Pass the Tests – A Lesson From Nehemiah

What thoughts do you associate with tests? Are they fear-filled or hopeful? How can we prepare to pass the tests life throws our way? Writing this blog became a test when my website crashed midway through preparation!

Nehemiah teaches us how to pass the tests, even when they come in unexpected ways. Each test presented a different range of problems he overcame as he consistently moved toward his goal.

We, too, will face challenges and hurdles as we press toward all God has for us, testing our character, commitment, and courage.

Nehemiah began his journey the best way possible through prayer.

“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”
Nehemiah 1:4

Nehemiah had received news that the walls and gates of Jerusalem lay in piles of burnt rubble. Deeply distressed, he sought God’s direction and intervention. Unprotected, vulnerable, and open to enemy attack, the people he loved were in the worst possible position.

Serving under the king’s authority, Nehemiah set out for Jerusalem.

Test of Motive

It didn’t take long for Nehemiah’s enemies to push back. Whenever we attempt to serve God, we will experience similar opposition. Three men, in particular, faced off against Nehemiah — Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.

” . . . they mocked and ridiculed us. ‘What is this you are doing? . . . Are you rebelling against the king?'” Nehemiah 2:19

Their attacks against Nehemiah aimed deep. Verbal arrows pointed at his motivation, judging him as rebellious.

“I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.'”
Nehemiah 2:20

Some people may delight in questioning our motives — even publicly.

Without anything to fear, this test offers a perfect opportunity to expose our true motive for the Lord’s examination. With the king’s orders in his hand, Nehemiah knew their empty claims were groundless.

Test of Ability

When Nehemiah passed his first test, his enemies became even more aggressive.

“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing. Will they restore their wall . . . offer sacrifices . . . finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble — burned as they are?'”
Nehemiah 4:1-2

Our inner critic echoes similar questions. Will you? Can you?

Nehemiah wasted no time defending himself. He knew the task far exceeded human ability. The test of ability drove Nehemiah to his knees before God, asking Him to turn the enemies’ insults back upon them.

“So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” Nehemiah 4:6

As a result, God protected the hearts of the workers. With hearts completely dedicated and trusting in God, all things are possible. Ability with heart will take anyone anywhere God leads.

Test of Courage

To pass the tests of motive and ability Nehemiah and his team consistently focused on the goal. Immediately, the troubling trio enlisted the assistance of Arabs, Ammonites and the people of Ashdod — increasing the troops of opposition.

“They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.”
Nehemiah 4:8

Nehemiah faced the threatening declarations of war in the same way he withstood every test — through prayer. The mission conceived in prayer continued in prayer. Prayer formed a solid foundation for effective, continued ministry.

“But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”
Nehemiah 4:9

Little by little, a wall began to rise from the rubble. The warrior-builders proceeded with “swords, spears, and bows” strapped to their sides (4:13).

Test of Dedication

As the work continued unabated, the trio attempted to lead Nehemiah into yet another trap. Without a leader, the work would surely stop.

” . . . Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”
Nehemiah 6:2

No matter how persistent, we must never “meet together” with the enemy at Ono or anywhere else! Four times they sent the same message. Four times Nehemiah refused (6:4).

“I sent messengers to them with this reply” ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?'”
Nehemiah 6:3

Distraction and failure to recognize the significance of a task may become the greatest obstacles to reaching any goal.

In the fifth attempt the enemy added even more lies and intimadation “trying to frighten us” (6:9). Again, Nehemiah prayed.

Taking everything to God in prayer will strategically lead us to victory. We may consider our mission minor compared to what God asked Nehemiah to do, but whatever our mission, may we face every test with determination and dedication. The smallest actions may prove to have the greatest impact in the Kingdom of God.

Test of Reliance

One final test of reliance awaited Nehemiah, when a false prophet attempted to entice Nehemiah to protect himself.

” . . . Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you — by night they are coming to kill you.”
Nehemiah 6:10

Nehemiah trusted God alone as his protection. Self-protection placed above the call to shield his people would be nothing short of sin!

“But I said, ‘Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!'”
Nehemiah 6:11

Even here, Nehemiah would pass the tests with character, commitment, and courage. As servant leader, Nehemiah set the example by placing the needs of the vulnerable above his own.

Passing the Test

By the grace of God, they completed a humanly impossible task in fifty-two days (6:15). Nehemiah trusted in God, leading the people to accomplish God’s desire for Jerusalem.

