Overflow & emptiness

There is plenty that could be said about leadership, but the last post for this series will address the fluctuation in personal experience during the course of leadership. There will be seasons where you’ll be joyful, blooming, and serving out the the abundant overflow of gladness that the Lord has been sending your way. Relish these times. Record them somewhere. Be as generous as possible with the overflow in your cup in these times. God will surely bring people across your path who can benefit from this rich, lavish gift you’ve been given. Remember to give thanks for it and keep pointing people back to the God, your God, who has given you all this so graciously. Be on your guard against pride, which sometimes begins to rear its ugly head during such an otherwise wonderful time of life. Pray for humility and a constant reminder that all the things you’ve been afforded are really the Lord’s after all.

There will also be seasons where you are sifted, where you are emptied, where you are pruned. Heh, I doubt that you’d need to record these to ‘remember’ them, but I’m sure that faithful journaling about where the Lord is taking you is profitable. In these times, I would encourage you to keep on obeying God and spending time in His presence. Read and recite God’s character and His promises to believers who persevere. Keep in mind that despite what it looks and feels like, this is only for a season and the Lord won’t abandon you here. If He is sifting you, there is something that He detects that needs to be separated from you in order to equip you for the future work He has for you. If you are emptied of the things that seemed good and flourishing, it is likely that He is permitting the emptiness so that you have sufficient room to be filled with Himself. That knowledge doesn’t diminish the pain of it, but it is necessary to recount that you aren’t being emptied just to be left desolate, but rather that you could be filled with the best things God intends. If He is pruning you, He prunes that you will be positioned to bloom again in His time and in His way. I really (really) hope that none of this simplifies the process or the thoughts and feelings that surround it. It isn’t simple. I know that.

In my own leadership story, I very abruptly went from a season of abundance (last fall) to a season of emptiness (December and following). This past week, the Lord gave me these verses to grip while I ask Him to keep me very close to Him and enable me to obey when I feel doubtful that restoration will come.

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

Of course you know, this means war…

Both Joshua and David faced serious battles prior to and throughout their roles as leaders. Moses asked Joshua to fight the Amalekites early on in his assistantship. It took obedience, courage, and trust to lead the Israelites in battled against the fierce Amalekites. Once Joshua became the leader, he led them in battle after battle against the enemies that lived in the promised land. Although God had given them the land, they still had to listen to the Lord and participate in the way that God chose to bring it about.

David also faced much opposition early on. His first battle with Goliath was a huge success, but as a result, Saul soon became envious and frightened by the great love that the people had for David. This led to several attempts on David’s own life. Many of the Psalms give us a window into the heart of David during these dark times where he cried out to the Lord, asking God to fight on his behalf and conquer his enemies. The Lord did act for David, but David had to seek the Lord and he had to face the battles.

We can be confronted by all kinds of battles on our way to the purposes that God has intended for us. Sometimes opposition even comes from unexpected persons or places. In these painful, confusing times, we must be bent on following after Him anyway.

Isaiah 43:1-2: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

This is the phase I’m in with leadership. By God’s grace, I have been granted the opportunity to begin this good and precious work. It is has been a great joy to me. Meanwhile, Satan is not at all pleased and I was assailed with trials, doubts, and fears very early in my leadership experience. No sooner did I begin to see fruit and victory, did I also feel the strong presence of hardship hastening to my doorstep. Since I’m in this place, it is difficult yet to see my way past it. What I can say is that God is working in me through this time and that I see Him showing up in ways I wouldn’t see if things were still happy and easy. There is a lot going on that I don’t understand. At all. But I do grasp that if this was His plan for my kingdom work, it is no wonder to me now that I had to wait many years to move into leadership. Earlier on, I would not have stood up under the weight of these obstacles. Only in His strength, do I press on and find myself compelled to choose Him, even after counting the cost.

What scriptures, hymns, quotes, or thoughts remind you to stay true to Him when in means entering spiritual battles?

In the meantime…what we do while we wait

Yesterday, I mentioned that sometimes we experience a specific call to leadership, while other times, we might be in the preparation process without a distinct awareness that leadership is in the works.

