Month: October 2014

Lonely Places…

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NIV). Today these words jumped off the page. The two in particular, “lonely places”, struck me in very different way than ever before. There is so much about this passage that raises some questions for me. It should cause all of us to pause and think about our own prayer life.

Where did Jesus go?

Why alone?

How often?

What did Jesus pray about?

I suppose the first question doesn’t matter as much as the others but I’m curious and I want to know. What defines a lonely place? Is it all by yourself? Is it away from the people we know? We all know we can be around people yet still be alone. People may find it odd that I find my lonely place in a coffee shop. They would say I am not alone, but for whatever reason it is a place that I can focus. I can block out the noise around me. As Jesus found, the world around him constantly wanted him. They went after him to find him when he tried to get away. They often found him. It’s almost as if they knew where to look. So did he go to the same place? If we knew would this change the way we approach prayer? Maybe it is left out because the author didn’t know. Or maybe it just doesn’t matter. Maybe the key it to develop a rhythm in our lives so that we have sacred places. Places where we can hear from God.

Jesus had such a clarity of focus for his life and God’s will for his life because of these practices. We live in a world that is constantly grabbing for our attention. It is easier to hear from God when there is no noise, but the key is to learn to hear from God in the noise and chaos that is always around us.

The next question that puzzles me is How often? Why can’t we just get a “everyday Jesus went to such and such place…”? Who gives us that kind of sweeping statement? OFTEN. What is that supposed to mean? Luke you are not helping us out here. We want a formula, a system, a linear path. If we can just put this into a quick little 1+2+3=6 formula, then we know what to do and we know what the results are. The reality is life doesn’t work like that. Neither does the Holy Spirit. We can’t put God into a formula or system. His ways are beyond our ways.

The very point is OFTEN! Jesus knew he needed to be with his Father often and hear his voice and he knew the benefits that derive from those moments. It would be safe to say Jesus had this keen sense of awareness that he needed those moments before he even got close to the place where he was sensing he was distant from him. We often go to God we when feel the need to regain our sense of purpose. Jesus often went to his Father to maintain his sense of purpose. We often go to God when we feel distance from him. Jesus often went to his Father to stay close to him. Notice the difference. His words now pierce our hearts. “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30 NIV). You only become like someone (or one with someone) by spending a tremendous amount of time with them. Yes, Jesus has an edge on us. He was there with God in the beginning. He has always been with the Father. All the more reason for us to find our lonely place more often, so that we may know him and be like him.

This then leads to the final question. What did Jesus pray about? We know about his prayer in the Garden. We know his response to his disciples that asked him to teach them how to pray. But what were these moments like? What did he pray about when he was away from everyone in the lonely places? Clearly the disciples saw something very different about the way Jesus prayed or what he was like as a result of those moments. What they had learned in the past was no longer enough. They longed for something more. Teach us to pray! In Luke 11 it describes the moment right after Jesus finished praying. He gave them a gift in that moment. Read the exchange that happened in Luke 11:1-13. It’s powerful.

There is a moment Jesus uses the words “shameless audacity” (NIV version). He used a story to refer to our desire to be in desperate need of something. In the greek it is this shameless persistence to ask for the things we need most to live. Food. His closing statement brings it all home. “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 NIV). Our need for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is often more than we realize. It is the very thing that makes our souls alive to the very will of God.

Here is the gift. In that lonely place we can boldly approach God’s throne with shameless audacity often so that we can be filled with His Holy Spirit, which make us alive to God’s will, unites us to His purpose, frees us from our sin, reminds us we are his precious children, so that we may know Him and serve Him with all that we have.

So go find your lonely place. Go hear from the Father. Let him breathe life into you.

The Idolatry of Leadership

There is something I have been thinking about for a long time now. We all know that idolatry is simply defined as something we worship. If we place that idol before God then it becomes very dangerous. I would venture to say when we have anything else we worship other than God we begin to get into dangerous ground. I have been in ministry now for about 20 years. I have seen the rise of the value and significance of how great leadership will release people to give all they have to the work of God. I have also witnessed poor leadership and how it cripples a staff and hinders the growth of a local community of believers. I aspire to be the best leader I can, but I often feel leadership and the concepts of leadership have been elevated to an unhealthy level in our churches.

Have we traded in the desire to be more Christ-like for the sake of being a good (or great) leader?

Have we placed more emphasis on change management processes and lost our hunger for the movement of the Holy Spirit and the discipline of earnest prayer?

Have we focused more on our ability to lead others to grow the church and forgotten the simple words of Jesus that He will build His Church?

I will admit that I have. I was actually at a very unhealthy place were I wanted to read more books about leadership and even spiritual disciplines as a leader than I wanted to hear the voice of God. The Bible had grown stale. I felt I needed to focus my efforts on being a better leader and learning better change management principles. If I could just do those things really well then I could lead people where I thought they needed to go. I had almost lost my very soul for the sake of trying to be a great leader. Thankfully God rocked my world and brought me to my knees. The words from John 15 hit me right in the heart. “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (emphasis mine). Jesus didn’t say apart from me you can do somethings or a few things. That word… nothing, left me feeling completely empty and useless, because I had been trying to do it all on my own.

Eventually this question plagued me… What had I missed in my intense desire to be someone and do certain things? All things and desires that were good. Really, really good stuff if I say so myself. But I had been missing the voice of the one who gave me all my gifts and my position. In short leadership became an idol.

I have learned that you can have the most well thought out mission vision and strategy in the world. It can even be very compelling, the most compelling one ever. You can do all the right things but still miss the voice of God in the process. Have we forgotten that it was the work of the Holy Spirit that transformed the disciples from scared men into fearless men boldly proclaiming the gospel?

The gift and privilege of leadership is fragile and easily abused, misused, and destroyed. Jesus said we can do a lot of great things in His name but not know him or his voice. In the end He will tell us “depart from me for I never knew you” (reference Matthew 7:21-23). Is our focus to get things done or know His voice? Is our focus to do our will or His will? Hear me clearly. I am not saying don’t lead. It’s a shift in how we view leadership. I must be led by the one who gives me everything I need so that I can lead. I must humble myself to put aside my wants and what I think needs to be done to hear God speak so I know how to work with Him. The gift and privilege of leadership is fragile and I must hold onto it with open hands so that I do not make it an idol thus destroying it or abusing it. I must abide in him so that the gift of leadership will bear fruit. What does it gain us to do a lot of great things and miss the voice of God?

So how do we balance the desire to lead well, because it matters, with the need to hear the voice of God? I believe we need to go back to the simplicity of Jesus’ words. “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing“. We must discover what it truly means to abide in Him. According to Merriam-Webster the different variations of abide are; to accept or bear, to stay or live somewhere, to remain or continue, to wait for, to endure without yielding, to bear patiently, to accept without rejection, to remain stable or fixed in a state, to continue in a place, to conform to. So many of these things seem contrary to what we often think of as leading. So many of these words grip my heart and call me out to a better place with Jesus. They remind me that leadership is simply the ability to influence. If we want to have the most effective influential life for the kingdom then why wouldn’t we “remain stable or fixed in a state” with Christ! He said that is the only way for us to bear fruit.

We must must take our eyes off leadership and fix our eyes back on Jesus so that we can actually lead well.

We can only lead well if we are led well. We must allow ourselves to be led and walk with Jesus. It is then and only then the precious gift of leadership we have been given will bear a fruit that will last and go way beyond our own ability, because we get to work with a God who can do more than we can ask or imagine.