What is our calling? What mission has God placed before us? Is it raising our families, teaching a Sunday School class, or leading a small home group? Perhaps, it is boldly living our faith in the marketplace.

May the testing of our motives, ability, courage, dedication, and reliance show a depth of character, a commitment to God, and an unwavering courage in the face of opposition. From here forward, may we learn from Nehemiah’s success and emulate his consistency in prayer. Whatever God calls us to, He will equip us for. There is no shortage with our God!

“Lord make us bold for the task. Give us ears to clearly hear your direction. Grant us a steadfast heart to serve You. Through You, we pick up spiritual weapons in one hand and tools to build your Kingdom in the other. We turn our whole hearts to follow You.”

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When God Says, “No” Keep Going

What is your tendency when God says, “No?” You created a wonderful plan, have the resources to implement it, and all doors appear to be open. Will you trash the idea and go a different direction? Will you press on, pursuing your goal at any cost?

I have a stash of seemingly great ideas! Or at least, I think they are great. Actually, some may even be God-inspired ideas. Even godly people with fantastic God-given ideas hit roadblocks. I find the proof in the Word of God, the Bible.

King David came up with an excellent idea to build a permanent place for the Ark of God.

“After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.'”
1 Chronicles 17:1

Wow, David! Great idea! Build a place for God’s Presence. David confided with others who also thought it was a good idea.

“Nathan replied to David, ‘Whatever you have in mind, do it, for God is with you.'”
1 Chronicles 17:2

But God disagreed.

When God says, “No”

“‘Go and tell my servant David, “This is what the LORD says: You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in.”
1 Chronicles 17:4

Good plan! Wrong man!

Honestly, it hurts to not be chosen, overlooked for a position, or have a creative idea only to have someone else fulfill it. This brings back painful memories of being chosen last for a sports team or not at all in a group as a child. It also includes being disqualified for a desired position or facing the rejection of others as an adult.

God’s “no” meant He had something permanently better for David.

God basically said, “David, thank you for wanting to build a house for me. Actually, I’m going to build a lasting house for you.”

God loves flipping things around and turning things for the good. No matter what we attempt to do for God, He comes back with a bigger, better blessing for us. It may not be immediate, but it is guaranteed.

Solomon, David’s son, became the immediate fulfillment, but Jesus ultimately completed it.

“. . . I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him . . .”
1 Chronicles 17:11-13

Praise

David’s response might seem difficult; he rested in God’s answer.

“Then King David went in and sat before the LORD.”
1 Chronicles 17:16

David wasted no time and energy in self-loathing or questioning. He sat, resting in God’s Presence. Praise flowed from the position of rest.

“There is no one like you, LORD, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears.”
1 Chronicles 17:20

I love this attitude! When God says, “No” to us, will we become distracted from fixed focus on Him? Or will our hearts be fully devoted to give Him praise? In the posture of adoration, David humbly received the blessing God promised.

“And now, LORD, let the promise you have made concerning your servant and his house be established forever. Do as you promised.”
1 Chronicles 17:23

Without dispute, David accepted the closed door with grace and dignity. When we are willing to receive from God both the pleasant and the difficult, we demonstrate quiet trust and confidence in Him.

Prepare

David picked the exact place to build the tabernacle. Interestingly enough, the place marked the spot of David’s greatest failure but quickest turning back to God.

Then David said, ‘The house of the LORD God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”
1 Chronicles 22:1

Insecurity might cause some people to place stumbling blocks in the path of their successors. Confident assurance, however, leads others to level the way, giving all who follow the greatest advantage and full opportunity to achieve their calling. When God says, “No,” we quickly discover internal motivations.

When we examine David’s responses, we find him to be a true gem! He

  • Appoints stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and craftsmen (1 Chronicles 22:2,15-16)
  • Provides large amounts of iron, bronze, cedar, gold, and silver (1 Chronicles 22:3-4,14)
  • Designs the specific plans (1 Chronicles 22:5)
  • Orders Solomon to carry it out (1 Chronicles 22:6)
  • Clearly declares God’s intention over Solomon’s life (1 Chronicles 22:7-11)
  • Prays a declaration of blessing and transfer over Solomon (1 Chronicles 22:11-13)
  • Appoints leaders to assist Solomon ( 1 Chronicles 22:17)

Who wouldn’t benefit from such extensive support? This list causes me to examine how I could better help others achieve their goals and reach their dreams. When we put God first and others ahead of ourselves, we discover may creative ways to motivate and encourage.

