This is the fourth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” You can find the previous three blogs linked at the bottom of this page.

How often do you pray? Do you have a particular posture? Do you say particular words? What is your focus when you pray? Who taught you to pray? What is prayer anyway?

Over my years in ministry, I have discovered that one big assumption is people know how to pray.  The reality is we have difficulty praying. We have learned to pray short prayers publicly for dinners or special occasions, but few of us have a pattern for prayer.  Our difficulty in praying is not that we don’t have time, or that we lack discipline. Our difficulty in praying reveals that we do not know how to pray, what to pray, or even why to pray.

Heartfelt Prayer

In the tradition in which I grew up, I experienced prayer as heartfelt, genuine, and spirit-led. People prayed extemporaneously from the heart. They just let prayer flow because what just flowed was more genuine. They didn’t think about what to pray. 

What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on their minds and in their hearts at the moment. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or of the people beyond their own families or community. Their prayers were genuine, but the brokenness of the world and the pain of others beyond themselves did not automatically flow. 

As a teenager, I attempted to follow what I had experienced by watching and listening to others.I even went through a time of thinking that real prayers were unrehearsed prayers. In other words, the written prayers, whether in liturgies or offered by worship leaders, were not “real prayers.”

Understanding of Prayer

I certainly am not saying I know how to pray today, but as I reflect back upon my years of ministry, I have matured not only in my understanding of prayer but in my practice of prayer. Prayer is no longer something I do. Prayer is interwoven into who I am.

My prayer life has matured and deepened through several seasons of life. During each season there have been certain individuals, resources, and experiences to help me grow in faith and practice.  I am grateful for each person, resource, and experience, but early in my ministry, I was introduced to E. Stanley Jones through his book How To Pray.

Much of what is recorded in that book is true today. He wrote, “If I were to put my finger on the greatest lack on American Christianity, I would unhesitatingly point to the need for an effective prayer life among laity and clergy.”

“If I had one gift, and only one gift to make to the Christian Church, I would offer the gift of prayer, for everything follows from prayer. Prayer tones up the total life.” 

“Prayer, in the curriculum of living, is the required subject. We do not graduate into adequate human living without it…the difficulty comes in the how of prayer.” *

Prayer is Bigger than Anyone of Us

One of the difficulties of prayer is that it is bigger than anyone of us. To not give thought to what to pray makes prayer small. To not give time to prayer makes prayer insignificant. Not to pray keeps you from becoming all who God has created you to be.  

I think the disciples had not given much thought to prayer until they experienced Jesus praying. Other than observing Jesus, their only experience of prayer was with John’s disciples. They had seen the power of prayer and they wanted their prayers to make a difference. They knew that John had taught his disciples to pray and now they wanted to pray.

I find it interesting that the disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them how to tell a parable, multiply the loaves, or heal the sick. They asked him to teach them how to pray. And when asked, Jesus taught them a pattern of prayer. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on prayer.   

Read Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  

 So, he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, may your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So, I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”


Luke has Jesus praying at important points in his ministry. His pattern is to go off to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus kept his focus on the ministry God called and commissioned him to do. 

Through prayer, Jesus not only received his call and commission for ministry, but he also sought direction for his ministry. When he experienced success in his ministry, he prayed. He prayed to check the desires of his heart, “Do I go with the crowd, or do I go to the cross?”

It was through prayer he chose twelve apostles out of all the disciples who followed him. He was seeking those who, in the present, could hold together Israel and the emerging Christian community. 

In the feeding of the 5000, Jesus was feeding those who are hungry as the sacrament of Holy Communion. In relation to Simon Peter’s confession, Jesus prayed because Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. 

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus prayed because his identity and purpose as a suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him. In the mission of the 70, it is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers. 

Teach us to Pray

Now, when he returns from his time of prayer, his disciples are asking him to teach them to pray. They knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, so when Jesus returned from prayer, they took advantage of the opportunity, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

They have been present with him through each of these experiences of prayer and they have not prayed. Jesus has been praying to keep his focus on God and what God has called and commissioned him to do. Are the disciples now asking for the same focus? 

