Archive for February, 2012
The interest in this year’s Global Leadership Summit has been overwhelming. Last week the Main Auditorium at the South Barrington campus sold out—and we haven’t even made the official speaker announcement! Don’t worry though, there are still seats available on campus in the Lakeside Auditorium as well as nearly 200 Premier Host Site locations around the US.
We hope everyone is as excited about the impact the Global Leadership Summit has on leaders, churches, communities, regions and nations. And the impact doesn’t end at the close of the last day because everyone carries home a powerful moment that challenged and possibly changed them. So, we’re thrilled to share with you a few of the standout moments from the past. Here’s a Taste of the Summit including videos from some of our favorite sessions in past years-plus processing tools for you to share with your coworkers, friends, and church.
Mark your calendars for our National Leaders Webcast from 11:30-12:30 on Friday, March 16 when Bill Hybels and Jim Mellado will announce this year’s faculty. We’ll also feature teaching on the important topic of organizational health from last year’s top-rated speaker, Patrick Lencioni. You don’t want to miss it!
Contact our office immediately if you planning to attend in Chicago.
Sometimes you just have to say it.
It’s not enough to think it. You actually have to say it out loud. With those first two steps down, you then have to say it where people can hear you.
It’s a word that I hated, that leaders I’ve met hate too much. I’ve come to know that a well placed “no” can be ordained by God and is often the key element in accomplishing what He’s called you to do. Know “no.” It will bless you and your calling.
When my brother told me about Jerusalem, I wept. How could the people that God loves so much, be in such disarray? Mourning led to resolve, and through grief and prayer I felt my heart temper into a divine purpose to act.
With the call of heaven and the blessing of my king I gathered resources and a team of people and went to the city that He had put on my heart. I was their leader and they looked to me for decisions and guidance. It was a wonderfully terrifying time in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
When we surveyed the city it was like I was looking into the soul of our nation. We were broken, covered in rubble, devastated completely. It was impossible to bear. We had to do something. So I gathered my people and made the call.
Let’s rebuild the wall.
The response came from somewhere deep within us. With one voice we agreed and set to organize the project as best we could. The broken stones before us combined with the vision to rebuild became the hope that things can change, that our walls of lives could live again.
Things went well, better than I could have hoped in fact, and it was clear that God was aiding our effort. Families were each working on their section of the wall and it was coming together. Those early weeks were filled with hope and sweat.
At some point, and there just isn’t any other way to say it, we were tired. In any large project, there comes a point where it seems like it will never end. Clearing the rubble was cumbersome and the cycle of clearing versus the cycles of building were all but impossible to manage. In addition, we were afraid of being attacked before the wall could be completed. People were losing heart. The work was slowing. They were asking me for help, asking me for a break in the effort.
It was the first time I had to say, “no.” That was harder than I thought it would be, I was exhausted too.
Stopping the work to rest and reset wasn’t the right way to go. We were at such a delicate and vulnerable time in the process. Stopping would have been defeat, but we did need to change our approach. We had to work differently to protect the people involved.
I set guards to protect our families. I had workers carrying tools in one hand and a sword in the other. I constantly encouraged our folks to not lose heart, to not give up, to not be afraid. God was with us. He would help us. He would protect us.
We hit the halfway point and it turned a corner. Suddenly there was less work left to do than we had already accomplished and the possibility of actually completing the wall filled us with renewed determination. At that point, neighboring leaders, threatened by our progress, sent me a request for a meeting.
It was the opportunity for my second, “no.”
I was tempted though. Maybe I could stall them, or distract them, or reassure them or talk them out of attacking us long enough to get the walls to a position of strength. I wasn’t unfamiliar with the political posturing of such attempts but somehow I felt strongly that I should stay. Four more times they approached me, threatened me, tried to slander what I was doing.
Four times I gave them a polite and deliberate, “no.”
My people needed me more. God’s work needed me more than my own ego needed to say, “yes” and try to talk down our opposition.
In seven weeks and three days we built a wall. It was three stories high and more than a mile in circumference. It was miraculous. It was clearly not something we could have accomplished on our own. It was the second best thing God did that year.
For in seven weeks and three days, something even more amazing happened. God called us back to Himself. We read His words to us and renewed the promise and agreement He made with our fathers. It was the most marvelous “yes” of my life.
But the provision, the miracle, the redemption of our generation was set free by a single word. I believe that if I had not found the strength to say it God would have found another way to build the wall.
It wouldn’t have been through me. A single word was my strength and the key to releasing God’s power in my life:
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. (The Account of Nehemiah, 6)
Devotional Thought for the Day
Nehemiah pushed through what seems like an impossible feat. God provided in every area of need so that the project was complete in only 52 days. Impossible without Him! Are there places in your ministry right now that look impossible? Is God trying to do something through you that can only be accomplished by His presence and help? Are there any projects you are currently leading that when finished, you’ll confidently say, “Only God could’ve done that!”?
