Posted in Character, Faith

Taking off the Mask of Pride

art-beautiful-bloom-613431

Pride can take many forms. As a long-time Christian, I like to think that I’m free from it. Just when I feel pretty comfortable about my relationship with Jesus, He reveals a hidden area of pride. The Lord recently unmasked some pride in my life at a doctor’s appointment. I have been dealing with some health issues for many years, all my life really. When he mentioned that I will probably need to be on medication for the rest of my life, tears filled my eyes. I didn’t like hearing that news, and I told him so. Ever so wisely and I believe he was led by the Holy Spirit (My doctor is a Christian), he asked me to explain. I told him I know the Lord uses medication to bring healing, and I would completely support my husband or kids or friends taking medication to support their health. But I don’t want to be that person…the one needing to take the medication. Gently my doctor inquired, “Do you think that might be a form of pride?” Immediately I sensed the Lord’s conviction, and I said, “You have definitely given me something to pray and think about.”

I went home and prayed about it. Sure enough…the Lord shined His gracious light into my soul. I want to be the one person in my circle of family and friends to be untouched by physical or mental pain. I want to be free from the need of any medical or emotional assistance. Why? Because I want to be the person lending encouragement and support without requiring anything in return. Because I want to be available to minister from a place of strength to those that are hurting. Suddenly I saw it clearly. Beneath the noble looking veneer lay spiritual pride. My desire centered on being adequate in my self rather than dependent on Jesus.

Spiritual pride is deceptive and sneaky. It disguises itself in many forms, and it can take prayerful discernment to recognize it. Here are just a few ways it shows up.

Being ungrateful. Pride blinds people to their blessings. What we have is not good enough, and we complain about it. When asked how he was doing, my former pastor would always answer, “Better than I deserve.” He was keenly aware of God’s grace. In reality, because of our sinful, fallen natures we deserve nothing good, and yet the Lord blesses us far more than we deserve. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1).

Wanting recognition. Pride causes people to seek attention from others with a desire to please them. If our efforts are not noticed, we feel rejected or resentful. As Christians we are to do everything as to the Lord and not to men. If you serve others, God notices. That’s all the recognition we need. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).

Acting defensive. People that struggle with pride are unteachable. We are not receptive to learning from others, and do not listen well. We do not readily admit to making mistakes, and often will blame others. “Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning” (Pro.9:9). Pride is also highly critical of other’s shortcomings, quick to notice and point out other’s faults, while deflecting or making allowances for own own. The Scriptures in Gal. 5:22-23 describes the fruit of the Spirit that should characterize our lives. Our approach to others should be loving, patient, kind, and gentle.

Seeking independence. This is one I struggle with most. It manifests in two thoughts: “Don’t be a burden” and “Do it perfectly.” God created human beings for relationship with Himself and each other. His Word instructs us about the vitality found in community. Somehow though we still buy in to the “self-made man or woman.” As we try to be self-sufficient, pride isolates us. Not wanting to burden others (or the Lord) with our problems cuts us off from the life-giving source we need. Spirit-filled community is highlighted throughout The Book of Acts. Then there is “Do it perfectly.” That belief is a slave driver. Perfectionism torments us to strive to be perfect, which is absolutely impossible. Perhaps, then, we will be pleased with ourselves and worthy before the Lord. Pride tells us our value is determined by our works and we are capable of achieving it ourselves. It ignores the grace of God He so lovingly gives and upon which He builds His Kingdom. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

So I have surrendered this area of pride to the Lord. I am taking my medicine every day and thanking the Lord for it. I believe that He is ultimately my healer, but I am not the one in charge of how that looks. He is.

“…The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8, NLT).

Friends, I issue you a personal challenge. Ask the Lord to reveal an area of your life where you allow pride to affect your thinking or actions. Refuse pride access and open your heart to His humility and grace.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I come before You, knowing that I am prone to pride. Forgive me for the times I am ungrateful and seek personal recognition. Forgive me when I am critical of others and for the desire to be sufficient and perfect in myself. Open my eyes by the Holy Spirit when I open the door to pride. Teach me to walk in humility, love, and complete dependence on you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Servant Leadership

The High Road of Humility

pexels-mountain-road

Have you seen the commercial for the Microsoft tablet featuring one of the executive producers for Marvel films? This woman makes incredible pictures enjoyed by people all around the world, and she is passionate about it. Her secret to success? She says she works hard—14 hours a day, seven days a week, and she has kept that schedule for decades. She jokes that her only super-power is lack of sleep.

