Declare War on the Enemies of Self-Leadership—Interview with Levi Lusko

Published November 7, 2018

Levi Lusko is the lead pastor of Fresh Life Church—a multi-site church located in Montana, Utah, Oregon and Wyoming, with a vision to make Jesus famous and teach the Bible in a way people can understand. In his new book, I Declare War: Winning the Battle with Yourself, he explores the essential challenges of self-leadership.

WCA: You’re a leader who has had a lot of success at a young age. Yet, in this book you are incredibly honest about the internal struggles you have waged. Why this book? Why now?

LEVI LUSKO: People are talking a lot about the struggles of failure: what to do when you fail, how not to give up when you fail, what you learn when you fail. But there is not as much leadership advice out there about the struggles that go with success.

When you succeed, there are valleys amid the mountain tops. You have an outstanding service at church. Your book gets published. But then you start to wonder if you are a one-hit-wonder. After success, you can find a melancholy that you need to process. Some of the most difficult moments come in the midst of success. There are struggles in success as well as failure. Success is not the end of your story.

There is a saying, “Nothing fails like success.” That’s because once you succeed, it’s easy to let your guard down. Think about King David in the Bible. He wasn’t tempted by Bathsheba until he was king. The Native Americans had a tradition of breaking camp in both good times and bad. If they couldn’t find buffalo or food, they broke camp. But when they did find buffalo and food, they also broke camp because they understood that they would get too complacent if they stayed. To win, we need to guard our souls, both in success and failure.

Quit trying to lead other people until you lead yourself.

WCA: A common leadership axiom is that you can’t lead others until you learn how to lead yourself. This book felt like your personal manifesto on self-leadership. Is that what you set out to do?

LUSKO: I’m glad that came through in the book. Yes, absolutely. My message is: quit trying to lead other people until you lead yourself. It’s a lot easier for me to stand in front of 300 people and give a sermon that tells them what to do than to follow through myself. If you’re not leading yourself well, you don’t have the moral authority to lead others.

WCA: You talk about declaring war on the version of yourself that you don’t want to be. Why is do you use the metaphor of battle to describe this struggle?

LUSKO: Because it’s bloody. It’s a gruesome and bloody thing. The Bible is clear that this is a battlefield. Paul says in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do I do.” The Bible uses the image of battle. The conflict is clear.

WCA: You say, “You cannot declare victory in a battle you don’t admit you’re in.” Why is admission the first move in the battle?

There is a version of Levi I can’t stand. He buys compulsively on Amazon when he’s stressed. He’d rather be on Instagram than writing. He’d rather listen to what a stranger has to say about him than what Jesus has to say about him. I hate this guy.

Admission is the first movement in the battle. The enemy would have us believe that the conflict is not going on. But there is a conflict. The reason the flesh has such control over us is because it has controlled us longer. When we give ourselves over to Christ, we have to adjust to the change in control. We have to call that out and say, “I Declare War” on the part we don’t want.

No one has ever accomplished something great with only half of their heart. When you commit yourself, you accomplish what you set out to finish. You have to be 100 percent behind an idea. When you set yourself in a singular direction, energy comes to you. I believe it is God’s energy entering into you.

WCA: In the war for our thought lives, one key battlefield is negativity. Negativity and positivity are concepts leaders navigate every day. How do you battle negativity in your life?

LUSKO: Negativity creeps in through little things like self-doubt, insecurity, overthinking, self-condemnation. I am harder on myself than I am on anyone else.

I once asked myself, “How would you answer another leader who struggled with self-doubt? Would you berate him?” Of course, if it were another leader, I would encourage him. So why do I berate myself? Negativity cannot lead to a positive life. It affects the polarity of our mind.

Positive and negative forces are like the magnetic currents of a compass you take into the woods. Negativity becomes a self-fulfilling process. For example, if I want to buy a Dodge Durango, I start studying Dodge Durangos. Suddenly, I see them everywhere. That’s because our brain looks for what we want to see. Our brain gets a reward for finding what we want.

So, if you don’t choose to take control of the polarity of your mind, you will succumb to your negative thoughts.

WCA: Another battlefield in our thought lives is the temptation to wear masks. What are some common masks that you’ve seen in leaders?

LUSKO: I see masks on myself—and I think a lot of leaders can relate. Sometimes it’s the funny nervous laugh that is trying to laugh off something I shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s the braggard mask that says, “Oh, you went on vacation to Arizona? That’s great. We went to Fiji.” Or “We just added nine campuses to our church.” Leaders do this. What I’ve realized is when I wear the braggard mask, I miss listening to and celebrating with another person. Sometimes, it’s the know-it-all mask of “I already knew that.” When you say, “I already knew that,” you are letting the other person know you are one step ahead of them. But the reward is hollow. Take those masks off. This is one little thing I’ve stopped doing that has changed my life.

No one has ever accomplished something great with only half of their heart. When you commit yourself you accomplish what you set out to finish.

Also, anything you get when wearing a mask, you must use while wearing the mask. Whatever you wear to attain, you must wear to retain. You have to wear it to lunch. You have to wear it to bed. In this Instagram culture, it is so easy to project an image—a mask—that is untrue. It is so much better to be authentic. It’s so much better to come as you are.

WCA: In the final chapters of your book, you write about Phantom Power—or the Holy Spirit. How is the Holy Spirit the ultimate self-leadership weapon?

LUSKO: Some people are very leery about the subject of the Holy Spirit. Maybe they heard a pastor on TV talking about it in a way they didn’t understand. In I Declare War, I found several great analogies for the Holy Spirit. To me, the Holy Spirit is the difference between someone coming to help you move with a truck instead of you moving your own furniture in your own small car. The Holy Spirit gives you the power to live a better life. That is the best analogy I’ve ever heard for the Holy Spirit. I also like to compare the Holy Spirit to a scene from Iron Man 3 when Tony Stark has to drag his Iron Man suit (a suit that should be making him fly) down the road.

Religion is not about us keeping up with rules. Jesus did not want us to be like that. He wanted us to carry him inside of us. He wanted us to fly. Look at Romans 7:6 , “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the written code.” Why would I want to rely on self-help when I’ve been given God’s help? That help is the Holy Spirit.

To learn more about how to win the battle with yourself, check out Levi Lusko’s book here.

About the Author
Levi Lusk Author Headshot

Levi Lusko

Lead Pastor

Fresh Life Church

Levi Lusko, author of best-selling books Through the Eyes of a Lion and Swipe Right, is the lead pastor of Fresh Life Church in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, and Utah. He and his wife, Jennie, have one son, Lennox, and four daughters: Alivia, Daisy, Clover, and Lenya, who is in heaven. His new book, I Declare War , was released on October 30.