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January 31, 2013

Sitting on a Park Bench with God

Answering God’s call begins with letting him tell me who I am

“How does God see you?” Marion asked me.

Her question fell into the wrung-out quiet that wrapped us both in her office. It was the quiet that falls after someone sobs for 15 minutes without pause while sharing her story in fits and gulps. I looked at her through the haze of contact lenses that now needed a good clean.

“How does God see me? “ I echoed, a tad dully.

Her question had caught me by surprise. After all, I’d just spent 15 minutes pouring out my anger (I’m tired of having to fight for the right to be administrative pastor), my sadness (I just want my job to be home), my longing. (Could this job not have been the place where I and my calling fit, where I could feel deep peace and a sense of rightness deep in my bones?)

“How does God see you?” she repeated.

I didn’t know how God saw me. Was that why I’d finally ended up here, washed up on a counselor’s couch, emotions fried, heart hollowed out, body caved in like a bomb had gone off inside my rib cavity? I mumbled something about being tired of always having to fight for the right to do my high-level roles with all the gifts and talents I’d been given. I could not have survived 17 years in the high-stakes world of Canadian ad agencies and not used all the leadership, administrative and, yes, pastoral gifts God had given me. I’d been up for that and been good at it, if the hand-written letters and bonuses direct from the agency’s president were to be believed. Pastoral work at my downtown Toronto church had demanded all those leadership, administrative, and pastoral gifts and more: an irrational love for unreasonable people, no matter what. I’d been up for that too.

But now…now I was just tired, and wondering what in Sam Hill I was doing, playing at administrative pastor, just like I’d played at ad agency account director. I was tired of wondering why I could do so much—lead high-level brainstorming meetings, cast vision, preach sermons, write strategies, lead church-based cell groups, create million-dollar business plans that nailed down every detail to the nth degree, run meetings like a seasoned general, sing, mentor a staff, lead worship, write and deliver reports in glossy boardrooms to big-name marketers, play piano, teach, pray with discernment—and still feel like what I’d done meant nothing because, in my gut, I didn’t belong anywhere.

I thought I knew who I was, what I’d been put on earth to do, and how to go about doing it. Why, then, did I need to know who God saw when he looked at me? Why did it matter? I dodged the question for at least a month. Then one day I took a deep breath and did what Marion had suggested: I sat on a park bench (figuratively), asked God the question, and began listening to his answers. I’ve sat on a lot of park benches since and the experience is never easy, perhaps because there’s enough arrogance in my sinful heart to make me want to do anything else but sit and listen to God tell me how he feels about me. But choosing to sit and listen has been one of the best leadership decisions I’ve ever made.

Just the Sheep of His Hand

First of all, it’s enlarged my understanding of calling. Tom Vicks, writing on Steve James’ blog, says it best: “Jesus died on a tree for me. With blood paid for my life, maybe Jesus would like me to use talents he wrote out for me before the beginning of time.” Over the years, I’ve learned that who God says I am and what he wants for me give purpose and meaning and protect me from sowing seed (talents and gifts) in a scattered way that won’t produce blessing. To arrive there, though, I’ve needed to own all those gifts and talents. I’ve had to lay down what I thought God, my parents, and my husband expected of me. I’ve had to answer Jesus’ question: “What do you want…?” (John 1:38) with equal directness and sincerity.

One Calling

Second, knowing how God sees me has helped me make peace with the multiplicity of gifts I’ve been given. I am his workmanship, created to do good works prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). Moving deeper into God’s purpose for me has freed me from the desperate striving of “either/or” work options—ministry or private sector, worship leader or media director, MBA or MDiv—and the panic of getting “it” wrong. His purpose for me shines broad and deep, more multi-faceted than any I could ever have dreamed up, as multi-faceted as the gifts he’s given me. There is no “it” for me to get wrong, just a relationship with my Maker to pursue.

One Voice

Third, when I sit still and listen, my Shepherd picks me up and, holding me close, brushes the twigs and brambles out of my curls, rubs sweet oil over my bruises and scrapes. He whispers to me then gently sets me down in a green pasture where I can enjoy the peace that comes with a focused spirit and heart. “Come let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our God and Maker,” we sang in Sunday morning service during that first month of wrestling with Marion’s question. “For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand/ just the sheep of his hand” (lyrics by Dave Doherty).

