The last 22 months have added a whole new level of challenge to your leadership. To state the obvious, it has been difficult at times. In 2020 you had to pivot without warning. You poured your heart and soul into leading others. You gave God your best, waiting for things to return to normal. Then 2021 came and nothing changed. In fact, you faced even more discouragement and frustration. Now, as you enter 2022, you might be asking yourself, “will this year be any different than the previous two years?” 

The Hope of New Possibilities

Although much of what you have experienced has been beyond your control, it is possible to go through life with your own repeated and frustrated attempts at effectiveness. It is possible to find yourself exhausted and miserable, and at the end of each day with little or nothing to show for your efforts. It is also possible to be hanging on to “how you wish things were” so tightly that you are unable to see the hope of new possibilities. 

Christian hope is not fleeting wishful thinking. It’s also not pie in the sky dreaming. Christian hope is grounded in the love of God we know in Jesus and our belief that the worst thing is never the last thing. We are resurrection people and as followers of the living God, we are people of hope. 

Take a minute to read this story and reflect upon how God is working in your life with new possibilities of hope for this year. Notice where Samuel finds the presence and power of God

Read 1 Samuel 16:1-13

     The LORD said to Samuel, “How long are you going to grieve over Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem because I have found[a] my next king among his sons.”

     “How can I do that?” Samuel asked. “When Saul hears of it, he’ll kill me!”

    “Take a heifer with you,” the LORD replied, “and say, ‘I have come to make a sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will make clear to you what you should do. You will anoint for me the person I point out to you.”

     Samuel did what the LORD instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.

     “Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the LORD. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” 

     Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well. When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, that must be the LORD’s anointed right in front. ” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart.”

     Next Jesse called for Aminadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The LORD hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the LORD hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”

     “There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”

     “Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”

     So, Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The LORD said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 

     So, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The LORD’s spirit came over David from that point forward.

Reflect

The Main Character

The Lord sends Samuel on a mission to anoint the next king of Israel. Samuel reluctantly responds to God’s call but proceeds with his own preconceived ideas about the new king. 

Notice, even though there will be a new king, the main character in this story is God. The critical decisions are made by God. The mission directions are given by God. Samuel, Jessie, and his sons and especially David, are actors in a story where God produces, directs, and plays the lead role. David is not asked his opinion, asked to produce a resume, or asked if he wants to be king. He simply shows up. This is God’s mission and Samuel has been invited into it.

God’s Presence and Power

The story reveals that God’s presence and power are easily overlooked by Samuel. His ideas and perceptions get in the way. 

It is interesting that Samuel, being from northern Israel, was more familiar and comfortable with the northern context. He expresses his fear of going to Bethlehem, a city in southern Israel. 

God’s presence and power are in the new and unfamiliar places, as well in encounters with people we do not know or even care to interact with.

God Sees Into the Heart

Samuel uses a common act of worship to bring Jesse and his sons together. Samuel, remembering his mission, looks at each of Jesse’s sons, noticing their physical stature, strength, and appearance. 

In Samuel’s mind, one of those good-looking persons would be the next king of Israel. But God did not choose any of the persons Samuel would have chosen. God says to Samuel, “God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the LORD sees into the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

In other words, the situations, and circumstances in which you are living are not the last word on your life or upon your living. Just because you have not perceived it does not mean it is not true or good or hope-filled. 

Where is the Presence and Power of God?

So, where is the presence and power of God? Just as God had a mission for Samuel and provided guidance for Samuel, God has a mission for you and sends you on your own life journey. In whatever situation or circumstance, God is with you and is providing for you. You can trust God’s action on your behalf. 

Remember, God’s presence and power can and will be found in new, risky, and scary places. 

Samuel went through the unfamiliar and encountered strangers to complete what God had called him to do. God was with him all the way helping him carry out what God had planned for Israel’s future. 

Inside Your Heart

God’s presence and power are deep inside your heart. It is God’s presence within you that prepares you to enter the new and challenging encounters that lie ahead. 

So, what do you do to get the Lord’s presence and power? Well, you do not have to do anything to “get it.” God gives it. David did not say anything at all. In fact, he did not even do anything except show up, “and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).

Receive the Gift

God has given you God’s presence and power in and through Jesus. Your response is to receive God’s gift. Just like Samuel, God is with you, providing for you, and guiding you in the mission you have been given. In whatever situation or circumstance, you find yourself, your hope is in the presence and power of God. When God calls, God provides what is needed to live into the call. 

Respond

Become aware of God’s presence in the situations and circumstances you find yourself in today. Look for God’s presence in the lives of the people you meet today. Take note of how God surprises you. Remember, God has called you into mission, God is with you, and God is providing what you need to be the person and the leader needed for this time.

Pray

O God, help me be aware of the people around me today. Help me not only be a blessing to someone but help me experience your love in and through the people I encounter. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear you in every situation and circumstance of the day. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus, who is your presence and power with me each and every day. Amen. 

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. How did you experience God’s presence and power today? Who helped you experience God’s love? Where did God surprise you with God’s presence and power? Together, what do your thoughts, feelings, and actions tell you about God’s call upon your life? 

So, let me remind you that God is with you in whatever situation or circumstance you find yourself. In fact, God will surprise you in the lives of the people you encounter along the way. It is through God’s presence and power that you find hope for new possibilities. 

I am grateful to be with you on this journey of Hope Throughout the Year. May you experience God’s presence and power this week in life-changing ways. And remember, who you are is how you lead.

Learn more about Hope Throughout the Year

Hope is a powerful thing.

 “It is the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.”

-Dr. Shane Lopez, Gallup

Building hope is essential for these times of complexity and change. It helps people see a way forward when facing uncertainty. It helps people face the future with courage and confidence. It is what people look for in their leaders. 

Looking for Hope

You know better than I can describe that we are living in a time when people are looking for hope in every aspect of their lives. Whether it is their workplace or in their schools so much has changed and seems to continue to change. Everything from vaccines to supply chains have people looking for something or someone they can depend upon for hope. 

So, how do you build hope? How do you guide people toward a tomorrow that looks better than today?

People usually move toward what you hold before them. Are you holding a grim and gloomy vision of what lies ahead or are you creating a sense of direction toward exciting possibilities? 

Hope-Filled Living

I know it is tough to build hope when you, as the leader, are not feeling hopeful. Let me suggest that you become aware of who God created you to be. Who you are is how you lead. You are a child of God, uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities for this time. When you are true to who you are, people feel cared for and feel a sense of stability. When people sense the compassion you have for them, your leadership will instill trust. Be authentic, vulnerable, and courageous. Become a model for people to follow. Your hope-filled living shapes your hope-filled leadership.

