Tag Archive for: Luke

This is Part Two of a three-part series on Offering Christ. Read Part 1 

As you begin to engage in the mission of offering Christ, take some time to reflect upon what offering Christ means to you. I ask that question because many people think that offering Christ is about personally witnessing by either going “door to door” to invite people to attend worship or by asking people carefully worded questions to engage in a conversation which leads to a faith conversion.

I am in full agreement that offering Christ is both personal and about giving a witness to God’s love, but if either of the above statements are true for you, I invite you to read this blog on Offering Christ. Although you have heard that both are necessary, this is neither a blog on “how to convert” nor on how to share your faith. This is a blog on how you, as a follower of Jesus, offer God’s love in everyday ordinary situations.  So, as a Christ-centered leader, before you engage in the mission of offering Christ, take time to reflect upon what offering Christ means to you.

Be Who God Created You to Be

With that in mind, to offer Christ is to be who God created you to be as a Christ-centered leader.  

It is more than sharing “spiritual facts” or biblical beliefs. For some, to offer Christ has been reduced to a list of beliefs. If you believe the beliefs on the list, you are saved. This is a form of mental assent to correct beliefs which leads to logical decisions. You and I don’t experience God’s love as a form of indoctrination. We experience God’s love through relationships with one another.

The offer of Christ is not, what I grew up hearing, “closing the deal” for Jesus.  You and I don’t experience God’s love by being manipulated into saying “yes” to carefully worded questions. We experience God’s love through relationships with one another.

Offering Christ – An Honest Interaction

The offer of Christ is a two-way process of honest interaction. Because you and I simply have the same need for love, particularly God’s love, we develop a friend-to-friend relationship.  So, the offer of Christ is not a single encounter.  It is an extended relationship of mutual respect and care.  It is in and through our relationship that God’s love is experienced, and hope is developed, and transformation takes place.

As important as it is, the offer of Christ is more than inviting people to worship or to participate in the programs of the church.  To offer Christ is to offer God’s love to those who are discontented and dissatisfied in their search for God. It is an offer of God’s love to those who are disenfranchised and separated. It is an offer of God’s love to those who are up and out as well as those who are down and out. It is in and through relationships that we can share experiences of God searching for us in Jesus.  New possibilities are found in the love you offer. All of that is to say, offering Christ becomes who you are and is expressed in how you live in everyday ordinary situations and relationships.

Offering Christ – It Matters Where You Start

There is another important aspect of offering Christ that must be taken into consideration as you begin to engage in the mission. It matters where you start regarding your understanding of offering Christ.

The very origin, pattern, and basis for offering Christ is rooted in the nature of God’s mission. (Read: What Is Mission” Part One).

In the New Testament the word for evangelism, what I am calling offering Christ, comes from two words which mean a good message. We have shortened it to “good news” or “gospel.” As a verb, evangelism (offering Christ) means “bringing, spreading or announcing the good news.” So, evangelism, offering Christ, describes the spreading of the good news of God’s love in and through Jesus Christ.

Offer Christ – Love Others As God Loves You

Notice that the primary focus is on the living and sharing of God’s love and not on the recipient or target of the message. In other words, to offer Christ is to love others as God in Jesus has loved you and not to convert or save someone.

In recent years, it seems that we have confused the process of offering Christ with the goal of the process. We do not evangelize people or nations, or even structures. We evangelize the gospel, which is to introduce people to the love of God in life changing ways.

So, it matters where you start. 

Evangelize the Gospel – Four Perspectives

The words used for evangelism were common words when the New Testament was written. They were used to bring good news about a great event. The words were picked up by the followers of Jesus to describe the great event of Jesus coming into the world. 

Each of the gospel writers share the good news in different ways based on their context and their listeners. They evangelized Jesus so we, the hearers, can live the life of God’s love experienced in and through Jesus the Christ. 

As you begin to engage in the mission of offering Christ, it will be helpful to study and understand the gospel stories. For example: (Although these are brief and incomplete summaries of the good news presented by each gospel writer, they are examples of offering Christ). 

The Good News – Matthew

The good news according to Matthew is, “God sent Jesus to teach us how to live a holy or righteous life.” From Matthew’s perspective, “holy” and “righteous” are related to relationships.  When you read Matthew 28:20, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…,” you will find that the word “teaching” in this place refers to what Matthew wants us to know about “holiness.”  It is what we learn as followers of Jesus. It is what the movement of God is all about.  At the very heart of “holiness” or “righteousness” is relationship, relationship with God and with one another. (Read the blog “What Is Mission? Part 2). To offer Christ from Matthew’s perspective is to build and maintain healthy relationships with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, and enemies. 

The Good News – Mark

The good news according to Mark is, “God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, suffering, pain, in the world.” Mark’s community was facing persecution.  The good news of Jesus is that he faced the pain and suffering of those being persecuted. Half of Mark’s gospel is about the suffering and death of Jesus. You get a clue to Mark’s good news when Jesus heals a man with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45). Leprosy was a sign of suffering and separation. When a person suffered with leprosy, they were separated from all that was important and meaningful to them. To be healed was to be restored to family, work, synagogue, and all that was meaningful. To offer Christ from Mark’s perspective is to work to oppose the structures and behaviors that separate people from God and from one another.   

The Good News – Luke 

The good news according to Luke is “Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but promised the Holy Spirit to his followers.” The Holy Spirit, God’s presence and power, gave the followers of Jesus the power to witness beyond the barriers of race, gender, age, nationality, theology, religion, and influence The witness was both in word and deed. Take for example the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch or Simon Peter visiting Cornelious’ house. Both are examples of offering Christ to people, in word and action, who were considered unacceptable or were outsiders, or people of influence who were not Hebrews. To offer Christ from Luke’s perspective was to work to overcome the barriers that separated people from God’s acceptance and from accepting one another.    

The Good News – John 

The good news according to John is “if you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.” On several occasions Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” John knows people want to know God. Even Philip says to Jesus in John 14, “Show us God and we will be satisfied.” Throughout John’s good news there are stories of seeing Jesus. When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him, he says to his followers, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Even Jesus responds to two of John’s disciples with “come and you will see” (John 1:39). And when Philip goes to tell his brother, Nathanael, about seeing Jesus, he says to him, “Come and see” (John 1:46). When some Greeks came seeking Jesus, they came to Philip and made a request, “Sir, we want to see Jesus” John 12:20-22). Even at the tomb on the morning of the resurrection, Mary sees Jesus and she goes to tell the disciples the news, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20: 18). If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. (Listen to Transforming Mission Podcast Episode 314). 

There is one other aspect of offering Christ in John’s gospel. To offer Christ is to love others as God has loved you. Loving others becomes who you are.

Preach What You Practice

N.T. Wright wrote it this way, “If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. If you want to know what it means to be human, look at Jesus. If you want to know what love is, look at Jesus.  If you want to know what grief is, look at Jesus.  And go on looking until you’re not just a spectator, but you’re actually part of the drama which has him as the central character.”

To offer Christ means you become part of the story. You shift from “practicing what you preach” to “preaching what you practice.” The more you tell the story, the more you live the story. 

Love Others as God Loves You

So, what does offering Christ mean to you? Before engaging in the mission of offering Christ, practice loving others as God in Christ has loved you. Learn of God’s mission and how you have been invited into it. Become an instrument of God’s love and then you can tell people what you are doing.

Next week, I look forward to sharing with you part 3 of Engaging in Mission: Offering Christ. 

Prayer

Here is a prayer for today:  

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me offer them Christ by the way I live out your love. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Reflect on Offering Christ

At the end of the day, reflect on the following regarding Offering Christ: 

As you reflect back upon your day, give God thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. Who did you meet who needed a kind, caring, encouraging word? In what ways did you offer Christ to the people you met? What did you learn about yourself? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to offer Christ. To whom do you need to respond with words of hope, words of encouragement, or words of forgiveness? What will you do differently tomorrow?

This is Part 1 on Hospitality

Read Part 2 Here

As a follower of Jesus, you have an opportunity for hospitality with every person you encounter. Whether family, friend, colleague, neighbor, stranger, or enemy, you have the opportunity to be God’s loving presence in the way you receive them and interact with them. Hospitality is part of God’s mission, and you were invited into that mission when you were claimed as a “beloved child of God, called and commissioned for ministry at your baptism

Explore more: Preparing for Mission: Being About God’s Business and Preparing for Mission: Hospitality is a Lifestyle

Why Does the Church Exist?

With that in mind, think of the church as a community of Jesus followers who exist primarily for people who are not members. As a follower of Jesus, you are an instrument of God’s love for people who do not know or understand the love of God.  The apostle Paul instructed the church in Rome, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Hospitality is your response to God’s grace, God’s great hospitality offered to you in Jesus.  