Only in his hand do I understand: My desperate longing for home, for the “fit” of my gifts and talents with the culture and needs of my employers, speaks to my heart’s need for acceptance and finally, love. Sowing seed in faith, whatever and wherever the context, demands that I know God deeply loves me. My gifts cost, bought with a price that requires I bring to bear, without apology, all of who I am and the gifts with which I’ve been blessed, on the task of making visible the invisible—God’s kingdom, here on earth.

Just a sheep, held in the hand of the Good Shepherd. A farmer, sowing seed with care and purpose. Gifted and called. Leaders know who and whose they are.

Renee James is the director of communications for Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec, and editor of its publication, The Link & Visitor. She is a former administrative pastor and a regular contributor to Today's Christian Woman, and she blogs at ReneeJames.org.

January 28, 2013

Answering the Call of God

It’s all about alignment and anointing

“When did you receive the call?” That’s the question young, aspiring ministers ask seasoned pastors. “The call” has come to signify the very moment the pastor knew God wanted him or her to minister and shepherd a flock.

Biblically, the most evident passage referencing “the call” is the Apostle Paul’s Damascus road experience. In Acts 9, we read about God’s miraculous conversion of Saul, a religious leader who persecuted followers of The Way. Speaking of Saul, the Lord said to Ananias, “Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15). In what seems like an instant, Brother Saul wais filled with the Holy Spirit, had his name changed, had blinders physically and spiritually removed from his eyes, was baptized, physically nourished himself to regain strength, and went off to begin preaching (Acts 9:17-22). That is “the call”—a unique, divine assignment given by God for his purposes, which requires faithful and active obedience, unwavering commitment, and devotion from the one called.

When pondering “the call” on this particular day, however, I was questioning neither a pastor nor an apostle, for divine callings are not limited to those offices of leadership. I was interviewing a university professor of divinity. He knows he is called to teach because he feels the same anointing of the Holy Spirit—that mighty rushing wind—in the classroom that his colleagues feel when they are proclaiming the truth of God’s Word from the pulpit. In the classroom, teaching students, is where he feels most alive, like he is fulfilling his purpose on this earth. Not only is he anointed to teach; he is also good at it. He is a good professor because he has been prepared and equipped to do the work well.

Alignment

A divine calling is first birthed out of conviction. God miraculously does a work—either immediately or progressively—on a person’s heart, and that work propels the person into action. Many refer to Paul’s Damascus road experience as the immediate heart-change of God. Certainly, this is where the Holy Spirit entered Paul’s heart. However, the Father had been progressively and relentlessly pursuing Paul long before then. Paul’s heart had always belonged to God; his vision was just a little distorted. Before Paul had an intimate encounter with Jesus on the road, the Father was preparing Paul through his birthright, citizenship, faith tradition, language studies, work, education, and life experiences. God’s sovereign hand was at work in Paul’s life from the beginning, aligning every piece to build Paul’s character so he would be the faithful man God called to preach good news to the Gentiles.

And so it is with us. In his book A Work of Heart, Reggie McNeal recognizes that God uses culture, community, communion, conflict, and the commonplace to shape every leader’s heart and define his or her calling. He writes, “The call is a mystery. It begins and ends with God, but it loops through a very human individual. It is personal, but bigger than the person. The call comes out of who we are as well as shaping who we are. It has both being and doing components…Those who describe themselves as called mean that they have made a commitment of life into God’s service, to be at his disposal, to be in his employ for the efforts of accomplishing his agenda.” It is important to know that each Christian, leadership title or not, has a specific calling on his or her life.

Anointing

Once convicted, the anointing (or symbolic power and presence of the Holy Spirit) is what passionately drives the leader to faithfully continue the work. A true calling can be sustained only by abiding in Christ and totally depending on him. If “ministry” efforts can continue without a leader drawing near to God through constant surrender in prayer, and the faithful study of his Word, it is not real ministry at all, and it’s most certainly not a calling. A divine calling cannot be self-contained by any human being. A true calling requires God to jump-start the effort and God’s presence to sustain it.

The privilege of being called and anointed is a great responsibility, and it is also a reminder of how deeply we all need God. Every great biblical leader, from Moses to David and the prophets to Jesus and the Apostle Paul, understood this. The anointing of God keeps us. “For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true—it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in fellowship with Christ” (1 John 2:27b).

