What motivates and empowers you to lead in the midst of the cultural changes you are facing today? How do you move forward when friends, family, colleagues, and others seem to be losing heart, giving up, and walking away?
There have been volumes written on what you need to do to be an effective and successful leader. There are lists of characteristics, research, and more advice than any one of us could follow in a lifetime. For the most part, it is all good and all needed. But what motivates and empowers you as a Christ-centered leader is something that cannot be reproduced or measured. As a follower of Jesus, you have been given something, someone, who assists you in imagining a better future and who provides you with the faith to move forward into that future.
The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
You have been given hope. Hope, not as wishful thinking, but hope as the agency to navigate the barriers and obstacles that stand in the way of God’s plan of love and peace. What is unusual about this hope is it is not something that you or any other leader can obtain. This hope is only in being found by the One who gives it.
Read Matthew 14:22-33
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So, Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[b] he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Matthew tells a story of an experience that the disciples had with Jesus. The disciples are in the boat trying to make their way across the sea, but they were not getting anyway. They were rowing but the wind was blowing against them. Just before dawn, Jesus comes to them walking on the sea.
In ancient times, the sea was the place of evil. The enemy to all that was good was in the water. In this story, the water is a symbol of all the forces that are against us.
Jesus comes to the disciples on the sea. In other words, in the midst of all that is against us, God is with us. There is no power, no storm, no wind, no force in the world that God cannot conquer, no evil over which God is not superior. The message here is, there is nothing that can destroy your life because God loves and cares for you.
Now, this story is not a miracle story. It is deeper than that. Jesus comes in the storm on the sea and says, “Take heart, I am.” These words are translated, “It is I” or “I am he.” What Jesus actually says is, “I am.” The name for God. God came to them in the storm in the person of Jesus.
They cannot believe it. At first, they say, “It is a ghost.”
But as Jesus gets closer, Simon Peter says to him, “Lord, if it is you” …or “if you are, tell me to come to you on the water.” These are the same words used in the wilderness by the devil, “If you are the son of God…” The words of Simon Peter are the words of the tempter. In other words, Simon Peter is putting Jesus to the test.
So, Matthew is telling us that in his attempt to put Jesus to the test, Simon Peter ends up testing himself. It is Simon Peter who does not believe. In other words, you don’t test God. Jesus got in the boat, and everything was all right. The storm was quieted, and the disciples fell to their knees and worshiped Jesus.
You are Never Alone
Matthew was telling the story to the church. It was for all the followers of Jesus, in all their little boats, in all of the storms, trying to make it alone. The disciples were never alone, but they were trying to make it alone, and they couldn’t.
The lesson in this story is, you are never alone. The church is never alone. God is with us. But we are never exempt from the temptation to try to go it alone.
So, we are all in the boat. We can give pep talks to one another. Some of us can bail while others of us will sing. But the truth is that without trust in God, we are not going to make it to shore. But, if we trust God, “we are more than conquerors through him who loves us… and neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So, what does that story have to do with being found or with leading with hope?
In the church, it is not uncommon for us to urge each other to give a witness to our faith. Sometimes we assume that sharing stories of faith is easy. I must confess that I have found it incredibly difficult. Although I do regularly as a preacher, it is tough to talk about things so deeply meaningful and profoundly intimate.
Several years ago, a young father called me about his church membership. He and his family were actively involved in programs and activities of the church. In our conversation he said he was tired of searching for God and that he and his family were leaving the church. He said he was tired of searching for answers and needed to be in a church that could provide some answers. As I listened to him, I tried to understand his dissatisfaction. We talked about his work, his family relationships, and his contentment with his life. During our conversation, he said, “I feel like I’m running the bases, but I never reach home.” Then he said, “I am not sure I really believe in God.”
God Believes in You
My next words to him were words I had used before. I had heard them as a teenager in a Sunday school class. It was there they had taken root in my life and began to shape my understanding of God’s love. Because they were meaningful to me, I had offered them to others through sermons, bible studies, and conversations along my faith journey.
So, I offered the same words to him, “At this moment, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not. God believes in you.” I said, “I know you are searching for God. But have you ever thought that God is also searching for you? Can you imagine that God believes in you so much that God is searching for you?”
I remembered words that had profoundly shaped my understanding of God’s love. They were words of one of my instructors in seminary. At that moment, I offered them to this young father.
I will come for you
“When our parents, Adam and Eve, left the garden of Eden, God whispered in their ear, ‘I will come for you.’ Adam and Eve didn’t understand God’s word as a promise. They interpreted the word as a threat. So, they ran and hid.
As human beings, we have been running and hiding ever since. But God has come searching for us. God has come as a fragile, vulnerable baby, growing up with the comforts and restraints of home, family, community, and culture.
As he grew up and matured, he worked hard. He experienced both joy and exhaustion. He learned what it was to love and be loved. He experienced what it was like to have people betray him. He had a dream of making the world a better place. His dream was rejected. He experienced the pain of having his friends turn against him. He suffered and died for his dream. That is how God has come searching for you and for me.”
Being Found By God
I wish I could say that my words made a difference. I did not hear him say to me, “I never thought of it that way before,” Or, “Now, I know that God loves me and my family,” Or, “Thanks Pastor.” The reality is, all I could do was to tell him a story of Jesus, “I AM” walking toward him on the water, in the midst of his search for answers.
What would happen if you and I began to tell our stories of “being found” by God? What would happen if we took John Wesley seriously and began to “Offer them Christ” as we developed relationships and talked about what was deeply meaningful to us?
Offer of Hope
What I know is this, to offer Christ is an offer of hope. The offer is more than sharing “spiritual facts” which lead to a mental assent to correct understanding and logical decisions. You don’t experience hope as a form of indoctrination.
The offer of Christ is not, what I grew up hearing, “closing the deal” for Jesus. You and I don’t experience hope by being manipulated into saying “yes” to carefully worded questions.
The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply do not see everything the same way, we develop a friend-to-friend relationship. So, the offer of Christ is not a single encounter. It is an extended relationship of mutual respect and care. It is within the relationship that hope is developed, experienced, and lived out.
As important as it is, the offer of Christ is more than inviting people to worship or to participate in the programs of the church. To offer Christ is to create a space where people can talk about their discontent and dissatisfaction in their search for God, and then embody the hope they need to experience the love of God that will never let them go. It is in and through our relationships that we can share our experiences of God searching for us. It is in and through our relationships that we share being found by God’s love in Jesus. Hope becomes a sign of who you are, and who you are is how you lead.
T. S. Elliot wrote, “the life we seek is not in knowing but in being known, not in seeking but in being sought, not in finding but in being found.” It is in being found by God that you are empowered to lead with hope.
Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Where do you experience hope? What happened? With whom did you share hope? How did you express being found by God’s love in Jesus? With whom do you need to confess your struggle with hope? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them?
O God, be my guiding light that I may have clear vision for the days in which I am living. You are my wisdom, strength and guide. In you I find my joy and peace. You are my true goal. Only you can satisfy my soul. Help me be your love in human form. As people are quietly quitting your church, help me develop true relationships of love that bind your people together, so that the people I encounter today and tomorrow will experience your love and grace through me. I am grateful, O God, for your love and hope in Jesus. Amen.