I woke to the laughter of my enemies.
Blinking, I looked to my left and to my right. It was dark, with the flickering light of torches in the distance casting mocking shadows on the wall before me. My shoulders hurt from the awkward weight of my position. I pulled my feet underneath me and slowly stood.
I was underground. My hands were bound at the ankle by thick bronze chains leading to the stone behind me. My feet were restricted in similar fashion, the heavy chains made soft noises as they resisted my adjusted stance. I swung my right hand in a quick circle and felt the bronze links in my hand. I did the same with my left.
Rolling my neck and shoulders I pulled myself a shuffling step forward, until the chains binding me went taut. My restraints were about to become my weapons. Their laughter would die with cries of terror and surprise soon enough. Taking a deep breath, I flexed against the chains to pull them free of their stone housings.
Growling, I reset and stepped forward again, losing my balance and jerking myself upright. The muscles in my arms and chest were flexing as I shook my head to feel my hair around me. Something was wrong. I tilted my head to the left and rubbed my ear and scalp on my shoulder. I could feel the rough remaining tufts of stubble on my skin. My hair was gone. The symbol of my vow had been cut away completely. I was betrayed.
Panicked, I pulled at the chains desperately. Wide-eyed and straining I began to tremble in futile effort. It was no use. God had abandoned me. My strength was gone, replaced by cold anger. I didn’t deserve this. I would make them pay.
I would make her pay.
Someone was coming, in fact, many from the sound of it. They rounded the corner of the passage before me and were carrying several items I didn’t recognize. A large metal pot with a heavy handle, glowing with red-hot coals, swung slowly between the two soldiers carrying it. A makeshift table with blocks and straps was being carried as well but it was too tall to be a table, I didn’t know what its purpose would be. A smallish man, carrying a scroll was reading in a monotone, it sounded like he was reading a list of names. I cursed them all soundly.
The soldiers set the coals on the ground to my right. The table carrier brought the apparatus directly in front of me and set it down. I tried to grab him but the heavy chains combined with my exhaustion made me easy to avoid. Even so, it took three of them to manhandle me on top of the table and they began adjusting the straps and blocks to hold my head in place. I was still chained to the wall and I just couldn’t get enough leverage to resist. The small man was still reading names, one after the other.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the lead soldier put a sharpened length of bronze into the coals and over time, it started to glow with the heat from the surrounding material. At some point I realized that the names were names of philistine families.
They were the names of the men I had killed.
It took hours to read them all.
When his voice finally droned away into silence I was in agony. My back was cramping from the unnatural position, my arms and legs were still chained and I couldn’t straighten or move my head at all. The small man handed his scroll to a soldier and picked up the heated bronze. Looking at me intently, he held it in front of my face. Its glow cast an unholy light.
For the first time in my life, I was afraid.
I dislocated my shoulder in a frantic effort that succeeded in pulling me back about an inch. I was quickly repositioned, tightened, and in a single, practiced, terrifying and eternal moment, one half of the world went black. Screaming and unable to move, burning bronze took the rest of my vision away from me forever.
I awoke on the ground with feet still chained and my shoulder throbbing but bound close to me in a makeshift sling. Reaching up, I felt cloth covering my eyes.
The next few months were a cycle of food, sleep, manual labor in the prison mill and a searching of the soul. I revisited every memory and prayed for God to deliver me to death. At some point I came to the conclusion that I deserved everything I had received and the litany of my failures became my morning and evening prayer.
I am Samson. The one who dishonored my mother and father. The one who broke and disdained the vows of the Nazarenes. The one who touched things unclean. I am Samson, the greedy, Samson, the hungry. I am Samson, the violent and ill tempered Judge of Israel. The one who ruled with vengeance and impetuousness instead of wisdom and prayer. I am Samson, whose strength can barely lift a spoon of cold gruel to my lips and whose life is dependent on the mercy and provision of my enemies. I am Samson the selfish, husband of philistines and speaker of lies.
I am Samson the weak, Samson the shorn, Samson the forsworn. I am the blind child of the God I ignored and took for granted. My victories are the bones of a tomb. My memories are the faint heat of stone giving no comfort from sweet summer days. I am Samson, the judge who has been judged and found wanting. I am Samson, the miller of grain. I am the one who is hopeless, the one who waits to die.
For weeks I continued in a place even darker than my blindness could ever know. In the midst of that time God spoke to me gently.
And my hair began to grow.
My spirit was encouraged by the thought that I was just a man, but God was the God of everything. He knew the generations of my ancestors past. He knows the children of Israel’s future. His Hand is not weakened by my failure, or thwarted by the plans of His enemies.
His Hair has not been cut.