Through alignment and anointing, God sets us on track to pursue the vision and purpose he has for each of our lives. Our acceptance of that calling means that we say yes to God and fearlessly abandon anything that does not work toward his ends. We can answer the call of God with confidence, knowing that God does not waste anything. He uses every strength, weakness, heartache, success, relationship, and experience to shape our hearts, to draw us closer to him, and to equip us to fulfill our life’s calling. God created us for his work, has already prepared the work for us to do (Ephesians 2:9), and will glorify himself through the work of our hands (Matthew 5:16).

Have you accepted God’s calling for your life?


Natasha Sistrunk Robinson a full-time student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC campus (Christian Leadership). She also serves as co-director of the women’s mentoring ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is a blogger, a writer, and the founder and President for His Glory on Earth Ministries. You can connect with Natasha through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

January 24, 2013

A Fake Girlfriend, a Cheater’s Confession, and Inauguration Day

Three recent events that matter to your ministry

Consider these recent events and how they might affect your ministry.

A Fake Dead Girlfriend and Our Longing for Love

College football player Manti Te’o and the unraveling story of his fake girlfriend have been the biggest story of the past week, and as the truth begins to take shape it will continue to be a topic of conversation. What started as a too-good-to-be-true headline—“Football Player’s Dead Girlfriend Never Existed”—has morphed into a discussion of much bigger, and more interesting, questions. What forms the foundation of a relationship? What keeps someone in a relationship? Is there one right way for a relationship to look? And how should we respond to individuals who find themselves in online relationships?

While this specific situation is pretty uniquely bizarre, the desire for companionship and emotional intimacy, a drive that can lead people to do some pretty unpredictable things, is not. Vulnerability is never easy and always carries a risk—Te’o says he lied because he felt too embarrassed to admit he had never actually met or seen his girlfriend. The way we talk about this story is important, because our words and tone will also communicate to anyone who understands that desire to find love and hold onto it even when faced with challenging circumstances. It is important to uphold the dignity of all people and to come alongside those who have suffered embarrassment, disappointment, loss, or tragedy. They do not need our ridicule; they need our love.

Cheaters Never Win (Once They Get Caught)

After years of denial amid suspicion and speculation, professional cyclist and famed cancer survivor Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah in an exclusive interview that he had, in fact, used performance-enhancing drugs en route to his record seven consecutive Tour de France wins and Olympic bronze medal, all of which were then stripped from him. For years he had not only denied the allegations but successfully sued the former teammates making them. He attacked their characters and reputations as he dug further and further into his hole.

Let Lance’s story serve as a warning to all those in leadership, particularly after experiencing success. There are plenty of takeaways: Don’t break the rules. Don’t lie about breaking the rules when you get caught. Don’t sue other people for telling the truth about how you broke the rules. But for ministry leaders the big one is this: A reputation is invaluable and not to be treated carelessly. This applies both to our individual reputations and the reputations of others.

In the interview Armstrong repeatedly described himself as "deeply flawed," "ruthless," and "arrogant." He seemed to have everything and threw it all away in his pursuit of more victory, fame, and glory. In doing so he lost not only the titles themselves but his good name. His name now conjures up not images of yellow bracelets and finish-line fistpumps, but of a head hung in embarrassment and shame. This is not something he can have back, and it is something that could have been avoided had he not dug so deeply to avoid facing the truth.

Inauguration Time

Over the weekend President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were sworn in for their second terms in office. Inauguration ceremonies, concerts, and parties celebrated the occasion. After a controversial selection of Atlanta megachurch pastor and Passion founder Louie Giglio to deliver the benediction, then his withdrawal from the opportunity, the role and fate of faith in the public square are once again topics of discussion and concern.

Regardless of your political preferences, an inauguration is a time to look ahead at the next four years and imagine what can be done. It is a time to come together to mark where we are now and consciously decide to step forward together. The political landscape is as fractured, embittered, and partisan as ever. For Christian leaders, this weekend’s activities should serve as a reminder to offer up our nation and our leaders in prayer. As we look ahead to difficult conversations surrounding issues of gun control, the definition of marriage, abortion, and the budget deficit, our country and its leaders need prayer now as much as ever. And as we engage these issues we can remember that our hope is not in governments of this world but in the Kingdom of God.


