invest your talent in the wrong place so instead I just held it for you! Look, here’s your talent back!

Now we would assume in our human understanding that a return is a return. If this was a financial investment we would be content with breaking even, especially if our other 2 went well. However the master responded, “Thou wicked and slothful servant…” His rebuke ends with these stunning words, “…cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness…” The master looked at this man and called him wicked, lazy and unprofitable (of no value) all because of his lack of investment.

I am convinced by studying this scripture that the master was not interested in returns at all. I don’t think he would cared if the 5 talent man only brought back 1 talent, or if the 2 talent man brought back 1/2 a talent; I think he was just interested in seeing if there was anybody in his kingdom who was willing to invest everything they had to make the kingdom work! The success wasn’t measured in what they brought back, the success was measured by what they were willing to give!

That’s the formula! Yet instead of realizing greater success it appears that more and more people are drifting into a weird abyss of disappointment and despair. As I watch my peer group I see a staggering number of people with loads of talent living and operating well below their potential. And I’ve asked myself recently, what’s going on? And then I stumbled upon a theory known as the Jonah complex.

Abraham Maslow developed this psychological theory in the early 1900s, taken from the Biblical story of Jonah. In this theory Abraham Maslow defined the Jonah complex as “the fear of one’s own greatness, the evasion of one’s destiny, or the avoidance of exercising one’s talents”. What Maslow discovered is a unique human trait that actually learns to accept live as is because we are afraid of what may happen if we dare pursue anything better.

As Maslow began to study this complex, he determined that humans “fear their best as much as they fear their worst”! Maslow would often ask his students, “What’s the point of learning to become a mediocre psychologist?” “Doing only as much as necessary to be competent”, he told them, “was a recipe for deep unhappiness in life”. Maslow understood if his students became content with just getting by, they would be evading their own capacities and possibilities.

So I ask my generation of apostolic leaders, “What’s the point of ministry if we only become mediocre ministers?” We must have a drive that’s bigger than just wanting to be good enough to receive a paycheck or to be elected into a position! You will never be happy and you will never feel fulfilled living that way! And worst of all, your master is coming one day to take an inventory of the talents that he’s handed out. What are you doing with what God has given you? What are you investing your talents into? Into the kingdom of God, or into this earth (world)?

Abraham Maslow was notorious for challenging his students in class, he often asked them questions like, “which of you will be the next president?” When the students would squirm or blush at the notion of pursuing something that grand, Maslow would respond with another question, “If not you, then who else?” In other words if you don’t step up and start dreaming bigger, then we may not have a leader for the next generation to follow!

Who will be the voice of this generation? Who will be the one who leads the charge towards end-time revival? Will you be the one who stands up in this difficult day and accepts the challenge to lead? Or will you be content to just be competent? My question is simple, “if not us then who?”

Abraham Maslow