Persistence in Prayer

Luke gathers Jesus’ teaching material on prayer in chapter 11. Immediately following what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story of persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. 

If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers? The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry. 

Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep your focus on God. 

Perseverance in Prayer

Next to persistence in prayer, Luke places the “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” sayings. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” He teaches perseverance in prayer.

In Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as an encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way. Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven. 

Luke concludes the teaching material with, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

The Focus of Prayer

So, the difficulty of prayer is seen in the persistence and perseverance of staying focused upon God and God’s call to ministry. Focused prayer involves preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts. 

A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this: To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power.

Prayer is who you are as a Christ-centered leader, and who you are is how you lead.


We are not sure what brought the disciples to the point of asking Jesus to teach them to pray. But as I think about it, motivation is not as important as participation. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus was ready to provide them with direction. He did not ask them about their motivation; he provided them with a pattern for participation. 

His pattern was to pray, so he could engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to that call.

Pray to Stay Focused on God

As a follower of Jesus, called and commissioned as a leader, you pray to keep your focus on God and to keep the desires of your heart in alignment with God, as you have experienced in and through Jesus. 

To learn to pray, practice focusing your prayers. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What would happen if I walked through the neighborhood focusing upon my neighbors as I prayed? 
  • What would happen if I educated myself to think naturally of children, poverty, gun violence, prejudice, hunger, or homelessness in my neighborhood, community, or city? 
  • What would happen if I listened to the news or read news stories in preparation for prayer? 
  • What would happen if I became more aware of the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel in my neighborhood, community, or city?  

Asking Jesus to teach you to pray means that you prepare yourself to focus upon more than your thoughts and feelings. As a Christ-centered leader, focus your prayers to become more than “just how I feel” prayers. Praying extemporaneously is important, focused prayer is what makes the difference. 

The difficulty of prayer is experienced in actually praying. When prayer becomes a part of who you are, you begin to participate in your prayer. So, I offer this caution with prayer, when you pray be ready to act, because God will empower you to be the answer to your prayers.

Prayer helps make you who you are, and who is are is how you lead. 


Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • When and where did you pray?
  • In what ways were you assisting others to pray?
  • How were you exercising leadership when you prayed?
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions toward prayer?
  • How did you experience God’s love?
  • With whom did you share God’s love?
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.


O God, as I open myself to you, I am asking you to teach me to pray. Keep me focused on you and your direction for my life. Keep me mindful of the world around me so that I may pray for the well-being of the people around me and the community. By your grace, continue to make me an instrument of your love and peace so others might know of your love and acceptance. Thank you for the opportunity to be one of your leaders at this point and time. I do believe you created me and gifted me to lead for such a time as this. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen*

*How to Pray, by E. Stanley Jones, first published in 1943. Reprinted by the E. Stanley Jones Foundation 2015.

Other Blogs in this Series

This is the third in a series of Reflections on 50 years of ministry. As I reflect back upon the years, I have decided to share some things I have learned. So, over the next several weeks, I want to emphasize what I have found important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act upon. 

The first blog in this series focused on people. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Importance of People.  The second blog in the series focused on the power of words. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: Words Are Powerful  – Transforming Mission.  Here is the third in the series: Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Grace in Gratitude.

So here it goes. 

The Gift of Gratitude

If I could give one quality gift to you as a leader, I would give you the gift of gratitude. I have found gratitude to be the fundamental value of the Christian faith. It has the potential to transform your life, impact your relationships, and to change the world. If I could have God do anything for you, I would ask that God make you a grateful person. 

Here’s why.  The words “grace” and “gratitude” have the same root in Greek. In other words, if there is no awareness of the grace of God, there is no gratitude. And there is no gratitude without an awareness of the grace of God. Over my years of ministry, I have never known a person who was grateful, who was at the same time bitter, hurtful, mean, or vengeful.   

Words of Gratitude

As I began my first appointment, I was introduced to the song “My Tribute.” Andre Crouch, who wrote and recorded the song, put words to what I understood to be my call to ministry.   