In that thought I found hope and in hope I found His Spirit surrounding me and comforting me again. I found a belief that God was still mine and I was still His and in darkness my heart was opened.
Not through strength, for I had none. Not through victory, for I was utterly defeated. Not through power or leadership, or judgment. Not through action, or battle, or any good that I could do. Yet He loved me.
He loved me, just because I was His and not because of what I did or didn’t do.
It wasn’t about what I could do. It was about being the man He called me to be and loving Him with my whole heart: as Judge, as son, as husband, as prisoner.
It was never about muscle and sinew. It was never about revenge or power. It was never about my sense of victory of the things I could achieve. It was about God’s purpose in the earth and my part to play. In many ways I succeeded, my faith and passion were great. In many ways I failed, selfishly focused on the moment.
Humbled, I became stronger than I ever was in health and victory. Blinded, I saw more clearly than I ever thought possible.
My strength was never my own.
My strength is His.
I am empty and I am broken. But I have one last prayer to pray. May God use me up completely and let His will on earth be done.
Then Samson called to the LORD and said, “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. (The Book of the Judges, 16)
Devotional Thought for the Day
Samson was blessed mightily by God. But somewhere along the way he began to take God for granted. To forget that God alone was the source of his strength. In the midst of what we may consider a successful ministry, we can lose perspective. We can forget that it isn’t our strength that sustains us, but His. Are you caught up in the frenzy of leading staff, getting ready for the weekend, social media expectations, etc.? Are you taking the time to be with the One who provides it all? The only One worthy of our devotion?
She was beautiful and I wanted her. There was nothing else in the world.
She was pregnant and we had to hide that from her husband. He would never know.
The cover up didn’t work. So I orchestrated an “accident” in battle, no one would ever know. But I knew. And a wife in mourning knew.
And God knew. It’s a horrible truth, but He loved me too much to let me get away with it.
I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. Everything normal in life was filtered through a lens of guilt and hidden shame. People applauded me taking her in and providing for her when her husband was killed. I smiled and spoke the words they wanted to hear.
They didn’t know I had killed him.
People were happy at our wedding; we made such a beautiful couple. We would make such beautiful children. When she started to show, they smiled and praised God for a coming child. They prayed for a prince to make my house even stronger.
They didn’t know what I had done.
She was in denial, focusing on caring for the coming child to the exclusion of everything else. It was all too much to deal with on the surface, so we pretended that everything was what it appeared to be. Even to each other when no one else was around, we never spoke of what we had done.
Days turned to months and the seasons changed. The whole earth moved but I was stuck. Everything around me came and went as it always had but sleep still wouldn’t come.
It was a boy.
When Nathan came, I thought it would be to congratulate us on a son. Instead he knew, he knew! And in judgment, he stripped everything away. My child would die, strife and bloodshed would never end for me, and disaster after disaster would haunt my family.
When he became sick, I became broken.
My kingdom, my voice, my songs have all become the ashes of this mourning. I’ve turned against You and against my friend. I’ve betrayed the trust of my people and my family. Even her. I can see in her eyes the words unspoken, the sorrow of her grief and it’s more than I can bear.
Please be merciful, don’t let my son pay the price for my mistakes.
The sky was calm, a stark counterpoint to the silent storm within the palace walls. Outside my door, people were arguing in whispers. I couldn’t make out the words, but listening intently I heard the sound that was causing so much fear.
A baby was not crying.
It’s funny. I can feel the five smooth stones in the palms of my hands. I can feel the warmth on my face, the shining sun of His presence as I dance into the city.
Yet in the dark of night as I sit alone, the miracle isn’t in my grasp. It feels like the miracle will never be in my grasp again. I’m trapped in this waking dream where the giant wins and the ark remains lost with our enemies. I’m trapped in a night where morning never comes. Is this how my story ends?
Is this how all stories end?
Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean;
Wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquity (51, a Psalm of David)
I know nothing but this: God’s love is bigger than our biggest mistake.
His love is not turned away when we fail. When I feel His presence, He is with me. When I feel nothing but the cold wind of silence, He is there. No despair is beyond His reach.
So I will place my heart in His hands.
Devotional Thought for the Day
Actions have consequences. And peace is hard to find when we’re not living in God’s will. But God is faithful and when we return to Him, He is at our side, even when we can’t ‘feel’ His presence. We all desperately desire peace. Is there an area of your life that keeps you mentally and emotionally stirred up? Are you experiencing God’s peace? Consider any areas of your life where confession and repentance is needed. Give it to the Lord and let him cleanse you from it once and for all.
What are you doing here, Elijah?
I’m the only one left. The work You’ve called me to will fail.
I’ve done everything You’ve asked. I’ve stood before kings to bring word of drought and economic ruin. I’ve called Your fire from heaven and destroyed the prophets of Baal.
We fed a widow’s family. We raised a little boy from the dead.
