The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (VI)

Simplicity

Nehemiah 5:14-16 (NIV) Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year– twelve years– neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors– those preceding me– placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. Click here for more

Simplicity is one quality of leadership that is perhaps not rated as highly as the other qualities. Some people erroneously think that simplicity is about shunning material things—that’s akin to asceticism. True simplicity is premised on viewing all life from the perspective of God’s kingdom. Simplicity is refusal to live by the standards of the god of this world, which is materialism. Here are some lessons we can learn from Nehemiah’s simplicity:

Down to earth

Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, “We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain” (verses 1-2). A leader who possesses the quality of simplicity is not afraid to associate with all categories of people—whether mighty and sophisticated or lowly and simple. By all standards, Nehemiah was no ordinary citizen. His service in the palace as a king’s “cup bearer” meant that he rubbed shoulders with the king quite regularly.  But he was also very approachable and listened to the concerns of the ordinary people and gave them an appropriate response. When the spiritual leader’s identity is in Christ, they are not afraid to associate with any category of people. They are not bossy but rather, they work with and for the people.

Living Justly

When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them (verses 6-7). Nehemiah had the audacity to call the “priests…nobles and officials” (verse 12) to order because of the exemplary life he lived. The rich were giving out loans to the poor at very exorbitant interest rates. Consequently, the poor would fail to pay—losing their land, houses or whatever else the owed the rich. Although Nehemiah too was lending money to the people, he and his people refused to charge excessive interest.  He refused to exploit the poor like everyone else did. When we live simply, we have the freedom and authority to stand up for the justice of those who are marginalized in our societies.

Generosity

But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land (verses 15-16.) A leader is marked more by how much they give out (literally and not metaphorically) than what they amass for themselves. Leaders know that although their positions may attract privileges, those privileges should be used for the betterment of the people they lead.  In Nehemiah’s case, he noticed that the previous leaders had put a heavy levy on the people in order to subsidize their lifestyle. Nehemiah refused to follow suit; instead he invited his fellow leaders for a sumptuous banquet every ten days (verses 17-18).

True simplicity

How do you exercise this quality of simplicity? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.

 

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The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (V)

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Focus 

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it– though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates–Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Nehemiah 6:1-4 (NIV)

One of the qualities any leader must have is focus—not being distracted from one’s calling, vision and mission. Nehemiah is an example of a leader who was focused and intentional about his assignment. He refused to be distracted by his enemies. Every day we are faced with a challenge to stay focused on what God has called us to do. Let me share some of the distractions we can encounter.

Good things/programs

This is the easiest to distract us from our mission. Life sometimes offers us  many good things. Some of these things or programs may be even more attractive and appealing than our primary commitments. They may offer better positions, opportunities, or remuneration than the ministry God has called us for. It takes immense discipline and intentionality to keep focused when such situations arise.

The enemy

Satan is diabolically opposed to God’s purposes. He distracts us by making us focus on the challenges at hand than the big picture of our mission. The enemy can use diverse strategies to make us fail in our mission. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Apostle Paul clearly says that several times Satan hindered him from going to certain places to preach the Gospel. The encouragement we have is that with Lord’s help we can overcome Satan.

Life challenges

Life is a journey, and so it has its ups and downs. There are times when every leader has to deal with a crisis—whether it is a loss of a loved one, an illness, financial challenge, or a divorce. These challenges can threaten our commitment to our mission. What keeps us going is the assurance that God is with us even in the fire that we might be going through.

Past victories or failures

The hangover of yesterday’s victory or the guilt of past failures can derail us from our calling. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray that “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Yesterday’s victories cannot guarantee today’s success. Similarly, you might have failed yesterday but that’s not a reason for you to give up. Every leader needs fresh spiritual nourishment and strength for the tasks and commitments of each day. God’s mercies are new every morning. Like Apostle Paul says we need to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13).

Keep your Focused on the Goal.
Like an athlete, leaders need to be stubbornly focused on their mission. Our lives must be wholly committed to the mission God has given us. Like Apostle Paul, we need to say “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Like Nehemiah, when we encounter the challenges that would distract us, we should be able to say: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down” (Neh. 6:3).

What are You Chasing?

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1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NIV) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Many of us would agree that life is busy. We spend most of it chasing after so many things. Someone will tell you that “I am chasing this deal”, “this job”, or even “this person.”  People chase after money or material things (which the Bible calls greed). Others chase after pleasure (sex, orgies), otherwise called lust. Others are busy chasing after power and fame is all its forms.

Paul’s charge to Timothy is, therefore, a wakeup call for all of us. The passage uses a couple of strong verbs that are worth noting. Let’s have a look at them:

Flee

To “flee” means to run away.  It is more than simply saying “avoid, turn way, or walk away from.” What are we supposed to flee from? Verses 3-10 give us an idea of what Timothy is being warned against.  We are to flee from false spirituality. And here are some of the features of false spirituality:

  • It is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and it does not promote godliness (righteousness) (verse 3)
  • It promotes controversies (verse 4).
  • It focuses on the material/worldly things. They make you want more of this world. False spirituality makes us feel comfortable living in this world (verses 4-10).

