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How are you doing this week? Last week I asked that question in relation to leading the mission. This week I am asking the question in relation to you personally? How are you doing? To be the leader needed for this time, you must keep yourself healthy and focused.  You can’t lead others to become who God created them to be if you aren’t at peace with yourself, your work, and with God.

In the midst of all the noise and chaos of our everyday living, it can be hard to feel at peace. It can be so hard that we can go days, weeks, even months without feeling a true sense of calm. I understand. There are days that it would feel good just to feel good for a change. 

You Are a Leader

I want to remind you that you are the leader for this time. You are leading in ways you never imagined. Now I get it. On any given day, as you are learning another aspect of technology, there are people upset that they are not back in the sanctuary. 

As you work with them, you get an email from someone who points out that the guidelines say “no more than 10 persons” should gather. Then, there is the person who is upset that you have said something about racism and loving your neighbor. All you want is to be the pastor, preacher, and leader you know you can be. 

Before the Pandemic

Before the pandemic, you had time to read and reflect and enjoy the relationships. Now, you feel as if you are rushing from event to (virtual) event, from conversation to conversation, and you might even feel the world would be a better place if it weren’t for people. (It’s ok to admit you’ve said it, too.) 

I get it. It would be nice to have a little time and space for yourself. It would be great if you felt some peace and calm.  

If you are willing to take a little journey with me, I guarantee peacefulness at the end. So, if you are willing, here is what I want you to do.

1. Read

Get your Bible or open your Bible app.

  • Read Lamentations 3, paying attention to verses 22-24. I am using the Good News Translation. “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning and as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so in him I put my hope.” (Good News Translation)  

2. Reflect

Consider the context of Lamentations.

Israel is in captivity.

The people are grieving. The writer, speaking on behalf of the people, writes, “I am the one who knows what it is to be punished by God. He drove me deeper and deeper into darkness and beat me again and again with merciless blows.” (Verses 1-3) All they have known and depended upon is gone. Their lives have been disrupted.  The people are totally preoccupied with their own pain.

They are grieving physically.

The people are weary. “He (God) has left my flesh open and raw and has broken my bones” (Verse 4). When you are physically weary, you will do just about anything, other than what you are doing, to get past the weariness.

 They are grieving spiritually.

“He (God) has bound me in chains; I am a prisoner with no hope of escape” (Verse 7). The people feel like there is no future and things will not get better. They want God to comfort them, but God cannot be reached. “I cry aloud for help, but God refuses to listen” (Verse 8).

They are grieving psychologically.

Read verses 10-18. The imagery is of being attacked and alone, humiliated with no hope. “The thought of my pain, my homelessness, is bitter poison. I think of it constantly, and my spirit is depressed” (Verses 19-20). No matter how much we think we are prepared for the loss, it always comes with pain. The writer of Lamentations had been preparing for this for 40 years, yet the people are still surprised.

But they continue to pray.

They do what they know to do. Earlier in the chapter, they could not pray.  They didn’t feel like praying. They didn’t think praying made any difference.  Remember, “Even when I cry out, God shuts out my prayer” (Verse 8).

So here is a turning point. 

What do you do when your experience does not match what you have been taught or what you expect? The writer chooses to embrace hope. The writer chooses to hope in God’s goodness. Remember, hope is shaped and strengthened through a personal and internal struggle. “The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning and as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, in the Lord I will place my hope” (verses 22-24).

The writer, speaking on behalf of the people, places their confidence in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God.  God’s mercy never ceases.

3. Respond

Take the reflection of this scripture with you today. Think about how the truth of this scripture will come alive for you. To help stimulate your thinking:

  • Where might you experience God’s unfailing love and mercy?
  • In what you are facing, where will you embrace hope?
  • As you navigate the changes brought about by a pandemic, how will you show your trust in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?
  • As you lead and teach about anti-racism, how will you show your trust in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?

4. Return

At the end of day, or at a time of reflection upon the scripture and your interactions of the day, consider:

  •  Where did you experience God’s unfailing love and mercy today?

Remember, God’s love will not run out.  God’s merciful love will not dry up. The love of God is created new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.

A Pattern for Living with Jesus 

This pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, Return” is a great practice of creating a little time and space to be connected to God. It provides you the opportunity to recognize God every day even in the midst of the chaos and confusion. Your connection to God is what brings the peace that allows you to become who you were created to be.

So, what is one thing you will do to create a little time and space for yourself?  What is one thing you will do to place your confidence and hope in the steadfast love and faithfulness of God?

Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you along your journey. Head over to the podcast and explore episodes 122-128 or 129-131 to use this pattern to explore discipleship in the context of Matthew or John’s gospels. 

