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Humility in Service

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A critical character trait in the life of a leader is humility. I actually believe that pride can lead to great fear and humility can lead to exceptional boldness. I also believe that humility has to be anchored in a secure identity, an identity that stands outside of self–an identity that is realized in our Creator and His redemptive plan. I am offering a Puritan prayer today for your consideration. It comes from The Valley of Vision. It is entitled “Humility of Service.”

Mighty God,

I humble myself for faculties missed, opportunities neglected, words ill advised, I repent of my folly and inconsiderate ways, my broken resolutions, untrue service, my backsliding steps, my vain thoughts.

O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood and let no evil result from my fretful temper, unseemly behavior, provoking pettiness.

If by unkindness I have wounded or hurt another, do thou pour in the balm of heavenly consolation;

If I have turned coldly from need, misery, grief, do not in just anger forsake me:

If I have held relief from penury and pain, do not withhold thy gracious bounty from me.

If I have shunned those who have offended me, keep open the door of thy heart to my need.

Fill me with an overflowing ocean of compassion, the reign of love my motive, the law of love my rule.

O thou God of all grace, make me more thankful, more humble;

Inspire me with a deep sense of my unworthiness arising from the depravity of my nature, my omitted duties. my unimproved advantages, thy commands violated by me.

With all my calls to gratitude and joy may I remember that I have reason for sorrow and humiliation;

O give me repentance unto life;

Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord, that faith may adhere to him more immovably, that love may entwine  itself around him more tightly, that his Spirit may pervade every fiber of my being.

Then send me out to make him known to my fellow men.

A Leader’s Prayer-King Asa

UnknownOn several occasions I have highlighted the prayers of leaders recorded in the Bible. Often, they have been the prayers of King David. That is because he penned so many of the Psalms. But today I want to focus on the recorded prayer of King Asa.

Following the reign of Solomon, Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The son of Solomon, Rehoboam, reigned in Judah for 17 years and was seceded by his son, Abijah. Abijah reigned for 3 years and was seceded by his son, Asa. 2 Chronicles 14:2 tells us that, “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.” This is remarkable because it was not always true of the kings of Judah and it was never true for any of the kings of Israel. But Asa was diligent to rid Judah of idolatry and point his nation back to the one true God. For 10 years Judah enjoyed rest and prosperity under the rule of Asa.

Shortly after this decade of national peace and prosperity, Zerah, the Ethiopian, came out against the nation of Judah with an army a million strong. The rest was broken. Judah’s days as a peaceful and prosperous nation were being threatened by a powerful neighbor to the South. Asa did what any worthy king in the Ancient Near East would do. He mustered his army and went out to meet this foreign threat. The problem was that Asa had less than 600,000 soldiers to meet the million man army from Ethiopia. This was new leadership territory for Asa. He had not faced intruders or this kind of battle before. The odds were significantly stacked against him. This prompted Asa to pray. The Bible says that Asa “cried to the Lord his God.”

“O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.”

This prayer contains two requests and four declarations of faith. Asa’s two simple requests are what you might expect: “Help us” and “Let not man prevail against you.” Any leader would cry out to their god for help in similar circumstances. They would ask for victory. But it is in the faith declarations that we see the strength of Asa’s requests and what he believes about Yahweh.

  • O Lord, there is none like you to help
  • We rely on you
  • In your name we have come against this multitude
  • You are our God

The first declaration is towards God’s uniqueness in power. God is not constrained by the circumstances. As a matter of fact, God loves to prevail on behalf of the weak.

The second declaration is towards His trustworthiness. God was worthy of Asa’s trust. God had led Asa toward peace and prosperity. And God had led Asa to prepare an army in peace time that he might be ready in times of trial. God could be trusted in these circumstances also.

The third declaration is towards His glory. When Asa invokes God’s name he is calling upon God’s total character. A person’s name represented all of who they were. In our English Bibles the word “Lord” in these verses is in all caps. That is because Asa was crying out to YAHWEH. This was the covenant name of God. It symbolized that God would do what He had promised. This name stood for the majesty of God, His glory.