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me?

Things so undeserved yet You gave to prove Your love for me.

The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude.

All that I am and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee.

To God be the glory. To God be the glory. To God be the glory.

For the things He has done. 

Gratitude in Everyday Life

As I have matured in my faith, I have grown to understand that gratitude is more than something I simply express with words. Gratitude is woven into the fabric of everyday living, relationships, perspectives and assumptions, and the way I see the world. 

As I have searched the scriptures, I have found that the Bible emphasizes the importance of gratitude from “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus…” (I Thessalonians 5:18) to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). 

In the scripture and in the Christian community, gratitude is seen as a virtue that fosters a positive and humble attitude, acknowledging the blessing of God in people and all of creation. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the grace in gratitude. 

Read Luke 17:11-19 

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with a skin disease approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’s[b] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? So where are the other nine? 18 Did none of them return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” 


Leprosy was a physical condition that had broad implications. It was an incurable disease that separated people from one another. It was a living death. Individuals with leprosy were required, by their religion, to stay outside the boundaries of the community.  

If you had leprosy, you were physically, as well as socially, isolated from family, friends, synagogue, and all that gave meaning and purpose to your life. To have leprosy meant that you had no quality relationships outside of the diseased community. Your only means of living was to beg for handouts. And not only were you isolated, but you had the responsibility of announcing your condition to everyone who came close. In other words, because of your condition, you were marginalized, ostracized, and humiliated.  

In the story, as Jesus walks by, it is not clear whether they were begging or if they had confidence in Jesus’ power to cleanse them. But as Jesus passed, they cried out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.” Although they did nothing to get leprosy, they have no rights to which they can appeal. Healing is not owed to them.  

Jesus directed them to “Go show yourselves to the priest.” The priest was one who could announce that each of them was cleansed of the disease. What is interesting here is Jesus gave each of them what was needed for healing and wholeness. His direction was an act of grace. 

They followed his direction. Their action of going to show themselves to the priest was their response. On their way, they were healed of their leprosy. They did not first simply believe and then go to the priest. They followed the direction of Jesus. As they followed his direction, they discovered they had been restored to health. Each of them received the same direction, the same grace, and were given hope of a new life. 

No Gratitude Without an Awareness of Grace

There is no gratitude without an awareness of grace. In the story, ten individuals experienced God’s grace. Each of them returned from the world in which they had been isolated. Each of them experienced a new life. Even though they each received grace and did what Jesus told them to do, there was no requirement to return. Yet, in a completely spontaneous expression of gratitude, one returned giving thanks and praise to God.  

Gratitude is a response to experience grace. It is the fundamental value of following Jesus. 


Effective leadership starts with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. So, how will you express your gratitude this week? Below are several things you might do to cultivate gratitude in your life. 

Saying Grace 

First, may I suggest that you start today by saying grace over your possessions? Bow your head and say a word of thanks over the things you possess. By giving thanks, you live more by the God who holds you than by the things you are trying to hand onto. 

Saying grace over your possessions is the final test. Because gratitude is the central virtue of the Christian life. There is no other virtue like it. Let me say it (write it again). I have never known a person who was grateful who was at the same time, mean or small or bitter or hurtful. 

Make gratitude a Way of Life

Secondly, when you express gratitude, you weave gratitude into the fabric of your life. When you are a person of gratitude you lead with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. 

You can explore more on gratitude being a way of life through the resources below: 

Make Time to Be Grateful

Third, if you are ready to become a more effective leader, another way to express your gratitude is:  

Over the next 5 days, make time each day to think about being grateful. Notice the people who inspire you. What do you see that makes you smile or to notice their actions? Keep in mind that no person or experience is insignificant. From the person who started a friendly conversation to the laughter of children, they are all part of what makes you who you are. The small joys are just as valuable as all the others. Give God thanks for the people you encounter each day.

Think about what makes your life easier. Is it the alarm that reminds you to get up each morning? The water in the shower? Your car, umbrella, cellphone? The list goes on. For what are you grateful at this moment? Give God thanks for what makes life easier.