Laura Leonard is the associate editor of Building Church Leaders at Christianity Today. You can find her on Twitter @lmarieleonard.

January 21, 2013

Going Through the Motions

Are you passionate about what you do?

My husband and I have a long history of full-time Christian service. We met through a campus missionary organization and independently joined the staff of that group. A year later, we both recognized that not only was our calling similar, but our attraction to each other was too! And so began an adventure of listening to God together.

When my husband felt that God was calling him to seminary, however, I balked. It meant another move and certain poverty for three years, so I was less than excited. But as we prayed about it for almost a year after he first mentioned it, I became as enthusiastic as he was. And although I couldn’t take classes because someone had to care for our two little ones and earn some money, I felt that the call to seminary was a joint calling—mine as much as his. To this day, we refer to that time as “When we were in seminary…”

Following seminary, we took on a church plant. Again I say “we.” For although my husband was the pastor who got the paycheck, I contributed as much emotional energy—and close to as much physical energy—to establish this church, which is now healthy and thriving.

Nice story, right? Good, happy ending. Uh, not quite—because it isn’t the end.

Fast-forward 27 years to the present. About two years ago, my husband felt the same kind of pull that he’d felt when God called him to seminary. Through numerous trips overseas, he began to feel compelled to help the pastors he met there. He realized that his pastoral training and experience were abundant beyond imagination to pastors in poorer parts of the world who were lucky to own a Bible. So he wanted to go with a missionary organization that trains pastors internationally. This time, it took me no time to jump on the bandwagon. This ministry seemed a perfect fit for his abilities and passions, and although he had to raise support, I could provide much-needed stability until the funds were raised because I had a good, secure job. So, we saved money like crazy and he resigned as pastor of the church and joined the missionary organization.

All was going as planned until I suddenly lost my position when he had only 35 percent of his funds raised. We went from two paychecks to none since he can’t start drawing a paycheck until he has 50 percent of it raised.

My first reaction was not panic but sorrow (the panic came later). I loved my job and felt it to be more than a job—a calling. It was exactly suited to my abilities and was not just a paycheck but a ministry. I was immediately offered another job to take the place of the one I’d lost, but I felt no peace or passion as I prayed about it—and I turned it down, which showed me how strongly I feel about calling. I had experienced what it meant to be called and didn’t want to just go through the motions of obtaining employment merely for the paycheck.

The whole experience has been clarifying for me. I realized that even the job I was in had become routine. After almost 10 years, I had it down and was pretty much going through the motions. I hadn’t taken the time to ask God if he still wanted me to be doing it, but continued to plug along—unlike my husband, who left his secure position to strike out in obedience.

So I am now in a rather good place. I am open to anything God wants me to do and excited to find out what it is. And I’ve learned a few things through the whole experience about calling and what it means.

Take Time to Listen
I love that my husband has had the courage to leave the secure and known for the insecure and the unknown. The only way he could do that is by lots of prayerful time before God. He was in the same pastorate for 27 years, so periodically, he would take time to pray that God would show him if he was to stay or pursue something else. Always, the call to stay came back loud and clear—until a couple of years ago. Then the pull began to be in a different direction. It sounded like craziness for someone his age, but because he’d been faithful to obey in the past, he knew God’s voice in the present.

I am now in the same place for a different reason. I’ve lost my position, so I need to take time to listen to God. This certainly didn’t take God by surprise, and he knows exactly what he wants me to be doing that best fits with how he made me. Rather than jumping at the first secure position, I’m taking time to listen to what he wants me to do next. And I’m beginning to recognize ways he was nudging me even before I lost my job.

Be Radical but Not Foolish
My husband and I are both very aware that there is a fine line between radical obedience and foolishness. We’ve counseled people in the past who said they felt callings that turned out to be just wishful thinking. One particular person felt “called” to an international speaking ministry. They wanted to quit their job and pursue it full-time. We knew this person’s unstable history and advised against it. The “calling” was merely a desire for affirmation that they hoped would come when thousands of people hung on their every word. We suggested that the person keep their job and begin speaking to smaller venues to see if God was in this calling or if their own needs were driving it. Fortunately, this person listened. Even the smaller speaking opportunities didn’t work out. But this person has found another ministry that is meeting many needs in their local church, while still keeping their day job.