But Christian discipleship and formation is radical. It calls for serious discipline, especially in this generation that does not take sin seriously. The modern spiritualties give Christian disciplines lip service. They promote religious experiences that are void of Godliness. But whole hearted followers of Jesus Christ are to free from what the rest of the world is pursuing.

Pursue

This is another strong verb. To “pursue” means to chase, follow, or persistently seek. We are called to pursue Christian virtues of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. One of the spiritual pitfalls of today is that we do not take spiritual disciplines seriously. Authentic Christian experience is a dynamic cooperation with God. God is fully involved in your formation. But you are also fully responsible for your Christian formation. We “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (1 Timothy 6:2:12-13 – NIV).

Fight

The Christian experience is warfare, only that the fight is “a good fight.” It is a fight of faith. It is a spiritual fight. We fight against whatever would hinder us from being what God wants us to be. We have to fight to pray, we have to fight in order to live by the truth, and we have to fight to act kindly in a cruel world. The good news is that it is a fight we are sure of winning because we are not fighting in our own power but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Take Hold

Lastly, the last verb is “take hold.” It means to grasp; to seize; to capture. We are to “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Our salvation is eternally secure but that is not a license for reckless living. Having a comprehensive motor insurance cover for your vehicle is not a license for reckless driving. We guard our salvation, not because we fear losing it but because it is precious.

A Solemn Charge

1 Timothy 6:13-16. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

These are not just nice word that Paul is saying to Timothy; this is a solemn charge to Timothy and all of us. How seriously do you take your life, calling and ministry? God takes you and your calling seriously. Is what you are chasing worth your life? As someone put it, “Is what you are living for worth dying for?”

The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (IV)

The Courage of a Leader

Nehemiah 2:20 (NIV) I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it” To read more, click here

It’s one thing for a leader to have a great vision, and another thing to fulfill the vision. One of the qualities every leader needs in order to accomplish the vision is courage.

Courage is the confidence to face whatever challenges one encounters with unwavering faith in God’s Promises and His Presence.

Why Courage?

  1. A Leader is venturing into an uncharted territory—doing what one has never done before or doing something in ways that it has never been done. This task of pioneering is likely make them put them at a risk of rejection from some of their allies. But every leader must know that you cannot lead from a place of your comfort. A leader must always take risks by breaking out from the comfort zone. A leader must be ready to follow conviction of their heart—to do what the Lord asks of them. We live at a time when it is very hard (and sometimes dangerous) to live out Christian values at our communities, workplaces, or even schools. Leaders need the courage to do what is right and inspire their followers to do the same.
  2. Opposition (from Satan, from people). Satan’s work is to oppose and, if it were possible, thwart God’s purposes. There will be a number of hurdles, and roadblocks that a leader will have to reckon with. Some of these can be life-threatening. The enemy uses different schemes—such as discouragement, distractions, or even confrontation to oppose God’s purposes. Many times it may seem easier and more logical to give up and revert to the comfort zone. But exceptional leaders face life situations and leadership tasks with courage. They refuse to give in to Satan’s threats.
  3. Fear (doubting one’s ability to accomplish the task). Leaders also has to deal with their own fears such as fear of failure, doubting one’s ability to accomplish the task, guilt, past experiences. All leaders have giants they have to deal with like lack of resources, health challenges, and many more. Moses had to deal with his fears of inability to speak, fear of rejection, and fear of possible reprisal from the Egyptian Pharaoh.

What distinguished David from the rest of the Israel community (including King Saul) was that David decided to confront Goliath. I believe David was scared but he did not allow his fears to blind him from God’s promises.   Nehemiah had to deal with his fear of approaching the Babylonian King with a proposal to rebuild the wall of God’s people.

Leaders chose not to listen to their fears but to act based on God’s promises. Why not fear? Because God is with me and God is for me. God has not promised us an easy ride, but He has assured us of His presence.

God’s Word to Inspire Us:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What potential fears do you have to deal with in order to be the leader that God wants you to be?
  2. What is your source of courage?
  3. What motivates you to keep going despite the threats?

courage

The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (III)

The Vision of a Leader

Nehemiah 2:4-5 (NIV) The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.

Vision as Revelation

The leader’s burden and prayer is that the God’s kingdom comes and His will is done on earth in our time and context. Hence, God’s will becomes the leader’s life purpose and vision. For Nehemiah, the need of the time was about having the wall of Jerusalem built.

For Moses it was to take the people of Israel from Exile to the Promised Land. “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10). For prophet Isaiah, it was to be God’s spokesperson to the people of Israel. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’” (Isaiah 6:8-9). For Jesus Christ, the vision was “to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

God’s Agenda

If, as Richard and Henry Blackaby put that spiritual leadership is about “moving people onto God’s agenda,” then God must necessarily determine what the agenda is. The question that every spiritual leader should ask is, “What is God’s will for His people?” The vision speaks of the desired future–about God’s agenda for His people. This means that the spiritual leader’s mind should be saturated with God’s word and the spirit attuned to the Spirit of God.

