Leaders Are Learners

We are well into the new year. How’s it going for you? Are you feeling productive, or do you feel as if you are in the same routine, the same way of thinking, feeling like nothing as changed except the numbers on the calendar?

I would like to offer this question, “If, for you, everything seems the same, what are you learning?”

What’s interesting to me is how many times I ask this question and get a similar response, “I don’t have time,” or my favorite, “I’m too old”/“I have a hard time learning new things.”

Many people have god intentions to follow through with new year resolutions. I know I have, in the past. But then something seems to happen. There seems to be a new stressor, a new amount of pressure, that is causing us to change or to follow through with what we said we wanted to do. Change is hard. After all, it is said the only people who like change are babies with a dirty diaper.

So if it is change we really desire, what can we do to make it happen? The underlying truth we all have to realize is, if we are going to have a better life (a deeper life in Christ for those who are Christian), we have to seek and live into ways that help produce change.

How many of you have said you want to lead other people? I typically hear it like this, “I’m a good leader.” My question, then, is how many people do you have following you? Then we have to look at what makes a good leader. The truth is, real leaders are constantly learning something new, and improving what they already know and do.

I have heard that CEO’s of businesses read an average of 60+ books a year. Do you think this is something you can do? Why/Why not?

If the goal is to improve ourselves so we can do more, for our family, for the world, for our lives, then where can we begin?

I would recommend starting with something you already love. If you like to play golf, take a few lessons to help improve your swing. If you like to play other sports, play them more and ask people for pointers. If you speak for a living, ask people to constructively critique the messages. If you like to garden, seek someone who can give you some advice. If you have a desire to read, or say you don’t like reading, begin with a short audio book or podcast. This list can go on and on.

Part of the reason we do not follow through on our new year resolutions, I believe, is becasue we try to do more than we can manageably accomplish, then get frustrated when we do not get the desired results (if we have thought about results) within a week or two.

Leaders are learners. If we want to see our lives really change, and do great things, then we have to find ways to learn something, even if it is something we see as small. It is amazing how many things, business and world leaders can learn from attempting to master a golf swing.

Now, I am a pastor and I firmly believe that real change does not happen on our own. I believe we do not possess the power and ability to change within ourselves. We do have access to channel the Source of all Power and Grace in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, given by Jesus Christ, and directed by God. So, if you are a believer, have you sought out how God is asking you to be different? Have you followed his voice to undergo the process of transformation?

If you are not a believer in Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, his mercy is available and ready to aid you in achieving so much more than you can ever imagine.

The point of all of this is, what are you learning? Start small. It is never too early nor too late to expand our minds and watch the power of God flow in and through us to make lasting change in the world.

Oh, and it never fails to have some people with you as you learn something new: people to share ideas with, and to help hold each other accountable. God works well in those relationships.

Loving to Life Pt 4

VISIONING

This is one of my favorite things to do – visioning for the possibilities of the future.

I have said before that I do much better in bigger picture planning and thinking than I do when it comes to the minor details. The details are important. Visioning is not just about long term planning or thinking how an organization/person/church can be in the next generations. Visioning is about taking the plans and putting them into action.

A vision without action is really just a day dream. In this aspect of helping people/organizations/churches live for the future, we are doing a few different things: 1) we are looking where they have been, 2) where they are now, and 3) what is possible with the current resources (and also resources that will become available)?

Visioning has to be covered in prayer from the beginning, during, and execution. I have also learned that listening to the hopes and dreams of the people is another place God is speaking about the future. As we have been listening and learning from the people in our small groups, we have an incredible chance to hear the passions of the people. This is where I think we should continue with the visioning process.

As we have been praying, and seeking God’s direction and focus for our new endeavor, we are also searching for the places God is at work. If we pay attention, we can hear God speaking through the passions of the people.

Visioning is a big picture activity and requires looking at the big picture. Right now, I would ask you to pause and write down what you consider as part of the big picture.

In my experience, we tend to sell short the “big picture” for only what we can see. The challenge here is to look beyond what is seen. Look at the organization, the people involved, the culture in and around, what has been done, what is going on, the resources in the past, the resources in the present, targets and goals for the future.

This is really just a small list, but it does give us some greater things to think about and consider; but it should help us expand our horizons to think about more than just the amount of people and bottom line. Visioning requires us to dream and act toward a goal of how the organization/person could be in the time frame you decide. This helps us with acting upon the vision.