It’s funny. Every time I see the ad, it does not make me want to run out and buy a Surface. Instead, I find myself yearning for her super-power. Just think how much I could accomplish if I didn’t require much sleep. Instead of taking the time to pamper my weak composition with the rest I desperately need, I could blaze a trail of glory for the Kingdom of God. I imagine all the people who could be reached, all the lives that would be touched by the presence of Jesus and transformed by His Spirit. I want to do great things for the Lord, and if I just had more hours I could do even more.

All the dreaming about possibilities quite honestly makes me exhausted.

Didn’t Jesus say, “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all”? (Actually it was a song paraphrasing Matthew 20:26.)

Doesn’t Jesus care more about my heart attitude than my faulty measurement of productivity? Blazing a trail of glory as I burn the midnight oil doesn’t impress Him. He examines the motivations of my soul.

The Scriptures encourage us to follow Jesus Christ’s example and walk in humility.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being (Philippians 2:5-7).

In fact, that is the crux of the Christmas story. The Son of God willingly left the splendor and perfection of heaven, and humbled Himself to be clothed in human flesh. He chose the high road of humility as the way to bring the gift of salvation to the world.

nativity-baby-jesus-christmas-2008-christmas-2806967-1000-5581_810_500_55_s_c1

Rather than appearing as a fully developed man, he came as a tiny baby, helpless and dependent on his parents for survival. He was not born to royalty; He chose a poor family. The Savior’s arrival was heralded by angels, yet he was housed in a stable and had an animal’s feeding trough for a bed.

That, my friend, is humility. None of it accidental; all of it planned.

But Jesus went even further.

When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

From the beginning, the Messiah’s mission was to die for us. He laid down His life in shame and agony to pave the way for us to enjoy a relationship with our Heavenly Father and to look forward to a heavenly home. All of this was accomplished because He chose the high road of humility.

More than the super-power of lack of sleep, I desperately need the super-power of humility. In order to truly touch others with God’s love, I must learn to chose over and over again the high road of humility.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I acknowledge that I want to do great things for You. Sometimes I think I need to be great in order to do great things. Teach me what it means to humble myself in obedience to You. Help me to remember that following Christ’s example of humility is the most powerful way I can make a difference in this world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

Don’t Be Your Own Worst Enemy

pexels-photo-54377-large

Life can be tough. We live in a fallen world, and there is a devil whose mission is to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). But can I just be honest with you? Sometimes I am my own worst enemy. I can be so skilled at sabotaging myself, the devil doesn’t have to be around for me to mess things up. I don’t want to dismiss the presence of evil. However, as a human being, I prefer blaming someone else when I should take responsibility for my own actions. The devil may be the tempter, but I’m the one who takes the bait.

I am so grateful for God’s promise of victorious love in Romans 8:38-39:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When I’m steeped in self-sabotage mode, I believe that circumstances or people in my life block my ability to experience God’s love. If God loves me so much and His love is so powerful, why can’t I see it? I fail to realize that I, through incorrect thinking, have separated myself.

Thankfully I’m learning to detect some of my self-sabotaging attitudes more quickly these days. I am more aware of when the negative thoughts begin, and then I turn my attention to Jesus.

What are some of these self-sabotaging attitudes?

Self-pity. I adopt a victim mentality. Nothing about my situation is good and there is nothing I can do about it. Because nobody really understands the depth of my pain, I dismiss anything they say to help me as invalid.

Pride. I question God’s sovereignty and wonder if He is really in control. After all, I think that my plans, purposes, and priorities are better than His. I know what my life should look like. I am impatient with His timing and resent the detours along the way.

Unbelief. Ultimately I don’t trust the Lord with my life. I lose sight that He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. As a result all I can see are limitations and lack. Fear or discouragement takes over as I assume the worst.

After recognizing self-sabotage, how do I turn my attention to Jesus?

Exchange self-pity for gratitude. God doesn’t “owe” me anything. He provided the way for me to be in relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. That is enough, and I am truly blessed. The Lord has given me everything I am and all I that have. No matter how tough my situation, I can experience joy and peace through the Holy Spirit. I determine to be content and grateful.

Exchange pride for humility. I confess that I really don’t know what is best. I surrender my life anew to God and acknowledge that apart from Him I can do nothing. I ask the Lord for a teachable spirit and look for opportunities to serve others.

Exchange unbelief for trust. I can identify with the father in Mark Chapter 9 who begged Jesus to deliver his son. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” (v. 24). I rely on grace to trust Him more. I pray for the Lord to empower me from his glorious, unlimited resources with inner strength through His Spirit. I ask for Christ to make His home in my heart, for my roots to grow down into God’s love and keep me strong (Ephesians 3:17).

Do you recognize self-sabotage in your life? How will you turn your attention to Jesus?

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you (Psalm 9:10).