Peace

Many of us might be tempted to quit when we run into set backs — get off the road, park the bus (or car or eighteen-wheeler), and find a quiet beach somewhere to do nothing. Bad idea!

God reminded David of his successes — a fearless warrior leader, bringing peace and rest for his nation. None of it was accomplished through striving. Complacency didn’t bring it to completion either.

But now, God needed a leader of peace and rest to do the future great work of building the temple.

“But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side . . . I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. He is the one who will build a house for my Name.”
1 Chronicles 22:9-10

God has given each of us a specific place and purpose. Sadly, I believe too many of us carry a large portion of our God-given destiny to the grave unfulfilled. How many talents and years are wasted wishing we had someone else’s call or gifts.

Freedom comes from trusting God to help us do all He has called us to do.

Promote

David did everything humanly possible to ensure Solomon’s success, not just because the idea to build a temple was a good idea, but He desired God to be glorified through it.

“Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD.”
1 Chronicles 22:19

Who’s name do I promote? God’s or my own?

When God says, “No” let us confidently promote Him, remembering everything is for His glory. We can do nothing apart from Him. We accomplish everything (even the smallest things) through His grace and goodness. Every point of success results from His blessing in our lives.

David affirms his son, Solomon and the importance of the work ahead. He calls him to give God pre-eminence in everything. Then God’s Name would be exalted.

When God says, “No,” let us each remember that His closed door for us might be the wide open door someone else is waiting for. We prefer when He throws opens those doors wide and gives us the go ahead signal. But today, David’s example helps us to keep on going, doing what we can, when we can, how we can.

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Beauty of Boundaries: Fences of Protection

As a teenager, I failed to see the beauty of boundaries, repeatedly pushing against any restriction my parents or teachers established. I bear the scars to prove it!

Every outstanding leader honors and recognizes the indisputable importance of parameters on their leadership and with those they lead. Loving parents establish appropriate lines of protection around their children. These fences — sometimes visible, often invisible — keep what is harmful at bay while provided the greatest liberty.

Jesus trained world-changing leaders to follow behind Him. We witness His boundary-establishing techniques at the beginning of their ministry experiences.

Authority

“Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
Matthew 10:1

I may have been born in the wrong generation, on the wrong continent, of the wrong gender to take part in the exploits of this group, but my heart cries, “My too!” I long to see a day when hospital wards completely empty, with every disease and sickness brought down. I’m not alone in praying for God to remove the deceptive and deadly claws of the enemy from those we deeply love and care.

“Yes, Lord! Grant us the same authority!”

The Greek word exesti, translated here as authority, means “privilege, force, capacity, competency, freedom, mastery, or delegated influence.” We consider authority to mean the power to give orders, make decisions, or enforce obedience in others. Biblical authority contains a broader meaning within the beauty of boundaries — boundaries, Jesus clearly articulated.

Do Not Go

“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.”
Matthew 10:5

Do you see it? Immediately, Jesus set the parameter of their movement. Jesus never conferred authority upon His disciples as a blank cheque to be executed wherever or however they desired.

Power and authority, like intoxicating wine, changes people. Usually to their detriment! But with proper boundaries, that same power and authority becomes mighty in the hands of ordinary men and women.

Multitudes in need awaited the disciples throughout the vast territory before them. The magnitude of the mission, without the beauty of boundaries Jesus established, might otherwise have overwhelmed them. If they or we over-extend ourselves, the immensity of the task incapacitates us, rendering us ineffective.

Jesus scaled back their focus to one people group in one specific area. Within that parameter, they possessed the authority of Christ to function liberally, bringing healing and freedom to those they encountered.

Go

When they clearly understood the “Don’t go!” Jesus then released them to “Go!”

Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.”
Matthew 10:6

Galilee embodied as much multiculturalism as any nation today. God loves each one completely and uniquely.

As a former farmer/rancher, I understand only a fragment of the heart of the Good Shepherd here. If I noticed an animal from a neighbor’s herd in need, I quickly contacted the neighbor and offered help. But if one of my own animals fell into danger, became ill, or went missing, I immediately amped all efforts. The care and concern for my herd far exceeded that for my neighbor’s.

Jesus, the Great Shepherd, desired to minister first to His sheep, “the lost sheep of Israel.” Lost sheep encounter many deadly dangers. Time is of the essence!

As You Go

Jesus gave not only a “do not go” and a “go” instruction, but He also added important details to an “as you do” directive.

“As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
Matthew 10:7-8

First, He called them to present the message and purpose of their authority clearly! God desires that everything we say and do points others to the “kingdom of heaven.” Jesus gave the disciples authority to point the lost sheep homeward to the waiting arms of the loving Father.