The Beloved Community

Then become aware of the people entrusted to your care. They, too, are children of God. Each of them is a beloved child, uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities. As a leader, you have the opportunity to discover and develop their potential as you move into the future together. Remember, people need to feel a sense of stability. They want to be able to say, “I fit into that hopeful future.” Because you are helping them live into who they were created to be, they will trust your leadership and will sense the compassion you have for them. They will step up and out to move toward the positive future you are holding before them. 

Hope: Connecting Voice and Touch

Max Dupree, in his book Leadership Jazz, tells the story of his granddaughter Zoe. She was born prematurely and weighed one pound and seven ounces. She was so tiny that his wedding ring fit over her arm. In addition to being born prematurely, Zoe’s biological father abandoned her mother a month before she was born

The first time Max suited up in protective gear to visit Zoe in her isolate in the neonatal unit of the hospital, she had two IVs in her arms, one in her navel, and a feeding tube and a breathing tube in her mouth. A wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave Max his instructions. 

She said, “For the next several months, you will be the surrogate father. I want you to come to her every day. While you are here, I would like you to rub her arms and her legs with the tip of your finger. While you are caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her because she needs to connect your voice with your touch.” 

DuPree writes, “Ruth was doing exactly the right thing for Zoe and without realizing it, she was giving me the perfect description of the work of a leader. At the core of being a leader is the ability to always connect one’s voice with one’s touch.” 

DuPree understood the leader’s voice to be an expression of one’s beliefs and the leader’s touch as an expression of competence and resolve. Using DuPree’s description, I want you to think of leading with hope as bringing “who you are” together with “your relationships.” Think of it this way:

Your Voice: Who you are

1.      You are a child of God

2.      You are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities

3.      You are a leader created to lead at this time

4.      You are learning about and adapting to the changing situations and circumstances

5.      You have something special to offer to life and leadership

6.      As a child of God, who you are is how you lead

Your Touch: Your relationships

1.      You live and work with people who are children of God

2.      You live and work with people who are uniquely gifted with strengths and abilities

3.      You have the opportunity and responsibility to help people discover their potential and to help mentor, coach, lead people into living their potential

4.      You are assisting them to learn about and to adapt to the changing world around them

5.      You are learning how each person entrusted to your care helps you become more who God created you to be

6.      You model trust and compassion in your interactions

Leading with hope means you are learning about yourself, and the people entrusted to your care, and at the same time, you are adapting to the needs and ideas of the people around you. You are learning when to step up to lead and when to step aside to be a follower.

The Leader You Were Created to Be

So, as you step into this new year, here are three questions to reflect upon. Your reflection will assist you in becoming the leader you were created to be.

  1. What are you good at doing?
  2. What brings you joy when you are doing it? Whether at work or at play, what brings you joy?
  3. How are you helping others discover their joy? How are you celebrating their joy?

I recently read this quote, “If, as a leader, you are not creating hope and helping people see the way forward, chances are, no one else is either.” You were created to build hope and lead during this time. Hope is a powerful thing and you, as a leader, have the opportunity to lead like no other time in history.

The time is now to lead with hope. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

I hope your celebration with family and friends has been a good one. I’ve been thinking of you and giving God thanks for your ministry. I pray that the joy of Jesus will be with you throughout this next year. This brings me to something I have been thinking about. 

One of the songs I like at Christmas is titled, “The Best Gift of All.” The words are as follows:

The Best Gift of All

Candles glow from frosted windows

    Rooms are filled with twinkling lights,

There’s a manger scene, boughs of evergreen,

     Someone is singing ‘Silent Night’.

And every gift my heart remembers, 

     of easy laugher, dear old friends,

Precious faces and smiles, 

     the dancing eyes of a child,

All remind me once again: The best gift of all is Jesus,

     His love knows no season or place.

You can see Him in the firelight

     Reflected on each face.

And though we cherish the blessings of Christmas, 

     When his love seems especially near.

The Best Gift of All is Jesus – 

     All through the year. 

In a world of hidden motives and questionable agendas, there is still hope in what God offers. In the midst of our brokenness and the world’s chaos, Jesus is the message of God’s goodness. In Jesus there is something pure, something right, something true, someone good. The best gift of all is Jesus. He is with us all through the year.

Read  Luke 2:1-7

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. – Luke 2:1-7

Reflect

This Christmas I was reminded of a family that celebrates Christmas all through the year. Through a small white envelope stuck among the branches of a Christmas tree, there is no name, no identification, no inscription. The envelope just peeks through the branches of the tree. 

The tradition began years ago when Nancy’s husband Mike stated, “I hate Christmas. Not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it. I can’t stand the overspending, the frantic running, the gifts given in desperation because you can’t think of anything else.” 

Knowing how her husband felt, Nancy decided one year to bypass the usual gifts of “shirts and ties.” She decided to do something special for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Christmas Inspiration

Their son Kevin, who was 12 years old at the time, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, he participated in a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. The team was made up of kids who did not have the same advantages of Kevin. 

They dressed in faded tattered uniforms and shoes so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together. It was a sharp contrast to Kevin’s team in their new blue and gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes. As the match began, Nancy was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without protective headgear. It was a luxury the inner-city team obviously could not afford. Kevin’s team won easily. After the match, Mike shook his head sadly and said, “I wish just one of them could have won.” 

An Idea

It was at that moment that Nancy had the idea for Mike’s Christmas present. That afternoon, Nancy went to a local sporting goods store, bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. 

On Christmas Eve, Nancy placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what she had done. It was his gift from her. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year as well as the Christmases that followed. 

A Simple Envelope

Each Christmas, Nancy followed the tradition. One year she sent a group of Special Olympics youngsters to a hockey game. Another year she sent a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground a week before Christmas. Each year it was an act of kindness that offered hope to the recipients.

The envelope became the highlight of Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning. The children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As they grew older, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.

A Tradition Continues

Several years ago, Nancy lost Mike to cancer. When the next Christmas came around, Nancy was still wrapped in grief. She barely had enough desire to put up a tree. But Christmas Eve found Nancy placing an envelope on the tree. An amazing thing happened. The next morning it was joined by three more envelopes. Each of Mike’s children had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown for that family. Mike’s grandchildren now stand wide-eyed around the tree as their fathers take down the envelope. 

Hope-Filled Love

Now, what happened in that family? They experienced God’s incredible love. That love is our hope, and it is rooted in God’s gift in and through Jesus. 

So, as you put away your decorations, or think that Christmas is over, be sure to look in the tree one last time. There is one more gift. It is the best gift of all.

May the joy of Jesus be yours all through the year.

Respond

Be mindful of the people around you today. How is God inviting you to give the gift of Jesus? What might you do to give the gift of God’s love throughout the coming year? 