And the fourth declaration is toward God’s claim on His people-and their claim on Him. Asa was declaring that he and the nation of Judah belonged to God exclusively. Asa was declaring his allegiance and trust to God. Notice too that the final request is that man not prevail against God, not against the armies of Asa. This reflects Asa’s belief and identity being anchored in God.

These faith declarations, tied to the character of God, frame and support the requests that Asa makes. As spiritual leaders we would do well to frame our pray requests in a similar manner. A leader’s prayer based on the character of God, made by a devoted follower of God, will be heard by God. James, the Lord’s brother, said it this way, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working (James 5:16). May we be praying leaders, sure in the nature of God, and confident in our requests.

What are you learning about prayer as a leader?

Two Critical Ingredients to Team Unity

 

UnknownSometimes I am asked by Christian leaders, “What are the elements that lead to true team unity?”  Unity is defined as being in a state of harmony.  It is the quality or state of being made one.  It is not the loss of diversity or uniqueness.  It is the confluence of gifts, abilities, like mindedness and effort towards a common cause.  My experience tells me that there are two primary pieces to creating team unity: Shared experiences and prayer.

Shared Experiences  Unity is enhanced when people are exposed to their weaknesses and made to depend on one another.  When a team tackles a difficult task, as a team, there is a comradery built around the need to pull together to be effective at that task.  The nature of the common task can vary greatly.  It can be an organized team building task.  It can be a true to life ministry effort.  Whatever the make up of the task it must include something significant enough to demand every member of the team to contribute well.  It must be of a nature that each team member begins to realize the value of every other team member.  The end result is that the team begins to see that they are better together than alone.  There is a sense of oneness that becomes apparent.  Therefore, there are appropriate times or seasons for a leader to require that a team go after something together-rather than continuing to be a collection of individual efforts under the same banner.

Prayer  Prayer is a spiritual exercise and it has power to shape the core of a team.  What I mean is that prayer, directed toward God, as a team, is a unifying experience because, by its very nature, it too expresses a deep dependence upon God.  When a team rallies around prayer as a collective expression of dependence, God has the opportunity to also form a collective heart.  Therefore it matters what teams pray for.  Therefore, there ought to be some God sized requests that a team can trust God for together.  As God acts in response to prayer, a team can also celebrate to His glory.

Shared experiences and prayer, when genuine, are important ingredients in forming team unity.  What are some of your thoughts?

A Leader’s Prayer-Psalm 101

The book of Psalms found in the Bible is a collection of poems.  It is Hebrew poetry.  The individual psalms were often sung and recited as prayers or praise to God.  Most of the Psalms found in the Bible are penned by King David of Israel.  Psalm 101 is one such poem.  It is a brief psalm, only eight verses long.

David addresses his poem of prayer to Yahweh.  In the opening four verses he makes five declarations.  Each declaration begins with the phrase “I will . . . ”  David as a leader is taking a stand before God as to the type of leader he wants to be.  But don’t forget that this is a prayer also.  While David is declaring his intent he is also trusting in the steadfast love of God and the justice of God to make this true of him (see v.1).    These are prayer declarations.  David is committing himself to lead with integrity.  Look at the declarations below.

I will sing of steadfast love and justice

I will ponder the way that is blameless

I will walk with integrity of heart within my house

I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless

I will know nothing of evil

I would suggest that we as leaders pray the same declarations before God today.  We can’t make these come true in our own strength.  We need the grace of the gospel that is in Jesus Christ.  Thus, why we pray.  Prayer is always an act of dependence.  But if the above declarations were becoming more true each day of you and I, think of the difference it would make in our leadership-and the blessing it would be to those we influence.  Lead well!