I’ve prayed for rain and You’ve answered. I’ve seen miracle after miracle I know You are Who You claim to be. But I still don’t understand so many things.
This nation has turned its back on You. Your covenant lies broken. The government is twisted in evil and your places of worship are a ruin. Your servants are dead. And in spite of Your power, I am in the wilderness running for my life and it looks like nothing has really changed.
I’m the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too.
Go out and stand on the mountain. I am about to pass by.
I went. Standing in wait I closed my eyes as a tempest built around me. The wind built and screamed until nothing could stand before it. The swirling air focused and increased in intensity. I opened my eyes to see the very mountain before me torn apart by the force of the storm.
I was in awe of the sheer power of it. The deafening roar took on a darker, pounding shape and the distant rocks themselves began to unravel in fits and starts. They literally blasted apart from the repeated blows of furious fists of wind.
It was a storm that could sweep the earth clean of Everything. My eyes went wide at the thought that this was the end. It was too much. We had gone too far and now the price would be paid in holy judgment. This tempest would swell and rise and flow until there was nothing left.
But the Lord was not in the wind. It began to subside, the storm of rage and dust lost its drive and power. More quickly than I would have believed, it fell silent entirely.
I heard a rumbling as a low frequency in the distance and the ground beneath me trembled then fell still. Tilting my head to find it’s direction, it began again. A wave buckled the ground as far as I could see in a surreal fluid motion my eyes wouldn’t accept. I waited for it to stop, for things to return to normal.
But it didn’t stop. The shaking grew in violence and depth until the mountains bowed to its inimitable will. Rocks fell and were thrown, sliding crazily and resettling as pieces of the earth rose and fell like the ocean.
No kingdom could stand against this. No city, no agency, no academic ideal could withstand the wrath of the very earth itself coming to swallow them up. How small we are! We’re a thin skin on the surface of the earth, easily scraped away to start fresh, like a child washing dishes after an evening meal.
But the Lord was not in the earthquake.
I held my breath as the next wave in my lesson arrived.
It was fire.
I felt the flames before I saw them, the heat radiating in pulsing waves as it crested the horizon before me. At some point, a cool wind began to blow towards the flames and I realized in a moment of fear that column of fire was pulling in air from the surrounding area to consume it, along with everything in its path.
Trees were consumed in seconds before a wall of fire hundreds of feet high. It charged across the side of the mountain leaving a field of ash. The flames superheated the trees and smoke rose black and white from the fury of the red storm running.
Again I thought, who could stand against this? Who would dare defy the One who, with a thought, could reduce a nation in glory to ash and ruin without appeal? I looked for the Lord, I listened for His voice.
But the Lord wasn’t in the fire.
After the fire came a gentle whisper. I heard it and pulled my cloak around me, returning to the mouth of the cave where I had spent the night in hiding.
What are you doing here, Elijah?
I’m the only one left. My words were very much the same as my former prayer.
But this time, it was with a different voice that I answered. I was shaken by the experience on the mountain, humbled by a power beyond imagining.
When God spoke again, it was with gentleness. I was to anoint kings over Aram and Israel.
And I was to finally meet my successor. The work would continue.
Most encouraging of all, I learned that I wasn’t alone. Thousands in Israel still followed the Voice that Whispered and God’s purpose in the earth was as it should be.
The things we do consume us. Our perspective fills up our world. Like children, the hurt and fear of the moment seems like everything there is.
But it’s not everything there is.
I had forgotten that our lives are threads in a tapestry in the hands of a master weaver. We’re not alone in what we do, even when we are faithful and discouraged and the path is hard to see.
Our effect to generations to come is measured by the One Who walks upon the wind, Whose very Presence causes the mountains to tremble and Whose Heart is an all consuming fire. Look beyond the enemies. Know that God is mighty beyond anything we’ve ever dreamed.
I learned that often He chooses to work, not through a show of power, but through a whisper to a human heart. The hope that I found wasn’t in strength to move mountains, but in the knowledge that I wasn’t alone.
We are part of something bigger than we could ever accomplish on our own. What discouragement could stand in the face of such love?
The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”
Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” (The First Book of Kings, 17)
Devotional Thought for the Day
Elijah was devoted wholly to God, always waiting for Him and listening for His voice. And God responded to Elijah’s prayers. But surrounded by the unfaithful, he became fearful and discouraged. He lost perspective for a time focusing on his situation and himself rather than God. Have you noticed there are certain situations in your ministry where you lose perspective? Do you become discouraged easily when it isn’t going as you’d planned? What do you need to do to ward off discouragement, maintain perspective and more fully honor God?
I married Sarai in the land of my father, a place called Ur, before God called us to go. Looking back, it seems odd that we didn’t know where we were going. I do remember the move feeling right, beyond reason or explanation. She felt it too, so we went. Our sense of purpose was clear and it was easy to trust.