Today, I would like revisit our examples of Joshua and David and consider how God used time to make them ready for the leadership roles that He had in store for them. In Joshua’s story, he served Moses as his assistant for decades. During this time, he learned what it meant to seek the Lord wholeheartedly and to look to the Lord for guidance on how to lead Israel. Joshua discovered that a personal relationship with the Lord was of immeasurable worth. He saw the heartbreak of Israel’s rebellion against the Lord and against Moses on several occasions. He witnessed their propensity to complain and turn from God. Joshua and Caleb were the only spies who scouted out Canaan and came back with a report that the Israelites could surely take on their enemies because the Lord would fulfill His promises and be with them in battle. Perhaps one of the things that most encourages me about Joshua’s character is that when Moses was growing old and it was time to appoint a new leader, Joshua didn’t do everything he could to try to be first in line, even after so many years of being Moses’ assistant. That suggests to me that he had learned to trust God to handle things in the very best way and that Joshua wasn’t looking out for his own interests.

David was anointed while Saul was still enthroned. Now Saul was not going to peaceably depart from his position as king. Instead, he pursued David and sought his death. Can you imagine the thoughts and feelings that flew through David’s mind as he considered the disparity between his call and his circumstances? He went from a shepherd to a man to the man who plays music and sings for the king, to a man on the run! The Psalms make it evident for us that this unexpected plot twist contributed to the character David would have by the time he sat on the throne. He would have faced great adversity that required his complete dependence on God for deliverance. He knew what it was like to suffer for doing good. He understood loneliness. He lived the tension of trusting God, but not at all understanding what in the world God was doing.

If you are in a season of waiting and preparation, there are times that this season can be adventuresome and exhilirating. You might be glad and content with it. However, it is just as likely that you will have some moments when you wonder if this time will ever pass and if change will come. The Lord often prepares us using situations, circumstances, people, and issues that would not be our first choice if we were writing the script, but when we hang in there and press on, there are glimpses of light and progress, even through the wilderness or in the midst of battles. God is forging a character in us that will enable us to stand in the trials of leadership when that time comes.

While I was waiting, I endured some discouraging and disheartening times in my life. I made difficult decisions that set me apart and left me lonely, even among Christian peers. The Lord allowed me to come to the end of myself in several places of my life so that I could not hang onto my self-sufficiency and pride. I was pressed to figure out whether I was willing to live what I said I believed when what I could see didn’t suggest that God was working on my behalf. There were a lot of desires and expectations I had to surrender and learn to devote myself to trying to honor Him with what I had, instead of constantly feeling frustrated with the opportunities and resources that were withheld. I discovered things about the Lord that I didn’t know before, but I needed to know if I was going to have a solid foundation.

When you examine your own life, how might the Lord be using blessings and trials to fashion a man or woman after His own heart?

Call to leadership

Joshua was Moses’ assistant for many years, serving faithfully and learning what it meant to be a godly leader. It was not until Moses grew old that Joshua was officially appointed to lead Israel. I was impressed as I recently read through Joshua’s story that he did not ever seem to grow weary of being the assistant. He was diligent in his service to Moses and followed Moses’ instructions. Unlike some other prominent figures in the Bible, it is not mentioned that Joshua was told in advance that all of this time as Moses’ assistant would one day culminate in Joshua’s opportunity to lead. Along the way, Joshua witnessed Moses’ desire to care for the Israelites in a way that honored God. He saw Moses’ deep relationship with the Lord. He knew of the difficult decisions that sometimes accompany leadership and the loneliness of that role. He learned that for all of Moses’ commitment, wisdom, and effort, it was the Lord that brought about victories in battle, parted the Red Sea, and provided for the Israelites during their desert wanderings.

In contrast, David story begins in a decidedly different manner. The Lord prompts Samuel to cease grieving over Saul and to go to Jesse and anoint the king that He has chosen. Samuel discovers along the way that the Lord has selected the youngest son, a shepherd, who does not have the external appearance of leadership material. About fifteen years pass between this anointment and the time when David takes a seat on the throne as king. This young man carries on his position as the shepherd boy when Samuel departs. What must have gone through his mind after these events? Little did he know all that would transpire before the throne would be vacant. Saul was not going down without a fight!

Sometimes the Lord gives us a clue that leadership is on the horizon and at other times, He is giving us the preparation, but we are unaware. Whatever means the Lord uses, we can rest assured that He is searching the land over for people who are reading His Word, people who are obeying Him, and people who are committing themselves to the tasks that He has laid before them at present.

