This past week I read a quote by Pope John Paul II, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” The quote comes from a sermon he preached in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1995. In the sermon, he shared his passion for human rights. He referenced Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln’s dedication to freedom and equality for all people. He referred to himself growing up in Poland during the rise of the Nazi party. He said that “a true expression of freedom is not acting on selfish impulse but committing our lives to serving the greater good and standing up for what is right.”
As I have reflected upon his words, I have been thinking of you and your leadership. You have been given the opportunity and the task to lead during a time focused upon personal freedom, often referred to as “rights.” Whether it has been the right to bear arms or the right to not wear a mask, the right to worship or the right to say what I want to say, you have navigated stormy waters of entitlement.
I have also given thought to what it means to be a leader who is a follower of Jesus. What I have learned is freedom, particularly Christian freedom, is necessary for leading. When freedom is applied to leadership, it emphasizes the truth that everyone has the ability to make his or her own decisions, as well as the responsibility for those decisions.
What I have experienced is most people think leadership works better when the leader has control instead of applying responsibility to freedom. It is as simple as emphasizing rules over relationships. Please understand that I am not downplaying rules, but I am emphasizing the development of relationships in regard to working for the greater good. Too often we take the path of least resistance and instead of standing up for what is right we give into the selfishness of personal rights.
In a time of entitlement, how do you model freedom and the responsibility of freedom?
The reality is the way you live, the things you say, the attitudes you develop, the lifestyle you adopt, the people in whom you invest continuously produce either positive or negative results in your church and in your community. You are not detached or uninvolved in the trauma, turmoil, or tension of the day. In fact, you might be contributing to them.
How you exercise your freedom, as a follower of Jesus, makes a difference. In an atmosphere of antagonism and an environment of hostility, you have the opportunity to lead with love and peace. The question is, will you live for yourself, or will you live for what is good and right for the people entrusted to your care? As a follower of Jesus, you have the right to live as the person God has created you to live.
The apostle Paul faced a similar dilemma in Galatia. For Paul, Christian freedom was freedom to walk in the life of the Spirit. He understood that the unbridled passions and desires of our fallen nature were opposed to the passion and desires of our true and created nature. To put it another way, the passion of our hearts is opposed to the passion of God’s heart. To be led by the Spirit was to follow the direction of God’s purposes of love and peace.
Paul knew the distinction between his desires, his rights gone astray, and the fruit of the Spirit through his own experience. His life had been in chaos. He had lived in rebellion against God. He was at war with himself. Then came the reconciling love of God. In Jesus, love for God and love for others came together in his heart and in his living. It all centered in the unifying love of Christ.
The evidence of your integrity, as a leader, is witnessed in your obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. This is especially true as you lead through these challenging times. Paul said it this way, “I say be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires. A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires. If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other. Galatians 5:16-17, 22-26
The impact of your leadership grows and is expressed when you willingly place your “rights” and your entitlements second to the new life you have received through Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit is the outward expression of Christ living within you. Regardless of your position and power, giving yourself over to the direction and power of God’s presence in your life helps you become the leader needed for these difficult and challenging times. Whether with a world at war, a denomination in turmoil, a church in distress, or your own personal dilemma, the Spirit of God works to transform your life and leadership.
Pray for Restraint
Fred Craddock tells the story of being asked to speak at a president’s prayer breakfast. At the time, the prayer breakfasts were held not only in this country but around the world. He said, “I got a letter from Washington asking me if I would hold one of these. The place was Seoul, South Korea.”
“The general in charge, and my host, was four-star General Stilwell. He gathered officers and enlisted people in this large room. We had a nice breakfast and then we had prayers. It was not just prayers in name only. The general’s assistant, a colonel, had the soldiers there enter a period of sentence prayers. They had prayers for mothers and fathers and sisters and babies and for my wife back home and for peace in the world. They were emotionally moving prayers.
“There was a young private from Formosa who played ‘Amazing Grace’ on the bagpipe before I spoke. The general sat there with tears in his eyes. He said, ‘I love that song.’”
Craddock said he gave his talk. Then, there was a benediction, and the room began to empty as the soldiers filed out. He shook hands with the general and thanked him for his gracious hospitality. The general said, “I want you to remember us in prayer.”
And Craddock said, “I will. You know I will.”
Then the general said, “Pray not for more power. We have the power. We could destroy this whole place in one afternoon. Pray that we have the appropriate restraint.”
Craddock continued, “It was such an unusual request. ‘Pray that we have restraint.’ He knew his history. He knew he was American, and restraint is built into our history. Why do we have executive, judicial, legislative branches except to build in restraint? Why is it said that we shall allow a person only two terms as president? Restraint. Why do we say that the commander in chief of all armed forces of this country will always be a civilian? Restraint.
“The general knew that the mark of a civilized society is the restraint of power. The mark of a civilized human being is restraint of power.”
Every time I read or hear someone say, “It is my right” or more specially “My God given right,” I stop and say to myself, “Of course it is. But is it right and good for you to exercise your right in relationship with the people around you?
When Craddock left the room, everybody was gone except the general and his aide. His aide asked, “General, shall I bring the car around?”
The general replied, “Not now, I want to sit here awhile.” In the silence of the moment, he asked the private from Formosa to stay and play on the bagpipe.
Craddock looked back as he left the room. There was the general seated alone with the private in front of him playing “Amazing Grace. Craddock said, “Now isn’t that a picture? Four stars shining, listening to a voice of restraint.”
Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” The true expression of freedom is not acting on selfish impulse but committing our lives to serving the greater good and standing up for what is right.
In a time of entitlement, how do you model freedom and the responsibility of freedom? Try living with the restraint of doing what you have the power and position to do. Then, live in a relationship with the people around you in expressions of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Your leadership will reflect the love and peace of the One who gave you the power in the first place.
Reflect on Your Rights
Today, take a moment to reflect upon your “rights” as a leader.
Would you say your inner life and outer life are integrated?
What are the barriers in your personal life that keep you demanding your own way?
Who do you need in your life to assist you in producing the fruit of love and peace?
Are you willing to be held accountable to loving others as God in Christ has loved you?
The true expression of freedom is not acting on selfish impulse but committing your life to serving the greater good. Restraint is love’s submission to integrity.
Remember, who you are is how you lead.