Monday, July 9, 2012

Loving Leaders

“Our job is to love.” – Heidi Baker

Lately I’ve been highly aware of how the pressures of life can war against our kindness and respect for other people, especially when we are in a position of busy leadership or responsibility.  I supervise ordering and distribution for four departments normally staffed by three employees, and for a couple of  months we were short two of those three people (for unexpected reasons beyond our control).  As the pace became more hectic, I saw how easily I can lose patience or fail to communicate how much God values and cares for each individual He allows me to work with – it’s challenging, when we’re focused on accomplishing goals, multi-tasking with all our might, and feeling more than a little stretched and weary ourselves!  

I’m fortunate to work in a corporate culture that encourages respect for all people, as the scripture teaches:

“Show respect for everyone.”  [I Peter 2:17a NLT]

Danny Silk - in his book, Culture of Honor – points out that we are well-schooled in Biblical principles of respect for parents, pastors, elders, governmental leaders, employers, and those whose work merits honor;  but scripture actually tells us to “Honor all people” [I Peter 2:17a NKJV] - not just those we deem worthy.  It’s important – as parents, bosses, or leaders in any situation – to remember that all people are created in God’s image, and He values each one highly, regardless of their accomplishments or situation in life.

It’s also no secret in my office that I am a Christian, so I am compelled – both internally and externally - to grow through this time of pressure into a greater understanding of how to walk in love in all circumstances.  I can’t honestly say I have it all figured out, but the cry of my heart in prayer these days – more than getting all the work done or just managing the stress - is, “God, fill me with more of Your Love & Wisdom!”

After all, God doesn’t exempt any of us - leaders, parents, bosses… even busy, stressed out, or gifted ones – from caring about what’s important to Him, and scripture clearly shows how highly He prioritizes love.

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.  If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.  If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.”
[I Corinthians 13:1-3 MSG]

God confronted Israel’s leaders in Jeremiah 23:1-4 and Ezekiel 34 for protecting their own interests at the expense of His heart for others, especially those who are weak or broken.  Sometimes we may feel that other priorities are so important that we are tempted to redefine love in ways that justify our attitudes or behavior, but God’s Word clearly describes how love behaves:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.
[I Corinthians 13:4-8a NIV]

As I’ve been seeking God for how to “do a good job” without failing to demonstrate His love, I realize that, when I’m stressed or anxious or impatient, I may be operating on a concept of “success” that is not flowing in full harmony with God’s purposes.  Perhaps I’m worried about how I will look to others, or a goal God hasn’t actually given me, or I need to do things His way in order to tap into His empowering grace…

As beloved children of God, I believe we can live in His love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… no matter what else is happening.  So, in the midst of “impossible” busy-ness, He’s been showing me a few things that help me to love:

Worship – Heidi & Rolland Baker oversee a network of about 10,000 churches in developing nations, which feed roughly 10,000 children daily, while they also travel and speak around the world approximately 1/3 of their time.  Heidi spends hours in worship each day, and I’m starting to understand a bit more how this helps her to flow in God’s love, even though she is surrounded by overwhelming needs.  There’s nothing like laying down and surrendering everything (all that we are, have, hope for, worry about, etc.) to focus on our Lord Jesus – who is altogether beautiful and worthy of adoration, regardless of additional benefits to us – to also refresh our perspective and renew our energy for any and every area of life.

Prayer opens us up to receive more of His Love and grace – His empowering Presence – His gifts and ability for whatever He has called us to do.  As we pour out our hearts and listen for His response in prayer, we may also receive inspired “heavenly strategies” for dealing with specific situations that challenge us.  In this season, prayer has helped me to know when to ask for help, what to delegate, how to set boundaries and manage competing priorities, etc.  Prayer brings me back to the Prince of Peace [Isaiah 9:6, Ephesians 2:14].  He has promised to provide all I need – including wisdom, strength and love - for anything He gives me to do each day.   [Philippians 4:13, 19; Deut 33:25, 1 Cor 1:30, 2 Peter 1:3]

Value for the Individual
Although we might not admit it, it can be tempting as leaders to see ourselves, our struggles, or the work we are trying to accomplish, as somehow more important than other people and their concerns.  A wise & godly grandmother used to say, “Everyone, if we only knew it, has about all they can stand.”  In other words, there is grace for whatever each one is called to do, and everyone encounters opposition at their own level.  God doesn’t value leaders, “good people,” busy people, or any one person more than anyone else.  Consider the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus washing His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17), or this revelation of God’s heart:

"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.  What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.  [Matthew 18:10-14 NIV]

Healthy Boundaries, Communication & Self-Love
Last but not least, I’ve been learning that “healthy boundaries,” including appropriate self-care, are an important and practical key to fulfilling my responsibilities without sacrificing kindness, patience, and genuine love for others.  (This topic is more thoroughly explored – both scripturally and psychologically - by Drs. Cloud and Townsend in their classic book, Boundaries, which I found helpful and encouraging during this season of “growth under pressure.”)

If I’m feeling impatient or critical toward others (especially those I lead) and how they seem to be “burdening” me, I need to stop & ask myself a few questions like these:
-         Am I getting enough rest and nourishing myself - both spiritually and physically?
-         Have I communicated with others – kindly and respectfully – what I need, how we could interact more effectively or where my limits are?
-         Do I understand clearly what is and what is not my responsibility before God?
-         Do I explain clearly & teach those I lead – making sure they understand instead of judging them?
-         Am I willing to apologize, forgive, and listen in ways that show others I value their concerns?

In order to truly love others, we need to be sure that our own “love tank” is full by spending time in God’s presence and receiving His Love for ourselves.  Jesus summarized all the commands of scripture this way:

“Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?"  Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.'  This is the most important, the first on any list.  But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.'  These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them."
[Matthew 22:36-40 MSG]

As I said above, I haven’t fully arrived, but I’m more convinced than ever that our ability to show love in even (especially?) the most difficult situations is key to communicating the true gospel to those around us.  God invites all of us to participate in His ministry of reconciling others to Himself, as He pursues a deep and loving relationship with each and every one of us.  “Success” depends on our ability to communicate and demonstrate what He is really like:  to put that in simple Bible language, God is Love [I John 4: 16]. 

My prayer for myself and all of us – especially in difficult circumstances - is that He would help us to focus on His priorities in every situation, and increase our capacity to love as He Loves.

  “If you’ll value every person, it’s amazing what you’ll receive from them.”
– Bill Johnson

Bonus :)  link to video message by Bill Johnson
Bethel Church in Redding, CA - Sunday 6/24/12 a.m.

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