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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Shepherding God’s People

1 Peter 5:1-4 (NIV) To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers– not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Feed God’s Flock

Apostle Peter reiterates the same charge that he himself received from the Lord Jesus Christ (see John 21:15-17). The one single most important role of the pastor or elder is to be “shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (verse 2). This includes providing pastoral and biblical oversight, discipline, instruction, counseling so that the people of God can grow into Christ-like maturity.  Shepherds need to guard themselves against the negative motivations for pastoral ministry such as working out of obligation, being greedy, or bossy. Instead they should serve because they are willing, eager, and exemplary.  Shepherds should also know that they are really under-shepherds, with the Chief-shepherd being Jesus Christ who will at the end reward those who are faithful.

Do you have a pastoral responsibility in your church (such as pastor, elder, small group leader, women’s leader, etc.)? How do you measure up in light of today’s passage?

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Humble Yourself before God

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:5-7).

Young people are ambitious and active. But they can also be easily entrapped by pride. Pride may cause them to despise the wisdom of those who are older than them, thus making the pastoral ministry hard. We all need to know, though, that pride is not exclusive to the youth. Pride puts us on the wrong side of God. “God opposes the proud”(verse 5). No one would want to have God as their opponent. In the highly competitive world that we live in, it is easy to get worried about promotions, accomplishments or worldly accolades. Keep in mind that it is always rewarding when God promotes us in His own time. We, therefore, should not be anxious or stressed out about human accomplishments but rather look up to God who deeply cares for us.

Do you sometimes find yourself in unhealthy competition for recognition and promotion? It is wise to wait on God to “lift you up” in His time.

 

 

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?

 

Called to Be Influencers

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Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

 

Our Identity

“You are”

  1. The Salt of the Earth (verse 13)
  2. The Light of the World (verse 14)

Both of these images have a positive influence–salt as a preservative and enhancing flavor to the food, and light illuminating the world. They are both accessible in virtually anywhere in the world, to anyone, whether rich or poor.

BUT they also operate differently; salt has to disappear (dissolve) for it to be effective. So, one can say it works in a discreet, covert manner. On the other hand, light is necessarily visible: “people [do not] light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:15).  Its influence is overt.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a calling to influence the world whether covertly or overtly. We are all challenged “to live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received” (Ephesians 4:1). In what ways can make your life count?

Our Mission

“Let Your Light Shine”

This is what we were called to do: to be change-agents, to be influencers. Just as light casts away the darkness that is around it, and salt enhances the flavor of the food, we are called to manifest God’s love, grace, mercy and justice in our various spheres of influence. God has wired and positioned us differently to accomplish this task. Apostle James says that our faith has practical ramifications. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). The woman named Tabitha (also known as Dorcas) lived as salt and light in her community. She “was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). When she died, the widows she had helped were “crying and showing [Peter] the robes and other clothing that Dorcas   had made while she was still with them (Acts 9:39). For these widows, the death of Tabitha meant that their light had gone off. How are you manifesting the light of Jesus in your community? Just like salt can only be effective when it is out of the saltshaker, we cannot shine while we keep our faith private. Our faith must necessarily be expressed in the context of the community.

Our Purpose

The Glory of God

“…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

After a good meal, no one ever praises the salt, for the flavor it enhances, instead the praise goes to the cook. We do not shine, to attract praise to ourselves but to the ONE who called us. As we shared last week, we were created to live for the audience of ONE, to make God look great. This is our life purpose.

Our faith must necessarily be expressed in the context of the community.

The Hallmark of a Christ-like Community (II)

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Living for God’s Glory

1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Last week we looked at our identity as a Christ-like community. It is this identity (who we are) that defines our purpose (what we are here for). This week, we will focus on what we are here for? As someone put it we would like to examine whether what we are living for worth dying for. How do we, as people of God, measure our success? Do we go by the world’s parameters of money, status, titles? As a church is our purpose to have big congregations, a plethora of programs, big and state of the art buildings and technology? Although none of the above is in and of itself bad,  we cannot make it the heart of our existence–our purpose.