As far as time, we tend to focus more on the next year, five years, or ten years down the road. How would it impact and affect your vision to think about how things could be in the next 50-100 years? Does that seem like too far into the future?

Think about this. Everything we do is either going to last for a short period of time or it will last for a long period of time. When we think more about the next 50-100 years, it helps us focus more on the next generations to help make sure there is something for them. This means we work toward something that may or may not be comfortable to us here and now.

As you spend time in prayer, listening to the people’s passions, and learning about the past to see future potential, praise God for the opportunity to be in the place you are in the time you are.

God has given and will give vision. Pay close attention and continually talk with other people so it is more of a community effort of prayer and work. Watch to see all God will do.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  • How have you typically planned for the future in the past? Is there anything written here you haven’t considered before?
  • What are you excited about in the new area/position?
  • What do you think about the idea of planning for the next 50-100 years instead of just a year, 5-10 years, down the road? What is challenging about this? How can you work through the challenges?

Loving to Life Pt 2

MEETING PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE

Last week we began a series to help us love people to life. When we go to a new place, it it easy to assume we know what people need to do. In many cases, we may be right.

The best thing to do is to pray, and listen, to see where God is working and how God is working in the new area we’re in. Go night to a new place and driving forward our plans, without seriously paying attention to the work of God already in progress, can create some issues. This is not saying God will not bring redemption through work we do;  but the work could actually take longer.

So, we’ve prayed and we believe we have listened carefully to God’s voice and have opened our eyes to see the work in progress. We must be careful not to give into the temptation to get to work right away. I know this seems odd to say. The truth is we would do so much better if we took our time.

Taking our time means we begin the process of getting to know the people. Plus, it gives us a chance to “meet people exactly where they are.”

Think about that for a minute. How did Jesus Christ begin working with your life? He met you, the person you were, in the exact situation you were in. I would also bet to say that when you realized Jesus was right there with you, he did not start off by saying, “I’m here to fix your life, so you need to do these steps right away!”

Instead, I believe Jesus first said to you, “I love you. Come and see what your  life can and will be like with me.” That’s basically what he said when he called the disciples in Matthew 4, Mark 1-2, Luke 5, John 1. He invited the disciples to join him, just as they were. That’s when the transformation begins.

Our number one priority in this life, aside from loving and worshipping God through Jesus Christ, is to love the people God created.

Now we have to ask the question, what does meeting people where they are look like?

This is really one of the hardest things we will ever do. This involves simply listening to their stories, what they say about other people, how they say they live their life, anything they want to tell you…without judgement. It involves us learning the area, past customs, past traditions, history of the area, learning what dreams people have. All of this is done at the same time we are praying for God’s wisdom, vision, for the area while we are there.

I have found that, most of the time, you will hear people begin to say things that are very similar to what God has been speaking to you. And, when we take time to get to know the person and witness their life, trust is formed through this relationship. Then, we can begin to see the work of Christ in their life. Afterall, this is how we would want other people to treat us.

We may have a grand vision, grand ideal, for an area, for the life of a person, or people group; but Jesus may be working on something deeper than what we can see and experience at the surface. This is why it is so important to meet with people where they are, as they are, so we can see how God is using us to work with him in that person’s life.

Here is something I have had to learn to consider in every situation: maybe it’s not just about working to make change in other people’s lives; maybe it is also about God’s redemptive and transformative work within our own life.

How is this sitting with you, right now? What did you know about this concept? What do you not agree with?

Additional questions to consider:

1) What do the people do/act like, that is hard for you to be around?

2) Do you think you have to patience to continue this work for getting to know people for months or even years without getting frustrated or impatient?

3) What do you sense God working on in your life, as you get to know new people and their stories?

Confidence in Prayer

Someone just asked their friend to pray in public. The friend felt fear creeping in. “What if I say the wrong words, that other person has much better prayers than I do!” These are thoughts that are not uncommon. It is scary, at times, to speak in front of a group of people. But prayer is different.

Prayer is not about what people are listening; it is more about our God who is listening. God is truly the only audience we have when we pray. It is to him that we bear our heart and soul. No one can take this away from us, unless we begin to focus on the people present and wondering what they are thinking of our prayers.

One way I have found to help with my personal prayer life is to pray the prayers the human fathers of our faith prayed. Saint Augustine, Saint Francis, Tertullian, John Wesley, etc. For our Anglican brothers and sisters in Christ, and something we can utilize, there is the Book of Common Prayer.