My bones are older now and she is gone. Looking over the canvas of my days, I remember divine moments and conversations and I see that God is so faithful in every single thing that He promised. His words to me as a young man are finding their beginning in the earth. I can see in my children the nations they will become. Their children will be generations upon generations held in the very hands of God.
I can still hear His voice to me like it was yesterday.
Your children will be like the stars in the sky.
And it’s happening. I don’t deserve how good God has been to me.
Yet even in the midst of promises being kept, I sometimes wonder about the mistakes I have made. There are so many things I would undo if I could.
When I convinced Sarah to lie about being my wife to the Egyptians, it seemed so necessary. The famine was severe and both of us were very afraid. She was immediately noticed like I knew she would be. Pharaoh treated me extremely well for her sake, like I knew he would. I’ve never been more frustrated for being right.
My decision put her in an impossible situation and wounded her deeply. More than that, it wounded “us” deeply. She still loved me. I still loved her.
But our relationship was never quite the same.
Seasons came and went but the years of trying and remaining childless were the hardest. To watch the joy and growth of children, who are not your own, is bittersweet.
Our hope for a son by itself was a strong one. When coupled with God’s speaking and destiny in our lives it was unbearable. We were failing Him. The dream of starting a nation to bless the earth eventually was something we just didn’t talk about. For years we lived, maintaining our house and wealth and the hope of children faded like a barely remembered dream.
When we were older and the chance for our own children was long past, we came up with a plan to return to the dream that God had for us. Sarah suggested Hagar and it seemed like a way for us to finally have the children we longed for. It seems obvious now, but I could have said, “no.”
I dishonored my wife completely. I was trying to do what I felt was right, what I talked myself into believing God would have me do to carry on our family name and heritage. I was such a fool.
It’s a hard lesson, but if we trust God to do only the things we can do without Him, that isn’t trusting at all. That’s glorifying our own effort and calling it divine.
It wasn’t until God spoke that the weight of our mistake settled on my heart completely. I looked at my hands, now grown old. I looked at my wife’s features and her beautiful gray hair, seeing for the first time what I had missed all of these years.
God wasn’t bringing the promise through me.
He was bringing the promise through us.
His plan was for Sarah to make this journey with me. He changed her name too.
The times I trusted God afterwards, the great moments of faith and the stories that live on, all find their root in the failures I experienced with her. The fear, the lack of trust and the belief that the promise was dependent on us were all revealed in my relationship with Sarah.
He used my mistakes and lack of courage to open my own heart to me. He used those moments to teach me and to lead me closer to Him. But the wounding she experienced wasn’t the only way for God to shape me, it was the path that I chose and I would do that differently if I could.
All of my regrets find a single truth in common: I didn’t love Sarah like I should have.
Focused on what I wanted God to do, I lost so much of the joy that we should have had together. The way I pursued my work and my drive to follow God hurt my marriage. My wife paid a heavy price to walk through life with me.
Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre… the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites.
There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah. (The Book of Genesis, 25)
Devotional Thought for the Day
Abraham dishonored his wife Sarah more than once in the pursuit of fulfilling God’s promises to him. These events ultimately reflect a lack of trust in God and weaken the husband / wife relationship. Unfortunately, its all too easy in ministry to dishonor our spouses and fail to see them as partners in the journey of living out our calling. Reflect on how you might be dishonoring your spouse (or close friends if unmarried) during your current season of ministry. What do you need to change to more fully honor God and your spouse.
The most popular piece I authored last year was a column I wrote for Forbes on the art and science of what I refer to as pursuitology. As of this writing it had been read more than 260,000 times, had more than 5,000 Facebook shares, and more than 3,000 ReTweets – it clearly struck a chord with the leadership community. As I thought about why this short article resonated so strongly with readers, it occurred to me I had awakened people to a simple, yet very powerful realization…
The realization is this – many of today’s leaders are suffering from an identity crisis. The magnitude of this crisis can range from a distorted, diluted, destructive, and in some cases deranged form of what they inaccurately define as leadership. Society has allowed the practice of leadership to be commoditized, which has made it all too common for non-leaders to assume leadership positions thus continuing the devolution of leadership as a practice.
When we devalue the worth of leadership, it only follows many people will in turn devalue their worth as a leader. Many leaders today simply do not understand what leadership is, which is precisely why we find ourselves in a crisis of leadership. I would suggest much of what we view today being represented as leadership is actually unleadership – a cheap imitation of the real thing by those who are role playing, but clearly are not leading.
The following is an excerpt from my book Leadership Matters: “…Why does all this matter? Because leadership matters – whether through malice or naiveté, those who trivialize the value of leadership place us all at risk. Poor leadership cripples businesses, ruins economies, destroys families, loses wars, and can bring the demise of nations. The demand for true leaders has never been greater - when society misunderstands the importance of leadership, and when the world inappropriately labels non-leaders as leaders we are all worse for the wear.”