Said another way, as a beloved child of God, you love others for the purpose of being who God created you to be. You become an instrument of God’s grace, extending a welcoming heart and hand in the name of Jesus. Hospitality becomes who you are. It becomes the way you live your life. God sends people your way every day. So, reach out and receive them for the glory of God. It is who you are. Love them the way you have been loved by God in and through Jesus.  

The story of the road to Emmaus gives us insight into Luke’s understanding of hospitality. 

Read Luke 24:28-32 

When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” 

Reflect on Luke 24

Luke’s story clearly reveals his understanding of the resurrection faith being an act of hospitality. It is a story of two Jesus followers, walking to Emmaus, having a conversation about the events over the past couple of days. 

In the middle of their conversation, Jesus joins them on their journey. He is received as a stranger. Luke writes, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” This is Luke’s way of saying that being with the earthly Jesus, hearing his teaching, seeing his miracles and knowing the example of his life are not enough apart from an experience of the risen Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In other words, to recognize God’s act in Jesus is not a matter of our human insight but is a divine gift. 

Understanding the Divine Gift

Jesus, the stranger in their midst, asks, “What are you talking about?” The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place over the last few days?” And Jesus asks, “What things?”

The two Jesus followers began to give a summary of what had happened. Their summary was not wrong but, because of his death, they did not perceive that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the anointed one. They recited the correct events but had a different perception of what had happened. The events did not fit their understanding of Messiah. 

One of them said, “We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.” It is important to understand that Jesus’ followers believed that God was present in what Jesus said and what he did. They believed that God’s kingdom of justice was about to dawn. 

There is Always Hope

Then came the crucifixion and the shattering of their hopes. Their human wisdom said, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” The death of Jesus was the death of their hope. Even though they had his message, his example, and his ministry, the crucifixion meant that Jesus was another failed idealist. They had no reason to think differently. 

Their hope was that God would send the Messiah to restore Israel and set Israel free from oppression. These two on the road with Jesus perceived God’s redeeming work in nationalistic terms. For them, it was over. Hope was gone. 

A Clue About Hospitality

While on the road with the two travelers, Jesus is not recognized as the Christ but only as a weary fellow traveler. The two extend an invitation to food and fellowship. As they offer hospitality, Jesus is revealed to them. It is here we get a clue about hospitality. 

Luke tells us, “So, he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…” Luke 24:29-31. Jesus did not force himself on them, but when invited, the guest became the host. The meal was an ordinary meal, but the words were the familiar words of Holy Communion. The words, “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it…” reflect the language of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table. It was the language of “do this in remembrance of me.” 

Hospitality is Demonstrated

Hospitality was shown in the blessing and breaking of the bread. Blessing in the Greek is the word “eulogy.” To bless was to eulogize God. 

Three times in Luke’s gospel, we get a story of eating with others: feeding of the 5000, last supper in the Upper Room, and with the travelers on the road to Emmaus. In each story, we have the “blessing, breaking, and giving” of bread. Could it be that hospitality is extended in and through Holy Communion?

The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, is central to the life of the Church. In the house at Emmaus Jesus is a stranger, yet a guest. Even though he is the guest he becomes the host. 

It is in the breaking of the bread that the stranger, the outsider, becomes known to them as Jesus himself. 

Hospitality to the Stranger

For Luke, this is the church. To read and understand the scriptures is not solely a matter of human intellect and insight but is a gift in and through Jesus, the risen Christ.

When the Lord’s Supper takes place, there is an invitation to the outsider and hospitality to the stranger. It is in the breaking of bread that the risen Christ is made known to the community.

Even though there were only three at the table that day, the table was large enough for the stranger. 

Respond to Luke 24: Four Ways to Extend Hospitality 

(Read the blog: Extending Hospitality is Offering Hope

Here are four practical ways you can extend hospitality: 

1.      Be Curious and Become a Learner 

 Seek to understand. Jesus was interested in the two walking on the road. He asked questions and listened. His offerings in the conversation were for clarity and direction.   

Seeking to learn or to understand could be as simple as getting to know your neighbors. Learn their names, their needs, talents, and interests. Show an interest in people as a way of building relationships. Soong-Chan Rah writes, “In the household of God, we are called to a humility that places our relationships in a new light.” 

2.      Learn the language of the community.

Although Jesus was the Risen Christ, he took an interest in the two on the road. Even though they did not know who he was, He was able to communicate through their grief and hopelessness. 

Learning the language of the community could mean learning the language of teens and young adults.  It could also mean communicating with a Hispanic population, Congolese, or Vietnamese population. You might consider it could also mean that you are sensitive to different styles of music, and that you learn and participate in different cultural experiences. It means listening to the community and learning to communicate in ways that the people who live in the community understand and appreciate. Attempting to learn the language is a sign of hospitality that brings hope. 

3.      Share a meal together.

Jesus shared a meal with the two. Although Jesus was invited to eat with them, Jesus extended an invitation as a stranger. Jesus was present as a stranger. 

It is around the table, sharing a meal, that you have the opportunity to make room for others, especially the strangers and the outcasts. In the fourth grade, I had a Sunday school teacher who taught us, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” You can always add an extension to the table. 

We extend hospitality when we bring children, teens, and senior adults together. How could you create cross-cultural connections with another congregation or with other groups of people in the community?  What would happen if you offered to provide the food they liked and gave them the opportunity to prepare it for everyone? 

4.      Examine and Evaluate

How are you inviting people to the movement of God’s grace and the mission of God’s love? Within the church building, practice hospitality by offering people opportunities to interact with one another. Even if they know one another, offer opportunities to practice hospitality.  “Welcome one another as God in Jesus has welcomed you.” And remember, your extension of hospitality is always to God’s glory. 

Be aware and sensitive to the practices you take for granted. Make everything you do an extension of hospitality. Do strangers know your routines? Who explains to people why you do what you do? Do the announcements include language that outsiders can understand? Do not assume people know the Lord’s Prayer, how to respond following the reading of scripture, and/or how to pray before worship begins. Just simple acts of hospitality are signs of hope to those being included.

Practice Hospitality

As you are working on the four practical ways to extend hospitality, practice praying, “Lord, send us the people no one else wants” and “Help us receive the people you are sending to us.”  When you do, you will find the above suggestions helpful. 

Remember, we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us.  I am convinced that when you extend hospitality, you can expect your church and community to experience the beauty, complexity, and love that comes with recognizing Jesus in the strangers you meet along the way.

Welcome one another as God in Christ welcomed you. Engaging in mission is extending hospitality. And hospitality is a sign of hope. 

Prayer

Lord, send me the people no one else wants and help me receive the people you are sending to me. By your grace, help me welcome others as you have welcomed me. Make me a blessing to someone, somewhere, today. 

Return

As you reflect back upon your day, give thanks for God’s call to follow Jesus. In what ways did you invite strangers into conversation? How were you curious? What questions did you ask? What did you learn about others as you asked questions and listened? Do you learn new ways to communicate with the people encountered today? How will you incorporate what you have learned? Did God send you anyone? How did you receive them? How did you express God’s love? What will you do differently tomorrow? 

This is the fourth blog in the series, “Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry.” You can find the previous three blogs linked at the bottom of this page.

How often do you pray? Do you have a particular posture? Do you say particular words? What is your focus when you pray? Who taught you to pray? What is prayer anyway?

Over my years in ministry, I have discovered that one big assumption is people know how to pray.  The reality is we have difficulty praying. We have learned to pray short prayers publicly for dinners or special occasions, but few of us have a pattern for prayer.  Our difficulty in praying is not that we don’t have time, or that we lack discipline. Our difficulty in praying reveals that we do not know how to pray, what to pray, or even why to pray.

Heartfelt Prayer

In the tradition in which I grew up, I experienced prayer as heartfelt, genuine, and spirit-led. People prayed extemporaneously from the heart. They just let prayer flow because what just flowed was more genuine. They didn’t think about what to pray. 

What I remember is, what flowed naturally was what was on their minds and in their hearts at the moment. Too often they were not thinking of the conditions of the world or of the people beyond their own families or community. Their prayers were genuine, but the brokenness of the world and the pain of others beyond themselves did not automatically flow. 

As a teenager, I attempted to follow what I had experienced by watching and listening to others.I even went through a time of thinking that real prayers were unrehearsed prayers. In other words, the written prayers, whether in liturgies or offered by worship leaders, were not “real prayers.”

Understanding of Prayer

I certainly am not saying I know how to pray today, but as I reflect back upon my years of ministry, I have matured not only in my understanding of prayer but in my practice of prayer. Prayer is no longer something I do. Prayer is interwoven into who I am.