So, now, how are you? May you always be as blessed as you are a blessing!

Some of you are stepping into new appointments in a few weeks. You will transition from one congregation to another, learn the names and lives of another group of Jesus followers, and develop life-long relationships which will bring meaning to your lives.

Others of you will return to faith communities where you are investing your lives in developing relationships, learning the needs and assets of the congregation, and engaging the congregation with the community.

Whether stepping into a new appointment or returning to a congregation, I want to remind you of three basic practices for leaders.

Three Essential Practices Transforming MissionPractice 1: Prayer

The first practice is Prayer. As a pastor, I learned early that most people wanted something from me or wanted me to do something for them. Early in my ministry, I liked the idea of being needed and wanted. The demand-filled day was welcomed. It was nice to be needed. After a while I realized that all requests for my time and energy were urgent. Even the trivial actions were dressed in words of importance.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but the edge of the flattery began to wear off when I realized no one demanded that I practice a life of prayer. Even though I thought prayer was at the heart of my ministry, I was not praying. Oh, I prayed in worship and in public events, but I was not personally listening to God or guiding others into listening to God.

It was only when I began to intentionally focus upon prayer and to develop a life of prayer that I began to focus upon God’s desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of prayer. Please don’t let the urgent keep you from focusing on and listening to God.

Practice 2: Reading, Reflecting, and Responding to the Scriptures

The second practice is the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures. Again, early in my ministry, I found myself reading, teaching, and preaching the Scriptures more for information than for formation. Although reading and reflecting upon the Scripture was basic to my work, I began to realize that using the Scripture was not the same as listening to God.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but I began to recognize that I was out of relationship with God and with God’s people. I began to understand that a major part of my work was to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. So, I began to study Scripture more for formation. I began to listen for God in and through the Scriptures. I began to ask God to help improve the acoustics so I could reflect and respond more clearly.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon the reading, reflecting, and responding to the Scriptures that I discovered more of God’s design and desire for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of Bible study. Develop a pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding to Scripture. Improve the acoustics so you can hear God more often and more clearly.

Practice 3: Self-Awareness and Self-Leadership

The third practice is to be who God created you to be. Over the years of my ministry, I have wasted too much time and energy focused upon pleasing people. There have been times when I have lost myself in wanting people to like me. My insecurity showed up when I worked harder for compliments than I did at caring and compassion.

Maybe it was because I was maturing or just getting weary, but trying to be all things to all people got old in a hurry. I learned that for me to be my best was to be who God created me to be. So, I surrounded myself with people who loved me as I was but who would not let me stay the way I was.

Through the development of mature and intimate relationships, I learned and experienced God’s love in life-transforming ways. I was encouraged to be who God created me to be which set me free to lead courageously with hope.

It was when I began to intentionally focus upon developing caring relationships that I truly began to trust God and the people around me. It was when I began to be who God created me to be that I began to live the life God desired for me, the church, and all creation.

As you step into this next year, make it a year of getting to know yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you and who will clear a space for you to be who God created you to be. It will be in living out God’s design for your life that you will make the greatest impact upon family, friends, and congregation.

You and I have the opportunity to shape the course of our lives. As you enter this next season of your work, develop a life of prayer; and, read, reflect, and respond to the Scriptures. Let’s grow together in becoming the leaders God has created us to be.

Are you participating in Following Jesus Every Day: Galatians – Gospel of Grace daily reading plan? I am.

My participation in this study is making a difference in the way I understand the scriptures. I am learning something each day. However, this study has been more formational than informational. The daily pattern of reading, reflecting, and responding is shaping my thinking from deep within.

It might seem strange, but over the years of my ministry, I studied the scriptures more for preaching sermons and leading Bible Studies than for spiritual growth and personal maturity. I have often fallen into the category described by William Sloan Coffin, “Too many Christians use the Bible as a drunk does a lamppost, more for support than for illumination.”

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“Simon, Simon, look! Satan has asserted the right to sift you all like wheat. However, I have prayed for you that your faith won’t fail. When you have returned, strengthen your brothers and sisters.” Peter responded, “Lord, I’m ready to go with you, both to prison and to death!” Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster won’t crow today before you have denied three times that you know me.” -Luke 22:31-34

This story takes place in the Upper Room on the day we call Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” means “mandate” or “commitment”. In Luke, this mandate was to keep the Lord’s Supper. In John, the mandate was to wash feet. The mandate is to remember to re-member.

Around the table, as part of his farewell, Jesus had a conversation with his disciples. The conversation covered the life they had together, what was about to happen, and the pressures they were going to face. As the disciples engaged in the discussion, they revealed their self-seeking quest for status, which brought about betrayal and denial.