When leaders become lost and confused, it doesn’t just impact them – it creates a ripple effect through an organization with a destructive force much more closely resembling a tsunami. Leadership isn’t about maximizing a W-2, and it’s not about personal glory or media attention. Put simply, true leadership isn’t about the leader.
Leadership is more than a title; it’s a privilege and therefore a burden of the highest responsibility. Nothing is more dangerous than a leader who loses sight of their real purpose – to serve something greater than themselves. Leadership is about qualities that recognize others while bringing out the best in them. Leadership cannot flourish with small minds, thinking about small things, in small ways.
So, what is real leadership? Leadership is about giving credit not taking it, breaking down barriers not building them, destroying bureaucracies not creating them, bridging positional and philosophical gaps not setting boundaries, thinking big and acting bigger, being able to focus on short-term objectives without losing sight of long-term value, not focusing on the volume of outputs but the impact of said outputs, surrender not control, and most of all, leadership is about truly caring for those whom you serve.
My challenge to those “playing leadership” is to abandon the practice of unleadership. I encourage you to stop contributing to the crisis of leadership and instead begin contributing to a culture of leadership. Invest in your development, build into others, don’t tolerate the status quo, and inspire greatness. When it comes to leadership, it’s not enough to be all you can be, you must focus on helping others become all that they can be.
God called. I ran.
From there the next few days are both a blur and a painting etched in exquisite detail on the canvas of my mind. The storm in its fury, the fear of the sailors, the waves reaching up to meet me… all leading to being eaten alive and dragged into the depth of the ocean.
I can’t describe the next few days in a way that you could understand. Complete darkness filled with barely breathable air. I was surrounded by a sense of directionless motion, interrupted by snatches of exhausted sleep, incredible thirst and at some point, a sense of peace.
There is something freeing about giving up completely. To finally and irrevocably surrender control of the situation was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. When God spoke to me, I responded with all of my heart. Everything was stripped away and it was just He and I.
When I was propelled back into the light, I immediately set my steps to Ninevah. I never would have predicted what would happen next.
It was the greatest revival of my generation. I saw more than 100,000 people set aside their sin and selfishness. I watched as an entire city turn back to God. It’s frightening and humbling to see something go so far beyond your true ability. But the spark of revival was a direct result of my speaking. When He turned me back again and gave me a second chance, I found my voice and my stride.
Empowered by the Spirit I spoke with a supernatural boldness and I could feel His words burning within me. Those days were swept along before a thunderstorm of His justice. Their actions were evil and I told them so. Their time of accounting had come and destruction, richly deserved, was only a few weeks away. Forty days until God brought holy vengeance and they would pay in full for the evil they had become.
The message didn’t bring the result I expected.
Instead of ignoring the word and mocking me… instead of hearing it with trembling and despair… they responded with greatness of heart. Instead of shirking blame and responsibility they embraced their own sense of true remorse in the stark face of wrongdoing. Even though it was too late, they repented and they repented with all of their heart.
That’s when it happened. God swept through an entire city and they responded to Him with one voice. It was amazing and I’ve never seen anything like it, before or since. Repentance and divine compassion combined to restore an entire people back to the Lord.
I’ve never been angrier at anything in my life.
They were brutal and they deserved to die. They killed my friends and family and over ran the nation that I love. The people chosen to bring blessing to the earth were nothing but a playground of terror to them. Our women and children were opportunity for use and evil pleasure. Thousands died beneath the sword of their aggression and scorn.
They were not my brothers. They were not my friends. I would rather have died myself than see them avoid the justice they had earned.
In some sense, that’s exactly what happened. I had to die as the person I was to be reborn as the man God was reshaping. His compassion to me in the deep was borne of the same wellspring as His kindness to a city of strangers. My judgment of God’s word over an evil city became a prophecy over my own heart. Like so many things, I didn’t see it coming until it was already done.
Do I dare cling to life in a time of disobedience and promise God my heart and hands, while denying that prayer to someone else? Is God the God of the whole earth or just of the people I choose? Is God the God of all people, even the people who don’t deserve to be saved?
He gives. And He takes away.
He speaks to cities. And He speaks to me.
He wants my heart even more than He wants my words and grudging outward obedience. He wants me to understand His working even more than He wants me to be comfortable and OK. The days of darkness beneath the water were just the beginning of my truly being able to see.
God’s calling is not about my preference. The people I hate are the people He loves.
And His work shapes me even as it shapes the nations.