How is that different from my husband’s calling to quit his job? Quite different in that his motivation was to help others and not primarily to meet his own needs. And he shared his ideas with many, many people before he resigned his position as pastor. Everyone he talked to immediately said that it sounded exactly suited to his passions and abilities. Not a single person thought it was a bad idea. Even his security-loving parents assured him that it sounded like a perfect fit.

And what about me turning down a full-time position when neither of us have an income? I agree that on the face of it, it sounds foolish. But I, too, talked to many people about it and got the same affirmation. Plus, we had some safeguards in place. We had saved enough money to get by for a while in case we needed it in this transition. And I have a pretty healthy freelance-writing career that brings in some income. That gave us enough of a cushion to have the luxury of taking time to truly listen to God and follow his leading.

So if you are thinking of doing something radical, slow down and take some time to ponder it. If you tend toward impulsive behavior, step back. God is not in a hurry.

Affirm the Calling
If, however, you are not impulsive but the slow and steady type, this challenge is for you. If you are reading this article, you most likely are involved with ministry of some kind. Have you taken the time to make sure that’s what you are really supposed to be doing, or are you just going through the motions because it is the secure, safe thing to do?

If you love what you are doing, find great fulfillment in it, and are using your gifts, you are most likely exactly where you should be. Rejoice in that and renew the calling you first had.

But if you are feeling a bit restless and have lost your passion, perhaps God is trying to get your attention to lead you in another direction. Take time to listen. If he begins to nudge you in those times of listening, begin testing the idea. Present it to those who love you and know you best to get their opinions. If wise people affirm you, begin to find out what your options are. And even if it’s scary, take the first step in obedience. Because being where you are called to be is the most secure place in the universe.


JoHannah Reardon blogs at johannahreardon.com and is the author of seven fictional books and two devotional guides.

January 17, 2013

The Dangerous Mistake

Is “your calling” a thing you do, or a voice you hear?

Leaders—whether in church ministry or the workplace—often speak of their “calling” as a time of realization, an ah-ha moment. We knew: this is what I was made to do. This is what God has called me to. I am called to lead.

Sometimes calling creeps in like a fog—and we realize that what we’ve been doing for the last five years actually is our calling. Or worse, that it’s not. Maybe we haven’t figured out our “calling” yet and we’re trying to get clarity: what’s the big job God has for me? What is my life supposed to be about? What am I supposed to be doing?

Frederick Buechner wrote many wise things on vocation and calling, including the oft-quoted wisdom that calling is found at the place “where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

That’s beautiful, but we can make a dangerous mistake if we assume that those two clues are all we get and it’s up to us to figure it out; if we think calling is a memo we get once and are left to implement on our own. Calling becomes a rigid riddle we must solve. We try to discover the right way to live out this calling, the tasks we must accomplish, the work to be done.

What if calling is not just about doing, but about listening? I believe that listening must occur daily and has the potential to be transformative. That’s the whole point of hearing and obeying a call: our spiritual transformation, which will change us and then change the world.

Daily Listening

Certainly, there are moments when leaders “receive a call.” Two biblical examples: Simon the fisherman dropping his nets in response to a compelling rabbi’s “follow me.” Saul on the road to Damascus hearing the voice of the same rabbi, with a much less winsome opening line: “Why are you persecuting me?”

Both of them responded to the holy calling and went on to change history. But the key to living out their calling was not the initial encounter, but the daily listening that followed. What we listen to on a daily basis shapes us.

Good leaders seek to hear clearly the voice that calls us into whatever assignment we might have. Both Saul and Simon listened to the voice that both renamed and redirected them: they became Paul and Peter. But both of them continued to listen to Jesus on a daily basis. They were called not just once, but daily, to not just follow but keep following.

Jesus spoke of calling his followers in the way that a shepherd calls his sheep, not once but continually: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4, emphasis added).

Paul, Peter, you, and I (and all of the Shepherd’s sheep) are not left alone to figure out how to implement a one-time calling. Rather, we are called to daily intimacy where we listen to the voice that guides our every step.