Consider past relationships. Upon whose shoulders are you standing? What did the person do to make life better for you? Why are you better off for having known that person? Give thanks for the toughest relationship of the day. On my best days, I have come to experience sincere gratitude, even for difficult people, by looking for the good in my encounters with them. Give God thanks for the people who have gone before you, who are mentoring you, and who are helping you grow more in grace and generosity.

Add yourself to your gratitude list. You might feel uncomfortable. Most of the time you quickly focus upon things you do not like about yourself. But, when you practice gratitude, you can alter that negative cycle. What would happen if you, instead of focusing on your flaws, paid attention to what makes you most proud of yourself? Make a list of the talents and strengths God has given you. Now, give God thanks for those gifts and how God is using you to make a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.

Finally, remember, who you are is how you lead. Effective leadership starts with gratitude.  


Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Did you say grace over your possessions? Why? Why not? 
  • How did you notice that gratitude is woven into the fabric of your life? If it is not, what will do to cultivate gratitude in your living and leading? 
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions of gratitude? 
  • How did you experience God’s love? 
  • With whom did you share God’s love? 
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 

Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 


O God, I give you thanks for the people and things in my life that make life meaningful and easy. Help me remember that I can let go of the things that hold me captive and trust you for meaning and purpose.  I give you thanks for my friends and colleagues who, through their gratitude, are helping me become more who you created me to be. I am grateful. Amen.

As a leader, one of the most effective tools you have is your word(s). I know that sounds strange, but you are only as good as your word.  Your followers need a leader they can trust. They are looking for a leader who speaks with hope and compassion as well as a leader who puts words into action. Every day, in almost every situation, you have the opportunity to model the character and action needed, not only by what you say but how you say it.

I just entered my 50th year under appointment as a United Methodist minister. As I reflect back upon the years, I have decided to share some things I have learned. So, over the next several weeks, I want to emphasize some things that are important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act upon. 

Words are Powerful

The first blog in this series focused on people. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Importance of People.  So here is the second blog. Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: Words are Powerful. 

Regardless of whom you are speaking or writing, your intention in speaking or posting, whether in public, private, or social media, the words you use have the power to hurt or heal. One of the most important things I have learned is, just as God’s Word became flesh in Jesus, God’s Word is real and alive in me. As I have grown deeper in my relationship with Jesus, I have learned that whether spoken or written, words are powerful.   

Words that Hurt and Heal

Early in my ministry, there was a church-wide study titled Words that Hurt and the Words that Heal: Language About God and People. (From the 1988 General Conference of the United Methodist Church).  That study has had an impact on my ministry regarding the words I use in sermons, public speaking, social media, meetings, and conversations. 

While I was participating in the study, I ran across an image in a newspaper (The word “newspaper” reveals how old I am).  It was from the cartoon “B.C.” 

There are two primary characters: A woman who carries a big stick and a snake. Most of the time the woman is beating the snake with her stick.

One day, she is walking up one side of a hill and the snake is coming up the other side of the hill. They meet at the top. The woman realizes that she does not have her stick. So, she looks at the snake and says, “Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!”

In the next frame, the snake is in a hundred pieces. The caption reads, “O the power of the spoken word.” 

Words Shape Worldviews

Whether you believe it or not, words create images and assumptions that shape the way people view one another, the community, the church, and even God. You can use words to encourage and build up as well as discourage and tear down. Words feed prejudices, cultivate relationships, and set the course for decision-making. You have a powerful tool in your toolbox.

Whether giving a speech, delivering a sermon, writing an article, or posting on social media, it is important to pick your words wisely. As you lead a group, teach a class, or are in casual conversation, think about your words. The words you use reveal who you are and who you are is how you lead.

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the power of words. 

Read Ephesians 4:29 

 “Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that builds up and provides what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” (TEV) 


It is interesting that Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus at all. It’s even more interesting that he wrote what we know as Ephesians 4:25-5:2.  If he had to say it, does it mean that there were problems with the way people spoke to and interacted with one another?