My prayer life has matured and deepened through several seasons of life. During each season there have been certain individuals, resources, and experiences to help me grow in faith and practice.  I am grateful for each person, resource, and experience, but early in my ministry, I was introduced to E. Stanley Jones through his book How To Pray.

Much of what is recorded in that book is true today. He wrote, “If I were to put my finger on the greatest lack on American Christianity, I would unhesitatingly point to the need for an effective prayer life among laity and clergy.”

“If I had one gift, and only one gift to make to the Christian Church, I would offer the gift of prayer, for everything follows from prayer. Prayer tones up the total life.” 

“Prayer, in the curriculum of living, is the required subject. We do not graduate into adequate human living without it…the difficulty comes in the how of prayer.” *

Prayer is Bigger than Anyone of Us

One of the difficulties of prayer is that it is bigger than anyone of us. To not give thought to what to pray makes prayer small. To not give time to prayer makes prayer insignificant. Not to pray keeps you from becoming all who God has created you to be.  

I think the disciples had not given much thought to prayer until they experienced Jesus praying. Other than observing Jesus, their only experience of prayer was with John’s disciples. They had seen the power of prayer and they wanted their prayers to make a difference. They knew that John had taught his disciples to pray and now they wanted to pray.

I find it interesting that the disciples did not ask Jesus to teach them how to tell a parable, multiply the loaves, or heal the sick. They asked him to teach them how to pray. And when asked, Jesus taught them a pattern of prayer. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on prayer.   

Read Luke 11:1-13

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  

 So, he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, may your name be revered as holy. May your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything out of friendship, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

“So, I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for a fish, would give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asked for an egg, would give a scorpion? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Reflect

Luke has Jesus praying at important points in his ministry. His pattern is to go off to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. It was in those times of prayer that Jesus kept his focus on the ministry God called and commissioned him to do. 

Through prayer, Jesus not only received his call and commission for ministry, but he also sought direction for his ministry. When he experienced success in his ministry, he prayed. He prayed to check the desires of his heart, “Do I go with the crowd, or do I go to the cross?”

It was through prayer he chose twelve apostles out of all the disciples who followed him. He was seeking those who, in the present, could hold together Israel and the emerging Christian community. 

In the feeding of the 5000, Jesus was feeding those who are hungry as the sacrament of Holy Communion. In relation to Simon Peter’s confession, Jesus prayed because Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. 

In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus prayed because his identity and purpose as a suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him. In the mission of the 70, it is in prayer that Jesus gives thanks to God for the faith given to his followers. 

Teach us to Pray

Now, when he returns from his time of prayer, his disciples are asking him to teach them to pray. They knew that John the Baptist had taught his disciples to pray, so when Jesus returned from prayer, they took advantage of the opportunity, “Lord, teach us to pray.” 

They have been present with him through each of these experiences of prayer and they have not prayed. Jesus has been praying to keep his focus on God and what God has called and commissioned him to do. Are the disciples now asking for the same focus? 

Persistence in Prayer

Luke gathers Jesus’ teaching material on prayer in chapter 11. Immediately following what we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Luke tells a story of persistence or perseverance in prayer. This teaching is to reassure believers that their prayers are heard and answered. 

If a grouchy neighbor awakened from sleep will respond to an urgent request for bread, how much more will God respond to our prayers? The story is not about praying harder or longer. Luke is encouraging his community to persist in prayer because to pray is to stay focused upon God and God’s call and commission to ministry. 

Jesus’ pattern was to go to a lonely place to pray and then come back to engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to God’s call. Luke’s encouragement to persevere in prayer is to keep your focus on God. 

Perseverance in Prayer

Next to persistence in prayer, Luke places the “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” sayings. “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” He teaches perseverance in prayer.

In Chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus sending the disciples out, his instructions on what to take with them, and how to respond to those who accept them and reject them. The “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” material was adopted by the early Christian missionaries as an encouragement to live out their mission, depending only on friendly supporters along the way. Luke uses the sayings in relation to prayer. Since God is eager to hear and respond to the believer’s prayer, we may confidently ask, seek, and knock, no longer on human doors, but on the gates of heaven. 

Luke concludes the teaching material with, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

The Focus of Prayer

So, the difficulty of prayer is seen in the persistence and perseverance of staying focused upon God and God’s call to ministry. Focused prayer involves preparation. There are times when your mood may not be right; an irritated or anxious temper may get in the way. Or perhaps the preoccupation with work and family may be clouding and crowding your thoughts. 

A dozen different demands and pressures make special preparation an absolute necessity for real prayer. So, remember this: To pray is to focus on God and God’s call. To pray is to live in God’s presence and to receive God’s power.

Prayer is who you are as a Christ-centered leader, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

We are not sure what brought the disciples to the point of asking Jesus to teach them to pray. But as I think about it, motivation is not as important as participation. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, Jesus was ready to provide them with direction. He did not ask them about their motivation; he provided them with a pattern for participation. 

His pattern was to pray, so he could engage in ministry. His time away to pray was to keep his focus on God’s call and to test his desires in response to that call.

Pray to Stay Focused on God

As a follower of Jesus, called and commissioned as a leader, you pray to keep your focus on God and to keep the desires of your heart in alignment with God, as you have experienced in and through Jesus. 

To learn to pray, practice focusing your prayers. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • What would happen if I walked through the neighborhood focusing upon my neighbors as I prayed? 
  • What would happen if I educated myself to think naturally of children, poverty, gun violence, prejudice, hunger, or homelessness in my neighborhood, community, or city? 
  • What would happen if I listened to the news or read news stories in preparation for prayer? 
  • What would happen if I became more aware of the politicians, the first responders, the teachers, the medical personnel in my neighborhood, community, or city?  

Asking Jesus to teach you to pray means that you prepare yourself to focus upon more than your thoughts and feelings. As a Christ-centered leader, focus your prayers to become more than “just how I feel” prayers. Praying extemporaneously is important, focused prayer is what makes the difference. 

The difficulty of prayer is experienced in actually praying. When prayer becomes a part of who you are, you begin to participate in your prayer. So, I offer this caution with prayer, when you pray be ready to act, because God will empower you to be the answer to your prayers.

Prayer helps make you who you are, and who is are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • When and where did you pray?
  • In what ways were you assisting others to pray?
  • How were you exercising leadership when you prayed?
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions toward prayer?
  • How did you experience God’s love?
  • With whom did you share God’s love?
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.

Prayer 

O God, as I open myself to you, I am asking you to teach me to pray. Keep me focused on you and your direction for my life. Keep me mindful of the world around me so that I may pray for the well-being of the people around me and the community. By your grace, continue to make me an instrument of your love and peace so others might know of your love and acceptance. Thank you for the opportunity to be one of your leaders at this point and time. I do believe you created me and gifted me to lead for such a time as this. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus. Amen*

*How to Pray, by E. Stanley Jones, first published in 1943. Reprinted by the E. Stanley Jones Foundation 2015.

Other Blogs in this Series

This is the third in a series of Reflections on 50 years of ministry. As I reflect back upon the years, I have decided to share some things I have learned. So, over the next several weeks, I want to emphasize what I have found important for Christ-centered leaders to know and act upon. 

The first blog in this series focused on people. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Importance of People.  The second blog in the series focused on the power of words. You will find that blog at Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: Words Are Powerful  – Transforming Mission.  Here is the third in the series: Reflections on 50 Years of Ministry: The Grace in Gratitude.

So here it goes. 

The Gift of Gratitude

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

Here’s why.  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. Over my years of ministry, I have never known a person who was grateful, who was at the same time bitter, hurtful, mean, or vengeful.   

Words of Gratitude

As I began my first appointment, I was introduced to the song “My Tribute.” Andre Crouch, who wrote and recorded the song, put words to what I understood to be my call to ministry.   

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. 

Gratitude in Everyday Life

As I have matured in my faith, I have grown to understand that gratitude is more than something I simply express with words. Gratitude is woven into the fabric of everyday living, relationships, perspectives and assumptions, and the way I see the world. 

As I have searched the scriptures, I have found that the Bible emphasizes the importance of gratitude from “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus…” (I Thessalonians 5:18) to “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). 

In the scripture and in the Christian community, gratitude is seen as a virtue that fosters a positive and humble attitude, acknowledging the blessing of God in people and all of creation. 

Let’s use our pattern of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to focus on the grace in gratitude. 

Read Luke 17:11-19 

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus[a] was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with a skin disease approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’s[b] feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? So where are the other nine? 18 Did none of them return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” 

Reflect

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 with leprosy were required, by their religion, to stay outside the boundaries of the community.  