Practically speaking, how do we engage in daily listening? By intentionally engaging in listening prayer. Carve out times of quiet, where you can ask God, “How do you want me to live out my calling today?” and then just listen, journaling any thoughts that come your way. Beyond time earmarked for prayer, as you go through your day, keep bringing that image of the Shepherd to mind. Pay attention to quiet whispers he murmurs in your heart, and try obeying them.

As we follow, listening, we are changed and transformed—and perhaps that is the point of calling: transformation.

Transformative Listening
In Buechner’s wonderful essay “The Calling of Voices” (from his book The Hungering Dark), he wrote that the key to discerning calling is listening. A call is not something you do, it’s something you hear. He wrote that voices all around us vie for our attention, attempting to direct us. “The more alive and alert we are, the more clamorous our lives are. Which do we listen to? What kind of voice do we listen for?” he asks. Because what we listen to shapes us. It transforms us, for better or worse.

He recommends that we listen to “the voice that we might think we should listen to least, and that is the voice of our own gladness.” In other words, our calling often aligns with our spiritual gifts. God’s gifting is part of how he speaks to us, if we have ears to hear.

As we listen to the voice of our own gladness (which ultimately comes from God and how he made us), I believe it is possible that God will shape us (and our gladness) into what he wants us to be. Calling has a certain fluidity to it, an elasticity. As we respond to God’s calling, we are changed, stretched—and we find joy in tasks we might never have thought we could do before. Why? Because listening transforms our hearts. Calling is less about implementing a strategy on God’s behalf, and more about how God is shaping our souls.

Have you ever listened to the voice of your own gladness? What do you love? What has God gifted you to do? As a busy leader, you may think you don’t have time to think about that. But invest an hour in intentional solitude with God. Write down peak experiences, moments where you felt “deep gladness.” What’s the common denominator in these experiences? How do they align with what you are doing in your work or ministry? Ask God to speak to you through this exercise.

Jesus said that his sheep hear, know, and respond to his voice. Daily, he calls us. When we wander, he calls us back. And as the story of our lives unfolds, the Shepherd leads us to new places or gives us new assignments. He may call us to places we might never have gone, were we not paying attention.

Our greatest gladness, the gladness that deserves the most attention, is the gladness that comes from being in the transforming presence of the one who loves us.

Keri Wyatt Kent is an author and speaker who helps people slow down, simplify, and listen to God. She’s the author of 10 books, including Listen: Finding God in the Story of Your Life, and a frequent contributor to Gifted for Leadership. Learn more about her ministry at www.keriwyattkent.com.

January 14, 2013

Are You a Wonderstruck Leader? (Part 2)

4 ways to restore your awe of God


awe2.jpg

…Continued from Part 1.

As passionate followers of Christ committed to serving others, we must be intentional about nurturing a sense of wonder in our lives and discovering God as “wonderful” each and every day.

The gospels ground us in the truth that those who encountered Jesus were left in wild amazement. Those who encountered Christ were awestruck by his teachings, healings, and mind-bending miracles. Words like “awe,” “wonder,” and “marvel” followed him almost everywhere he went (particularly in the Gospel of Luke).

If you’ve misplaced your sense of marvel somewhere along the way, or perhaps if you just want to nurture an even greater sense of awe, here are four ways to begin living wonderstruck as a leader:

1. Explore the wonder of creation. Sometimes we lose sight of the magnificence of God as Creator—the one who fashioned and holds all things together. To reignite your imagination and appreciation of the wonders of God that dot the solar system and mark the microscopic cells, take a half-hour and use a search engine to look up “astonishing photos” and something found in creation. Some of my favorites are “astonishing photos of waves” or “astonishing photos of spider webs” or “astonishing photos of clouds.” Prepare to be astounded as you drink in images of God’s creation, his intricate involvement, his startling choice of colors, his wild creativity. Take time to thank God for all he has made and reflect on what God’s creation reveals about the Creator.

2. Crash the party in the kids’ Sunday school.
Consider the last time you looked at the world through the life of someone under the age of 10. If you have children, it may have been this morning! But the lens is different when you get to take off your parenting hat and see the world from the perspective of someone else’s child. This Sunday, if you’re not already involved in kids’ ministry, slip out of the service in order to offer your services as a volunteer. Ask the kids questions about what they see, hear, like, and dislike. Kids have an amazing ability to find joy and celebrate the tiniest discoveries and live in constant amazement of our world. Pray that God will allow some of their childlike wonder to rub off on you.