Pray

O God, I know the best gift I have ever received is your love. Because of Jesus, I have experienced your love and hope in and through the people around me. This next year, help me become an instrument of your love so that the people I encounter will experience the hope you have given me this Christmas. Just as I have received the best gift of all in Jesus, use me as a gift of love and hope this coming year. Amen   

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. With whom did you interact? What new life were you offered? Give God thanks for the people you met today. With whom did you share the gift of God’s love? How did you share it? What do you celebrate about your sharing? What would you do differently? 

Remember

The best gift of all is Jesus. Let’s celebrate Hope Throughout The Year! 

Advent is a time of preparation. We are invited to prepare the way for something new and unknown. When Kim and I were expecting our first child, we did not know exactly who or what we were expecting. We did not know what the child would look like, be like, or how it would change our lives. All we knew for sure was that nothing would ever be the same. Even with all we did not know, we still cleared space, a nursery, a place for this unknown child to become a part of our lives. 

Advent is a time to prepare the way by becoming vulnerable and letting go of the things that take up too much room in our lives. We may not understand all we are preparing to receive, but we know the One who is coming brings us hope. 

Yearning for What We Cannot Name

That is what makes the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist so interesting. They both yearn for something they cannot name. For Isaiah, it is the revealed glory of the Lord. For John, it is the one who will come after him, who is mightier than he. Neither of them knows any details.

John cannot even give his hearers a name to listen for. All that either one of them can proclaim is that the old ways of life are passing away and that new life is on its way. Without the luxury of details and with no concession to our need to know who or what is coming, they call us to prepare the way for that new life, to clear away anything that might get in its way, and to wait without knowing when it will come, or what it will look like, or how it will change our lives. 

With that said, there is hope in making room for Jesus. 

Read: Isaiah 40:3-8 and Mark 1:1-7

A voice is crying out: “Clear the LORD’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God! Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain. The LORD’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together; the LORD’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice was saying: “Call out!” And another said, “What should I call out?” All flesh is grass; all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field. The grass dries up and the flower withers when the LORD’s breath blows on it. Surely the people are grass. The grass dries up; the flower withers, but our God’s word will exist forever. – Isaiah 40:3-8

The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah: “Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.’”

John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. 6 John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He announced, “One stronger than I am is coming after me. I’m not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals.” – Mark 1:1-7

Reflect

A couple was expecting their second child. They looked in vain for a place in the house to create a nursery. After several lengthy discussions, they decided that the husband’s study would have to go. His library was divided up and moved into smaller bookshelves throughout the house. Even though he loved his library dearly, there was new life on the way, and the way had to be prepared. 

Making Room

Here is where we are in Advent. Whether we are expecting our own baby, the baby Jesus, or a grown-up Lord coming in great power and glory, we are called to prepare the way for new life. We are called to make room by letting go of our old ways, even our old loves, as painful as that might be. It is either we prepare the way for this new life or prepare ourselves for the news that we have been passed over because there is no room in us. 

At the heart of the messages of Isaiah and John is the challenge to wait without clinging to our preferences and to receive what new life God has for us. Both tell us that what we are hanging onto fades, withers, and passes away. It is only when we stop clinging to what has become gods for us and stop looking to those things to save us, that we can receive who the living God brings to us. It is only when we are able to empty our hearts and wait without our preferences that there is room for God to bring himself to us.

Deceptive Preferences

What is surprising is how deceptive some of our preferences are. My guess is that any one of us can turn and walk away from a golden calf. We could toss our savings out the window if we believed our souls depended on it. 

Those preferences are obvious, but what about our desire for independence? The belief that everything will be alright if we can just take care of ourselves and not have to ask anyone to help us. Or the romantic idea of friendship? The belief is that we can face anything in life if we just have one other person to love us the way we are, and to love in return. Or a variation on that one, the obsession with family. The idea of family is good, but the belief that our happiness and success is based upon surrounding ourselves with close and committed people who are just like us is not real. 

The most deceptive preference of all is the belief we can worship the way we want, when we want, and who we want if we live good lives. Being good and doing good is what is needed to get into heaven.

What preferences can you name?

The list is long, health, friendship, patriotism, power, money. I know you want to say to me that these are good things. And I will say, of course, they are. How else would they get in the way of what God has for us? 

The first criterion of an idol is that it makes us feel good in our hearts. That is why we grab ahold and hang on. We cling so tightly that eventually what we like and want becomes the only source of life for us. The only problem is that if our hearts and souls are full of what we want and prefer, we have lost our ability to receive what God has for us. We are full up; there is no room at the inn. While God is looking for a nursery, we are in our offices with the door closed.

Advent Hope

During Advent, we are invited to come out, to let go, and become vulnerable, not to forsake the things we love and want, but to put them in proper perspective and priority. We are invited to learn to hold our likes and dislikes lightly and to give them up when it becomes clear that they are taking up too much room. 

Our hope is in making room for Jesus. But to have room for Jesus, we must prepare for something new. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t even have to understand how it all is to happen. But we do have to wait with nothing but faith in the promise that the advent of God himself comes to those who saved him room. 

Respond

Be mindful of the people around you today. How is God inviting you to receive them into your life? What new life is being offered? How will you make room for who and what God is sending to you? 

Pray

O God, shape my life with divine humility. By your grace, help me make room for you by giving up my place and by letting go of my preferences. Help me become a dwelling place for your love and peace. I offer my life to be your residence in my everyday and ordinary life. Amen

Return 

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. With whom did you interact? What new life were you offered? Give God thanks for the people you met today. What room do you need to prepare for whom God is sending you? 

This Advent Season, we are again asking ourselves, “How do we as the people of God live out God’s mission for the world? We are in the midst of profound shifts in our church, in our country, and in the world. Whether the shifts are religious, cultural, racial, generational, or political, we are ready to hear the prophecies of the Advent message. And we are not only ready to hear the message, but we are anointed to live out the message as God comes to be with us in Jesus. 

New Life is Born

Even though we have been through a number of Advents, we know that when we, as Jesus followers, take seriously our mission in this world and when we truly believe and live out God’s love, there is hope for our broken and hurting world. New life is born, and hope emerges. 

“O Holy Night”

This hope has been offered in many ways over the years. When we gather to worship this Christmas, many of us will hear the song, “O Holy Night.” It was written as a Christmas poem in France in the mid-1800s. When the words were put to music, their message began to change the world. In fact, “O Holy Night” was banned in several churches in France. Later, the third verse of the song was left out because of its message. The reasons were always based on theology, but the message of hope and justice was clearly proclaimed. The third verse is as follows:

“Truly He taught us to love one another.

His law is Love and His gospel is Peace. 

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,

and in his name all oppression shall cease.”

