I spent some time pouring over the newspaper during the past few days. War continues to rage in Syria, Gaza, and Afghanistan. The protests are getting more heated in Cairo. The economic crisis in Europe is deepening. We are worried in the U.S. about the “fiscal cliff.” Most Americans are not more hopeful that the next generation will have it better than the current one. Fear and anxiety seem to rule the day.
There are two Psalms in the Bible that begin in identical ways, but with different proposed responses. They both begin with a stated fact. They both command a certain response that is both troubling and encouraging. Psalm 97:1 says, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad.” The Hebrew word for “reign” signifies that God is acting as a king. The psalmist is telling us that God rules, He acts as sovereign king over creation. The “earth”and “coastlands” serve as symbols for the inhabitants of those geographical descriptors. The proper response that is commanded as a consequence of this ruling is joy and gladness. This can be true because of what we learn in v.2, that God is a perfectly righteous and just ruler. The notion of joy here is to be an intense joy, experienced both individually and corporately as a community of believers. This joy is not simply emotion, but a quality grounded in God Himself and extended to us. To be “glad” is very similar to the idea of joy. This word serves to intensify this quality of what is to be experienced and expressed. We can experience and express joy exactly because God perfectly rules over all of creation. The knowledge of His righteous and just kingship should provide us with a sure foundation for walking through whatever we encounter.
Psalm 99:1 says, “The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble!” Again, we have the same statement of fact that God rules as King from a righteous and just foundation. But this time the commanded response is to tremble. To “tremble” can mean to be shaken, to be disturbed, to be in dread. It can also have the connotation of being excited. If we were to read down in verse 3 we would see this time that the response is rooted in God’s holiness. The picture here is of a high, exalted, and lofty God that is over any mere man. Therefore, we are to tremble at His kingship. This kind of dread is not out of fear because of a tyrannical ruler. This reverence is because He is perfectly holy and we are not. Whenever you see a human being who comes in contact with the living God in the Bible they immediately fall prostrate before Him. That is a natural response of sinfulness and brokeness before holiness.
I believe both responses are proper. As we see chaos all around us on the world stage and in our personal lives, we must focus on the sure knowledge that God reigns. That knowledge, based upon God’s righteousness, justice, and holiness, should elicit both great joy and great fear. We can be confident that nothing surprises God. Nothing catches Him off guard. He is not wringing His hands over the state of the world. He reigns! He is in control! Therefore, you and I can exhibit intense joy and intense reverence simultaneously. We would be wise and right to do so.
With that understanding I can read the newspaper of the world and the newspaper of my life differently.
King David in the Bible faced many leadership challenges. Some were outside his control and some were a direct result of his personal sin. We do not know the exact circumstances that surround Psalm 5 but it is clear that David feels some anguish and senses his need for divine help.
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
David is expressing both an attitude of heart and petition-he groans and he cries out. Notice that David calls the Lord “my King and my God.” David rightfully acknowledges his own dependence and submission as he calls upon Yahweh. Certainly David is facing threats from those who are less than reputable. He speaks of these opponents as “bloodthirsty and deceitful men.” What is the essence of David’s prayer? We find it in verse eight.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.
David the leader prays to be led. He prays for God’s righteousness to prevail and for straight paths. David is crying our for clarity and for vindication. He looks not to his own resources but to God alone.
When we as leaders are faced with half truths and deceptive practices we must also rely upon the One who controls it all. When we may be tempted to grab control and retaliate-we must lean on the One who deeply understands and is able to act on our behalf. David concludes this Psalm by pointing to God’s protection and blessing. David the king places his trust in the King of Kings. Can we do any less?
We just had over a 1000 photographs digitized so as to ensure their longevity. The other night we were looking at most of the images on our computer and reminiscing about the different stages we have been through as a family. It was a lot of fun to stop and take note of the growth, the changes–and the memories. In many ways it was a form of celebration.
Sometimes leaders are so focused on the future that they rarely stop and take time to look back to celebrate. Yet, followers need times like this-and so do the leaders.
In Joshua chapter four of the Bible, Joshua is commanded by God to gather twelve stones, one representing each tribe of Israel, and to set them as a memorial marking their crossing of the Jordan River and entrance into the promised land. In verses 21-24 we read, 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” The first point was to create a memorial for future generations of Israelites to remind them of God’s actions on their behalf in delivering them out of Egypt. The second point was to be a witness to the rest of the world about the power and might of God. Notice that the honoree was God and not Joshua. I think this was a reminder to Joshua, as well as the people, that God uses leaders to accomplish his purposes and to honor himself. This was to stand as a testament to the grace of God and his use of a leader.
