God and His Purposes
The first year of Jesus’ teaching career was an outgrowth of his early years of personal preparation. He prepared his team in the same manner he prepared himself. Anyone who followed him could quickly assess that he was fully committed to knowing and following God the Father. There were no short cuts in Jesus’ personal development, and there was none in his team’s development. Their first nine months together were quite uneventful. He had called them to “come and see,” and very little else is recorded in scripture. What is recorded came from the relationally driven disciple named John (Chapters 1-3). During these months there were no crowds. No road shows.
No success stories. No large feats. No compelling promises. No momentum. There was, however, an ongoing commitment to discover and know the God who was leading Jesus day by day. John and the early disciples watched as Jesus reacted and communicated in ways that reflected a personal relationship with God. John later quotes Jesus publicly declaring to the crowds what he privately modeled for John: “I can do nothing unless the Father shows me” (John 5:19).
A godly leader’s life should be centered on God and His purposes. To underscore how to live this life with today’s leadership demands, let’s examine a story in scripture that captures how Jesus was able to live and lead at a crazy pace, yet was able to keep his focus on experiencing God.
In Mark 1:21-39, we find a unique story that is full of insights of how Jesus managed his priorities during a demanding twenty-four hour period. Most likely his cousin Peter conveyed this gospel to Mark. Peter was a business leader who knew the pressures and demands of owning his own business. Peter knew the importance of having a bias toward action and getting things done. Peter loved action and that is evident throughout the fast-paced book that his cousin Mark writes.
The story opens with Jesus participating in a weekly custom of religious activity with a relational and biblical emphasis. He was in the local synagogue using his gift of teaching. He was not the pastor; he was a volunteer. Leaders today more than ever need to be committed to a local church and to invest their gifts. To know God is to know that He loves the local church. He designed us for a weekly rhythm of work and worship. Jesus knew that corporate worship refuels our spiritual tanks and helps us avoid leading on “empty.” As Jesus taught, the people were amazed because he spoke with authority. This was an authority based on his own personal interaction with his father and scripture; not just someone else’s synopsis of scripture. He had read it, owned it, and was applying it. His story aligned with scripture. Later that morning graciously performed a miracle by casting a demonic force, but it was his authority that amazed them. When leaders take on the personal responsibility to learn and apply life lessons from scripture, then they gain respect and authority. Even when leading at home, children will especially recognize it.
Authority comes from “the inside-out”. It comes from a growing personal relationship with God and His Word. The day however had just begun. After the demands of public speaking (and performing an exorcism or two) he demonstrated more evidence of knowing God. He modeled selflessness. Instead of an after-church crash on a couch, he went to the home of Peter’s mother-in-law, where he called on the divine power necessary to heal her. Selflessness when serving on fumes is not possible for long unless you have a deep well of grace and love that is replenished by your relationship with God. By late afternoon that day, Jesus was facing the challenge of working late with the demands of the town and his team bringing very “needy” people to him. His compassionate leadership was leading him to exhaustion. An amazing day filled with demonstrations of “going the extra mile”! Yet it was the next morning that something extraordinary occurred. It was Jesus’ key leadership element that few noticed unless they followed him closely. He was extraordinary in the midst of exhaustion.
While it was still dark, Mark writes, Jesus got up early and went to a solitary place to spend time experiencing God. His exhaustion cried out for experiences where God provided ongoing strength and joy, and as a result, Jesus used spiritual disciplines to cultivate his relationship with his Father.
The spiritual disciplines that Jesus and other biblical leaders modeled for their followers were prayer, worship, sacrificial giving, Bible study, meditation, and journaling. These disciplines were not the measure of their relationship with God but were the tools that these godly leaders used to develop an intimacy with God and fitness for service. I know that as I lead Lifework Leadership and my family, I need the spiritual disciplines to glean the wisdom to make godly decisions, and to be focused on my relationship with God. There is no doubt that spiritual disciplines can prepare all of us for transformation just as calisthenics prepare us for sports (John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, 49).
This daily discipline of checking in with God prepares us for facing our enemies, and for facing our teammates who may, despite good intentions, steer us off course. There is no doubt that Jesus’ leadership team at this point in this story was excited about the momentum that they were experiencing (“Everyone is looking for you”), and they were ready to leverage it! Yet he demonstrated the propensity to make extremely difficult decisions. Decisions that take a lot of self-discipline need a commitment to spiritual disciplines. Leaders who invest their time into their personal relationship with God are enabled by God’s spirit (a “counselor”) to discern God’s will. The decision Jesus made in this story was to leave for another place. Jesus had the capacity to say “no” to a good thing (healing) in order to say “yes” to the best thing (teaching). Because he had developed the spiritual discipline of seeking God’s heart and mind on daily matters, he was able to discern where the faint outline of God’s path departed from the broad road of popular opinion, and to follow his Father with conviction.
How well do you know God? Draw close to him each day no matter how crowded your schedule may be, and enjoy the amazing invitation and call that God extends to you to follow Him and know Him intimately.
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