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).

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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 (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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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?

 

Being Caring Christ-Like Community

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Mark 10:13-16  (NIV) People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

In the last couple of weeks I have been sharing on the implications of our identity and purpose as followers of Jesus Christ. We have been called by God to live for Him—to make Him look great. How we express our purpose, of living for God, largely depends on our different contexts.

For starters, let’s ponder on these questions?

  1. If you were a pastor of a local church, what kind of people would you pray that they come to your church? What motivates that desire?
  2. Which kind of people do like to you associate with? What motivates your choice of friends?

In the story of Jesus blessings little children we see in the disciples’ response a reflection of many of us when it comes to living out our faith. As we know, Jesus’ actions almost always shocked everyone, even those closest to Him. His actions were unconventional and counter-culture. But there was also something predictable about Him in whatever He did; He wanted to please the Father. He touched and cleansed lepers, ate and drank with sinners, was anointed by former prostitutes. He reached out to those regarded as the dregs of the society. He loved those who rejected Him. He died for those who crucified Him.

In the Bible passage above, Jesus’ disciples felt that He should spend His time doing better things—meeting the important and influential people. But Jesus had a different idea. He chose to spend time (and bless) the children. Children were: vulnerable, often ignored by adults, powerless and had no social, political or religious influence. Therefore, according to the disciples, time spent with children was considered wasted. We demonstrate Christ-like character when we act the way Jesus acted—by choosing not to live by the dictates of our societal values but His.

The community in which our local church is located has very many children. We minister to hundreds of them every month by sharing with them the word of God, dancing with them, offering them a cup of hot porridge and bread. As church, Children’s Ministry is one of our local expressions of what it means to be a Caring, Christ-Like Community.

Reflection:

  1. Who are “the least of these” (cf. Matthew 25:40) in your community?
  2. What is an appropriate expression of what it means to be a Caring, Christ-Like Community in your context?
  3. What is God calling you (as an individual or body of believers in Jesus Christ) to do in your community?