If you had leprosy, you were physically, as well as socially, isolated from family, friends, synagogue, and all that gave meaning and purpose to your life. To have leprosy meant that you had no quality relationships outside of the diseased community. Your only means of living was to beg for handouts. And not only were you isolated, but you had the responsibility of announcing your condition to everyone who came close. In other words, because of your condition, you 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 get leprosy, they have no rights to which they can appeal. Healing is not owed to them.  

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

No Gratitude Without an Awareness of Grace

There is no gratitude without an awareness of grace. In the story, ten individuals experienced God’s grace. Each of them returned from the world in which they had been isolated. Each of them experienced a new life. Even though they each received grace and did what Jesus told them to do, there was no requirement to return. Yet, in a completely spontaneous expression of gratitude, one returned giving thanks and praise to God.  

Gratitude is a response to experience grace. It is the fundamental value of following Jesus. 

Respond

Effective leadership starts with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. So, how will you express your gratitude this week? Below are several things you might do to cultivate gratitude in your life. 

Saying Grace 

First, may I suggest that you start today by saying grace over your possessions? Bow your head and say a word of thanks over the things you possess. By giving thanks, you live more by the God who holds you than by the things you are trying to hand onto. 

Saying grace over your possessions is the final test. Because gratitude is the central virtue of the Christian life. There is no other virtue like it. Let me say it (write it again). I have never known a person who was grateful who was at the same time, mean or small or bitter or hurtful. 

Make gratitude a Way of Life

Secondly, when you express gratitude, you weave gratitude into the fabric of your life. When you are a person of gratitude you lead with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead. 

You can explore more on gratitude being a way of life through the resources below: 

Make Time to Be Grateful

Third, if you are ready to become a more effective leader, another way to express your gratitude is:  

Over the next 5 days, make time each day to think about being grateful. Notice the people who inspire you. What do you see that makes you smile or to notice 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. Give God thanks for the people you encounter each day.

Think about what makes your life easier. Is it the alarm that reminds you to get up each morning? The water in the shower? Your car, umbrella, cellphone? The list goes on. For what are you grateful at this moment? Give God thanks for what makes life easier.

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 encounters with them. Give God thanks for the people who have gone before you, who are mentoring you, and who are helping you grow more in grace and generosity.

Add yourself to your gratitude list. You might feel uncomfortable. Most of the time you quickly focus upon things you do not like about yourself. But, when you practice gratitude, you can alter that negative cycle. What would happen if you, instead of focusing on your flaws, paid attention to what makes you most proud of yourself? Make a list of the talents and strengths God has given you. Now, give God thanks for those gifts and how God is using you to make a difference in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.

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

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • Did you say grace over your possessions? Why? Why not? 
  • How did you notice that gratitude is woven into the fabric of your life? If it is not, what will do to cultivate gratitude in your living and leading? 
  • What did you learn about yourself and about your feelings and actions of gratitude? 
  • How did you experience God’s love? 
  • With whom did you share God’s love? 
  • Who is helping you grow as a leader? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 

Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be. 

Prayer

O God, I give you thanks for the people and things in my life that make life meaningful and easy. Help me remember that I can let go of the things that hold me captive and trust you for meaning and purpose.  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.

You have been given the power to lead. As a Christ-centered leader, you have received power to influence people and to communicate clearly and effectively. As you become aware of your responsibility for power, you live to discover and develop the potential of the people entrusted to your care, and the opportunity to assist them in developing their potential to lead. To be an effective and courageous leader, you learn to use your power to empower others. 

You recognize Jesus as the source of your power and that your values, character, and faith are shaped by him. You become more aware of the people God has given to you to love and to lead. Because you are able to use your power to empower others, you want to share what you are receiving with the people around you. 

So, what does this power mean for you as a leader? How does it work? Let’s use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” to explore the power to lead. 

Read Luke 4:14-30 

14 Then Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding region. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to set free those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” 23 He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” 24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months and there was a severe famine over all the land, 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many with a skin disease in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Reflect 

One of the major themes in Luke’s gospel is, Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but offered the Holy Spirit to his followers. When you read both the Gospel, or Good News, of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, you find that the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is parallel to the beginning of the church in Acts.

When looking at the whole story of the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of the church, Luke is bridging the ministry of Jesus with the ministry of the church. Both Jesus and the church are baptized, filled with the Spirit, teach, and receive the acclaim of the people.  Luke wants us to know that the spirit in Jesus is the same Holy Spirit in the church and that the God who acted in Jesus is the same God at work in the life of the church. For Luke, the church is in continuity with Jesus, just as Jesus is in continuity with Judaism, teaching in their synagogues.

So, when Jesus says to his followers, “…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8), he is referring to the same spirit by which he has been anointed.  

The Power to Lead

There is much to say about this scripture like Jesus’ habit of worship, the significance of standing to read the scripture but sitting to teach the scripture, and the rejection of Jesus after expounding upon the scripture. But to keep our focus on the power to lead, let’s look at these words:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to set free those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

These words are a combination of Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me…” The word “anoint” means the same as “Christ” in Greek and “Messiah” in Hebrew. It refers to the inauguration ceremony of prophets, priests, and kings as part of their installation into office. It can be translated as “he has christed me or christened me.”

For Jesus to be anointed means that he is God’s spokesperson, God’s prophet. Jesus is anointed, not with oil, but with the Spirit, connecting this story to Jesus’ baptism. He is anointed, called, and commissioned by God.  

The anointing, the power of the Holy Spirit, is upon Jesus to bring good news to the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed, and those in need of physical and spiritual healing. This is his purpose. In Luke, Jesus consistently shows compassion, teaches with authority, performs miracles, and invites people to follow him. 

“The year of the Lord’s favor” refers to the year of jubilee, connecting the ministry of Jesus to God’s desire for all creation. When the question arises, “What do you mean by the kingdom of God” Luke points to the ministry of Jesus to answer the question.

Anointed to Lead

So, what does this mean for you as a leader? You have been anointed to lead, first with your baptism and then with God’s power to speak beyond the barriers that separate people from one another and from who God has created them to be. You have been anointed with the power to lead.

As a leader, you have been given a mission, a purpose, to discover the potential of others and to help develop that potential for the good of creation. It shows up in acts of trust, compassion, stability, and hope. In the words of the scripture, you bring good news to the poor, the captives, the blind, and the opposed. You have been anointed to model and teach others what it means to be anointed with the power to lead.

As a leader, you have the responsibility to connect the ministry of the church with the ministry of Jesus. Just know when you do this, there will be those who first celebrate your leadership, who will later want to remove you from leadership. You will proclaim God’s love for all people, giving examples, and modeling the way, only to have people be angry because you are communicating across the barriers that give them security and control.

Ushering in a New Day

What angered the people with Jesus was he complimented the Gentiles. The Jews were so sure that they were God’s people that they despised all other people.  The Gentles were not even considered human beings to them. Then, this young Jesus, whom they all knew, came preaching as if the Gentiles were especially favored by God. As Jesus ushered in a new day, the year of the Lord’s favor, it began to dawn upon them that Jesus was opening the door to include those who had been excluded. His message included things they had not dreamed of or approved of.

Notice that Luke does not cite a miracle, nor does he comment on Jesus’ courage or on his personal presence in walking through the hostile crowd. His point is that despite hostile opposition, Jesus continues his mission in the power of the Spirit and under God’s care.

This is what it means to have the power to lead. You have been given the power to not only face the obstacles and barriers that exclude people from God’s love, but to communicate beyond the obstacles and barriers. You have been given power by the Holy Spirit to be a witness starting where you are and moving outward to those who are marginalized and cast aside, and then moving to all the world. You have been anointed to lead with power. It is who you are as a follower of Jesus, and who you are is how you lead.

Respond

It is interesting that it was Jesus’ habit to go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath Day. I can imagine that there were things with which he disagreed, but he went anyway. The worship might not have been perfect, yet Jesus never stopped attending or of being a part of God’s people gathering to worship. 

I also find it interesting that the words read by Jesus from Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6, omitted Isaiah’s announcement of the coming day of vengeance. There is a difference between the message of gloom and doom and the message of hope, healing, and deliverance. It is safe to say that “the year of the Lord’s favor” is good news to all. 

Jesus Focuses on Compassion and Care

Jesus’ credentials were rooted in his focus on God’s care and compassion for people, regardless of background, race, nationality, or economic status. In the story, those listening to Jesus were looking for knowledge of the scripture, theology, and spiritual maturity. But the power to lead brings different credentials. 

Let’s suppose that Mother Teresa is being examined by her spiritual superiors. They find that her training did not include Greek and Hebrew, and that she failed her scripture memorization course. They are concerned that she doesn’t speak in tongues and has never attended a successful church growth seminar. 