Those who cling to worthless idols
Forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
Will sacrifice to You.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the Lord. (A Prayer from the Deep, Jonah)
Devotional Thought for the Day
Jonah was called to love things that were unlovable to him. In ministry we often face challenges that require us to do things we’d prefer to ignore or run from. Like Jonah, we may not see God’s bigger picture plan for redemption in the midst of our challenges. Are there things right now in your life and ministry that you’ve been running from, but God wants your attention on? Possibly a person, a ministry, a past sin issue in your life, etc.? Spend some time asking God to more clearly reveal these things to you.
Sifted (v) \ sift-ed 1. Accelerated spiritual growth in times of trouble, 2. Increased trust in God and surrender to His sovereignty, 3. Refined and cultivated seed for increased fruitfulness and multiplication, 4. The seemingly painful process through which every child of God has or will face trials that result in being broken and refined, strengthened and restored, and grown and empowered for God’s glory and Kingdom expansion. Wordly trouble intersecting spiritual warfare producing increased surrender to GodWorldly trouble intersecting spiritual warfare producing increased surrender to God
Mark was working an his account of Jesus’ life again and asking me for stories of the time we spent with Jesus. He asked me why it was so easy for us to leave everything and follow Him.
I smiled. It wasn’t easy at all. It took more than a year for me to be ready after I met Him. I had met Jesus a year before the night He called us and my fishing business was doing well. Even though I was aching for a change, that final decision to sacrifice it all was the hardest thing I’d done to that point.
Success is difficult to set aside. It becomes a question of significance and legacy. I didn’t want my gravestone to read, “He sold a lot of salted fish.” I had worked hard to build a life. Now I would be faced with the choice to leave it all behind.
I drifted into memory and heard my voice recount the story to Mark of the days we became His disciples…
It was going to be a long night.
As the waves lifted and fell in gentle rhythm, my hands again found their resting place. The wood was worn smooth from the sheer volume of times I had touched the railing in this exact spot. I loved this time of night, even when the fish weren’t moving. It was beautiful stillness. It was peace.
That was on the outside. Inside I was boiling for things to change. Somehow I knew that a new chapter was beginning but it was frustrating to not see my next step clearly. It was a discontent that had no anchor, no lines mooring it to anything I could point to as real.
Calling out commands to stop, our boat slowed and I motioned for our team to throw the net. Their calloused hands, full of grace and synchronicity threw the lines out over the darkness into the sea. As it slowly fell into the deep in practiced silence, my thoughts descended too, sinking into darkness where I couldn’t see.
There was nothing in my life that merited this level of unease, but I was surrounded by it nonetheless.
Is this all there is?
I had success in business, owning one of the largest fishing operations in Galilee. I spoke and dreamed and traded with partners who respected me. I ate and lived with a good family and I had known love. Somehow I was still adrift. My life was worn smooth from the touch of years, bringing no comfort.
I wasn’t in focus. Something just had to change.
We waited. So much of fishing is the waiting. The men spoke of children in quiet tones and, like all stories of children, the exploits were completely ordinary, except to the fathers who loved them. The night stretched on as Andrew told me stories of the Baptist and the time he had spent with him these last few months.
We pulled the net for the first catch of the evening and I murmured under my breath when it was empty. Not a single fish! That happens, but it’s been years since I’ve seen an empty net return. I looked to the east and tried to pierce the darkness by the sheer force of my will. It didn’t feel like a storm was coming.
My oldest team member barked a laugh at the dismay of the younger men and offered to let them sit and rest while he continued to work for a living. Shame isn’t always a good motivator, but this time it worked pretty well. Again I watched the practiced motions of a thousand throws, on a thousand nights, their legs and arms coiling and releasing in the carefree motion of a thousand memories, just like this one. The net flew, extended and sank for the second time.
Andrew was telling me again about the Carpenter and the amazing things God was doing. I’d met Jesus about a year before and I’d heard him speak. Andrew was right, there was something different about him. He spoke with a power and a love for God I’d never seen and the stories about miracles were growing. John the Baptist was saying that he was the One. It would be perfect if Messiah came and sent the armies back to Rome. Israel was long overdue for her coming King. I would love to be a part of that revolution. That idea was exciting and scary all at the same time. I had a lot to lose.
We pulled the nets and caught a boat full of nothing. It was time to move. We set for our second location and I could see that the men were becoming discouraged.
Glide. Gather. Throw. Sink. Wait.
Still no fish.
The night was an empty boat and we were getting weary. I signaled the other crew to start for shore and joked with my men as we turned to the north. One of them mentioned in passing that since the fish were smarter than we were it was just a matter of time before they were on to us.
The earth held it’s breath as the sky lightened from amber to the brilliant crimson of a new day. We hit the shore, secured the boat and started unloading. Andrew cut the men loose for breakfast, sleep and time with their families. We had one more night before the Sabbath and I set a time for us to meet again before they doggedly walked away. I told Andrew to go as well but he just gave me that look that brothers give before pulling a section of the first net and starting to scrap it clean.