Advent is a time of preparing for God’s justice to bring hope to those who are broken and lost in this changing world. May the hope of the coming of Jesus fill you with world-changing justice. 

READ: Isaiah 61:1-2, 8 and Matthew 5:3-6

The LORD God’s Spirit is upon me because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and a day of vindication for our God…I, the LORD, love justice… – Isaiah 61:1-2, 8

Happy are people who are hopeless because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full.  – Matthew 5:3-6

Reflect

A Raging River

Imagine a raging river full of rapids that surge over a waterfall. You see people struggling in the current of the river. As they are trying their best to swim to shore or grab a hold of rocks, they are being swept downstream toward the falls.

You also see people along the shore trying to help those struggling in the rushing currents. Some are reaching out at the edge of the falls to snatch victims at the last moment. Others are upstream, stepping out on the rocks to grab whomever they can reach. A bit further upstream there are some throwing out lifelines and pulling the struggling people to shore. Even further upstream there are some people teaching people how to swim. You even notice that there are some trying to install fences along the river to prevent people from falling in. At the same time, you see others, gathered at the bottom of the falls, trying to recover and save the few who survived going over the edge.

Not one of the helpers along the riverbank can catch everyone in need, but together they each do their part along the way. The one thing they all have in common is a love for helping others. 

An Example of Love

One example of that love can be found in a man named Trevor Ferrell. When Trevor was eleven years old, he saw a television news report on Philadelphia’s inner-city homeless. He couldn’t believe people were homeless and lived on the streets. He began questioning his parents why people didn’t have a place to live. It took a while, but his parents, Frank and Janet, reluctantly agreed to broaden their sheltered horizons. 

One evening, they left their home in an exclusive suburb and drove downtown. One block past city hall, they spotted an emaciated figure crumpled on a side-walk grate. Frank stopped the car and eleven-year-old Trevor got out and approached the man. 

With a blanket in hand, he said, “Sir, here’s a blanket for you.” The man stared up at Trevor at first. Then, he said softly, “Thank you. God bless you.”

Jesus Inside Me

That encounter altered the Ferrell’s life forever. Night after night they would drive downtown, trying in small ways to help the street people. They emptied their home of extra blankets, clothing, and dozens of peanut-butter sandwiches. When people learned what they were doing, someone donated a van and others charted nightly food distribution routes. To the Ferrell’s surprise, “Trevor’s Campaign” had begun.

At a young age, Trevor found himself explaining what he and his family were doing to local media. Eventually, he was explaining his campaign to major news outlets, late-night television, daily talk shows, the President of the United States, and Mother Teresa. They all wanted to meet the small boy with the big mission. When asked why he was caring for the homeless, he simply replied, “It is Jesus inside of me that makes me want to do this.”

Trevor’s Campaign

In an interview regarding “Trevor’s Campaign,” his father stated, “Our social life has changed a lot since the campaign began. Our church is behind us one hundred percent, but some of our old friends don’t understand why we’re messing with the homeless. They just tolerate our ‘idiosyncrasies.’”

For twenty years, a van traveled each night to the downtown streets of Philadelphia. It stopped first to deliver food to the residents of Trevor’s Place, a ramshackle rooming house where some of the former homeless lived. Then it proceeded to feed the hungry people gathered on sidewalk grates and street corners. 

Short Term Need & Long Term Changes 

When asked how the handouts have made a difference in the complex business of helping the homeless, Frank Ferrell sighed deeply and said, “We’re trying to meet short-term needs and figure out ways to bring long-term changes to people’s lives. Sometimes it seems like just a band-aid. But this is how we build relationships. These people become our friends, and they trust us to help them in bigger ways.”  Then Frank paused for a moment, looked at the landscape of broken bottles and bodies, and said, “There are plenty of struggles, But I know one thing: giving has made all the difference in my life. I used to just read the Scriptures. Now I feel like I am living them.”

Meeting a Need

Trevor’s Campaign has evolved over the past 32 years. His objective is to meet human needs, alleviate suffering, and restore hope by developing comprehensive programs for vulnerable children and adults in the Greater Philadelphia area. 

Trevor is one of those people along the riverbank seeking to save those who are drowning in the changing world in which we live.

Respond

Where will you see a human need today? How might God’s love become human in you? Begin to imagine how you might respond to the needs around you. 

Pray

O God, you have taught me to love you and the people around me. You have put within me a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Use me as an instrument of your peace, so that the people I meet each day will experience your love in and through my words and actions. Help me be a person who offers hope in the name and love of Jesus. Amen.

Return

Consider your thoughts, feelings, and actions from today. Where did you see human need? How did you respond? What do you need to become more the person God needs you to be for this time of change?

Advent is a season of waiting and expectation. As we wait, we reflect upon the events of the past year. With expectation, we anticipate receiving the hope needed to navigate the year ahead. 

It is obvious, as we enter this Advent Season, we are coming to the end of another difficult year. In both big and small ways, our lives have been filled with constant, and often painful, reminders that something is not right. Things are just not the way they are supposed to be. 

The Hope of Jesus

At the same time, Advent provides us, in the midst of brokenness and pain, the opportunity to look beyond the worst situations and circumstances and to see the hope offered to us in Jesus. 

The biblical story is that in the darkest of hours, whether by our own doing or at the doing of others, God comes to us as the light in our darkness. In Jesus, God enters the darkness of our brokenness and pain to bring us the light of healing and hope. 

So, we wait, expecting our hope to come. The good news is, God is with us. God has come as the Light of the World to be with us. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish the light. This is our hope. 

Read

Isaiah 2:2-6: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. You have made the nation great; you have increased its joy. They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as those who divide plunder rejoice. As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them, the staff on their shoulders, and the rod of their oppressor. Because every boot of the thundering warriors, and every garment rolled in blood will be burned, fuel for the fire. A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

John 1:1-5: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.

Reflect

The Bible uses the image of darkness to describe chaos, fear, uncertainty, and death. The image of darkness is used in a variety of stories from the prophecy of Isaiah to the birth of Jesus. 

The prophet Isaiah was called to speak to the people of Israel. They were a people walking in the darkness of sin, danger from enemies, and judgment from God. The only hope for their darkness was light. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined…For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.”

A New Day

The birth of Jesus was the dawning of a new day. According to John, Jesus is the Word that was from the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God…In him was life and the life was the light of all people. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

So, Advent is preparing for the light to come in the darkness. It is the preparation for Jesus, the light of the world. It is Jesus, God’s light, who comes into our world and breaks the chains of darkness and brings hope for the future. 

So, we wait, expecting our hope to come. I get it. Darkness comes in a variety of ways. It shows up when you are looking for direction, fearful of the circumstances, feeling alone, and paralyzed by anxiety. It shows up when you have doubts and fears as you look to the future. I understand that darkness. 