The Spirit of the Lord is Upon You

Such an idea is absurd. Her credentials are that God is using her to care for the poor and outcast. She does not need other credentials. And neither do you. Please hear me. I am not saying education and training are not important. I am saying those things do not give you the power to lead. It is when the Spirit of God is upon you, you have the power to lead. 

When Jesus stood to read the scripture that day in Nazareth, the synagogue lost its relevance in everyday living. It was clergy centered and concerned more about the cultivation of mind and soul through study and praise. Not that those are unimportant, but the focus is different, whether synagogue or church. When Jesus sat down to teach, he talked of God in the present tense, and it was uncomfortable for the people who were expecting something else. 

It is much more comfortable to study and talk about the mighty acts of God than to focus on what God is doing today and your part in it. It is more comfortable to focus on church history than it is to open yourself to God each day, listen for God’s direction, and act in faith with care and compassion. You have the power to lead people into a relationship with God in every day relationships and to care for people the rest of the world has pushed aside. 

The Here and Now

One more thing I find interesting. Jesus must have known the consequences of his message. Dostoevsky said, “Men reject their prophets and slay them, but they love their martyrs and honor those whom they have slain.” We love those of the past who served God and humanity but who are now comfortably dead. Martin Luther King is now greatly revered but, while he was alive, he had many critics. Now that he is safely dead, we give him credit for bringing a new day of social justice.   

When Jesus began talking about the here and now, his hearers became uneasy. They found it surprising that their neighbor, Joseph’s son, could be so full of wisdom and grace. You know that it is easier to see greatness in strangers than it is to recognize it in your own colleagues and friends.  You have the power to lead, not based upon what others think or understand, but upon who you are as a follower of Jesus, filled with the presence and power of God. 

The Power to Lead

So, to summarize, as a Christ-centered leader, you have been given the power to remove the limits of nation, race, gender, sexual orientation, social and economic status within the community of faith. You have been anointed to bring a message of hope, healing, and deliverance to all people. Sometimes it will be through preaching. Other times it will be through teaching. You will grow through study, conversation, and reflection. You will realize the power God has given to you when you hear God’s message one way in the midst of your presumptions and prejudices and another way when you begin to be set free from long-held thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. It is in your faithfulness that you have the power to lead others in the development of their own attitudes as Jesus followers. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. 

  • In what situations did you remind yourself that God has called and commissioned you as a leader? 
  • What did you learn about yourself? 
  • What are you doing with what you are learning about God’s work in and through you? 
  • How did you interact with the people God sent your way?
  • Who is helping you remember that you are a child of God and that you have been empowered to love others as God has loved you? 
  • What will you do differently tomorrow? 
  • Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.  

Prayer

O God, today I give you thanks for life and work. I pray for the power to be your witness starting where I am now. Remind me throughout the day how you love me and how you have empowered me to love the people around me. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen 

Leadership and power go together. Most people think of power as the control that high-level leaders exert from their positions. But power extends beyond the formal authority that comes from a position or title.   

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the power to influence people by the power given to you by God. As you live in the responsibility of power, you have the opportunity to discover and develop the potential of people to live and to lead by that same power. You influence people, not by control or micromanaging, but by giving your power and influence away. To be an effective and courageous leader, you learn to use your power to empower others. 

The source of your strength grows out of this power. As it shapes your values, character, and faith, you become more aware of the people God gives you to love and to lead. You begin to recognize Jesus as the source of your power and you want to share what you are receiving with the people around you.   

So, as a follower of Jesus, a Christ-centered leader, you have the power to communicate beyond the barriers that separate people from one another. You have the power to strategize how the people entrusted to you will not only experience this power but live by the power in everyday situations and circumstances.   

So, how does this power work? What does this power mean for you as a leader? 

Let’s use our practice of “read, reflect, respond, and return” to explore how this power works in different situations and circumstances. 

Read 

Read Luke 9:49-50 

49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” 

Read Luke 18:15-17 

15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Reflect

Jesus told his disciples when they were asking if the time had come to restore power to Israel, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8

From Luke’s perspective, you have the power to communicate, to be a witness of God’s love, the love you have experienced in and through Jesus, starting with family and friends, moving to neighbors and colleagues, and then moving to strangers and even enemies. 

The Power to Communicate Across Barriers

You have the power to communicate across the barriers that keep people from being who God created them to be. Look at the scripture from Luke 9:49-50.

The disciples have just returned from a mission trip. Jesus had sent them out in pairs, and they are now returning to tell the stories of their experiences. So, John tells of his experience. “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not one of us.” John could not see that God’s work is sometimes done by those we consider outsiders, those who we have decided “don’t belong.” 

What? They encountered someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name and they tried to stop him. Why? Was it because he did not believe what they believed? Didn’t have the depth of their theology? Didn’t have their philosophy of mission? Was more progressive? More traditional?  Was the person not a part of their group? 

Was this the beginning of sectarian denominationalism? There are only 33,000 plus denominations, all claiming to follow Jesus. Was it the first attempt? 

Here is a clue to the power God has given you to lead.  Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.” The person was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The focus was on Jesus. The disciples changed the focus. They shifted from Jesus to their mission. The person was not one of them, so they tried to stop him. 

The Power to Keep Jesus as the Focus of Our Mission

You have the power to keep Jesus at the center of the mission. When you keep Jesus at the center, you are not looking for what separates people, but for what holds people together. “If he is not against you, he is for you.” As a Jesus follower, you have the power to witness across barriers of theology, philosophy, differing opinions, and preconceived prejudices. You must decide if this is the kind of power you want. Who you are is how you lead. 

You have the power to communicate across the barriers that keep people from being who God created them to be. Look at the scripture from Luke 18:15-17

Jesus is teaching, healing, and caring for people. A group of mothers bring their babies to be blessed by the rabbi, Jesus. The disciples, who have been given the responsibility to meet and greet the people, tell the mothers that Jesus is busy. He doesn’t have time to bless babies. The scripture doesn’t say that specifically, but when I read the words, “they sternly ordered them not to do it” that is what comes to mind. The disciples had decided that those who have nothing to contribute were not worth Jesus’ time. 

What? The people closest to Jesus are turning away parents with infants. Why? Is it because they are not candidates for ministry? It is because they are not a revenue resource. What power and influence do children have anyway? So, his nearest and dearest say Jesus is too busy to mess with those who are not going to contribute to the movement. 

Was this the beginning of leadership seniority? We all know that children are not candidates for ministry and don’t contribute to the ministry of the church. Does this mean that you only have time for those who have influence and power? Who has earned the right to be blessed by Jesus anyway? Can you afford to receive people into membership who are going to cost us more than they bring in? 

The Power to Lead

Here is a clue to the power God has given you to lead.  Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” The parents are bringing their children to Jesus. The focus is on Jesus. The disciples changed the focus. They shift from Jesus to their understanding of the movement. The children could not contribute. So, those closest to Jesus missed the point of Jesus and turned the parents and children away.   

You have the power to keep Jesus at the center of the mission. When you keep Jesus at the center, you are not looking for people based on their financial capacity or what influence they might have in the community. Both are good and both are needed, but neither is the focus of following Jesus.  As a Jesus follower, you have the power to witness across barriers of influence, economics, and misconceived power, and to identify the presence and power of God in the people God sends your way every day. You must decide if this is the kind of power you want. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond 

God’s love and acceptance are not based on whether someone is a part of your group, thinks the way you think, believes what you believe, or even seeks the same transformation you seek. God’s love and acceptance are offered to all people, and each person and group of people, will respond in the faith given to them by God’s grace. 

God’s love and acceptance are not based upon human achievement. Even those who have little influence and have achieved nothing are welcomed, loved, and blessed by God. 

Over this next week, be aware of the barriers that separate people from one another. Be aware of the people who have influence and the people who do not. 

How will you lead in situations where there are differences of opinion, differences in what people believe, and differences of race, culture, and gender? You have received the power to witness beyond the barriers of differences. How will you lead with Jesus being your focus? 

How will you lead in situations where people of influence and position overlook and do not include people of little influence and power? You have received the power to witness beyond the barriers of political, economic, and social barriers? How will you speak up to communicate the love and acceptance of God so all receive God’s blessing? How will you lead with the words of Jesus, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them…,” as the focus of your leadership? 

This week be intentional in your decisions to be the leader God has gifted and empowered you to be. You have received the power to witness to God’s love in Jesus, starting where you are with the people around you. As you reflect and respond to God’s call upon your life, decide if this is the kind of power you want. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today.

  • When did you catch yourself shifting the focus from Jesus to your wants and desires?
  • Did you speak up when you had the opportunity to speak up on behalf of those who have little or no voice and who have little or no influence?
  • How did you interact with the people God sent your way?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • Who is helping you remember that you are a child of God and that you have been empowered to love others as God has loved you?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow?

Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.  

Prayer

O God, today I give you thanks for life and work. I pray for the power to be your witness starting where I am now. Remind me throughout the day of how you love me and how you have empowered me to love the people around me. I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Each of us has our own sense of what makes a good leader. Our understanding of leadership is informed mostly by what we have seen or experienced. So, there are many ways to define, think about, and approach leadership. 

Some say a leader is one who influences and advances change for a more equitable world. Others say that a leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential (Brené Brown). Regardless of your definition, your belief about leadership informs what you think about and practice as a leader. Who you are is how you lead. 

Loving Others

Mother Teresa said, “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked, and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.’” 

As a Christ-centered leader, regardless of your understanding, at the end of life you will not be judged by the positions you have held or how high you made it in the hierarchy of the church or organization. You will be judged by the love you have expressed, the relationships you have developed, and the community you have nourished. 

Luke, in his good news, gives us a hint of what leading looks like in the community. Let us use our practice of “Read, Reflect, Respond, and Return” as a pattern for examining leadership in the community. This is a story of the Lord’s Supper and feeding 5000 people.     

Read Luke 9:12-17 

12 When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.” 13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.” But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” 14 (They said this because about five thousand men were present.) Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” 15 They did so, and everyone was seated. 16 He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17 Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers. 

Reflect 

In the early Church, there was no distinction between the fellowship meal, called the Love feast, and the Lord’s supper. In fact, there was a time when the Lord’s supper was called the Love Feast.  People came and shared their food with the church.  At that time, you couldn’t tell who brought food and who didn’t because all the people gave and ate together. The Love Feast and Lord’s Supper were one and the same. So, from the beginning, eating together and Holy Communion had the same respect. 

In this story, when the people are hungry, Jesus takes bread and fish, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them.  These are the main acts of Holy Communion. Jesus put prayer and action together. 

The crowd has been with Jesus all day.  It is now late, and the people are hungry. The disciples have a humanitarian concern for the hungry and the homeless. They want to do what is humanly possible to assist the people. So, they suggest it is better to dismiss the crowd. “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food…” 

Abundance or Scarcity? 

They are well-intentioned in their care for the people. When they see people tired and hungry, they are concerned. It is out of their concern that they ask Jesus to send the people home.  But Jesus sees the situation differently. He responds, “You give them something to eat.”  

The disciples reply out of scarcity, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” They said this because about five thousand men were present and they are thinking of what they don’t have. 

Jesus responds out of what they do have. He instructs them to seat the people in groups of fifty. When the people are seated, Jesus takes the five loaves of bread and the two fish, looks up to heaven, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them to the disciples to serve to the crowd. 

“You give them something to eat.” 

As Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives, he includes the disciples in the giving. As he prays, he includes his followers in the action. Throughout The Acts of the Apostles, God’s concern for the hungry is implemented by the acts of the followers of Jesus. 

The number “five thousand” shows how great the miracle is. The term “men” represents a picture in which only adult males would leave home without provisions for an extended time in order to hear Jesus.  In Matthew, the words “besides women and children,” states it in an exclusive sense in order to enhance the miracle. 

“In groups of fifty” reflects the organization of Israel during the exodus and wilderness period, the “wandering people of God” on their way to the promised land. Luke portrays the life of both Jesus and the church as a journey and refers to the saving work of Jesus as “exodus.” 

A Lord’s Supper Story

The words “took”, “blessed”, “broke”, and “gave” reflect the liturgical formula used in holy communion. They reflect the language of the liturgy of the Lord’s Table.  The feeding of the 5000 is told as a Lord’s Supper story.                                     

Jesus took and blessed the loaves and fish.  Early in the Christian movement, fish became the symbol of the Christian faith. Fish says who we are and what we believe.  Bread became the symbol of the body of Jesus. So, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives, he includes the disciples in the giving. Jesus put prayer and action together.                       

The feeding of the 5000 is a Lord’s Supper story.  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “True expression of one’s love for God is the sharing of one’s bread with the poor.”

Feeding is a Sacred Act

Could it be that feeding the hungry in the sight of God is as sacred as Holy Communion?  

Is there a connection between the Lord’s Supper and our engagement in the community? Is there a sacredness in loving, feeding, clothing, and housing people? 

For Luke, the church’s mission of feeding the hungry is a continuation of Jesus’ ministry and an anticipation of the kingdom of God for which we pray, “…Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” 

Putting prayer and action together is a hint of what it means to be a leader in the community, whether it be the church or geographic location. When you pray and respond in acts of love, you are being who you were created to be. Who you are is how you lead. 

Respond

I find it interesting that the feeding of the 5000 in Luke’s gospel is told as a Lord’s Supper story. Luke is making a connection between Holy Communion and engagement in the community. Just as taking the bread and cup is done in remembrance of Jesus, your ministry in the community is done in remembrance of Jesus. Your ministry in the community is just as sacred as taking the bread and cup. 

Holy Communion represents the greatest expression of God’s love for God’s people. Your leadership in the community is an expression of that same love. 

Community Engagement as Sacred Work

Most people, including church people, do not see community engagement as sacred work. Why? Because their understanding of leadership is informed mostly by what they have seen or experienced. Most people have not experienced engagement in the community as an expression of God’s love. 

Community engagement is seen as active participation in the community and as being invested in what happens in the community. It includes direct service, community organizing, and social responsibility. Too often these actions of engagement are not seen as expressions of God’s love. 

As a Christ-centered leader, you have the opportunity to lead out of the core of who you are, a child of God, loved by God, and sent out to love others as God has loved you. Within the church community, God’s love is expressed in and through the sacrament of Holy Communion. In the larger community, God’s love is expressed in and through acts of love, care, and compassion. Just the bread and fish were woven into the feeding the 5000, God’s expression of love is woven into the fabric of service, organizing, and responsibility through you. 

True Community 

People are important to God and people make up communities. It is in community that people experience love and belonging. It is in participating in a community that attitudes, values, and goals are established to enjoy and fulfilling life. 

A true community does not treat people differently because of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background. People are cared for and belong because the expression of God’s love is as sacred in the community as Holy Communion. 

What could happen if you held loving your neighbor and caring for your community as sacred as receiving the body and blood of Jesus?  Who you are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Where did you experience God’s love? With whom did you share God’s love? How did you experience the sacredness of Holy Communion? How did you interact with others? Did you hold them in the sacredness of God’s love? Who is helping you grow as a leader? What will you do differently tomorrow? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.

As an effective leader, it is important that you know and understand who you are and what you believe. What are your values? In whom do you place your faith? If you are clear about who you are and who you trust, then you can without fear and with hope, lead with courage. 

Christ-centered leaders possess hope for a better future. They believe that God has created them and gifted them to lead, not for themselves but for others. They possess the ability to recognize and develop the potential of the people entrusted to them. And even when they have seasons of doubt, when they question themselves, their identity, and the people around them, they keep their focus upon the One who has called them to leadership.  

Courageous leaders know when to step out trusting who God created them to be. They are vulnerable and trustworthy, as well as compassionate and dependable. And even when they have their doubts, they keep their focus as a leader.

Let’s look at a story that gives us a clue to the fundamental focus of Christ-centered leaders. 

Read Luke 9:18-20 

Once when Jesus was praying by himself, the disciples joined him, and he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others that one of the ancient prophets has come back to life.” He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ sent from God.” Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone. 

Reflect

In the Gospel according to Luke, we see Jesus praying at particular points in his life and ministry. It was his pattern to engage in ministry and then retreat to a lonely place. It was his way of staying focused on the work God had for him to do. 

In this story, he has been off by himself praying. Then he approaches his followers and asks, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 

This story is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In Matthew, the confession is “You are the Christ, Son of the living God.” In Mark, it is “You are the Messiah” or “the Christ.” In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus begins to talk of his death and has a conversation with Simon Peter which leads to Jesus rebuking him. 

Luke’s Perspective

The focus is different in Luke. In Luke, Jesus talks of his death, but there is no conversation and no rebuke. Luke is interested in alerting us to the importance of the confession. “Once while Jesus was praying by himself” is a clue to its importance. Neither Mark nor Matthew mentions prayer. 

Jesus has been ministering in Galilee. The crowds have been following him as he has been helping people, teaching lessons, preaching sermons, healing people, and exorcising demons. He reaches the point where he asks, “What is the public opinion?” “What do people say?” Is he asking to discover how effective his ministry has been? What impression has he put across? How is he viewed in public? 

The disciples answer, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others…one of the ancient prophets…” The public opinion is, like John the Baptist, Elijah, an ancient prophet, Jesus is the forerunner of the Messiah, the Christ. The crowds who have followed Jesus, who have been benefactors of his ministry, do not think of him as the Messiah but as one getting everyone ready for the Messiah. 