Like many other lessons in scripture, I think that there is both an encouragement and a warning in the call to leadership. There is encouragement in that God chooses people that are unlikely from man’s point of view. There is hope for some of us who might feel written off by the world’s standards. There is also an exhortation to keep on doing the good work that we are entrusted with today. God knows. He sees.

The warning comes in where our ambition might get the best of us or where we could lose sight of the fact that leadership is a great responsibility and not one to rush into. The Lord will bring about His purposes for your life in His time and by His means. This is always the best course, even if it seems slow or appears that absolutely nothing is happening or changing in your life for a season.

In my own story, I suspect I was feeling the call to lead Bible studies back when I graduated in 2002. There was a restless stirring in me that resurfaced from time to time, even though there was no apparent steps drawing me closer to this opportunity.

Take heart! Some of that time that you might wish you were doing something more meaningful and those experiences that seem mundane and repetitious just could be part of the preparation God has for your future work!

Introduction to leadership series

Next week, I’d like to highlight a few important aspects of being a leader since so many of you who come to study here will find yourself in leadership roles at some point along the way, if you have not already.

By way of introduction, I’ll share a little of my own story…

When I graduated in 2002, I was eager to lead a Bible study or book study where a group of young people would get together to think and discuss theology together. I made a few attempts here and there over the first few years to get something going, but there was always one of the typical excuses of why it didn’t work out. I grew discouraged and sort of tossed the idea aside mentally, while inside I wrestled with why God allowed me to find my niche at the end of college, only to be left hanging afterwards. I basically thought that either God should use this interest in a tangible way that I could see or explain to me why He wasn’t going to.

For all intents and purposes, there appeared to be a silence on this matter for years…

Long about the summer of 2005, life had batted me about the ears a couple of times and I was much more aware of my need of God. I was no longer simply interested in Him intellectually, but I was now also seeking a deeper relationship with Him. I wanted to know what it was like to read His Word because I wanted to be in His presence and to know Him, not just know about Him from afar. This lead to what became a lifestyle of doing Bible study and being in God’s Word daily. It happened, I might add, right while I was in the throes of full-time work and part-time graduate school. Never had I been busier or more stretched, so I was learning much about giving up the ‘time’ excuse with Him.

This is no surprise to most of you, I’m sure, but I was changed from the inside out by those precious moments with God and I began to find Bible study materials that captivated me, challenged me, and convicted me. The Bible was life giving and I discovered that there was a lot to be gleaned from the Old Testament that I had overlooked in the past because I’m not naturally inclined to read narratives and historical accounts.

While graduate school was drawing to a close, I looked forward to the prospect of making time to serve at my church. This time around, I was more open to what God would have for me to do rather than wanting to make my own suggestions. Although I hoped to work with women, all of my prior church work had been with children or teens, so I thought it likely that I might serve again in this capacity. My attitude had improved significantly, by God’s grace and His discipline, and I was not coming from so high a horse as when I’d just finished my Bible degree in college.

So, I prayed about what the Lord would have for me to do and I sought to make the most of the opportunities that were at my church at the time. I knew our church usually offered women’s Bible studies and so when the fall approached, I was disappointed that there weren’t any in the evenings and so I felt I needed to continue going to the college and career study. In the spring of 2008, I was able to attend and women’s study. I still desired to lead my own, but I was willing to continue attending women’s studies since I did not yet see or sense God’s prompting for me to move towards leadership.

Early that summer, I read Lies Women Believe and it stirred again the desire to lead a study, but this time, I did sense that it was of the Lord and I prayed, but didn’t say anything about it. Within a matter of weeks, I was asked by one of the women’s leadership team members if I would be interested in doing a study for the fall. In numerous specific ways, it was clear that God was opening this door and it was time.

I’d been participating and helping with some of the other women’s events over the past year and I was also asked to join the women’s leadership team. Joy unspeakable.

A few threads that have emerged in my young leadership experience lend themselves to discussion for next week about what how we can seek God and serve Him:

1) The call (in scripture sometimes it is anointing) came many years before the ministry began

2) God used the years in between for preparation

3) With victory, expect opposition to arise and seek Him through it faithfully

4) Sometimes you may feel ‘full’ in leadership and other times, you may feel ’empty’