Times of Darkness

Several years ago, I faced a time of darkness. I faced uncertainty so great that I could not see beyond myself or the moment of pain I was experiencing. Hurt, confused and feeling alone, I was uncertain about the future. It was at the moment of my greatest distress, a colleague and friend stepped in to help me face my future. I was not offered a lot of sympathy or unrealistic platitudes. I don’t ever remember hearing the words, “Call me if you need me.” What I do remember hearing was, “You know where to find me.” 

God sent me a person of faith, a Jesus follower, who allowed me to be me at the moment of my greatest need. She created a space for me to talk about my anxiety, disappointments, pain, and fear. Although there were times she did not agree with my assessments, she never passed judgment. She listened compassionately. At appropriate times would ask me the questions I needed to answer for clarity and healing. She offered Christ to me by becoming the embodiment of God’s grace. I began to trust that I was not alone in darkness of my uncertainty. 

The space created and the grace offered allowed me to move beyond the moments of my anxiety to see new possibilities. I began to look beyond what I had experienced and to create a new story for myself.

I began to heal. My friend provided several ways for me to put into practice the new possibilities that began to emerge. We created plans for reflection, prayer, and conversation. She challenged me to look beyond myself to see what new things God might be doing in my life. I was invited to put my faith into action by looking beyond myself. 

It was at that point that I rediscovered God’s work in my life. God began to use me to make a difference in the places I encountered the people God wanted me to love. It was through the engagement of this colleague and friend in my life, this Jesus follower, who helped me see the hope in the midst of my uncertainty. There were no easy answers. In fact, there were no answers at all. 

She came alongside me, in the darkness of great anxiety, embodied God’s love, and journeyed with me through difficult moments. Helping me see what God might have in store for the future, she was an instrument of God’s hope in the midst of my uncertainty. She was a light in my darkness.

God came in the person of a Jesus follower. While I was in darkness, I saw a light that brought hope. 

The Good News

There is good news in this Advent prophecy: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us. He is called by many names, but we call him Jesus. He is the Light of the world, the One who comes from God to save us from our darkness. “Light and Life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.”

Whatever your need, whatever your circumstances, whatever your darkness, there is hope. For unto us a child is born and unto us a Son is given. And his name is Jesus, the light of hope in your darkness. 

Respond

As you go about the activities of your day, be aware of the people who are broken and in pain. Be aware of the people who bring light into their lives. As you become aware of the people around you, be thinking of how you might be a person of light in the lives of the people you encounter along the way. Look for Jesus in the people you meet today and be aware of God’s loving embrace. 

Pray

O God, I am grateful that you are the light in the midst of my darkness. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation, circumstance, relationship, and acquaintance of this day. When it is so dark, I think I cannot see, give me eyes to see your light. When the noise is so great that I think I cannot hear, give me ears to hear your still small voice. Give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize what you are doing. Help me be your light to the people you send my way. I offer all I am to you in the name of Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.

Return

Take a few moments to name the places you experienced God’s light today? Through whom did you experience Jesus, God’s light? Who came alongside you to be a light in your darkness? To whom were you God’s light today? 

There is a clear connection between who you are as a leader and your expressions of gratitude. As you know, it is a critical part of your work to make sure others feel appreciated, acknowledged, and valued. So, how do you share your appreciation with those with whom you live, work, and play? 

Giving God Thanks

Over the past 30 years, I have expressed my thanks to people who have been especially meaningful and impactful in my life. Before cell phones, I wrote short notes, sent cards, or made phone calls from a landline. I remember some of the first calls I made with a cell phone were expressions of “I’m giving God thanks for you today.” In recent years I have used email and text messages. I have even been known to write a poem or to send flowers. I am not suggesting that you do what I have done, but I am asking, “How do you share your appreciation with those who have had an impact upon your life?” 

Gratitude from Philippians

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed his gratitude, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4). 

Over the years, those words have become one of my favorite scriptures. I have learned, through practice, to pray for you when you come to mind. Even if it is just for a season, you have become a significant part of my life. 

So, again during this Thanksgiving week, I am giving God thanks for the people who have helped make me who I am. I am not sure what brings certain people to mind, but I am certain it is God coming to me in and through the people I remember. 

Giving Thanks

With that in mind, if you will give a few more minutes of your time, I want to share with you some of the people who have come to mind this week. It might be that some have come to mind because I am writing this blog. But I know others have come to mind because I am particularly grateful for who they are and how God has come to me in and through them. 

One of the persons who has come to mind is Mary Handley, my fourth Sunday School teacher. She was the first person to tell me that I would go somewhere in the world and tell people about Jesus. Another person is Carole Duncan, my Sunday School teacher when I was 14 years old. She was the first person I told that I thought God was calling me to preach. She cared for me and nurtured me as if I were her own. And another person is Mel Cummings, my Sunday School teacher, who the day after the Marshall University football team was killed in the plane crash, gathered us close. He listened to our questions, he loved us through our grief, and he cried with us. “I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

I have been thinking of several people who were members of churches I served over the years. People who have become special friends, who surrounded my family with love and care, and who shaped my life significantly. People like Don and Betty became parents to Kim and me as they became grandparents to our children. Tom and Barbara made our first move with children less painful and more joy-filled. And Paul and Richard who have become lifelong friends. In fact, I have talked with both this week. “I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

I am not sure why, but I am thinking of Dr. Berkowitz, my religion professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. He turned my world upside down as he taught me to think critically about the scripture. When I think of him, I immediately think of Gerald Harshbarger, a pastor who helped me make sense of what I was learning. The story of Jonah had a larger more significant meaning than a person being swallowed by a whale. Every time I prepare a sermon I think of Fred Craddock and every time I speak of God’s love I think of George Morris. Both were seminary professors at Candler School of Theology. Their influence and impact upon my life is immeasurable. “I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

Oh, there are so many of you who come to mind. People like David Cornelius. I first met him in the parking lot of the church asking for a handout. All he wanted was for me to listen to him. Although I thought I knew more about what he needed, he taught me to pay attention to what he was saying. For him, it was a matter of dignity. When I think of David, I also think of John Locke. I first met John as the man who lived in the dumpster behind the church building. He enriched my life the morning that he stood in a worship service and sang “The Lord’s Prayer.” “I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

Grateful for You

If you are still with me, I am grateful. God has come to me and deeply shaped my life through so many of you over 48 years of ministry. Along with all of you, I have met in and through the church, I am grateful for my Cabinet colleagues, my district office colleagues, and for each of you who continue to enrich my life in special and unnoticed ways. “I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

Today, as I give thanks, I am remembering my wife, Kimberly, my children, and my grandchildren. I am remembering close and special friends. I am remembering the people who have walked along with me through the tough times as well as the good times. I am the person I am today because of their love and care in my life. “I thank my God every time I remember you.” 