3. Read a writer or theologian who ignites your faith.
Sometimes as leaders we find ourselves reading and listening to the same familiar voices. The teaching may provide what we feel we need, but somewhere along the way the writing and text can become predictable and we don’t even realize it’s happening. To reignite the wonder of Scripture, pick up a writer or theologian who uses unexpected imagery or unpacks biblical passages in a thought-provoking way. Allow Madeleine L’Engle to stir your holy imagination. Invite Barbara Brown Taylor to challenge the way you think about a sermon or teaching. Reflect on G. K. Chesterton to reignite the feistiness and merriment of your faith. Reach for the unfamiliar theologian who—though you may not always agree—stirs your hunger for God’s Word and reignites the wonder of Scripture.

4. Listen to someone’s story. Sometimes serving and working in a church or non-profit, we can become so task-oriented that we miss the people right in front of us. We forget that we are surrounded by men and women whose lives have been transformed forever by a living God. The wonder is all around us but we fail to drink in the fullness simply because we don’t pause to listen to the living testimonies of grace all around us. Just a few doors down from your office, right across the aisle between the pews, right next to you in the church choir is a story waiting to be shared that will take your breath away. God’s goodness, faithfulness, love are waiting to be discovered anew.

You don’t have to wait another day to begin reigniting the wonder of God in your life.

Margaret Feinberg is a popular speaker and author of Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God book and 7-session DVD Bible study. You can learn more at www.margaretfeinberg.com/wonderstruck. You can also follow Margaret on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mafeinberg.

January 10, 2013

Are You a Wonderstruck Leader? (Part 1)

4 things that prevent you from living in awe of God

As leaders, we are meant to toss back the covers, climb out of bed, and drink in the fullness of life God intended for us. We are called to live alert to the wonders all around us and within us that expand our desire to know God more. Yet a focus on the functionality of ministry combined with an increased sense of familiarity can numb us to the marvelous work to which we’ve been called—encouraging people to walk in the fullness of all God has called and created them to be through Jesus Christ.

Here are a handful of things that can pull us away from living wonderstruck and experiencing the daily splendor of knowing Jesus as we lead:

1. We become absorbed by inner workings.
Every church and ministry requires systems to function. Before I became more involved in the church, I honestly believed that the worship leader selected songs on the spot and played for as long (or short) as they felt led by the Holy Spirit. No one told me they had precisely 17:30 minutes to perform their four pre-selected songs that tied into the sermon.

Most people who attend a church have no idea of what it takes behind the scenes to host weekend services. As we begin taking on more involved leadership roles at a church, our eyes our opened. But the awareness of systems and processes can soon become a barrier to nurturing a sense of wonder. We can easily become more focused on the framework or tasks before us than on the God who longs to reveal his glory and work miracles in our midst.

2. We become specialists in the church world.
As we grow in leadership, we naturally become more selective of what we read, study, and expose ourselves to. Much of this is healthy and good, but if left unchecked, we can soon become connoisseurs and even consumers within the church world. We can become more dedicated to our picks and preferences than to Christ.

Scripture reveals Christ constantly challenging the religious leaders’ comfort level, biases, and preferences. Shouldn’t we live in expectation that Christ in his great love will do the same to us?

Though much work stands before us, we must keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open for how God wants to recapture our attention in the most splendid and unexpected ways.

3. We become distracted by sin and our fallen world.
Philippians 4:8 calls us to focus our attention on “what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.” But some days in life and ministry we become distracted, our attention drawn far away.

I sometimes compare ministry and working in a church to going behind the scenes at Disney World. For most people—especially kids—Disney is a majestic world of delight and play. But those who work at Disney World have a different perspective. They don’t buy a ticket but punch a time clock. They know the inner workings. They’ve seen Mickey Mouse struggle to climb out of his suit after a long sweaty day. They’ve been behind the scenes of the Small World to discover it’s not cute as much as it’s in need of cleaning.

Working in ministry and church gives us a close-up view of people’s sinful nature, weaknesses, and incompetency—including our own—which can hinder us from living wonderstruck.

Yet despite these challenges, we need to nurture a desire for the wonder of God in our lives. Why?