Words and Values

The church in Ephesus was a diverse church. Because of its diversity, there was a conflict of values. The Jews, who had a deep ethical background, were people who lived with religious values. The Gentiles, who did not have the same background or heritage, had a different set of values. 

I can imagine there were times when the two sets of values clashed and created tension. In a time of conflict, Paul was instructing the church to say kind, supportive, encouraging words. When you open your mouth, do not let evil talk come out. Don’t diss one another. Say only what is useful for building up as there is need so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Paul’s direction is similar to Jesus’s teaching when he says, “it is not what goes in but what comes out that defiles…” 

Words and Leadership

Although she is writing about more than words, Brene Brown writes, “In times of uncertainty, it is common for leaders to leverage fear and weaponize it to their advantage…If you can keep people afraid and give them an enemy who is responsible for their fear, you can get people to do just about anything.” 

Brown also says, “…when we are managing during times of scarcity or deep uncertainty, it is imperative that we embrace the uncertainty…We need to be available to fact-check the stories that team members may be making up, because in scarcity we invent worse-case scenarios.” 

Your words are powerful. Simply by what you say and how you say it, you can create fear and uncertainty. By what you say and how you say it, you can and do reflect the love you have experienced in and through Jesus. 

God’s Word

God’s word of love and grace was made real in Jesus.  So, Jesus is God’s encouraging word to us. As a Jesus follower, it makes sense to me that our words would reflect that same love and grace. That our words would be words of kindness, compassion, and encouragement.

Just as in Jesus we find the embodiment of God’s love and grace, the people we lead should find and experience the same love and grace in us.


We are living in some uncertain times. Whether it be in the politics of our government, of our employment, or our church, we are living in a time that is crying out for leaders who are trustworthy, compassionate, stable, and hope-filled. As a leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to model the character and action needed for this time.  

Reflecting on how your words can influence others, negatively and positively, can help you to respond more effectively and achieve better results. Words can change emotions and actions, and you, as a leader, must hold yourself accountable for how you communicate to ensure that people understand your intention.

Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble. Think of the power you have and the impact you can make if you become more intentional regarding how you speak and communicate with the people entrusted to your care. The right words make all the difference.

Practice Addition

Think of one or two people who need an encouraging word. Persons who need to know of God’s love and acceptance. People who need to experience God’s grace. Get their face in your mind and their name on your lips. Keep them in mind as you read the following:

There was a first-year teacher at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, Minnesota. She said she had 34 students who were all dear to her. But one student stood out. His name was Mark. She said he was one in a million. He was very neat in appearance with a happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful. There was just one thing about Mark: he talked incessantly.

She had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. Every time she corrected him, he responded, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.”

She said, “I didn’t know what to make of it at first. But before long, I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.”

One morning her patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often. She said, “I made a first-year teacher mistake. I looked at Mark and said, ‘If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!’”

It wasn’t ten seconds later when one of the students blurted out, “Mark is talking again, Teacher.”  I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape, and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders.

His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Teacher.”

At the end of the year, Mark went on to fourth grade. The teacher eventually moved on to teach junior-high math. Several years passed. As Mark entered the ninth grade, Mark and the teacher met again.

She said Mark was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to the instruction on the “new math,” he did not talk as much. One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. The class had worked hard on a new concept all week, and the teacher sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves, and edgy with one another.

To stop the crankiness, she asked the students to put their books away and to take out two sheets of notebook paper. She then asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on their paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she asked them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment. As the students left the room, each one handed her their papers. Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me today, Teacher. Have a good weekend.”   That Saturday, she wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and she listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday, at the beginning of the class, she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. She listened as the students said things like, “Really? I never knew that meant anything to anyone!”  “I didn’t know others liked me so much.” After a few minutes, the class went back to studying math. No one mentioned those papers in class again.

It was several years later that the teacher learned that Mark had been killed in Vietnam. She had gotten word that Mark’s family wanted her to attend his funeral. At the funeral she watched and listened. One of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her and asked, “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” She nodded. He said, “Mark talked a lot about you.”