The people of our faith tradition have beared their heart and soul communicating with God. We can use those prayers and make them our own. The human heart is always searching for the same thing, purpose through a relationship with God.

So, how can we become more confident in our personal prayers? Several years ago, I was listening to a great friend of mine praying with a group of college students. The time spent in that prayer setting was incredible. What did they do? My friend led the students through the Lord’s Prayer, taking it line by line and encouraging each student to focus on that line.

For example, he would say something like, “Our Father, who art in heaven…God you are the One who created everything in our universe, including us. You are enthroned in the great glory of heaven and we get to talk with you because you are our Father.” WOW! Think of the power this would bring to the live of those praying. Not only are we speaking directly to God, our Creator; but we are recognizing his position, his power, and realizing that because he is our Father, we have a direct source to receive this power from. After each line in the Lord’s Prayer, my friend invited the students to pray on their own; praying for the specific concept of the phrase spoken and prayed.

What this showed me was we need to be able to address God through prayer; but at the same time, we have the opportunity to learn to pray in agreement with God’s plan. This is why I believe Jesus said, “ask anything in my name and you will receive it.” We do need to take heed, though, because when we pray, we get to communicate with our Father in heaven about his will, not necessarily our will. Our hearts become so connected with God that we begin to desire the things he wants, especially when we focus on what it is we are praying.

Taking time to pray daily, for any length of time is what we should be doing. Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5 to “pray without ceasing.” The way we live our lives is truthfully a direct reflection of our prayer time with God. But what if we feel like our prayers are too shallow, or they are not going beyond the roof of the house? We trust, that somehow God hear each and everyone of our prayers no matter how big or how small.

Over the course of this next year, I am inviting you to take some time to grow in your daily prayer life. Begin with a simple “thank you” to God for everything he has given and has done in your life. The simple act of saying “thanks” is a great mental and emotional reminder that all we have is from God our Father who gives us everything we need (Matthew 6).

Spend a few days with the simple “thank you” prayer and see how your communication with God changes each day. Watch how you’ll begin to experience, as Paul says in Philippians 4, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”

I also challenge you to look into prayer books, especially ones from the early church, and pray the prayers the early church fathers prayed. The heart and mind they had in many of the prayers is something we can strive for because the mind of Jesus Christ was being formed in them as it is in us.

Finally, I encourage you to look at the 10 Commandments, Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer. These can be found in many church hymnals, online, the Book of Common Prayer, etc. Read through and meditate on the words and take time to pray, line by line, and talk with God through these prayers, creeds, and commandments.

The more we pray, the more we pray with a friend, the more we pray with others, the more confident we will become in our prayer life. We can be assured that God is hearing each one of our prayers, that Jesus Christ is the high priest who is our mediator, and that the Holy Spirit cries out to God what we really need to say (Romans 8:26).

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” Colossians 1:3-6 NIV

December 20: Prepare (Advent 2014 Devotional)

Matthew 2:3-6 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote: You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah, because from you will come one who governs, who will shepherd my people Israel.”

advent

We have come to an interesting point in our journey this advent season. Herod trying to figure out where the “King of the Jews” would be born.

At first glance, these verses may not make sense being part of a devotional series preparing our hearts for Christmas; but if we look closely and listen we can see a couple incredible things.

First, this passage shows that Herod was not paying as close attention to his area as he should have. Have you been busy in the business of the Christmas season, that you may have missed something important? We all get caught up in our lives and become so inwardly focused that we can miss what God is doing all around us, especially if it does not directly pertain to us. I believe part of the reason for the Advent season is to remind us to be patient and expectant. This means we look for Christ is all we see, hear and do. We are patient because we take the focus off of ourselves and onto God. We are expectant because we should love to see that God is doing around and in us.

Second, this passage shows that Herod had learned people around him to continue to teach him. Who do you have around you that you can ask questions to so you don’t come up with your own conclusions; but you can learn from each other? Being in community is another part of the Advent season. God comes down to be with his people (community).

As we’re getting closer and closer to Christmas, let’s all pay close attention to what’s going on around us so we don’t miss God’s work in the world and in our lives. Let’s also continue to keep learning from each other.

Holy God, you do incredible works all around us. Thank you for inviting us to observe, yet be part of your working in this world. Help us open our hearts to see and hear from you as we prepare to celebrate, once again, the birth of Jesus the Christ. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.