I have been reading “An Unhurried Leader” by Alan Fadling. It’s a great book, but leaders with type “A” personalities should stay away from it if they don’t want to feel convicted! Among other things, Fadling reminded me of an essential fact that I find myself forgetting more often than I want to admit: a vision OF God precedes a vision FROM God. Too often I get the cart before the horse.
You are probably familiar with that passage in Isaiah chapter 6 where Isaiah saw the Lord. Don’t skip over those words, “In the year that King Uzziah died.” Uzziah had been a good king and, under his leadership, God had blessed the southern kingdom of Judah. Life had been good in Judah during the 52-year reign of Uzziah. So when King Uzziah died, it was a big deal. The nation had depended on his leadership. What were they going to do now? Time for someone to step up to the plate and provide some leadership and vision, right? Not so fast. Look at the passage.
Isaiah 6:1-8 (NIV)
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 ”Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8 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!”
Isaiah definitely needed a vision FROM God, but first he needed a vision OF God. What’s interesting is that when he saw God clearly, it helped him to see himself clearly. When Isaiah came face to face with the holiness of God, it made him painfully aware of his own unholiness and helplessness. When he confessed his need, God touched him and cleansed him. Then, and only then, was Isaiah ready to receive a vision FROM God. Now Isaiah was ready to answer, “Here am I. Send me!”
I have discovered that I need an occasional day alone with God (once a month is about right) to get my vision OF God back into focus. I spend the day decompressing, talking with God and listening to God. The result is that, at the end of the day, I not only have a clearer vision of what he wants me to do, I have new energy and passion with which to do it.
Keep the order straight. A vision OF God precedes a vision FROM God.
2 Timothy 3:1-4, 1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…
In the above passage from 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul gives a laundry list of the kinds of actions and attitudes that will be prevalent as our world winds down toward the end of time. He lists offenses like abuse, slander, brutality and treachery. That’s some bad stuff. But hold on. Right in the middle of that list of heinous sins he lists “ungrateful”.
Seriously? Does he really mention ingratitude in the same list with things like treachery, brutality and slander? It almost seems out of place, doesn’t it? We all agree that ingratitude isn’t a good thing, but should it really be included in that list?
I think so because, in a way, every temptation begins with ingratitude. Think about the first sin that took place in the Garden of Eden. If you remember the story, God created Adam and Eve, put them in that incredible garden, and gave them the run of the place. There was only one thing that he forbid them to do and that was to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (you may have heard it called an apple tree—not sure where that legend got started). The serpent (Satan) shows up and tells Eve that God is ripping them off by not letting them have the fruit of that tree. As she thought about it, ingratitude crept into her heart and soon, instead of focusing on all that she had, all she could think about was what she didn’t have and soon ingratitude drove her to disobey.
And it’s been that way ever since. Ingratitude is a telltale sign that we don’t trust God or appreciate what he has given us, and when that happens, it can lead to all kinds of other problems. Ingratitude is deadly because it opens the door to so many issues.
In this month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, let me challenge you to work on your attitude of gratitude. It will open your life to the incredible grace and goodness of God and will protect you from a host of destructive actions and attitudes.
Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” I think he may have been right.
So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,
And guided them with his skillful hands.
Psalm 78:72 (NASB)
On a recent day alone with God, I read Dave Kraft’s book, “Leaders Who Last.” As you would expect in a book that focuses on what it takes to run the leadership race with resilience, there was a chapter on character. We all know that character counts, especially in the life of the spiritual leader. But Kraft’s insights caused me to rethink the connection between character and competence. As leaders, we can’t reach our full capacity unless we are continually growing in both character and competence. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. In the words of the above Psalm, it requires integrity of heart and skillful hands.
It seems like every month or so we find ourselves grieving over some high-profile leader who has crashed and burned because his character didn’t keep pace with his competence. In the words of Fred Smith, “When leaders fail, more often it is a result of a character flaw than a lack of competence.”
However, that doesn’t negate the importance of continually growing in our competencies and skills. To remain effective over the long haul, leaders absolutely must be learners. As Dave Kraft worded it, “When you’re through learning, your through.”
Dr. Greg Bourgond, a professor at Bethel Seminary said, “Leadership competency may be the tool of effective leadership, but biblically informed character has always been the power of effective leadership.” I love tools, so that analogy works for me! To build something requires the right tools, but also the power to operate the tools.
My son, Mark, is a marketing representative for Ryobi and Ridgid tools. Because of that connection, I have a wonderful collection of 18-volt battery operated tools. I’ve been spoiled by the convenience of being able to work on a project and not have to drag around extension cords. But here’s the thing; when the battery is dead, so is the tool.
You get the picture. Character is the battery and competencies are the tools. You need both to accomplish anything significant and lasting. Character + Competence = Capacity.
I’ve been thinking lately about the connection between opportunity and obstacles. Years ago I read that the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters, one meaning “danger” and the other meaning “opportunity.” Sounds about right…It seems like anytime you walk through the door of opportunity, you walk straight into a wall of obstacles.
The classic example of this principle can be found in the Old Testament account of the Israel’s refusal to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. You remember the story; God led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and right before they were to cross over the Jordan spies came back with the report that there were fortified cities and even giants that would have to be overcome. And you know the rest of the story; they shied away from the challenge and spent the next 40 years doing laps in the wilderness.
Here are some random observations about opportunity and obstacles that rise to the surface in that story:
So don’t be discouraged by obstacles—that just means you are knocking on the door of opportunity! Chuck Swindoll said it like this: “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”
14 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
–2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NASB)
Recently I was having a conversation with a pastor who was bemoaning how difficult it is to schedule volunteers for his church’s children’s and hospitality ministries. It’s not that they mind serving if they happen to be in church, it’s just that they don’t want to commit ahead of time, just in case they decide to go somewhere that weekend.
His venting led us into a discussion of “cultural Christianity,” a phrase that I’ve heard more and more lately to describe Christians who want God, but they want Him on their own terms. They want a relationship with God, but it has to be convenient. They want to experience joy, peace, love and all the good stuff, but they shy away from growing and serving.
Not quite what Paul articulated in 2 Corinthians, “so that they who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him…” A little different than our “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” approaches to evangelism. Don’t misunderstand me, God does have a wonderful plan, but wonderful and comfortable are not synonymous.
Ray Comfort uses a powerful analogy to illustrate the importance of approaching the requirements of the Christian life with the right motivation. Two men get on a plane and, once the plane is airborne, are handed parachutes. One is told that the parachute will make his ride more comfortable. The second man is told that the plane is going down and that the parachute will save his life. The first man will chafe under the burden of the parachute and may eventually take it off because his motivation is comfort. The second man, however, won’t take his parachute off for any reason because his motivation is not comfort but survival.
People will chafe under the demands of carrying the cross if their goal is comfort. In recent years our evangelism techniques have centered on the “here and now.” We tell people that life will be better if they accept Christ, that their relationships will get better, they will experience new levels of joy, etc. All of that is true, but the person who comes to Christ for those reasons alone may not only chafe under the rigors of the Christian life, they may even defect eventually.
But when people understand that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that the primary goal of a relationship with Christ is to save us and make us like Jesus, not to make life easier. The person who really understands that basic issue will carry the cross gladly. Who knows… they might even serve in your children’s ministry or on your hospitality team!