Jesus offered an assurance of comfort, guidance, and strength as he instructed his disciples in ways to address the squabbles and temptations of their time.

Sift You Like Wheat

In this story, we get this strange reference to Satan. “Simon, Simon, look! Satan has asserted the right to sift you all like wheat…” Jesus predicts that they all will fall away. Peter objects. He says he will not fall away. Luke uses this story to place the problem of unfaithful disciples in a larger context. The community falls apart after the shattering experience of the crucifixion. Luke sees this as a test.

In the Hebrew, the word “sift” means to test. It is an image which comes from the prophet Amos, “…to sift like wheat.” In Jewish Literature, Satan is one of the angels in the council of heaven.

The word “Satan” means “adversary.” It refers to “one who is the devil’s advocate” or “one who raises an objection.” It is also used to refer to “one who calls for a test” or “brings about the opposition.” Luke uses this image as an assault by the ultimate power of evil on the emerging kingdom of God.

Job & Sifting Wheat

This image comes from The Book of Job. It is here that we get an example of this understanding of Satan. Job believed in God. He was a good and righteous man in his living.

God in the council of heaven was bragging on Job. “My servant Job is a good and righteous man.” The Adversary, Satan, raised his hand and said, “Of course he is good because you blessed him. Anyone who has what he has can afford to be good.”

God said, “He would be good for nothing, even if his life were a disaster.”

Satan replied, “I don’t think so.”

God said, “All right. You can sift him like wheat, but not to kill him.”

From this story, we see that Job went through terrible experiences. He lost all his possessions, his family, and all he held to be important. His friends questioned his faithfulness to God. But, according to the story, he stayed in there with his trust in God. In the end, even though he had been “sifted like wheat,” tested, and challenged, he remained faithful to God.

Jesus Is Praying For You

So, here in Luke, Satan has permission to sift the disciples like wheat. It is like the adversary is looking out over humanity and thinks, “If I am going to get hold of this bunch, now is the time. With the death of Jesus, they will be without a leader. I’ll get them all.”

Around the table, in a group conversation,

What does it mean to you to know that someone is praying for you?Jesus says, “Satan has permission to put you to that test. I have been praying for you so that after you turn, after you repent, I want you to be leaders and strengthen the others.” Now, of course, Simon Peter does not think he needs to repent nor does he need prayer.

Jesus says, “Really? Before the rooster crows in the morning you will have said three times that you do not know me.”

From Luke’s perspective, when Jesus is tempted in chapter 4, he resists three temptations. Luke says, “Satan departed from him until an opportune time.” From that moment in chapter 4, Satan does not appear again until this story. (Luke 22:31).

The opportunity comes in two ways. The first, “He entered into Judas.” The second, Satan has asserted the right to sift Simon Peter like wheat. Satan got Judas and he almost got Simon Peter.

The contest is over Simon Peter’s loyalty. One side is Satan with deceitfulness. On the other side is Jesus with the weapon of prayer. “I am praying for you.”

Simon Peter doesn’t think he needs Jesus’ prayer. “I’m ready! If it’s prison, Yes. If it is death, Yes.”

Jesus said, “Simon, you are not ready.”

What Happens?

Now, we know what happened. Simon Peter stumbled.

When asked at the trial “Do you know Jesus?” He answered “No.” “Aren’t you one of his followers?” He answered, “No.” “You sound like one of those Galileans.” And with an oath, he answered, “I never knew the man.”

Jesus said, “…I have prayed for you that your faith won’t fail. When you have returned, strengthen your brothers and sisters.”

Jesus prays for Peter, but Peter must do the turning. Here is the difference between Judas and Peter. Salvation is not only personal but for the whole Christian community. Jesus’ prayer was answered, Peter did “turn back” and did become the leading figure in regathering the disciples after Easter to continue Jesus’ mission.

Simon Peter repented. He came back. Simon Peter became a leader. He strengthened others. St. Peter is connected to just about everything Christian. Not because he did not fail, but because he turned, he repented. Jesus’ prayer was answered.

You Have to Wonder

There is nothing like knowing someone is praying for you. As you seek to follow Jesus, know there are others praying for you too.

I wonder if Judas had repented could he have expected the same thing? Judas became the judge and jury over his own life. He did not give himself or the community the opportunity to turn back to Jesus.

What does prayer have to do with it? As Jesus prayed for those who crucified him, so he prays for his followers.

Paul says the Holy Spirit prays for us. John says Jesus prays for us. There nothing greater in all the world than to know that every hour of every day someone is praying for you and for me.

It is true. No matter what your situation or circumstance. No matter what the test or challenge. The time has come to turn and strengthen others. Jesus is praying for you!