A Leader’s Prayer-Judges 5

The period of the Judges in the Bible was a tumultuous one.  During this time, Israel as a nation entered into cycles of sin that constantly required a deliverer  in the form of a judge.  The repeated pattern was the following:  Israel would sin through idolatry, God would discipline them through conquest by a godless nation, the Israelites would eventually cry out for a deliverer, God would provide a judge to deliver them, and the people would live in peace–for a season–until the cycle began again.  Deborah became an unlikely deliverer for the Israelites against a king of Canaan.  Deborah was both a prophetess and a judge during a particular season of slavery due to Israel’s sin.  Through Deborah, God raises up a deliverer,  a man named Barak.  But Barak was wise enough to know that there would be no victory without Deborah.  So through Deborah’s instruction and Barak’s execution, Israel throws off the chains of Canaan.  Through this great victory Israel was accorded 40 years of national peace and rest.

In Judges 5 you find the words to a celebratory song from Deborah and Barak.  It is an anthem of praise to God and an acknowledgement of his deliverance.  It recounts the military exploits that God accomplished through Israel.

What is intriguing to me is verse two:

That the leaders took the lead in Israel,                                                                                        that the people offered themselves willingly,                                                                  bless the Lord!

The opening line to this prayer/song is thanksgiving to God that leaders led and people followed willingly.  Isn’t that amazing?  At a time of national crisis when leaders were desperately needed God raised up a woman and a man to rally leaders to lead.  And when leaders led well, people followed.  And that was a reason for praise to God.

There are principles here for us as modern day leaders.  As leaders, we too must wholly lead on God in times of crisis.  As leaders, we must have the wisdom to recognize the word of God for us (in this case represented through Deborah) and not abandon that word.  As leaders, we must recognize that we accomplish little in our own resources and we must be careful to give God praise.  When leaders lead well and people willingly follow-we too must give thanks.  Lead well!

A Leader’s Prayer-Psalm 5

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?

A Leader’s Prayer-Psalm 2

The book of Psalms in the Bible is a collection of songs and prayers that are heart felt and real.

Prayer is ultimately an act of dependence.

When we pray to God we are either giving thanks for who he is, giving thanks for what he has done, or in need of his wisdom, power and provision.  Proper prayer is dependence.  It is holy communication to one who is sovereign and supreme.  And every spiritual leader is in need of bending the knee daily to that authority.  As I read the Bible there are many passages that leap off the page as very relevant to the life of a leader.

Psalm 2 is a Messianic Psalm.  That means that it is about the person of Jesus Christ.  But it also seems to be addressed to the leaders of the world.  The Psalmist mocks worldly leadership when it chooses to be opposed to God and his purposes.  He points everyone to the King, the Son of God, who will possess the nations as his heritage.  The Psalm ends with a call to wisdom for all worldly kings.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned O rulers of the earth.  Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him. Psalm 2:10-12

Ultimately, leaders are to “serve the Lord” and to “kiss the Son.”

Both of these are acts of submission.  Service may be obvious as an act of submission.  But to “kiss” the hand of someone was to acknowledge their supremacy over you.  Literally this is an act of worship.  The Psalmist describes the net result of taking these actions as taking refuge in him.  Notice that the consequence of these choices is blessing.  Every “ruler of the earth” needs to bend the knee in submission to Jesus Christ.  This keeps a leader from the deadly disease of pride and helps to ensure that he or she is leading according to the true King’s agenda.

Join me in prayer today to that end for our personal leadership lives.

Untying the Knots

I woke up again this morning with a pit in my stomach. This has been a recurring feature over the past couple of years living in Italy. It has baffled me at times because I could not get to the source of it. I would not wake up with anything in particular on my mind. Just a general sense of dread and stress. But today I knew why.

Last night the son of our Italian landlord called to inform us that his father had passed away a couple of weeks ago from a heart attack. Our landlord had been a very easy person to work with. We were renting a family home of his-some 800 years old. And at times it has acted its age. Living in Italy has been stressful for us as a family. I have often said that living here is like getting kidney punched all day long. It’s such a beautiful country and the people so very warm and genuine that you sometimes don’t notice the cultural stresses that are assailing you.  The daily punches can eat up your margin.