So, Jesus then asks, “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter responds, “The Christ sent from God.” 

What does it mean to say, “Jesus is the Christ?” 

We don’t know what Simon Peter was thinking. But we do know this, when Jesus began to talk about his death, Simon Peter and the others did not relate to a suffering and dying Jesus to the Messiah. They took it as being a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. If he is crucified, hanging on the cross with criminals, can he be the Messiah? 

How is he going to be like Moses and lead us out of the wilderness? How is he going to be like David and be our king? The images of the Messiah were many: a great teacher, a great prophet, a great king, or a leader. We don’t know what Simon Peter meant, but Jesus knows that Simon Peter did not understand. So, Jesus tells Simon Peter and the others to be quiet about it. “He gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone.” Why? 

Wherever There is Misery…

The popular understanding of the day was that wherever the Messiah was there would be no misery. That is what the Messiah does, gets you out of the troubles you face. So, wherever the Messiah is, there is no misery. The truth is, wherever there is misery, there is the Messiah. See the difference? 

Jesus is not the one who gets you out of difficulty. He is the one who sends you into difficulty. Wherever there is misery, there is the Messiah. Here is a clue to Christ-centered leadership. To be a Christ-centered leader means you follow Jesus into the community and into the problems of the community.   

The question is “Is Jesus the one you expect to get you out of trouble? Or is Jesus the one who sends you into places of trouble? 

Take Up Your Cross Daily

Maybe this will help. Jesus, in his teaching, says, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” This teaching is found in Mark and Matthew as well, but Luke adds the word “daily.” He is reinterpreting the teaching for his own context. 

In both Mark and Luke, the cost of discipleship is the same: your whole life. But in Mark, written just after Nero’s persecution of Christians in Rome, where Christians had been killed and Simon Peter himself had been crucified, “taking up one’s cross” was understood literally as the cost of discipleship. 

For Luke, there is no direct persecution. By adding “daily” to “take up your cross,” Luke is saying the cost of discipleship is not seen in one dramatic act. The cost of discipleship is experienced in simple acts of service, care, and compassion as each situation presents itself. Christ-centered leaders are not called to positions of power but to postures of service. 

So, faith in the risen Christ keeps you focused as you lead into and through conflict, misery, and pain.   

Respond

Until you know who you are and who you trust you will not be the leader needed for this time. Your faith in the risen Christ makes a significant difference in your leadership. It is experienced in your relationships and interaction with others. It is experienced in your trustworthiness, compassion, stability, and hope. 

Leadership is About People

Leadership is about people. It is about influencing and impacting lives in a positive way. To be an effective leader, you need to have a genuine desire to serve others, along with the ability to model and prioritize the needs of others before yourself. In whatever leadership capacity you serve, the needs and well-being of the people entrusted to you are your greatest concern. 

Compassionate and responsible leaders put people first above their own selfish ambitions and desires. They love and care for others with the same love and care they have received in and through Jesus. How you treat people is a reflection of your leadership. 

Leadership is Relational

Leadership is about relationships. Take time to know the people entrusted to you. Make time and effort to care for people, to know what matters to them, and be present with them. It is in and through relationships that you discover the potential of others and assist in helping that potential be fully realized.   

The scripture points out that Jesus reverses our expectations of who and what the Messiah should be. Your faith in Jesus reverses the conventional understanding of who you are and who you trust as a leader. Maybe it is time to stop looking for the perfect approach to leadership and begin to develop the relationships that reveal who you trust to direct your living and leadership. 

Your confession is more than words. It is how you live and lead in relationship with the people entrusted to your care. 

Lead with Authenticity

Leadership is about authenticity. Courageous leaders are honest, transparent, and truthful with their people. It does not mean you tell everything you know, but it does mean knowing when to say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure. Such action might make you feel vulnerable, but the strength is in your truthfulness. 

Stable and hope-filled leaders live consistent lives. You walk the talk. What you know and believe on the inside is lived out on the outside. It does not take people long to experience the values and convictions of a leader. 

So, live an integrated life. The same one whether you are in a board meeting with church members, or at home with your family. If you are a follower of Jesus, then Jesus directs your leadership regardless of the context. It is your faith in Jesus that keeps you accountable. 

Lead with Purpose

Leadership is about purpose. Effective leaders know they are created to lead within the context they are leading. It is living into who they are that brings peace, joy, and fulfillment. Because you know you are being who God created you to be, you know that everything is not measured through immediate and tangible outcomes. You know that you must work patiently behind the scenes, laying the foundation for people to live to their potential. 

Because your relationship with God is real, you fix your eyes on eternal things that matter, the lives of people. This is the ultimate purpose of your leadership. 

Leaders are Generous

Leadership is about being generous. Everyone is a work in progress. Effective leaders seek support and encouragement along their leadership journey. They recognize that leadership development does not happen at a single training event, or by reading leadership blogs. They understand that it takes a community of faith to assist good leaders in becoming great leaders. For most of us it takes a lifetime. 

Your faith in the risen Christ makes a significant difference in your leadership. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. Faith in God through Jesus is important to your leadership. How did you live out your faith? How did you encourage others to live their faith? Who is helping you grow in faith?  Ask God to give you the power to love others as God has loved you. What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.  

Trust is one of the most important qualities of a Christ-centered leader. When you are trusted, you are able to develop healthy relationships, which help you collaborate, communicate, and innovate.  It starts with who you are. If you don’t trust others, you are not going to build trust with others.  

Trust means that you are authentic, transparent, and reliable. The question is, who is the source of your trust? Trust means you establish clear expectations, and you follow through on your commitments. It means that you are who you say you are by how you live your life and interact with those entrusted to your care.

With that in mind, who do you trust?

The Source of Trust

A quick look at Jesus on the cross reveals the source of his trust. In Luke’s story, while Jesus is on the cross, he does not pray for clarity, he prays a prayer for trust.    

The death of Jesus occupies six verses in one small paragraph. In the middle of that paragraph, Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” It is a prayer of trust. It is not a story that evokes an emotional response like, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is not a story where you feel bad for Jesus like, “I thirst”.  It is a story of Jesus trusting his life to God.   

In Luke, there are two prayers. We have examined one of those prayers, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Let’s use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return to explore what we might learn about trust.  

Read Luke 23:44-49 

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts.   But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”  

“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” Luke 23:46 

Reflect

While on the cross, Jesus prays a prayer of trust. Jesus knew the comfort and affirmation of the scripture. He is praying a Psalm, “Into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Psalm 31:5). His prayer shows no distance or pain in relationship to God. It is not a prayer of resignation or defeat. It reveals to us who Jesus is and who he trusts. 

Jesus and Prayer

Luke has Jesus praying from the time he is baptized to the time he ascends to heaven. Jesus is not surprised by life but is prepared for life. In Luke’s story, Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit. After he is baptized, while he is praying, the Holy Spirit descends upon him. The Holy Spirit leads him into the wilderness to pray. It is in these moments of prayer Jesus is checking his trust of God’s direction for his life. 

In his sermon in Nazareth, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me…” In Luke, Jesus not only possesses the Holy Spirit but promises the Holy Spirit to his followers. So, in The Acts of the Apostles, we witness how the Holy Spirit at work in Jesus lives and works in and through the church. 

Jesus and the Holy Spirit

Spirit is important to Luke. So, in this prayer, “spirit” simply means “breath,” or “life.” “Father, into your hands I commit my life.” Luke replaces the despairing cry of Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” with quiet confidence and trust. Just as Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness, “Father forgive them…” becomes a model for his followers, so his dying prayer of trust in God becomes a model. The same prayer is prayed by Stephen at his death (Acts 7:59). 

According to Luke, not only the way Jesus lived but the way he died brought glory to God. The soldier at the cross says, “Certainly, this man was innocent.” With those words, Luke is saying that even Rome recognizes that Jesus’ death was a great injustice, that in executing Jesus they killed an innocent man. This is a theme Luke carries throughout his gospel as well as The Acts of the Apostles. 

Stand at the Cross to Understand Easter

I find it interesting that Luke does not rush to the joy of Easter morning. For Luke, Easter can only be grasped by those who have stood at the cross and reflected upon their own involvement in the sins of humanity that have led to the rejection of God’s revelation in Jesus. 

Just as the tax collector, who lamented and beat his chest in repentance, did not presume that he would go home justified, neither did the mourners at the crucifixion anticipate the resurrection. As you read Luke’s good news, over and over again, grace can only be amazing grace. 

Quiet Trust

In quiet trust and confidence, Jesus commits his life into the hands of God. From his baptism to his decision to go to the cross, from his teaching about his death to the misunderstanding of who he was as the Christ, from teaching his followers to pray to forgive those who intentionally turned their backs on God’s love, in quiet trust and confidence Jesus prays. 