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. The teacher was invited to come by. Mark’s mother and father wanted to speak with her. When she arrived, they met her at her car.

“We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. She knew what it was without looking at the paper.

Mark’s mother said, “Thank you so much for doing that. As you can see, Mark treasured it.”

Mark’s classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at home.”

Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album. I have mine too,”

Marilyn said.  “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I carry this with me at all times. I take it out and look at it every time I need encouragement. We all saved our lists.” *

Your Turn

Do you still have the people in mind I asked you about? Sometime today, tomorrow, or this week, practice addition. Add an encouraging word to their lists. Send a text, an email, or make a phone call. Let them know how much you appreciate them and care about them. Offer a kind, caring, encouraging word. After all, God sent us his Word. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Be who God created you to be, use your words to make a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care. And remember, who you are is how you lead.

You will find more stories on the power of words in the following blogs found at

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 1 

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 2

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 3

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 4

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 5

Read an Encouraging Word – Part 6


Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • How did you experience talking with people? 
  • How did you pay attention to your words? 
  • When did you use kind, caring, supportive, and encouraging words? 
  • When did you use words you later wish you had not used? 
  • What did you learn about yourself and about the words you use?
  •  In whom did you experience God’s love? 
  • With whom did you share God’s love? 
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 
  • Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.


Gracious God, guide me today to be an instrument of healing and hope in the world. Help me to be a bearer of good news, planting words of love and hope in the hearts and minds of others. May all that I say and do today give you glory and work for the good of the people you have entrusted to me. In Christ’s name, Amen.

*Story adapted an article in The Reader’s Digest written by Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun and the teacher in the story. The story first appeared in the Topeka Capitol-Journal in 1998.

How often do you stop and reflect upon what you are learning about yourself, your ministry, and your leadership? What triggers your times of reflection? And what do you do with what you are reflecting upon? Heavy questions for summer reading, but I have a reason for asking.

I am in a period of reflection. I just entered my 50th year under appointment as a United Methodist minister. Yeah, you read it correctly. I have been at this work of loving, learning, and leading for a long time. As part of my reflection, I have decided to share some things I have learned over the last half-century. Wow, now I am making myself feel old.

So, will you give me a few minutes of your time over the next 5 weeks to share some of the things I have learned? (I wrote a blog several years ago “10 Things I’ve Learned in 4.5 Decades of Ministry.”

The focus over the next several weeks is to emphasize what is important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act on. It is my hope that you will find this helpful and fruitful in leading people to become who God has created them to be.

The Most Important Lesson: People are Important

So, here goes. The most important thing I have learned over 50 years of ministry is: People are important. Regardless of who a person is or what that person has done, regardless of whether a person agrees with me or even likes me, regardless of whether the person lives the life I want them to live, each and every person is loved by God.

Over the years, as I have experienced God’s love for me, I have learned to love others the way God has loved me. As I have grown deeper in my relationship with Jesus, I have learned that each and every person is a person God has given to me to love. A lot of words to say, People are important.

When I was 10 years old, the musical “Funny Girl,” was on Broadway. One of the famous songs from that musical has shaped my life for almost 60 years. I first heard it on the radio and television. I sang it in junior high and high school choruses. I have seen the movie several times. Even today, I am taken back to times of my childhood when I hear the song, “People.”


People who need people,

Are the luckiest people in the world.

We’re children, needing other children.

And yet letting a grown-up pride

Hide all the need inside.

Acting more like children than children

A feeling deep in your soul

Says you were half now you’re whole.

No more hunger and thirst.

First be a person who needs people

People who need people

Are the luckiest people in the world. 

The musical is about a woman who has discovered that the luckiest people are not those who have enjoyed fame and fortune, but rather those who find special relationships with others. She is disconnected with almost everyone around her, then she sings, “people who need people are the luckiest people.” The song suggests that you only become one of the luckiest people “first” being “a person who needs people.” Another way of saying it is, people are important.

