Hope: Leading with Grace
You are a disciple of Jesus who leads. Sounds simple enough, but sometimes you lose your connection to the source of your leadership. It is easily done. Have you ever prepared a sermon without reading the scripture text? Have you ever experienced prayer as a practice that could be cut if you were running short of time? And what about holy communion? Has the celebration of the Lord’s Supper become so routine that you are glad when the service is over?
Tend to Your Soul
Hey, it happens to the best of us. Sometimes in the busyness of ministry, you can forget the most important thing you can do as a leader, tend to your soul.
I remember reading a confession by Mother Teresa. She wrote, “Pray for me that I do not loosen my grip on the hands of Jesus even under the guise of ministering to the poor.”
That says it, doesn’t it? Isn’t that our primary calling as Jesus followers? Isn’t that the only way we become who God created us to be? We grip the hand of Jesus with such firmness that we cannot help but follow his lead.
Leading with Grace
Following Jesus in this way requires discipline. It is not easy. But to be the leader needed for today, you must learn to receive and to give God’s gift of grace freely given to all. I know this will sound narrow-minded but being a follower of Jesus is impossible without God’s grace extended to you.
The good news is, God has already given you the grace needed to be who God created you to be. Take a moment to think of an experience of grace in your life. As you think of your experience, I will tell you mine.
Over the years, to help people recognize God’s grace, I have challenged groups, whether a church council, finance committee, personnel, or trustee committee, to recognize God in their midst. I would ask questions like, “Where have you seen God this past week?” or “Where have you experienced God recently?”
I was convinced that if individuals could recognize and experience God in their everyday lives their lives would change and the people around them would experience God’s love through them.
Please understand, I was not taught by the church or my parents to look for God in my everyday living. As a child, I learned to put my best foot forward when it came to the church. I was on my best behavior on Sunday mornings. I dressed differently, I did not run in the sanctuary, and I was in awe of people who were leaders. At age 14 I felt a definite call to be a preacher. That urge never left me, but I did not understand it until ten years later.
I was a student in seminary, serving my first congregation when God’s grace broke through to me. l was 24 years old, in my fourth year as the pastor of two small churches, preaching, teaching, providing care and instruction, when I learned that my father, who I wanted to love me and who I had worked to prove to him I was worthy of his love, had adopted me.
At that point, the reality of God’s grace came rushing into my life. My father had chosen me to be his child, given me his name and loved me from the beginning. I realized that day that what God had done for me, God had done for all you reading these words. You have been chosen by God, given a name, and loved from the beginning, and the reality is, there is nothing you can do about it except accept it. That is the gift of God’s grace.
The Means of Grace
It was a few years later, after graduating from seminary and serving as a pastor that I felt like I had little to offer to the people around me. I felt empty, like a well that was going dry. Although I had studied the means of grace, I confess I did not use them to nourish my soul.
I had preached sermons, taught Bible studies, led work teams, helped build a hospital, and started schools. Not only did I do good things, but I was also a good human being. But something was missing. At that moment I realized that what I needed was to be connected to God’s grace.
The Means of Grace in Daily Life
I realized that I was not strong enough or good enough on my own to become who God created me to be. That is when I began to utilize the means of grace.
I had experienced God’s grace, but it was the practice of the means of grace that kept me connected and mindful of God and that allowed me to experience the joy and fruit of following Jesus.
Practice the Means of Grace
This is what I have learned:
- The means of grace give access to God’s presence in the world.
- Ask yourself the question, “Where have I seen God at work today?
- The means of grace keep you on the path to becoming who God created you to be.
- Ask yourself the question: “How have I been growing in my faith?
- The means of grace keep you close to God. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I want a more vital relationship with God?
- Do I want to grow as a follower of Jesus?
- Am I paralyzed by fear?
- Do I feel isolated and alone?
- Do I want to become who God has created you to be?
Following Jesus is not easy, but God has the means of grace available for you to stay connected with the One for whom all things are possible.
Leading with Grace
There are times the means of grace work like this. A large prosperous downtown church in London had three mission churches under its care. On the first Sunday of the New Year, all the members of the mission churches came to the city church for a combined communion service.
In those mission churches, which were located in lower-income areas of the city, were some people who had experienced God’s grace in life-changing ways. Some of the people had been arrested for drugs, some were recovering alcoholics, and some were convicts who had served their time in jail. Yet, they all came to the same table, kneeling side by side at the same communion rail.
Kneeling Next to Grace
On one occasion the pastor saw a former burglar kneeling beside a judge of the Supreme Court of England. This judge had sent the burglar to jail where he had served for seven years. After his release, this burglar had been converted and became a strong Christian witness in one of the mission churches. As they knelt beside each other, the judge, and the former convict, neither one was aware of the other.
A Grace-filled Conversation
After the service, the judge was walking home with the pastor. He said to the pastor, “Did you notice who was kneeling beside me at the communion rail this morning?”
The pastor replied, “Yes, but I didn’t know that you noticed.”
The two walked along in silence for a few more moments, and then the judge said, “What a miracle of grace.”
The pastor nodded in agreement, “Yes, what a marvelous miracle of grace.”
And then the judge turned and asked: “But to whom do you refer?”
And the pastor said, “Why, to the conversion of that convict.”
The judge said, “But I wasn’t referring to him. I was thinking of myself.”
The pastor was surprised and replied: “You were thinking of yourself? I don’t understand.”
The judge explained. “It did not cost that burglar much to get converted when he came out of jail. He had nothing but a history of crime behind him and when he saw Jesus as his Savior, he knew there was salvation and hope and joy for him. And he knew how much he needed that help.
But look at me. I was taught from earliest infancy to live as a gentleman; that my word was to be my bond; that I was to say my prayers, go to church, take communion, and so on. I went through Oxford, took my degrees, was called to the bar, and eventually became a judge. Pastor, nothing but the grace of God could have caused me to admit that I was a sinner on a level with that burglar. It took much more grace to forgive me for all my pride and self-deception, to get me to admit that I was no better in the eyes of God than that convict that I had sent to prison.”
Then after a moment of silence, the judge said, “Pastor, thank you for being a means of grace for me this morning.”
Following Jesus is not easy, but you have the opportunity to offer hope as you become a person of grace for the people entrusted to you care.
What one step will you take toward caring for your soul this week? Perhaps this week you’ll take toward practicing the means of grace? What one step will you take toward becoming more who God created you to be? Just imagine what could happen if you, simply a person of grace, shared grace.
I will be praying that you don’t loosen your grip on Jesus. Remember, who you are is how you lead.
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