The Shepherd’s Heart

Acts 20:28-31 (NIV)  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

 

One of the widely used Biblical metaphors for spiritual leadership is that of a shepherd. Ezekiel talks about good and bad shepherds—referring to Israel’s kings and religious leaders. David is described as a shepherd of the people of Israel; Jesus described himself as a “good shepherd.” He also charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” And Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In all these analogies, there are underlying qualities of a spiritual leader. For instance
shepherds provide for the sheep. They are supposed to ensure that people under their leadership are fed on the Word of God. The Word of God provides spiritual nourishment and the basis for discerning God’s will for one’s life. Just as a parent wants the children to appreciate healthy food over junk food, the pastor’s role is to train the believer to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

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Leaders should also have genuine interest in the welfare of their people. The parable of the lost sheep reveals the heart of the Shepherd who risks everything, including His own life to bring the wayward sheep back to the fold. The pastor has an unenviable responsibility of rebuking and disciplining believers who do not live according to God’s Word. But at the same time pastors should also comfort and restore those who have been bruised by the consequences of sin. All spiritual leaders are under-shepherds that emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

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Unmet Expectations

Luke 19:41-44 (NIV)  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine over ministry expectations. He was not comfortable with my philosophy of ministry and the way we ran stuff at church. Every relationship revolves around expectations. The more these expectations are mutually met, the healthier the relationship. Some expectations may be expressed while others may not. Some are realistic, others aren’t.

It is always fulfilling when our expectations are met. But it can be disappointing or even devastating when our expectations remain unfulfilled. Unrealistic expectations can hurt both us and others, especially those whom we care about. Some people have expectations of their friends and colleagues that only God can meet. This of course puts a strain on their relationship.

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If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace…

It is also possible to have unrealistic expectations of God. The Jewish people during the time of Jesus had a faulty understanding of the person and mission of the Messiah. They were waiting for a charismatic, political and militarily powerful liberator. It’s no wonder that the Jesus Christ of Nazareth could not fit into their frame of reference. He was too ordinary to be the “savior” they had been waiting for. When He came to them they did not recognize Him. They missed the “time of God’s coming to [them]” (Luke 19:44). And their rejection of the Savior had far reaching ramifications. That’s why Jesus wept. They rejected the One who could give them peace—the Prince of Peace. They rejected their King; they One they had been waiting for all along. But that was not all. 40 years later, the city of Jerusalem would be besieged and later destroyed together with six hundred thousand of its inhabitants.

What are your expectations of God? How do you respond when things seem not to be going your way? Could you be in a resisting God’s will because you have misconstrued God’s will and His ways?

What about your expectations of the people around you—your spouse, siblings, colleagues, etc? Are they realistic and contributing to building a healthy relationship?

My prayer is that God may help us to have realistic expectations in whatever relationships we are involved in.

 

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.

 

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).

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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Instructions for Christian Living

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 (NIV) Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

Relating with Other Christians (12-15)

Christian living is all about relationships. We relate vertically with God by worshiping and obeying Him. On the horizontal plane, we relate with other people. The Word of God tells us to honor our spiritual leaders. Pastoral ministry is a high calling and rewarding but it can also be hard and stressful. Pastors work hard to lead, teach and guide the people of God. Therefore believer are instructed to respect and honor them.  Respect for our spiritual leaders is a Christian virtue (see Hebrews 13:17). Have you been an encouragement to your spiritual leader lately? Find a practical way to let your them know that you appreciate the work they are doing.

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Christian Spiritual Disciplines (16-22)

Christian life is dynamic. For a Christian to grow in one’s relationship with God they ought to practice certain Godly habits. The Word of God highlights some of them such as: joyfulness, thanksgiving, being open to the work of the Spirit in our lives, discernment, and moral purity. We can be confident that living out the above disciplines is possible because of the grace of God available to us. The grace of God empowers us to do the will of God. God is wholly committed to us. He provides all that it takes for us to lead a life worthy of Him. Where in your Christian walk do you feel you are doing well? Which Godly habits do you think you need to develop?

 

Dealing with Life-Disruptions

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Psalm 46:2-3 (NIV)  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

Yesterday I was greeted with some not-so-good news. Although it was not life threatening, it disrupts a fairly major course of action of a department I supervise. It affects our timelines and I am trying to figure out what good might be in it. As I was trying to deal with it, I was also handed a bill that was totally out of my budget—and yet it was for an important and urgent emergency need.

Life does not always loyally follow our plans and expectations and along the journey we encounter disruptions. Some may be minor, like the one I encountered yesterday, but others are major and devastating like the news one receives from the doctor when you had simply visited for a routine medical checkup. How should we respond when life does not deliver according to our plans? The natural (human) thing to do is to freeze, feel bad about ourselves and other people, or give up. But we know that not only is this kind of response unhelpful, it can also be destructive.

The better way is to look Up, beyond ourselves and circumstances, to God our Father and ask for wisdom and direction. God’s wisdom will ensure that we take the right course of action in any circumstances. The Bible says that God’s wisdom is way different from worldly wisdom.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17).

Food for Thought

  1. What life-disruptions are you dealing with right now?
  2. How can you glorify God in your circumstances?