You know, there are so many of you who come to mind. Just know that I am giving God thanks for you today. I am grateful for you, your ministry, your friendship, and for all God has done to make me who I am in and through you. 

Dietrick Bonhoeffer wrote, “In normal life, we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 

Take Gratitude with You

Who are the people who fill your heart with love, happiness, and gratitude? 

Here is what I want you to do. Take a moment to think of three or four people for whom you are grateful. People through whom you have experienced God’s love. Who brings you joy. Who has been influential? Write their names on a piece of paper. You now have a list of people who are special to you.

For the rest of your life, take these names with you wherever you go. Take them to family gatherings and to Sunday worship. Keep them with you on special occasions. And when you move, make sure when everything is packed, you have them with you. Finally, when you come to the end of your life, take your names with you. I know there will be people who will say, “You can’t take it with you,” but take your list of special people with you. 

Now, when you get to the gate and Saint Peter is there to greet you, he will ask, “What do you have in your hand?” You will say, “It’s just a list of people who are special to me.” He will say, “Let me see it.” And you will say, “It is just the names of some people, that if it were not for them, I would not be here.” And he will say, “Let me see your names.” 

You will give him your list and he will look at you and smile. Then he will say, “I know these people. I just saw them on my over here to greet you. They were making a sign. The sign read, “Welcome Home.” 

“I thank my God every time I remember you…” 

Who you are is how you lead. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

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

Over my 45+ years of ministry, I have never known a person who was grateful who was at the same time bitter, hurtful, mean, or vengeful. If you are a grateful person, you will lead with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead.

Recognizing Potential

Leading with gratitude means recognizing and developing the potential of the people entrusted to your care. It means you give people your time. You listen to them, discover their gifts, strengths, and passion. You encourage them and give them opportunities to become more who they are created to be. 

Leading with gratitude means you become more generous with people. Because you have developed an attitude of generosity, you begin to believe that everyone wants to perform well and will grow more into who they can be with your care and encouragement. This kind of leadership nurtures humility, brings out the best in people, and creates an atmosphere of trust, compassion, stability, and hope. 

To be a truly effective leader, you must know how to lead with gratitude. 

Cultivate Gratitude

Gratitude is something you cultivate. It is a foundational building block to who you are as a person. It is so foundational that you might think it is too simplistic or basic to be included as a leadership trait. You might also think that expressing gratitude is obvious, but let me say again, gratitude is something you cultivate as you practice it. The more you practice it, the more you adapt to feeling and expressing it. Developing a practice of gratitude allows you to become the leader for this time and place.

Develop a Gratitude Practice

The question is “where do you start to develop a practice of gratitude?” Well, I am convinced where you start makes a difference. So, start with the grace of God. 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. 

Luke 17 and Gratitude

In the Gospel according to Luke, there is a story of grace that illustrates the foundation of gratitude. It is the story of ten Lepers healed of their leprosy. (Luke 17:11-19). 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 afflicted with leprosy were required, by the prevailing religion, to stay outside the boundaries of the community. 

They were physically, as well as socially, isolated from family, friends, temple, and all that gave meaning and purpose to their lives. Individuals with leprosy had no quality relationships outside of the leper community. Their only means of living was to beg for handouts. Not only were they isolated, but they also had the responsibility of announcing their condition to everyone who came close. In other words, because of their condition, they 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 be afflicted with leprosy, they have no rights to which they can appeal. Healing is not owed to them. 

Jesus gave them the direction to “Go show yourselves to the priest.” The priest was one who could announce that each of them was cleansed of leprosy. 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.

Each of the ten lepers did what Jesus told them to do. They all received grace. There was no requirement to return. Yet, in a completely spontaneous expression of gratitude, one returned giving thanks and praising God. 

Reconnect What is Broken

In this story, leprosy is a symbol of our condition before God. We are broken people, disconnected from God, one another, and ourselves. As much as you want to and try to, you do not have the capacity within yourself to reconnect what is broken. Your hope is in your experience of God’s grace. You respond to your experience by living as you were created to live. It is your response to God’s grace that equips you to lead with gratitude. 

Become aware of God’s Grace

So, how do you lead with gratitude? Become aware of God’s grace in your life. 

Each day this week, make time to think about being grateful. 

Inspiration

Take note of the people who inspired you. 

  • What did you see that made you smile or take notice of 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. 

Ease of Life

Think about what makes your life easier.

  • The water in the shower? 
  • Car? 
  • Umbrella? 
  • Cellphone? 
  • A warm coat? 

The list goes on. What are you grateful for at this moment?

Past Relationships

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. 

You will come to experience sincere gratitude, even for difficult people, by looking for the good in your encounters with them. 

You

Add to your gratitude list something you are grateful for about yourself. 

Although this might feel uncomfortable, take note of what happens when you begin paying attention to what makes you feel good about yourself. 

You might even ask yourself why this practice of gratitude makes you feel so uncomfortable. Self-awareness is a gift of grace. 

Why not return to give thanks for who you are and for what God has provided to you as a leader?   

Gratitude and Grace

Keep in mind that there is no gratitude without an awareness of grace. In the story, ten experienced God’s grace. Ten returned from the world in which they had been isolated. Ten had new lives. 

When I was a senior in high school, songwriter and singer, Andre Crouch wrote and recorded a song titled “My Tribute.” The words were as follows: 

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.

So, how can you say thanks? Be the one who returns living your life in thanksgiving. Become the person you are created to be and lead with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead.

E

Gratitude has the potential to impact the people around you as well as reshape the world. As a leader, it is essential that gratitude becomes an integral part of your life. It is such an important characteristic that your leadership depends upon it. Effective leadership starts with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. 

Cultivate Gratitude

Of all the leadership characteristics named, discussed, and implemented, gratitude is the easiest to forget and to dismiss. Too often it is seen as something extra and unnecessary. It is for that very reason, gratitude must be cultivated and practiced. You might think that you will automatically feel gratitude when you have reached a particular position, or accomplished a specific objective, or made the right decision that helps reach a difficult goal. The assumption is that gratitude is a mysterious force that shows up when you succeed or when you feel all’s right with the world. 

The reality is gratitude does not appear at the moment things are unfolding perfectly. It is not magically bestowed on some and not on others based upon whether you are successful or not. It is not dependent on what is happening around you. Gratitude is something you cultivate. It is a foundational building block to who you are as a person. It is so foundational that you might think it is too simplistic or basic to be included as a leadership trait. You might also think that expressing gratitude is obvious, but let me say again, gratitude is something you cultivate as you practice it. 