Because the wonders of God, those moments of spiritual awakening that make us long to know God more, are all around us. As leaders, we need to help those we serve recognize them in their own lives. When we share the tender moments of God revealing himself in an unexpected way or doing the impossible, everyone is encouraged and inspired to continue pursuing God more. Sharing the wonder and marvel of God naturally calls us to deepen our prayer lives, to praise readily, and to worship in awe not just as individuals but as a community. When we become more aware of the marvel and magnificence of God, those who we lead will too.

More to come in Part 2

Margaret Feinberg is a popular speaker and author of Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God book and 7-session DVD Bible study. You can learn more at www.margaretfeinberg.com/wonderstruck. You can also follow Margaret on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mafeinberg.

January 7, 2013

The Church of People Who Like to Be Liked

A Christianity measured by niceness is antithetical to the gospel

I really enjoy being nice to people.

Initiating friendly small talk with my grocery-store cashier or graciously showing patience to my overworked waitress brings me happiness. There’s something about sharing a laugh with a stranger or bringing a smile to a person’s face that is nearly exhilarating. I love it. I walk away with an extra skip in my step and a part of me thinks, “I love being a Christian!”

In my mind, whenever I am kind to someone for no reason at all, whenever I extend mercy at a time when others might not, whenever I inquire about the day of the telemarketer who calls—I equate all these things with the Christian life. Christ compels us to love our neighbors and our enemies—to love everyone—so the warm feeling I get from these encounters must be related to Jesus, I reason. It is the part of my heart that is conformed to his.

And perhaps that is true. Perhaps Jesus was just as friendly and happy-go-lucky with everyone he crossed. But I would be lying if I said that this mindset can’t be deceptive. Behind my joy is also a deep desire to be liked by everyone I meet. While I genuinely enjoy encouraging strangers because I do care about them, I also want people to think I’m nice and funny and kind. It builds me up inside. It makes me feel like a good person.

I know that not everyone is like me. Some people don’t care what everyone thinks about them. Others are so profoundly introverted that it is difficult to engage in the smallest exchanges with strangers. But I am quite sure there are other Christians like me, and there’s a part of me that wonders if my personality type gravitates toward the church. After all, the church affirms my natural inclinations. When I treat people the way I would treat people anyway (Christian or not), I can call that behavior Christian. I can credit spiritual fruit to myself even when there is no actual spiritual growth.

In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote of this problem. He warned of the “fatal mistake” of believing that Christianity demands niceness alone. He believed that “a certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily” to some people, and he attributed this to what he called “natural causes.” Lewis therefore concluded that God does not look at an individual’s nice or nasty temperament the way we do. We might see an ornery Christian and call her a hypocrite, whereas a kind and gentle Christian incites our praise. What we fail to consider is where each person started. Who were they before they knew Christ? If they were just as nice and friendly prior to salvation as they were following, then their sanctification will look different from that of the temperamental Christian.

While the grumpy Christian may seem to be in greater need of grace, Lewis warned that nice Christians are in greater peril. Where there is no perceived need, we depend less on God. If niceness comes naturally to us, and niceness is the goal, then we are less desperate for God.

That is a great danger. Given that people-pleasing is a form of idolatry, it can be easily hidden within the realm of the Christian community. It can be passed off as Christ-likeness when it is, in fact, sin. That is not to say that being kind to others is wrong, but that we must scrutinize our motives. On this front, Jesus offered some helpful words in Luke 6:32–36:

“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”

Even in loving my enemies there is a temptation to people-please because I cannot stand the thought of someone disliking me. Yet admitting that temptation is the first step toward loving my neighbors and enemies for the right reason: by the grace of God for the glory of God.
At the heart of people-pleasing and a Christianity measured by niceness is a works righteousness that is antithetical to the gospel. The ultimate cure for this tendency is total dependence on God. Those for whom friendliness is harder are more likely to depend on God in this area; the rest of us are less so. That’s why it is crucial to remember the final aim of the Christian life is not niceness but complete and total transformation, as Lewis wrote: “God became man to turn creatures into sons; not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.”

That is a work that God alone is capable of achieving.


Sharon Hodde Miller is a blogger, freelance writer, and PhD candidate who lives in the Chicago area. You can find her at her blog, She Worships.

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