As he commits his life into God’s hands, his witness continues, “Certainly this man was innocent.” So, Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” 

Respond

Brennan Manning, in his book, Ruthless Trust tells the following: When ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life.  On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa.  She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. 

“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked.   

He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.” 

She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.” 

When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”  

Praying for Trust

When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.  So, I will pray that you trust God.” 

Jesus prayed to keep his focus on God. After ministering to the crowds, he would go into the wilderness, a lonely place, to pray. His prayer life was not only to keep him focused on God but to keep his trust in God. 

As a Christ-centered leader, it is important that you not only develop trust but that you learn to trust. Trust, defined as a belief in the abilities, integrity, and character of another person, is thought of as something that personal relationships are built on. And even more than that, according to recent research in Harvard Business Review, trust is the foundation of most successful organizations.

As the leader, you set the tone for trust. By recognizing the potential in others and helping develop that potential, you are developing trust in others as they learn to trust you.

The fundamental question regarding leadership and trust is, as a leader “who do you trust?’ Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return 

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How does Jesus’ prayer model trust for you?

  • In what areas of your life do you trust God?
  • In what areas are you having difficulty trusting God?
  • How are you assisting others in trusting God’s direction for their lives?
  • What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader who trusts God’s direction for your life?

Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved. Ask God to give you the faith to live and lead with quiet trust and confidence. 

Prayer

O God, into your hands I offer my life.  By your grace, give me the trust I need to become the leader you need for this time and place. Amen 

Effective leadership requires compassion. When you are seeking to build healthy relationships, move toward your mission, and hold people accountable for their contributions to the mission, you are often forced to look at the people in a critical light. 

When making your judgments and decisions, it is important to remember that the people entrusted to your care are human beings, beloved children of God. They are going to make mistakes. They are going to disappoint you, let you down, and say things out of line.  They will even at times act like they are sabotaging the mission.

On your best days, it is difficult not to take such actions personally. But, at the end of the day, if you remember that the people with whom you work are human beings with their own pasts, their own personal issues, frailties, and struggles, you will remember that each of them are in need of grace.

Forgiveness is Key

That is why forgiveness is one of the key components of effective and courageous leadership. When you are able to forgive mistakes and be generous with the people you are leading, you will encourage and empower people to be more who they are created and gifted to be.

Your effectiveness as a leader requires your acts of compassion. People are going to speak back to you and have their own ideas. Their personal lives are going to impact their work, their past experiences will affect their relationships. More often than not, they are not even aware of their words or actions. 

As a Christ-centered leader, a fundamental element of your effectiveness is forgiveness. 

Remember that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus prays at particularly important points in his ministry. His pattern has been to go to a desert place or a lonely place to pray. He prays to keep his focus on what God has called and commissioned him to do. 

He prays seeking direction when he is tempted to follow the crowd, “Do I go with the crowd or do I go to the cross?” He prays when Simon Peter and the other disciples misunderstood his suffering and dying as a contradiction of who and what they understood the Messiah to be and do. And, he prays when his identity and purpose as suffering Messiah did not match the images of the people who loved him and who followed him. 

Let’s use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return to explore what Luke says about Jesus and forgiveness. 

Read Luke 24:23 

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. 

Reflect

This prayer is in keeping with the character and life of Jesus. He is praying for forgiveness for those who are violating him because they did not know what they are doing. In Luke, the primary problem is ignorance. They killed the Lord of glory in ignorance. 

For the Romans, Caesar was Lord. The government was central. To speak or act against Rome was considered heresy. Crucifixion was used to warn citizens what would happen to them if they were disloyal to Rome. People were sacrificed on crosses to warn others what would happen to them when they committed heresy. 

Now Jesus is on the cross and he prays, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” 

Forgiven for Ignorance

I know it seems strange that anyone would have to be forgiven for ignorance. We usually don’t put forgiveness and ignorance together. But when you think of the different kinds of ignorance that move and motivate people, the ignorance that closes their eyes when they have every opportunity to see the truth, our only hope is “Father, forgive them…” 

When I think about it, evil could be called intentional ignorance. When we refuse to listen or to understand. When we remain silent and do nothing. When we turn our backs and say, “Well, it is terrible, but it is not my problem.” That is intentional ignorance. 

The crowds walked by Jesus on the cross, and their only words were insults, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It sounds like Jesus forgave them for their ignorance. 

It took courage, as well as love, for Jesus to forgive the people hurling insults, who at one time confessed their allegiance and are now calling for his life. 

It Takes Courage

As a Christ-centered leader, it will take love as well as courage to lead with forgiveness. Think about it:   

When your lead team decides that making grace-filled Jesus followers is your mission and someone in the congregation disagrees and works against the direction you are leading, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When people say with their lips that “everyone is welcome” but their actions show otherwise, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When people say “we want to be followers of Jesus” but they don’t want to connect with their neighborhood and to be involved in their community, it will take courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When you offer bible studies and classes on becoming Christian disciples that will help church members grow in their faith and the assumption is that bible study and classes are for the people who are not present or actively supporting the church, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When you stand to preach and name issues of injustice and you get emails and texts that you should not be political in the pulpit, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When you respond to gun violence and the killing of children in classrooms and the killing of adults in night clubs and someone says, “It is my right to own a gun”, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When you name the evils of racism and say that it is Christian to love persons of different ethnic backgrounds, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

When someone says that because you are a woman you should not be preaching or teaching, it will take love and courage to lead with forgiveness. 

You can add your own situations to my list. You know where you are challenged to lead with forgiveness. But as a follower of Jesus, with people entrusted to your care, you lead with forgiveness. 

The Love of God

The words, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” were spoken by a person whose only weapon was the love of God. Whose only crime was being different. Who raised suspicion because he challenged the systems of hatred, prejudice, and bigotry. Yet, in the midst of being put to death for extending love, even to his enemies, he called upon God to forgive the ignorance of his abusers and accusers.

Think of it this way. What defines any of us looking for growth and personal development is not a spotless life of constant kindness and an even temperament, but a willingness to learn from mistakes, and to make the choice to come to terms with whatever has happened to us. As a leader, when you act with compassion and offer forgiveness, you are more able to shape the lives of people and assist them in becoming who God has created them to be.

Forgiveness is the Attribute of the Strong

Mahatma Gandhi warned that “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” And according to Indira Gandhi, “Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave.” Forgiveness is a powerful concept for leaders and for a Christ-centered leader, it is a necessity.

Leading with forgiveness can change how the people entrusted to you live and interact with one another, connect with their community, and view the world. Leading with forgiveness creates internal harmony and a sense of care and compassion. Leading with compassion turns failures and unwanted situations into a culture of understanding and generosity. It creates places where people feel safe to express themselves and function at their best.

Forgiveness may be the most important gift you can give to the people entrusted to you. As you model forgiveness you are offering others the chance to take risks, learn and grow in their own leadership.  Without forgiveness, there cannot be true leadership.

Respond

As a leader, you have an important influence on the lives of people. Where there is a lack of forgiveness there is a climate of anger, bitterness, and animosity. To lead with forgiveness changes the atmosphere and culture in which people live, work, and play. But as you know, forgiveness is not easy.

So, here are several ways to lead with forgiveness:

Be generous in your assumptions.

Intentionally work to understand the true intentions of others. Have a sincere conversation and ask questions for your clarity and understanding.

Be compassionate in your actions.

Relationships are important. Treat and care for others the way you want to be treated and cared for. You are a person in need of love and encouragement just as the people entrusted to your care.

Be generous with yourself.

While you are leading others and often seeing them in a critical light, you are placing yourself under a critical eye as well. You know the areas where you need forgiveness and compassion. When you can approach your own difficulties with gentleness, it’ll be easier for you to forgive others as well.

Let go of resentments.

As you allow yourself to be forgiven, you create a space for others to forgive. I am sure you can think of other ways to lead with forgiveness. As you put each one into practice you become more of the leader needed for this time.

Return

Give God thanks for the people you met today. How did you lead with forgiveness? With whom and in what areas did you need help in practicing forgiveness? Name those persons and situations before God. Ask God to give you the power to love others as God has loved you. What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader of forgiveness? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved. Ask God to give you the power to forgive others even if they do not understand.

Prayer

O God, forgive me when I do not understand, and do not get it right. By your grace, forgive me when I don’t want to understand and I don’t want to live and lead the way you created me to live and lead. Put within me the desire to learn and grow, so that as I lead with forgiveness others will see you in me and my actions and be drawn to you. Use me as an instrument of your love and peace. In Jesus’ name. Amen