But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11, 12 NLT)
Run…pursue…fight…hold…the truth of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus require purposeful action. Jesus is not a guru who shares aphorisms to be contemplated or riddles to be unlocked. His words are a call to action, both to be more like Him, and to be His hands and feet in the world. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend time in reflection; in some cases it’s not clear what God is calling us to do. But when it comes to loving Him and loving others, Jesus was unequivocal about us pouring our whole beings into those commandments. And we must be active, not passive, because there are many competing voices & worldviews vying for our attention and affection.
It was a year ago yesterday that my blog had its most views – 82 in one day, which still seems like an enormous number to me. I had only posted a few things and my ego was immediately gratified. I felt as if I was well on my way to becoming a new kind of leader, a 21st century, Fast Company-Twitter-feed kind, who used social media to expand his influence and gain huge advantages at work. It was all a snare, a fiction I couldn’t live up to, and it hurt me deeply in the actual performance of my job.
This year feels different because writing, which has felt like a chore in the past, is laying a fresh foundation for something awaiting me in the future, as opposed to being an indicator that I’ve achieved something in the present. What the enemy intended for evil, God is using for good in my life and in the lives of others, through the redemption of my motives and the realignment of my desires.
If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself;
but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.
Fear of The Lord teaches wisdom;
humility precedes honor. (Proverbs 15:32-33 NLT)
And you must love The Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5 NLT)
How do you love God with all your strength? Strength measures one of two things: external power or internal fortitude. Personally my physical strength doesn’t amount to much, but one way I honor God with that strength is remaining committed to exercise and staying fit, and any time I’ve run on the treadmill longer than I thought possible was like a prayer of thanks.
As a rule, people don’t know just how strong they are (or aren’t) until they find themselves in the midst of a crisis. In my career I have seen way too many people who claimed that they couldn’t concentrate on their work – or even come to work – because of their personal issues, and all too often they end up adding unemployment to their list of problems. As a leader, what is my responsibility to help other people find or develop their inner strength? It doesn’t require belief in God to see that strength of character and strength under pressure are essential tools for coping with life, and that people who lack them will never fulfill their potential because they’re always running away from or folding under adversity.
We love and honor God both when we use what strength He gives us, and when we acknowledge those times when our own strength is insufficient. There have been many times in my career when I felt like I lacked the strength to accomplish a task, or have a difficult conversation, or overcome a failure. Help was always there, but ego often kept me from asking for it, both from other people and from God, who knows our limits and invites us to allow Him to be our source of strength when our own strength falters; rather than chiding us for weakness, He blesses our reliance on Him.
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. (Psalms 118:14 NLT)
In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall. (2 Samuel 22:30 NLT)
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13 NLT)
What I really wanted for Christmas was a device that would read my thoughts and organize them into coherent sentences for me, sparing me the trouble of having to write them myself. My fingers usually can’t keep up with my brain, whether I’m hand-writing or typing, which is why I often avoid writing. I want to change that in 2013, and it seemed like looking back on last year would be a good way to find inspiration. Here are some of the big ideas that resonated with me the most, copied in no particular order from various things I wrote over the course of 2012:
God wants me to spend my time helping people grow & prosper, not checking email.
Fear & timidity are signs that I am not trusting God enough with my circumstances (see 2 Timothy 1:7).
Hand-written thank you notes have a profound impact on the people who receive them, it’s been fun & rewarding to write them.
“Accordingly, the practical aim of the one who takes obedience seriously is not to obey, but to become the kind of person who easily and routinely does obey as a result of devotion to Jesus and consequently of taking him as Lord, teacher and friend. The practical aim is to know him, to be devoted to him, in this inclusive manner.” – Dallas Willard
Jesus dying for the world is more than just for the world, but it’s also for me as a person…He died to set ME free, and so when I think about freedom in Christ I have to remember what a high price was paid for it.
How can I be anxious about work when I consider 2 amazing facts: 1) the Creator of the universe loves me and wants to be the most important person in my life, and 2) He blessed me with gifts, talents, skills & passions so that I could actually do stuff for Him.
“And all my words come back to me
In shades of mediocrity.
Like emptiness and harmony,
I need someone to comfort me.”
“Homeward Bound,” Simon & Garfunkle
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever….”
John 14:16 KJV
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
2 Corinthians 1:4 NLT
The Bible promises that, if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36). Even as (especially as?) a Christ-follower, I have found it challenging to live life like that’s true. The things which have held me bound are myself & my self-imposed limitations.
If God truly has me in my job for a reason, He is going to empower me to do the work. Freedom in that context starts with me getting out of His way, allowing Him to work on changing those aspects of myself that prevent me from realizing my potential. It’s a bit of a paradox – surrender to God to be free – but what I want is not unlimited freedom to do whatever I want, but rather freedom from the baggage that I carry from past failures which have stunted my growth as a leader. We can’t read enough books or attend enough seminars to do that for ourselves. And God has done amazing things in my life over the past two months as I have bent my knee to Him and tasted what true freedom is like.
Thursday morning I was sitting in Starbucks, finishing & posting my observations on this week’s lesson for an online class I’m taking through Willow Creek Community Church called The Leader’s Soul. I was at Starbucks because we were having router problems at home & I got frustrated so I decided to finish up somewhere with a more dependable connection. The last thing I wrote was “…I admit that it’s hard for me to discern [God’s] prompting. I don’t know if that’s related to my wounded soul, or if maybe He just isn’t prompting me, which scares me because I don’t want to become one of those people who loses the capacity to hear God’s voice.” Hearing & responding to God’s promptings has been at the forefront of my focus lately because of this course, as well as the Soul Revolution series my church (Gateway Community Church in Austin) has been doing.
Seconds after posting I looked up and noticed the woman sitting in front of me. She was on her laptop, looking at a web page titled “Christian Nightmares.” Interesting, I thought…was the site about how Christians are a nightmare, or maybe about how many Christians around the world suffer through nightmarish persecution? I just couldn’t tell from where I was sitting. Then I realized – oh, it’s a prompting, I’m supposed to get out of my chair, reach out to her and ask. I felt an initial moment of panic & resistance, but it was interesting how, once I resolved to do it, it felt very easy to get up, and I wasn’t even worried about whether or not she thought I was a whacko. I sat down & told her that I couldn’t help but notice her web page, and was interested in learning more.
To make a long story short, she is a Chrstian and she & her husband were interested in checking out a particular church in the area because they had recently heard a recording of a message that church had done a couple of years ago about same-sex relationships, and how Christians must be more Christ-like in loving gays & lesbians, a topic that really resonated with her. She said “the church is called Gateway.” I said, “that’s interesting, because I go to Gateway, and I was there for that powerful message.” She told me that, before I introduced myself, she apparently had been nervous about me seeing that web page, and was wondering what I would think about it, which I found funny & ironic. We exchanged contact info and are working out when we can meet at church with our spouses.
I walked out of Starbucks that morning speechless and filled with emotion. God orchestrated a meeting that would bless us both, and empowered me to step out of my comfort zone through a relatively safe & obvious set-up. I can’t think of anything more to say about it than Wow.