We were still cleaning the nets when the crowd started to gather. People were buzzing about him – have you seen him? Is he really on his way? I heard he healed a blind man and now he can see… Their whispered voices slowly gained strength and echoed out over the water. I didn’t see him approach, but suddenly he was there, drawing Andrew into a warm embrace. I stood and tried to wash my hands clean before greeting him but he didn’t seem to mind.
“Simon, can I use your boat to teach from?” he asked. I glanced at Andrew, who was grinning from ear to ear and of course I said yes. It was a good idea. Sound carries over water and as the hundreds of people who had gathered at the beach sat, Jesus began to speak.
I was exhausted, irritable and resentful of the extra time being taken. It was the worst day my business had experienced in months. I hadn’t eaten, slept or bathed in far too long.
But with the Teacher in my boat, speaking God’s life and love to everyone around, my heart was energized. In some small way I felt like I was a part of something significant, a partner in ministry, at least for a few moments. It felt good. I felt alive in a way I hadn’t felt in years.
When he finished and dismissed the crowd, I found myself wanting him to stay, but was afraid to ask if he wanted to eat with us. I wanted to impress him, to make myself important in his eyes. I wanted to let him know that I was the owner of this small fleet of ships and that our salted fish kept people fed from here to Nazareth and sometimes all the way to Egypt. As I started to take him back to shore with unspoken rehearsed words on my lips he nodded to the south and said, “put out into the deeper water and let down your nets for a catch.”
My thoughts came quickly, almost instantaneously and were, in no particular order:
- The fish aren’t running this time of day
- I’m tired
- We just cleaned the nets, I don’t want to scrape them again for nothing
But there was something about the way he said it and my heart was beating faster. In spite of every reason and objection I immediately replied, “We’ve been at this all night and haven’t caught anything, but at your word, we’ll cast our net again.” In the corner of my eye Andrew was nodding in approval. It seemed that whatever was happening, he felt it too.
Our weary nets spread and splashed, froze, then slowly dropped and I experienced a moment of double vision. Part of me was saying, “This is pointless” but another part, a deeper part, was saying, “Watch this!” I glanced at Andrew as the line jumped out of my hands and I had to scramble to keep from getting pulled in. The boat lurched and dipped crazily towards the sea. Our boat was being pulled towards the net.
That’s not possible.
The net was already filling. I could see the schools of fish flooding into it, just under the boat and they kept coming. When we tried to pull the catch into the boat, the net started to tear so we eased the lines back into the water to keep from losing the fish.
I called to the shore for help and they immediately launched out to help us. We pulled our second boat along side with practiced motions to capture and load the catch. There were so many fish, both boats swamped and we made our way carefully to the shore with a small fortune. Andrew was giving me his best, “I told you so” brotherly glance. We had more than one hundred years of experience between us and none of us had ever seen the like.
The weight of the morning continued to build until we got the boats upon the shore and I collapsed. The combination of the night’s work and frustration, the path of my life and inner turmoil, the amazing words of our Teacher and the miracle we had just witnessed was too much for me to bear. This wasn’t a story for other people, some rumor of God moving and doing amazing things far away. It was horribly present. God was moving nature itself to speak to me and I suddenly felt very small.
In the very gaze of heaven I fell to my knees. “Lord, go and leave me here, I’m full of sin and not worthy to be in your presence.”
His hand on my head and his touch raising me communicated kindness and purpose. Speaking to me, to my brother, to my partners and friends, he called us to service. “Don’t be afraid.” And somehow we felt peace. “From now on, you’ll catch men.” And we knew that it was true.
We looked at the catch, at our ravaged nets, at our boats overflowing with fortune… looking at the success we had worked so hard for, it was hard to walk away. But that’s exactly what we did, to follow Him.
When the chance comes to leave everything else for what God calls you to do, do it. Do it without hesitation. You’ll sacrifice more than you ever imagined. You’ll lose everything. You’ll question that decision a thousand times but hang on with both hands to day that He called you.
It’s worth it.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Peter answered him and said, “We have left everything to follow you!” (The Account of Matthew, 19)
What has God called you to do? In what way is God “moving nature itself” to speak to you right now? What is he calling you to do in this current season either in your current context or beyond?
A few years back we invited syndicated TV and radio host Dave Ramsey to speak at our weekend services. I knew Dave well enough to anticipate that he would be warmly received by Willow. What I was not expecting was the huge line that formed as soon as he was finished with his message. Most of the people in the line simply said short phrases such as: “We are debt free! Thanks, Dave!” Others said, “We have financial peace for the first time in our lives! Thanks, Dave!” What caught me a bit off guard was how many twenty-somethings looked Dave in the eye and said, “The insanity ends today!” I will never forget how determined folks were to start managing their money in a God-glorifying way.
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