How will you lead this year? Keeping in mind that who you are is how you lead, the turn of the calendar year is a good time to assess and make adjustments to how you lead.
Think for a moment. Is there anything you want to redo from this past year? Are there relationships you want to repair and restore? Are there moments of learning you want to incorporate into your life and leading?
You can make changes and adjustments any time of year, but the beginning of the year is an excellent time to be intentional in your reflection and commitments.
To help with your reflection, I offer the pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, Return” as a tool to assist you in becoming the leader needed for the time in which we are living.
Read Isaiah 43:14-24
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: For your sake I will send to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.
I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army, and warrior; they lie down; they cannot rise; they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals, and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Isaiah wrote these words to the people who have been separated from what they held important: family, community, country, religion, etc. They felt overwhelmed and hopeless, partly because of their lack of trust and partly because of circumstances beyond their control. Isaiah reminds them who created them, who formed them, and who redeemed them. He reminds them they have nothing to fear because God has been with them through all the trials of their separation. He reminds them that God will take care of them and their children.
Isaiah announces to them that God is going to set them free from their enemies. “For your sake
I will send you to Babylon and break down all the bars, and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.” In the midst of their situations of slavery (hopelessness), God is going to make a way for them.
For them to be set free, they are challenged to set the past aside, to forget the former things. God is doing a new thing, a new work in their midst, and they are challenged to see it. He reassures them that they can trust God because God is able to make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert.
What New Thing is God Doing?
Until recently, I read that scripture as something that has happened to someone else. But this past week I began to ask myself, what new thing is God doing in my life? What must I set aside to see what God is doing?
Could it be that Isaiah was writing to you and me as well? In the midst of all you have experienced over the past several years, feelings of isolation, lack of support, learning new ways of caring for family, navigating a political polarization, etc. it would be natural to feel overwhelmed and even hopeless. What is the use to keep going?
God is Doing a New Thing in You
Isaiah is reminding you who made you and who loves you. He is reminding you of who has called you and equipped you for this work of leading. You have nothing to fear because God has been with you through the trials and obstacles. God will take care of you. In the midst of all that continues to pull you back, that keeps you from becoming who God created you to be, God is making a way for you.
Just as the people of Israel were challenged to set the past aside, to forget the former things, you must do the same. God is doing a new thing, a new work in your midst and you are being challenged to see it. Again, just as Isaiah reassured the people that they could trust God, you are being challenged to trust the One who has created you, who loves you, and who called you to this work.
Becoming the Leader You Were Created to Be
Just as God can make a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert, God is making a way for you. The question is, “Can you recognize what God is doing in your life and leading?”
That is the question, isn’t it? What new thing is God doing in my life? The other question is, “What must I set aside to see and participate in what God is doing?”
The answer to those questions become leadership questions when you carry the past along with you, remembering the unkind words, the breaches of trust, the moments of lashing out, being taken for granted, being forgotten, pushed aside, and not included. You carry all these things into your thoughts and style of leadership. It is true, who you are is how you lead.
What must you set aside and leave behind for you to be the leader you are created to be? What must be let go for you to be the leader for this time?
A New Year
One of my favorite columnists was Erma Bombeck. I remember an article she wrote in December of 1992. It was an article that helped me set aside some hurts and grudges that were getting in the way of me being the pastor God needed me to be. The article was titled, “New Year: Leave Baggage Behind.” She wrote:
For years, I’ve studied the symbol of the New Year – a smiling baby wearing a diaper and a top hat. What does it mean? A beginning of life? A time of innocence? A scenario for change? Then it hit me. For years, I’ve been overdressed for the New Year. I enter it with shoulders bent, swathed in all the ills of the previous year, and when I can’t wear them all on my body, I lug them along in heavy boxes and suitcases, kicking them along with my foot to make sure all of them make it into the next year of my life.
Wrapped around my neck a mantle of guilt, some of it dating back as far as 1940 (Guilt for the time my parents gave me a savings bond for my high school graduation when I wanted a silver charm bracelet, and I threw the savings bond on the floor. An oldie, but goodie.)
The hair shirt of self-pity is uncomfortable, but for years has provided me with enough ammunition to bring tears to the eyes of my husband and children. To discard it would be unthinkable. After all, self-pity, if you do it right, takes a long time to amass.
The belt of prejudice is an old one and encompasses anyone who does not agree with every single word I have ever said. I’d feel naked without it.
The large footlocker contains anger. True, a lot of it doesn’t fit anymore, but I hang onto it just in case I’m caught short.
Adorning all of this are the jewels of frustration over things that I can never do anything about, but which I wear like medals to torture myself.
And of course, the biggest piece of baggage contains old grudges that I sift through each year like old photographs and pressed flowers…the critic who was unkind, the one mistake from a friend I want to forgive, the trust I gave a child that was abused, the harsh words from a family member that I refuse to forget. Grudges, many of them antiques, that I plan on handing down to my children.
Each year of my life, the load gets heavier and heavier to carry into the New Year. Once, around March, I almost sank, but stubbornly I hung onto every bit of New Years past.
Frankly, I don’t know if I can face the New Year without my clothes on. I don’t know if I can check into 1993 without luggage. Can I look at old friends and see them for the first time? Can I keep my eyes forward and not look back? Do I have the guts to emerge with nothing on but a smile and a top hat?
I’m gonna try.
One of the curses of the past is that we cannot go back and change the course leading to the hurts and disappointments, no matter how much we might wish to. The past has its own terrible inevitability. But it is never too late to change the future.
God is doing new things in your life and leadership. What are some new things God is doing? What are some things you will need to give up to participate in what God is doing? Where is God making a way for you through the tough situations you are facing? Keep these things in mind for when you return later in the day.
God is calling you to something bigger than yourself, bigger than a denomination, and even bigger than the church universal. The message of our Christian faith is one of resurrection and renewal. Paul wrote, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” It is time to give up some of the “stuff” we have been hanging onto. It is time to move boldly and faithfully into the future, following God’s lead knowing that being focused upon Jesus’ new life is ahead. Remember, who you are is how you lead.
Give God thanks for the people you met today.
- In whom did you experience God doing something new?
- How did you participate?
- What have you considered leaving behind as you enter this new year?
- What new path is God making for you through your difficult situations and relationships?
- How could your leadership be more effective by letting go of some old things?
Now ask God to help you see the new things God is doing in the lives of the people around you and in the situations and circumstances you find yourself in. Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.
O God, I am grateful that you have come to be with me in Jesus. Help me be aware of your presence in every situation and circumstance and in every relationship and acquaintance of this day. Give me eyes to see and ears to see and hear what new thing you are doing, and give me a heart to discern and a mind to recognize it. Make me a blessing to someone somewhere today as you embrace me and the people around me with your love that makes me more who you want me to be. I offer my life to be a home for you and for the people you send my way. Amen