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You never leave me where You found me. Thank You for giving me new life and teaching me new ways of living. Help me to see when I have attitudes or do things that sabotage myself. Help me to exchange negative thoughts and actions for thoughts and actions that honor You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Three Important Traits for Aspiring Leaders

“I’d like to play the piano for your church services.” She stood before me with a confident smile on her face, a well dressed woman in her forties. She extended her hand and introduced herself. She had arrived toward the end of service and sat quietly in the back.

I shook her hand and said, “Please tell me a little bit about yourself.”

She strode over to the piano on stage, sat on the bench and started to play. “I was married to a pastor for over ten years. I know how hard it is for small churches to find people to help, especially with music.” She continued to fill the sanctuary with lovely music.

What she said was true. We had a small church in the middle of nowhere. And my piano skills came nowhere close to her expertise. It would certainly be nice to have some help.

When she finished, I smiled and thanked her. “You are a wonderful pianist! We’d love to have you join us here. Would you please come the next few Sundays? We’d like to get to know you better, and you should see if you like our service style. Then we can talk more about you playing for our services.”

Disappointment flashed across her face. “Yes, of course,” she said. She thanked me for my time and walked out of the building. I never saw her again.

People who aspire to lead, desire a noble task. Gifted people can be an asset to any church and organization. Unfortunately, while many people possess the knowledge and talent to lead, few of them are willing to develop the traits necessary to be a successful leader over the long haul. Most people want to quickly rise to the top without sacrificing much. However, the best preparation for leadership is to become an excellent follower.

This is not a popular message, but it is supported by the teachings of Jesus. Those who aspire to lead, must first develop some key traits.

Humility
Leaders must learn to serve others. They do not use their position to take advantage of others and use them as stepping stones to where they want to go. Instead they realize that God has granted them authority to serve and be a blessing to others.

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV).

Loyalty
Loyalty is the foundation of discipleship and vital to a healthy church or ministry. Loyal followers demonstrate complete and constant support for their leaders. This does not mean they agree with everything and are “yes-men.” Rather they deal with disagreement and conflict in a respectful manner. They guard against an independent and critical spirit, and work to resolve hurts and offenses, not allowing them to fester. Loyal followers show they can be trusted with increased responsibility.

Faithfulness
Loyalty and faithfulness go hand in hand. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). Followers prove their ability to lead as they show themselves trustworthy in the little things. As they serve (even in menial tasks) with enthusiasm and joy, desiring to honor the Lord rather than gain the attention of others, they develop faithfulness. “Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2 NLT).

Do you aspire to be a leader? Don’t take short cuts. Work hard to develop the traits of humility, loyalty, and faithfulness. Trust the Lord to grant you favor. Determine that in every position you will find ways to serve and be a blessing.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

What Do Your Actions Say?

Last week I was sick with laryngitis. In addition to a steroid shot, the doctor prescribed lots of honey and lemon, plus no talking until my throat felt better. The time of “forced” silence challenged me to find other ways to communicate apart from speaking. It also gave me pause to ponder what I say with my actions.

I like to consider myself a servant leader, one who uses the influence granted to me in order to serve others and equip them to answer God’s call. I enjoy learning and teaching and speaking about servant leadership. But if you take away all my words, how well do I actually practice it?

There are areas in leadership that require more than saying the correct words. My actions must solidly support them, as well.

Integrity
This is all about having my words and actions match. Am I consistent in character and principles everywhere I go? Do I back down from doing the right thing when I encounter resistance? Do people trust me with confidential information, knowing I won’t share it with others to gain an advantage?

Humility
A secure leader is comfortable in the background, allowing others to take credit for success. How important is it that I am recognized as “the leader”? How readily do I give credit to others and praise them for a job well done? Do I respectfully consider people’s ideas even when they disagree with mine?

Service
A leader is never above service. Am I willing to lend a helping hand, even when it’s not a part of my job description? When I serve others, are there any strings attached? Is my ambition focused on finding better ways to serve others and make them successful?

Love
The foundation of all I do as a leader must be love. Do I genuinely care about the welfare of others working with me? Do I take an interest in their personal lives? How well do I actively listen to others? Do I tend to ask questions to learn more about people, or do I quickly offer advice and anecdotes?

We have been called to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). To do that requires much more than words.

Take some time to consider, what do your actions say?

Posted in Servant Leadership

The Strength of Servant Leadership

ServantLeadership

“Servant Leadership can be a bad thing. You’re so busy being nice and empathetic to your people that you don’t address problems.”

“I don’t agree with Servant Leadership. The organization must be priority. Organization first, then the people.”

“I’m not really convinced that Servant Leadership works. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your organization is fire someone.”