What if our landlord’s son wants to sell the house immediately? What if he wants to raise the rent significantly? What if he doesn’t like us?  What if, what if, what if? This morning I finally committed the situation to prayer. I had an assurance that God could handle the outcome whatever it may be.  The landlord’s son came over with his wife and was here maybe for 20 minutes. He was very nice. We gave him a copy of our contract. He merely stated that there was a new bank account number for the electronic rent transfers-and we were done. Nothing more to it than that. Both my wife and I were relieved.  Why had I fretted?  Why had I lost sleep over this?  Why did I have the stomach pit?  I know it has much to do with how I view God, how I view my salvation, and how I think about prayer.  I desperately need to live more as a loved child than an orphaned slave.  I struggle often with rightly seeing God as a loving heavenly father rather than a distant task master.  I think the pits are from not believing that God cares deeply for me and has my best interest at heart.  And at times my prayer life is a clear reflection of that belief.

This afternoon I read an essay on John Calvin and prayer.  You don’t often hear the reformers name tied to prayer-but that is our fault, not his.  Calvin had a lot to say about prayer and what I read was thought provoking and profound.  Here are a couple of quotes:

“Prayer is a communication between God and us whereby we expound to him our desires, our joys, our sighs, in a word, all the thoughts of our hearts.”

In prayer we are “permitted to pour into God’s bosom the difficulties which torment us, in order that he may loosen the knots which we cannot untie.”

For the one who truly knows Christ as their Savior Calvin deeply understood that prayer is primarily an intimate conversation between Father and child.  It is a conversation that the Father longs to listen to, acknowledge, and honor with His divine wisdom and action on our behalf.  Here’s to untying more knots!

What You Did Not Hear About The Wall

Back in September I was in Berlin for an emerging leader initiative. Even then the city was gearing up for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall-and with it communism in Europe. Of course last week on November 9th the actual 20th anniversary was marked by many festivities in Berlin. As one watched the international media you saw Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown, Hillary Clinton, and Mikhail Gorbachev. Credit was given to the people of East Germany-and to Gorbachev and Reagan as would be architects of this monumental moment. It was amazing to witness the crowds, the fireworks and the long domino like symbol of the tumbling of the wall.

What you didn’t hear in the media was the story of Wilfred and Hannelore Weist. We spent an evening with this wonderful couple as they told us of the hand of God in the collapse of the Berlin wall. They explained how for years East German Christians gathered for prayer. Every Monday they and many others in a prayer network would secretly meet to pray for East Germany-for the persecuted believers at the hands of the Stasi (the East German secret police) and for the wall to go down. Each Wednesday at noon when the East German government would do a trial run of their emergency warning horn over the city-Christians would pray. A few nights before the mass gathering that is credited with the fall of the wall-hundreds of Christians gathered on the east side of the wall to peacefully protest the domination and injustice. That protest is what gave rise to the following one. Hannelore and Wilfred talked of how they trusted God for years to take down the wall that separated the German nation and provided a fertile field for tyranny. They confidently stated how they knew that it was God who broke down the will of the tyrants-not back room politics between the U.S. and USSR. As you can tell by their picture-this couple is jubilant-their joy is contagious and makes you wonder what role persecution plays in developing real joy. Hannelore and Wildfred still live on the east side of the city-and they are still ministering to all who will listen about the love of Christ that marked them in profound ways before and after the fall of the Berlin wall.

Another Gem from The Valley


I know I frequently quote from The Valley of Vision. These Puritan prayers inspire me–they have a unique way of describing the Christ life to me. They are honest and Christ exalting–what I often find missing in current day Christian literature. This quote speaks to the core of what every Bible teacher should be about. Most leaders, if not teachers by gifting, must teach from time to time–and regularly find themselves addressing groups of people. These are principles to hold dear:

Thus my end in preaching is to know Christ, and impart his truth;
My principle in preaching is Christ himself, whom I trust, for in him is fullness of spirit and strength; my comfort in preaching is to do all for him.

May we be teachers, preachers and leaders that live out this prayer–in a day that desperately needs it.