Gratitude Brings Perspective

When you have every excuse to focus on what is not going right, gratitude allows you to see things from a new perspective. The more you practice it, the more you adapt to feeling and expressing it. Developing a practice of gratitude allows you to become the leader for this time and place. 

As a leader, gratitude impacts the people around you. So, to become more the leader needed for this time, develop a practice of gratitude. Here are four benefits to gratitude. 

Four Benefits of Gratitude 

Gratitude helps you appreciate where you are and what you are doing. 

Think about a time when you felt like you were in an unfamiliar place. Whether geographically or relationally, you felt uncomfortable and unsure of yourself. Maybe you were in a new place surrounded by people you didn’t know. Maybe you were responsible for some unpopular decision. Or maybe you just wanted people to be happy with you and you could not control their perceptions or reactions. Whatever the situation, you just didn’t feel good about being there. 

As you reflect upon that time, what are your thoughts and feelings? What makes you uncomfortable or unsure of yourself? What about that experience can help you be a more effective leader? 

Now, take a moment to give God thanks for the experience. It might not be easy. You might not want to. But giving thanks will help you put the experience into perspective. It will help you focus more upon the leader you are created to be. 

If you are spending your time wishing you were somewhere other than where you are, doing something other than what you are doing, you are creating anxiety for yourself and for the people around you that is unnecessary besides being unhealthy. 

You don’t have to like where you are. You don’t have to like what you are doing. But if you are grateful for the places you find yourself and for the opportunities presented to you, you will be able to lead into and through the challenges you face. The truth is, even in the midst of the unfamiliar and unknown, you can always find things for which you are grateful.

O God, put me where you want and help me be content. If I can’t be content, make me faithful. Thank you for being with me wherever I am and with whatever I am doing. Amen

Gratitude helps you love your neighbor. 

Think about the people in your life you like being around. What do they do that draws you to them? Do they help you feel good about yourself? Do they offer you affirmation and support?

Now think about a time that you, as a leader, gave someone praise and affirmation? How did it make you feel? How did the person respond to you?

Gratitude is infectious. 

It celebrates the goodness of God found in the people you encounter. Gratitude helps to build and repair relationships. It draws people in, encourages them to engage, and models for them the practice of gratitude.

So, let’s go one step farther. Who are the people you try to avoid; the people that drain you of positive energy, who are combative, and disagreeable? 

As you think about each person, what are you learning about yourself? What is it that makes you feel good about some people and causes you to avoid others? How does your relationship with each person help you be a more effective leader? 

Now, take a moment to give God thanks for each person who has come to mind. It will not be easy. You might feel that you have tried to get some of these people out of your life altogether. But giving thanks will help you put those relationships into perspective. You might even begin to love others as God in Christ has loved you. It is that perspective that will help you become the leader you are created to be. 

Whether it is a feel-good experience or an experience you want to avoid, expressing your gratitude helps make you become more aware of the gifts people offer in and through each encounter. The truth is each person contributes to your effectiveness as a leader. 

O God, make me aware of the people around me today. As I give you thanks for each person I meet, make me a blessing to someone, somewhere today. Amen.

Gratitude improves your health. 

Like the muscles in your body, you can develop an attitude of gratitude. Research has shown that practicing gratitude creates a less critical and more compassionate relationship with others and a less punishing and more affirming relationship with yourself. When you practice gratitude, you become more emotionally healthy and are less likely to experience depression and anxiety. 

Dr. Robert A. Emmons, from the University of California in Davis, studied the impact of gratitude on physical health, psychological well-being, and relationships with others. What he found was that gratitude helps develop stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep patterns. 

He found that persons who practice gratitude are more alert and have a healthy self-awareness. They experience deeper joy, greater happiness, and are more hopeful than those who do not practice gratitude. He also found that gratitude helped people be more generous and compassionate and as well as more forgiving. The people who practiced gratitude were less lonely and isolated. The truth is gratitude is a healthy practice of an effective leader. 

O God, I am grateful for the ways you are shaping my life in and through the people around me. Give me eyes to see how you come through each of them to help me become who you created me to be. Amen 

Gratitude makes you less fearful and more courageous. 

As a human being, you simply cannot listen to the voices of gratitude and fear at the same time. Your attention is either on one or the other. 

The times I struggle with gratitude the most are when I do not see my place in the bigger picture. When I am in the muddy and murky waters of fear, disappointment, and scarcity, I usually don’t see the opportunities and possibilities around me. But one the other hand, when I focus on gratitude, I am more optimistic, cooperative, and energized. 

Think about a particular challenge you are facing. Get the situation and/or the person clearly in your mind. Focus on the challenge. 

Now, with the situation or person in mind, name five things about the situation or the person for which you are grateful. Place these five things in your heart and mind. Now, what has happened to your fear? 

You simply cannot listen to the voices of gratitude and fear at the same time. Your attention will either be on one or the other. As a healthy human being and more specifically as an effective leader, it is your choice to make. 

Most of the effective leaders I know, practice gratitude on a regular basis. When you consciously practice gratitude, in all situations and circumstances, you become a better leader, you model for the people around you, and you are a happier person.

O God, your perfect love casts out my fears. I give thanks for the situations and circumstances in which I am leading, and for the people through whom you reveal your love. Help me be so aware of your presence that all I say and do will bring you glory and work for the good of the people you have given me to love and serve. Amen. 

Effective Leadership Starts with Gratitude

Who you are is how you lead. How can you become a more effective leader? Become a person of gratitude. It is time to take the next step. 

Your Next Steps

Over the next 5 days, make time each day to think about being grateful. 

Take note of the people who inspired you. What did you see that made you smile or to take notice of 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. 

S

Think about what makes your life easier? The alarm that reminds you to get up each morning? The water in the shower? Car? Umbrella? Cellphone? The list goes on. For what are you grateful at this moment? 

S

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 encounter with them.

S

Add to your gratitude list something you are grateful for about yourself. This might feel uncomfortable. Most of the time you quickly focus upon things you do not like about yourself. When you practice gratitude, you can alter that negative cycle. What would happen if you, instead of focusing upon your flaws, would pay attention to what makes you most proud of yourself? 

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

O God, 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.

Leading is challenging. It demands your full attention and involves your best decision-making. At any given time, it takes energy and stamina to interact with people and it takes patience and compassion to care for them. To lead effectively, you not only have to care for the people around you, but you have to care for yourself. 

Yet, it has been my experience that when work piles up and time is short, self-care is the first thing to go. I understand that putting work ahead of self-care usually comes from a good place. 

Self Care

You want to do as much good as possible, so you put forth your best effort. The problem comes when you constantly put pressing priorities ahead of your wellbeing. For most leaders, when you do not care for yourself, you cannot expect others to care for you. 