As spiritual leaders we must be cognizant of the same thing. God appoints leaders to use leaders-but the glory and honor are his. It behooves us to establish God memorials too. We need clear markers and reminders, that when asked how such a great accomplishment was achieved, we can clearly point back to the grace of God and recount the story. It provides the good opportunity to celebrate God’s grace and God’s goodness.
How will you lead in remembrance? There are many creative ways you can point yourself, your family, and your followers back to the grace of God in your lives. Pictures, a journal, literal stones–or even a blog–can be used as memorials of God’s grace in the life of a leader and a people. Out of our brokenness we are forgetful people. We need visual reminders of God’s greatness and our need for him.
Create a memorial today. Go and collect some “stones” and tell their story. Lead well!
I recently bought a little book entitled Stop Loving The World. It is by William Greenhill and is in the Puritan Treasuries For Today series by Reformation Heritage Books. The Puritans often take a beating in our current culture-but the Puritans were astute thinkers and understood well what it meant to cultivate a true love for God. I want to highlight a few critical points on “Examining Our Hearts.” Let this be a part of your preparation for Easter.
1 John 2:15 states, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.” Consider these questions:
1. Am I more concerned about the things in the world than I am for heaven and spiritual things?
2. Does the world push aside and cut out the things that are of God? Do the things of the world jostle the wall of the things of God?
3. Am I content with a little when it comes to matters of the soul?
4. In what then do I find most sweetness and contentment?
5. Do I use questionable or unlawful means to get to the world? Do I neglect lawful and unquestionable means that would get me heaven and spiritual things?
6. Do I love ideas, learning, wisdom of words, talents, gifts, and things of this nature?
7. Am I more grieved over the loss of outward, worldly things than I am for the loss of spiritual things?
Greenhill ends with this thought: “Honestly answering these several questions should help you know whether you love the world or not. And if you find that your heart is set on this world, you are worthy of great blame.”
Two weeks ago I took a three day retreat to get away and rest. I try and do this on a regular basis-at least yearly. I think this is useful for any of us, regardless of our role. But I think this is especially important in the life of a leader. Leaders live busy lives and are in constant danger of either believing their own press toward their successes or being completely overwhelmed by their problems. For the leader leading in God’s kingdom there is always the problem of burnout-usually some combination of being under “relationshiped” and over taxed. The subtle contributing causes and/or consequences are wrongly placed hope and misdirected glory.
In Psalm 3, David, the great King of Israel, is describing through song the flight of his life. More disconcerting, he is fleeing from his son Absalom. This takes us back to 2 Samuel 15 where we recount the narrative that drives this Psalm. David has made his great error of having an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and directing the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. Even though David repents of his sin, the consequences of his selfish actions continue. The kingdom is beginning to unravel and his son seeks to usurp the throne. Absalom is certainly one of David’s favorite sons. The glory of any king is the love of his family and the love and honor of the people of his kingdom. David had tasted all that and more prior to committing his sin with Bathsheba. Now he was running for his life and the disparaging comments of others. At some point prior to chasing after Bathsheba, David had traded kingdoms. He had decided to put more stock in his own estimation of life and pleasure and pursue his own glory over and above Yahweh’s. But in verses 3-8 we see David recalibrating his hope and glory. He declares God to be “my glory, and the lifter of my head.” He cries out to God. He rests. The Lord sustains him, and his courage and vigor return. He ends the Psalm by rightly declaring that it is Yahweh who is his salvation and that the people are Yahweh’s people. David regains perspective.
That is what slowing down and retreating will do for you. I find it takes a whole day just for the noise of everyday living and leading to go away. Then in the next couple of days I can begin to see where I have misplaced my hope and tarnished His glory. Finally, by His grace, I can recalibrate. I can freshly surrender. I can place my full hope back in Him. I can reorient my life and leadership towards His glory over mine. This takes time. This takes solitude. This takes crying out to God for His presence. This takes thoughtful reflection. This takes the generous ministry of the Holy Spirit to saddle up beside you to prod, pull, nudge, tug, convict, renew, and restore. The personal retreat in the life of a leader becomes a re-starting point-a recalibrating point-so that he or she can return to the battle with fresh energy and a renewed sense of the greatness of God. Every leader who leads in God’s kingdom needs periodic recalibration so he or she can lead with rightly placed hope and for God’s glory.
As you begin 2012 plan your personal retreat right now!