The task of courageous leadership is focus. Often when we think about being focused, we mean thinking about one specific thing while filtering out everything else. That is one aspect of being focused. But being focused as a leader means that at any given moment you might be thinking of a lot of different things, but you are able to keep your mission central to all other thoughts and actions.
To keep focus, you must be self-aware. You have to know who you are as opposed to trying to please people by being who you think they want you to be. To keep focus, you have to be empathetic and generous in your relationships, and you have to be present with the people you serve. Sounds simple enough, but the challenge is to be yourself and to lead in the way God has gifted you to lead.
The temptation is to do it your way. After all, you know more than others and can do the work better than others. Although I am being a little snarky, you know what I am referring to.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is teaching his followers how to live the way God has created them to live. He is teaching and training his followers to do greater things than he has done. He begins with developing the inner life and moves to developing healthy relationships. When it comes to effective and courageous leadership, focus is necessary to be who God created you to be.
Use the pattern of Read, Reflect, Respond, Return as a tool to assist you in developing healthy relationships as you become more of the leader God has created you to be.
Read Matthew 4:1-11
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
This is a story of focus. Matthew uses the conflict between Jesus and Satan to teach us how Jesus kept his focus as the Son of God. Immediately after Jesus has been claimed by God as “this is my beloved Son,” he is challenged with what it means to be God’s Son. On the surface, it is a story of conflict between good and evil. Below the surface, it is a story of keeping focus. It is a story to assist you in keeping your focus on what is important to your leadership. The very heart of the story reveals who you are is how you lead.
Keeping focus is not easy and cannot be ignored. At a basic level, facing the temptation to be someone other than who you have been created to be is an ongoing challenge. Following his baptism, where he was claimed by God, Jesus was faced with the challenge, “If you are the son of God.” The conflict is not whether he was the Son of God, but rather what does it mean to be the Son of God.
Your challenge, as a Christ-centered leader, is to lead as a beloved child of God. You have been claimed by God, so what does it mean to lead as a child of God? What is the focus of a Christ-centered leader?
The temptations are subtle. They each focus on something that can be good, but without focus on God’s love and grace can be devastating.
The Challenge of Position
The first challenge is positional. Jesus is challenged to show that he qualifies as the Messiah, the Christ. As God’s son, the anointed one, Jesus is tempted to use his power and position to his own advantage, to alleviate his hunger. At the same time, he is challenged to provide food to meet an obvious human need. To care for himself and to address the human need is good. But to use his position and power to prove he is the anointed one is to deny his trust in and obedience to God and to deny why he is the Son of God.
Your challenge, as a Christ-centered leader, is not to prove you are worthy of a position. It is to be focused on why you are doing what you are doing. When you are clear about who you are, then you can be clear on how to respond to human needs. It is good to feed hungry people, provide shelter to the homeless, and care for the forgotten.
The question is, why are you feeding, sheltering, and caring? Is that who you are as a beloved Child of God? Are you feeding people because they are hungry or are you responding to a need for relationship and wholeness? Are you doing something to and for people that makes you feel good about yourself? Or, are you loving people because they are the people Jesus loves regardless of the cost? These are some of the differences between a social agency and a church. Please understand that there is nothing wrong with directing a social agency. The question is, is that who God created you to be as a Christ-centered leader? What is your focus?
The Challenge of Popularity
The second challenge is one of popularity. Jesus is challenged to popularize the good news by drawing attention to himself. The conflict of motivation is subtle. Why not make a sensational demonstration that he is the Son of God? It will bring in more people. The story illustrates the conflict between the well-intentioned theologies and interpretations of Scripture and the diversions they create on the path of obedience. It deals with the conflict of values revealed in differing images of the Messiah.
Are you drawing attention to yourself by siding with the majority who want power restored or are you directing attention to God by loving, serving, caring, including, and giving up your place as Jesus has done for you? Are you focused on the good things you can achieve or are you focused on being an instrument of God’s love and peace for the people entrusted to your care? What is your focus?
The Challenge of Politics
The third challenge is political. Jesus is challenged to politicize the good news by assuming the role of government. The conflict of values is subtle. But Jesus does not deviate from his focus upon the one true God, even for the noble purpose of taking over all the kingdoms of the world.
What does it mean to be God’s beloved child? By whose authority does he make his decisions? The story reveals a conflict of authority.
Matthew does an excellent job of setting up the conflict. Jesus is taken to a “very high mountain” and offered authority “over all the kingdoms of the world.” This image of the mountain not only ties his listeners to Moses but sets up Jesus being on another mountain at the end of Matthew’s story. It is the mountain where Jesus meets his disciples after the resurrection, where Jesus announces that he has “received all authority on earth” (Matthew 28:18). His authority is from God and not from Satan. It comes after the cross and is not an alternative to the cross.
Start with Jesus
Your challenge starts with God’s authority of love when all the people around you are calling you to take a position based on the authority of opinion and influence. Are you evangelical or are you progressive? Are you traditional or have you lost the foundation of your faith? Are you liberal or are you conservative? Are you with us or are you with them? You get the point.
Remember, it matters where you start. If you start on the left or on the right with your opinion, you will fight to influence others to see things the way you see them and to come to your side. If you start with Jesus, in whom all authority has been given and who resisted the temptation to give into the political powers of his day, then there is always a place for transformation and being who God needs you to be in times of conflicting values and challenging decisions.
Scripture is For Focus
There is one more important fact of this story of focus. Jesus met every challenge with scripture. Here is another subtle temptation. Jesus is not just quoting scripture nor is he “proof-texting” scripture. He is quoting scripture that keeps him focused. In the story, he insists that the word of God must nourish a truly human life. It is that focus that leads him to provide food for hungry people (Matthew 6:11; 14:13-21; 15:32-39; 25:31-46). Jesus also quotes scripture within its context to illustrate that even the well-intentioned theologies and interpretations of Scripture in his own community can become the vehicle of a demonic alternative to the path of living into being the anointed one, the Christ.
So, who you are is how you lead. As a Christ-centered leader, what is your focus?
How you see Jesus shapes how you lead. How do you see Jesus? Matthew presents Jesus as the Son of God, who will work many miracles during his ministry. Yet this story of focus not only rejects violence and miracles but considers them to be demonic temptations. What does it mean to be the anointed one, the Christed one?
In Matthew, messiahship is defined not only in traditional pictures of divine power but in terms of Jesus’ own suffering and death. Instead of the power that the “kingdom” had previously meant, Jesus becomes an alternative vision of what the kingdom of God on earth might be.
This is what was at stake in the temptations Jesus faced and it is what is at stake with your leadership. As a beloved Child of God and a Christ-centered leader, what is your focus? As a follower of Jesus, your focus is to have a trusting relationship with God and a loving relationship (agape) with people. As a Christ-centered leader, you model what God’s love looks like today.
The temptations will be subtle, but with your eyes focused upon Jesus, God’s kingdom of love and grace comes here on earth as it is in heaven. Who you are is how you lead.
Give God thanks for the people you met today. What temptations or challenges did you face today? Did you make decisions based on popularity or humility? In what situations did you feel you were leading with a focus on love and grace? How did you assist others in moving forward in becoming more who God created them to be? Give God thanks for the opportunities you had to love others as you have been loved.
O God, I give you thanks for the assurance that you are shaping me more into the person you created me to be. Help me be more aware of my relationships and of the people you want me to love. By your grace, give me the courage and grace to lead others into and through the difficult moments of loving others as you have loved me. As one of your beloved children, help me be a leader of focus, relying upon your authority in Jesus. I offer who I am to you in the name of Jesus. Amen.