When you do not care for yourself, you become tired, stressed, and angry. And over time you develop habits that lead to relational difficulties and health problems. You not only suffer your own poor health, but you contribute to the poor health of the people entrusted to your care. It has been my experience that managing your health is a key component of being an effective leader. 

Putting Yourself First

Think of it this way. Every time you fly, you hear the standard pre-flight announcements. One of those announcements is the Oxygen Mask Rule: “Should the cabin lose pressure; oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.” 

I confess that as a leader in a helping profession, it seems strange that I would put myself before others. What could possibly be wrong with helping others first? 

In the case of the airplane, oxygen masks are deployed in situations where the oxygen level has dropped dangerously low. Without your oxygen mask, you will lose consciousness. If putting on your mask is not your first priority, you will likely not be able to help anyone. 

Your Self-Care as a Leader

It is the same with your self-care as a leader. It is natural that you want to be helpful. It is who you are. You devote energy to confronting the challenges, maintaining relationships, and finding solutions. It is all in a day’s work. But in many cases, your involvement comes at the expense of your own physical, emotional, and mental health. 

Now, I am not saying you should not get involved. You are the leader. 

What I am saying is, you have to manage your health just as you manage your leadership skills. 

Burnout

When your involvement leaves little time for anything else, you experience burnout. I know that burnout is a negative term, and we do not like using negative terms. So, let me say it another way. When your involvement leaves little time for anything else, you experience exhaustion, frustration, and anger, along with feeling ineffective, helpless, or hopeless. You experience burnout. 

Caring for yourself is essential in avoiding burnout. Your self-care is key to your physical, emotional, and mental health. It requires intentional planning. If you do not make self-care part of your leadership, you will not be able to care for others.

Your Health as Leader

So, what contributes to your health as a leader? If you look at yourself as a whole person, there are four areas that need your attention: physical health, emotional health, mental health, and spiritual health. These areas are so interrelated that a deficiency in one will affect the well-being of the others.

Physical Health

Let’s look first at physical health. 

Being physically healthy is essential for effective and courageous leadership. Your physical health depends upon good nutrition, physical exercise, and rest. While regular activity is essential, allowing your body to rest is just as important. While getting enough rest is critical, good eating habits are just as important. Another way to say it is, when you are tired, you are more likely to eat unhealthy food and to exercise less. 

So, eat a well-balanced diet. Engage in regular physical activity.

If you are not going to the gym to work out, engage in walking, biking, or swimming. Get at least 7 hours of sleep in a quiet, dark environment. Turn the television, as well as computers and iPhones off. Remember, you are responsible for your own well-being.

Your effectiveness as a leader depends upon it. 

Emotional Health

Now, let’s look at emotional Health: Having a healthy awareness of your emotions is essential for effective and courageous leadership. Your emotions help you to seek out meaningful experiences, avoid danger and embarrassment. Just as they can be a helpful source of information, they can also be misleading. It is important to know and understand your emotions. 

Learn to recognize and acknowledge what triggers your anger and what pushes you to disengage in group interaction. Name what you are feeling. Give yourself permission to feel it. This will help you become more responsive as opposed to reactive to the people around you and the situation you are in. 

Whether it is a feeling in the pit of your stomach or an increased heart rate, you can keep your cool and stay engaged. When you find yourself emotionally out of balance, try one of the following activities:  take a walk in fresh air, use positive self-talk, eat healthy food, listen to music that makes you happy, spend time with someone you enjoy. You are responsible for your own well-being. Your effectiveness as a leader depends upon it. 

Mental Health

What about mental health? Being mentally healthy is essential for effective and courageous leadership. It affects how you think, feel, and act as you cope with life. It also helps determine how you manage stress, relate to others, and make decisions. In other words, life is hard. As a leader, you are constantly confronted with challenges, distractions, and obstacles. 

When you are not in a good place with your thoughts and emotions, you tend to make up what you do not know. Imagine that you have received some critical feedback. The conclusions you draw about the feedback and the person giving it to you depend upon your mental healthiness. You begin to tell yourself stories. You might tell yourself that you are a failure or that you feel ashamed or hopeless. You might feel anger and become defensive and reactive. 

On the other hand, you might tell yourself that you have an opportunity to improve. You might feel grateful for the experience and for the person who is helping you become the leader you are created to be. The conclusions you draw will influence how you feel and how you respond. 

You run into trouble when you treat your thoughts as facts without checking the truth of your facts. Your thoughts influence how you feel and how you act. So do not turn pressure into stress. Start telling yourself a different story that is based on truth. Keep yourself mentally alert. You are responsible for your own well-being.

Your effectiveness as a leader depends upon it. 

Spiritual Health

Finally, let’s look at spiritual health. Being spiritually healthy is essential for effective and courageous leadership. When you are spiritually healthy, you are deepening your understanding of meaning and purpose, you feel more connected to God, and to the people around you. You have more clarity when it comes to making everyday decisions, and your actions become more consistent with your beliefs and values. 

So, develop a pattern of spiritual practice. On a daily basis, at the same time each day, read scripture for the purpose of transformation. Reflect upon what you are reading. What is it saying to you? How does it inform your living and your relationships? Then respond by putting into action what you have read. At the end of the day, return to the scripture. How did you experience the scripture throughout the day? With whom did you interact? For whom or what are you grateful? A pattern of spiritual practice will make a difference in who you are and how you lead. 

Develop a pattern of meditation. By periodically stepping away to reflect, you are better able to recognize and acknowledge your deepest potential. You not only become more aware of the choices you are making but aware of how those choices shape who you are and affect the people around you. By intentionally cultivating a sense of self, you are becoming more who you are created to be. 

Your Health as A Leader

Your healthiness as a leader requires care and attention, not only for your physical body but for your mind and spirit as well. The benefits of spiritual well-being are numerous, from being more compassionate in your relationships to living into a deeper sense of inner peace. Being spiritually healthy not only makes you feel better but helps you be better. You are responsible for your own well-being. Your effectiveness as a leader depends upon it. 

Keep in mind that these areas are so interrelated that a lack of attention in one area affects the well-being of the other areas. You might consider yourself healthy spiritually, but if you have not developed healthy eating habits, or suffer from a lack of sleep and rest, you are out of balance. Your emotional and mental well-being is dependent upon your spiritual healthiness as well as your physical healthiness. I am sure you get the point. 

Make Time for You

This week, make time for a self-care health check. What area needs your immediate attention? What will you do to improve your self-care? You are responsible for your own well-being. Your effectiveness as a leader depends upon. 

Know of my prayers for you as you seek to be a healthy leader.

If you decide you can put your self-care off a little while longer, just remember, who you are is how you lead.