 

The Audience of ONE

The Word of God is clear about the purpose of the church (the people of God): “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out…”  This seems a pretty straight forward statement–and it is. But some of you might be asking, “yes, but how?” How do we declare God’s praises? How do we live for God’s glory? How do we make God look great in our lives and ministries? How do we live for the audience of ONE? This is a very difficult thing to do in our present generation that exalts “self” (or is it selfie) above everything else. How do we direct praises (fame) to God and not ourselves?

Your Context is Your Platform

Every single person and church community has a unique context which is a potential platform for living for God’s glory. Whether it is in an upscale urban setting, inner city slum, or rural setting you can live for God’s glory. You can make God look great whether you are working with professionals, single mothers, sex workers or orphaned children. The key thing is to discern where God has placed you and the opportunities (often disguised as challenges, or problems) your context offers you to shine for God’s glory.

Is it a Big Deal?

One might ask whether orienting our mission around the glory of God is such a big deal. Yes, it is. God is passionate about his glory. He declares in Isaiah 42:8 that “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” God forbade Moses from entering the Promised Land because Moses “you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy” before the people of Israel (Numbers 27:14). God takes His glory serious. The reason He created us, the reason he saved us, the reason the church exists is to live for His glory. That is our purpose.

 

Your Attitude in Trials

Texts: James 1:2-182 Corinthians 1:1-11

Our attitudes, especially during tough times, are very important. They determine whether you soar above your challenges or sink under them. So how should we respond when we go through tough times?

  • Count it all joy

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2)

  • Be hopeful. Even in the hardest, gravest moments of your life; God is with you. He is for you and not against you. He will work out something good out of your troubles.
  • We can be joyful in trials because of the promise of the reward (a crown of life) for those who endure. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
  • LET YOUR TRIALS BE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR GOD TO DISPLAY HIS POWER. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
  • Ask God for wisdom

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).

  • Ask the Lord what He would want you to do in your situation
  • Believe that when you ask, God will answer you
  • Make decisions based on the wisdom you received from the Lord

This takes us to the next attitude…

  • Make the most out of your tough times

  • Apostle Paul’s example:

    • Paul wrote letters to churches
    • He preached the Gospel to the guards and those who met him
    • He maintained a positive outlook about his situation: “I am chained but the gospel is not chained” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:9)
  • King David’s Example

    • When he was a fugitive, running from King Saul, he provided leadership to those who sought for him.

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him (1 Samuel 22:1-2).

    • One more example:

You might be out of work (meaning that you have more time on you). There are a number of things you could do:

      • Pray
      • Read
      • Write
      • Dream of the future that you envision (yes, never stop dreaming)
      • Visit and encourage others
      • Volunteer in a local community-based charity
  • Ask the Lord to deliver you from the trial.

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray (James 5:13).

    • The Bible is full of examples of people who cried out to the Lord to deliver them out of their troubles—and He did. God has promised that when we call on His name, He will answer and rescue us from our troubles. And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15)

 

  • Walk in faith.

    To walk in faith is to rely on God’s love, power and wisdom

    • The devil always wants to use trials to tempt us

What’s the difference between a trial and a temptation?

Using the example of Jesus Christ:

At the end of fasting for 40 days and nights, he was hungry and thirsty. The need (or desire) for food and water can be likened to a trial. But the enemy wanted Jesus to misuse His divine powers (in ways that were inconsistent with God’s word) to turn stones into food -this was a temptation

One of the tragedies of today’s Christianity is pragmatism, which basically goes like this: “If it works, then it’s OK.” We are told that the end justifies the means. But God is interested in both the means and the end. What we do and how we do it, equally matter to God.

The Lord’s purpose in trials is to make you mature—to become more like Jesus. However, Satan’s goal is to take advantage of your trials to tempt you to deny God. Faith makes you keep your focus on Jesus.

 

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