The Importance of Meaningful Connections

As part of my reflection one of the things I have learned over and over is, as followers of Jesus, you and I are in the people business. People thrive and find fulfillment when they have meaningful connections with others. People require companionship, support, and interaction with other people to lead fulfilling lives. Relationships play a significant role in the overall well-being, happiness, and fulfillment of all of us.

I have also learned that you and I are not only in the people business, we are also in the loving people business. As difficult and inconvenient as it can be at times, loving others as God has loved us is who we are. Remember, as a Christ-centered leader, who you are is how you lead.

The Scriptural Foundation: Love One Another

There are more than a few scriptures that undergird the importance of people. Scriptures like “…love your neighbor as yourself;” “welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you…” and “faith, hope, and love remain…the greatest of these is love.” I am aware that I shortened my examples by leaving out references to loving God and to the glory of God. I have made an assumption, if you are a Jesus follower, God is in the first place of your loving and leading, which makes loving people extremely important as a response to God’s love for you.

The list goes on, but let us use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the importance of people.

Read: John 13:34-35

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”


These words of Jesus are part of his farewell teaching to his followers. Before he leaves them, he gives them this commandment to love one another as he has loved them. Why does he give them this commandment? By loving one another they are showing others what it means to be one of his followers.

A New Perspective on Love

In the accounts of the good news according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment is to love God, your neighbor, and even your enemies. In John’s account of the good news, Jesus teaches a new perspective to love. Just as in the other accounts, love is inclusive. God’s love is directed to all people.

The difference for John is, the love of God is not an individualistic personal blessing, but a distinctive action of goodwill and care for others. Love received and shared reveals that the followers of Jesus are not merely “nice people” but are agents of God’s love for the world.

Love as a Deliberate Act of Goodwill

I hope it goes without saying that the love used in the above verses is “agape.” The love of God expressed by John is not an abstract quality, attitude, or feeling. It is a deliberate act of goodwill and care for others. God loves us, and we love others in response to God’s deliberate action on our behalf in and through Jesus.

Maybe the best way of saying it is, love acts before it feels. So, what does that mean for you as a Christ centered leader?

When you discover the authentic life of trusting God and living in love, your priorities shift from trying to nail down just the right doctrine to following the living Jesus every moment of every day. Your relationships shift from trying to control those in your life to discovering the potential of others and assisting them in developing and living into their full potential.

Loving Others: Relating Authentically and Caring Deeply

Said another way, when people are important, you learn how to relate to others in authentic and caring ways, you begin to understand the spiritual connection you have with others, and you learn to love those with whom you disagree or who put you off. When people are important, you will appreciate the bigger picture of God’s truth and begin to live your faith as a witness to God’s love for you and others. You will move from the settledness of mere belief and learn to live and lead with unimagined possibilities.

From John’s perspective, Jesus loved his followers selflessly. He was not concerned, as often you and I are, of what he might receive in return for his love. He did not think of what he might feel if his love failed or was not returned. His one desire was to give himself to those he loved. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Sacrificial Love: No Limits, No Cross

Jesus loved his followers sacrificially. There was no limit to what his love would give, and to where his love would go. If love meant the Cross, he was prepared to go to that Cross. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that love is meant to bring us happiness. Ultimately it does, but love will first bring pain and sacrifice. Hear the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Understanding Love: Knowing and Accepting

Jesus loved his followers understandingly. He knew his followers. He knew their strengths as well as their weaknesses. The people who really love you are the people who know you at your worst as well as your best. The great thing about love is, you are loved for who you are. The love of God, we know in and through Jesus, is real love and total love. It loves not just part of a person but loves the whole person, the better and the worse. The heart of Jesus is big enough to love you as you are. Hear the words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Leading with Love: The Call of a Christ-Centered Leader

People are important. As a Christ-centered leader, you are called to lead the way in loving and accepting others. By the way you love and care for the weak as well as the strong, the strugglers as well as the achievers, will show, not only who you are as a follower of Jesus but, will show the world what it means to be a Jesus follower.

Loving others as you have been loved reveals who you are, and who you are is how you lead.