I have heard these statements in conversations within the last few months. Servant Leadership is a popular concept among churches and faith-based organizations. It is gaining support in other circles, as well. At the same time, Servant Leadership is also misunderstood.

The ideals of Servant Leadership are based on the ministry of Jesus Christ, and represent a higher type of leadership.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35 NIV).

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13 NLT).

The emphasis on love and serving often paints a picture of gentleness and kindness. Servant Leaders may be mistakenly thought as big-hearted softies, mild manner pushovers allowing conflict to go unchecked and people to do whatever they want. On the contrary, Servant Leaders serve from a position of personal strength and security, confident in the role entrusted to them.

Consider five qualities of Servant Leadership and their descriptions.

Love
Love is the foundation of Servant Leadership. It is moral love, expressed as “doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason.” It places followers’ interests first because they are intrinsically valuable. Servant Leaders do not shy away from speaking the truth in love, because they desire the highest good for everyone involved. They listen intently to others, seeking to understand and empathize. They affirm and celebrate people, even when rejecting their behavior or performance.

Empowerment
Servant Leaders are committed to the personal, professional, and spiritual growth of every person under their leadership. They promote collaboration in an environment of mutual respect. They do not hold protectively to their own power but are willing to share it appropriately with others. Learning opportunities are provided for people to develop their strengths and talents, equipping them to excel in their current positions and preparing them for greater responsibility.

Humility
Humble leaders are wise leaders. They do not seek elevated status because of position, accomplishments, or talents. They are comfortable in their own skin, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and readily admitting their mistakes. Servant Leaders believe that their experience, skills, and influence must be used to benefit others before themselves. They realize the position of leadership is a gift from God, bestowed on them in order to be a blessing.

Trust
Servant Leaders are trusted by their followers. Their abilities to influence and foster a sense of community gain the confidence of others. Trust is a two-way street. Servant Leaders extend trust to others. They have confidence in their followers, and willingly extend responsibility to those who have demonstrated themselves capable of responsibility. Together they are good stewards of the roles and resources entrusted to them, working together for the greater good of society.

Vision
Servant Leaders are visionary. They intuitively exercise foresight by understanding lessons from the past, realities of the present, and the likely consequences of decisions in the future. They nurture their abilities to dream great dreams, while balancing the day-to-day situations. Servant Leaders enlist others in their dreams by vividly communicating the picture, helping others see the exciting possibilities, and creating a shared vision.

Servant Leadership is a powerful way to lead others and build God’s kingdom. It creates an environment in which leaders, followers, and their organizations can thrive.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

The Most Important Relationship for the Servant Leader

As a student of leadership for the last decade (both informally and through pursuit of formal education), I have been interested in the development of leadership theory. In the early years of the field, the focus was on identifying specific behavior traits of the most successful leaders. It was believed that if others adopted the same traits, they too would be successful. Realizing that there was not a one-size-fits-all approach, experts devised a style by which leaders adapted their behavior according to the maturity of the followers and the tasks needing accomplished. Leadership theory continued to address external behavior and skills.

More recently other leadership styles have emerged that center on the heart and soul of the leader. Effective leaders are authentic, possess strong character, and engage life and leadership with wholeheartedness. These types of leadership qualities are more complicated to assess.

Servant leadership has perhaps created the most difficulty for researchers. It is distinguished by the feature of placing followers first, even above the organization. Leaders use their influence to serve followers, providing resources and environments for them to grow and succeed. Some researchers do not feel comfortable including servant leadership as a model, because it is deeply spiritual, patterned after the example of Jesus Christ. It originates from a life of faith. While people may be able to adopt certain servant leadership qualities, the genuine motivation to love without strings attached is not easily imitated. And, how can it be measured?

This creates a challenge for those of us who identify with servant leadership. Servant leadership is not about merely doing the right things. Yes, the prominent qualities of servant leadership include love, empowerment, humility, trust, and vision. Yes, our followers take priority in our leadership decisions. However, we must remember that servant leadership goes beyond our outward actions. We bring who we are to what we do and how we lead. Our natural strengths and willpower are simply not enough to practice servant leadership. True servant leadership flows from a vibrant, growing relationship with Jesus. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NIV). As we walk with Him in daily communion and rely on the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love and serve those we lead. The fruit of the Spirit is released and expressed through us.

So what is the most important relationship for the servant leader? Above the relationship with our followers, and even above the relationship with ourselves, the most important relationship is with Jesus Christ Himself. I encourage you, if you have not already done so, develop a spiritual growth plan. Make sure it includes ways, as my friend Gail Johnsen says, “to keep company with Jesus” (gailjohnsen.com). As we intentionally connect with Him and become more like Him, we will serve and lead as Jesus did. We will be the servant leaders He desires us to be.