More than We Expect

What really matters is not the grandness of the vision (from the human point of view) but that the vision is from the Lord. As a matter of fact, many God-given visions seem to be ridiculous to those who do not know God. They do not usually fit into our human (and selfish) expectations. Otherwise how could someone like Moses, in his 80s begin to think of leading a bunch of slaves who had neither and civic or military experience, to the Promised Land; a place he himself had never been to? According to him, he was unqualified. “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11) He actually implored the Lord to “send someone else to do it” (Exodus 4:13 ). But once leaders catch this vision, it drives their entire lives. It is what motivates their choices and lifestyle. Jesus Christ was apt about his life-mission: “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work (John 4:34)

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is God stirring your heart to be and to do in your generation?
  2. Do you have it written down?
  3. How does vision affect how to live your day-to-day life?

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The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (II)

Divine Connection

Nehemiah 2:4 (NIV) The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven

What essentially differentiates a spiritual leader from any other leader is the one’s relationship with God. Nehemiah’s life was marked by an unwavering faith in the God of Israel. His devotion to God was greater than his personal comfort, safety or reputation. It was this relationship with God that motivated him to go to Jerusalem to facilitate the rebuilding of the wall. We can know about Nehemiah’s relationship with God through his prayers which are all over book of Nehemiah.

Likewise, our relationship with God is enhanced by a lifestyle of prayer. One’s prayer life tells us a lot about their faith in God. If we take God and His promises seriously, then prayer must be an essential part of our lives. It is like the air we breathe.

One may ask, “But when and how should we pray?” First of all, the Bible tells us to pray at all times–without ceasing (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Nehemiah prayed at all times. When he received disturbing news about the state of the people and the city of Jerusalem, he prayed. He worshiped, confessed his sins and those of his people, pleaded with God for mercy and favor (Nehemiah 1:5-11). When he stood before the king he prayed for wisdom (Nehemiah 2:4). When he was confronted by his enemies, he prayed for protection (Nehemiah 4:4-5). Spiritual leaders pray at all times with all kinds of prayers.

What makes prayer effective? Effective prayer should be honest. God doesn’t respond to the volume of our prayers. Some prayers are hardly audible but that doesn’t make them less effective. Others are very loud, and that’s still okay–after all God doesn’t have heart problems. God does not respond to the length of your prayers. Some can be spontaneous and short, like the one Peter prayed when he was sinking (Matthew 14:30). Others may take days and weeks. We should always remember that God is not a mean and an unjust judge (see Luke 18:1-8). He is our heavenly Father. What makes prayer effective is the honesty of the one praying and the faith that God will answer us when we call on Him.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Do you have a personal relationship with the heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ?
  • Is your life as a spiritual leader marked with fervent prayer?
  • How can you make prayer an essential part of your lifestyle?

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The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (I)

The Burden of a Spiritual Leader

BIBLE TEXT Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah stands out as one whose leadership abilities are worth emulating. He was not part of the Jewish religious “elite” (such as priest, prophet or king). He was “a cup-bearer” (a very privileged position) of King Artaxerxes I of Persia. But he left his comfortable lifestyle in Persia to lead a third group of the Israelite returnees back to Jerusalem where he embarked on a project to rebuild the wall. The project was completed in a record 52 days!

But how does all this begin? When Hanani, returned from Jerusalem, Nehemiah inquired from him about the state of Jerusalem. The report about wasn’t good: “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (Neh. 1:3). Instead of complaining and apportioning blame to others, Nehemiah owns up the challenge. The state of the city and people of Israel becomes his personal burden. He “sat down and wept. For some days [he] mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (Neh. 1:4).

As someone put it, “the world is won by tired people” who refuse to settle for less than what God intended for them. Great leadership is born out of a burden—a holy discomfort and discontent about the status quo. Spiritual leaders recognize that we are not what God intended us to be, we are not where God wants us to be, that something is not right.   It is this inner conviction that things must change that makes a leader.

I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you (Nehemiah 1:6).

This burden then motivates one to ask pertinent questions: How did we get here in the first place? What went wrong? What essentially distinguishes spiritual leaders from any other leader is how they answer these questions. Spiritual leaders interpret reality from God’s point of view. It all begins by realizing that we are where we are because of our sin. We disobeyed God’s righteous commands. Human responses will not fix the world problems. The root of the world problems is not essentially political, economic, military, or ecological. It is essentially, a sin problem. And unless we first fix the sin problem, all other interventions will at best be superficial. The right place to begin is by getting right with God (repentance). The spiritual leader’s burden leads one to God’s presence, pleading for God’s mercy, grace and wisdom. The other actions proceed from our encounter with the Lord.

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