For you, as a Christ-centered leader, people are important. So…

Take People Seriously

Take people seriously. Many people have no one to love them. Whether it is by their own behavior or belief, people have separated themselves from others. Regardless of their reasons for separation or disconnection, each person is a person who God loves. You, being a receiver of God’s love, are also a conduit and giver of God’s love. God wants to love people through you. Be who God has created you to be, take people seriously so that God can love them through you.

Listen to People

Listen, listen, listen to people. One of the most important ways to take people seriously is to listen to them. One thing I have learned is many people just want to know that they have been heard. As time-consuming as it might seem, give time to listening to others. Whether you are interested or not, whether it makes sense or not, whether it is part of your agenda, loving others as you have been loved is not about you. Be who God created you to be, listen to people so that God can love them through you.

Be Generous with People

Be generous with people. I have learned that most of us think the worst of people. Regardless of the situation or circumstance, think the best of others. Please give them the benefit of your doubt until you learn differently. Too often you react to people based on your assumptions or perceptions. Learn to respond out of the love you have experienced in and through Jesus. God did not create you to be the judge. God created you to be the witness. Be who God created you to be. Be generous with people so that God can love them through you.

Be Kind, Patient, and Honest

Be kind, patient, and honest with people. Encourage them, support them, and assist them in becoming who God has created them to be. Model God’s love in the way you interact with others and work for their well-being. By the way you love and care for them, you will be a witness to who you are as a follower of Jesus, and you will be a conduit of God’s love.

People are More Important Than Policies, Positions & Politics

Remember that people are more important than policies, positions, and politics. We all work within organizations and institutions that seek to love and serve people. But too often, we emphasize the things put in place to help us love and serve more than the people we are given to love and serve. To love others as you have been loved will mean you will learn to navigate the systems and policies that too often separate people, create anxiety, and cause harm. Keep in mind, what separates and causes harm often was created to bring people together and to work for their good. People are important. Learn to use the policies, positions, and politics as instruments of God’s love, to work for the ultimate good of others. Be who God created you to be, so God can love others through you.

People are Important

One of my favorite stories is about Tom Wiles. While he was the university chaplain at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, he purchased a new pickup truck. While the truck was parked in his driveway, his neighbor’s basketball post fell against the truck, leaving dents and scrapes on the passenger door. The scratches looked like deep white scars on the exterior of the new truck.

A friend happened to notice the scrapes and asked, “What happened here?”

Tom, with a downcast voice, said, “My neighbor’s basketball post fell and left those dents. I asked him about it. He doesn’t feel responsible for the damage.”

“You’re kidding! How awful! This truck is so new I can smell it.” His friend continued, “Did you contact your insurance company? How are you going to get him to pay for it?”

Tom replied, “This has been a real spiritual journey for me. After a lot of soul-searching and discussions with my wife about hiring an attorney, it came down to this: I can either be in the right or in a relationship with my neighbor. Since my neighbor will probably be with me longer than the truck, I decided to focus on our relationship. Besides, trucks are meant to be banged up, so I got mine initiated into the real world a bit earlier than I expected.”

Wow! What a model of people are important. How many times have we sacrificed being “in a relationship” for the personal satisfaction of being “in the right?” How many times have we won an argument but lost a friend or damaged a heart?

Jesus Came to Redeem our Relationships

Did Jesus come to teach us “right” theology? Or did he come to redeem our relationships with God and with one another? He saved the world by teaching twelve individuals how to get along and to belong to one another. In other words, Jesus saved the world by teaching them that people are important. He taught them how to be in a relationship with one another.

Relationships are central to who we are as followers of Jesus. God is love, and love is impossible outside of relationships. One of the most important things I have learned over 50 years of ministry is that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.

Love one another as you have been loved. It is who you are as a follower of Jesus. And who you are is how you lead.


Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • How did you experience taking people seriously, listening, being generous, and placing people before policy, position, or politics?
  • In what other ways did you put people first?
  • In whom did you experience God’s love?
  • With whom did you share God’s love?
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.