Second, supernatural signs and wonders emphasized and validated the message. God had been calling His sheep home for decades. They had grown deaf to His voice. Jesus knew meeting human need through miracles would have dramatic effect, awakening them to their deeper spiritual needs.

Beauty of Boundaries

When we stop resisting the fences of protection and provision God establishes, we discover the true beauty of boundaries. It has taken me far too long, but I’m realizing that the more I respect and honor the boundaries God has placed around my life, the more empowered I become to declare His grace.

God’s impartation of authority continues through all generations. God still moves with divine power, healing the sick, casting out demons, and even raising the dead through the submitted hearts and hands of those who intentionally walk within His boundaries.

Freely, they live among us, declaring God’s love and grace. Liberally, they move with supernatural power and authority. Those who hunger and thirst for the things of God are being filled, empowered, and sent out.

Weekly, I hear people witness to God’s healing and deliverance in their lives.

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
Psalm 16:6

“Lord, forgive us for resisting your parameters of influence. Turn our hearts in surrender to your ways. Release in and through your faithful followers divine authority and power to speak and move within the beauty of boundaries, as Your instruments of healing, redemption, and deliverance. Let it be!
Amen.”

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Boldness! Difference Makers Possess a Different Spirit

Difference Makers

Boldness! Think for a moment of difference makers — those who are bold in their faith, willing to stand, or even fight for what’s right. How many difference makers do you know? Is your list long or short? What qualities or attributes secured their place in this elite category?

Even in the most difficult of circumstances, they rise fearless, daring and brave before danger. Others on your list may possess a steady confidence and assurance. Do you know people who stand out from the mediocre crowd as adventurous, free and bold thinkers? Or perhaps audacious, gutsy faith makes them bold difference makers.

I guarantee none of them secured the weighty mantle of boldness by marching in step with crowd-pleasers or glory-seekers. Thirty years ago, my search for fearless risk takers for the Kingdom of God would have appeared scant. Today, I hear a distinct sound rising from off-beat places, setting a new rhythm, as more people respond to God’s call to make a difference.

We all desire to be bold, to become true difference makers. We want our lives to matter both now and for eternity. But how?

A Different Spirit

If we follow the masses, we will become disillusioned. If we cast our gaze to earthly leaders as our example, it may disappoint us.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”
Numbers 13:1-2

Moses picked the cream of the crop, the best of the best from each tribe, the fathers and leaders to be the forerunners and difference makers, paving the way for all to follow. These recognized leaders were to be the first to step into God’s promise.

Even after rereading this passage dozens of times, the names of these twelve delegates slip from my memory. All proved to be cookie-cutter replicas of would be greatness. Except for two of them, the rest fade into oblivion. Why? Boldness, or lack of it, created the dividing factor.

“Each time you fail, there’s a clue to your future success. You need to fail boldly if you want to succeed extravagantly.”
T.D. Jakes

Ten recognized leaders viewed themselves through the lens of the natural. They focused on fortified cities. Intimidated by giants, they concluding,

” . . . We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size . . . We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’ ”
Numbers 13:31-33

The majority, ten of the twelve, “dibbat” — whispered a defamatory evil report. Just that one word paints vivid imagery of their true nature.

Only two men, whose names have endured and whose prominence increased, stood against the crowd. Joshua and Caleb rose up with boldness,

“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’ “
Numbers 13:30

Oh, how my heart leaps to see the Calebs of our generation rising with a clear voice, inviting us to join them. “Go! We can!”

Influencers

Recognized within their families and communities, all twelve men occupied platforms of influence. Little did they realize the impending consequences and impact of their unsteady leadership.

Because of small thinking, weak faith and fear-based assessment, they and an entire nation of people wasted forty years in the wilderness until a new generation rose with boldness to do what should have been done decades earlier. What a sobering reality! Too afraid to pursue God’s promise, they died running away from it.

Only Joshua and Caleb marched resolutely into it!

“But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.”
Numbers 14:24

Caleb became a difference maker because he possessed a different spirit — a spirit that flowed directly from following God wholeheartedly.”

Few people reach the height of influence these twelve possessed. Unfortunately, they underestimated the power of their influence for both good and evil. Our impact may never reach beyond the boundaries of family, workplace, community or church, but we dare not repeat their error. With God in the equation, only He knows the ripple effect of our voice of influence.

The power of our influence exceeds our wildest imagination. Ears listen to our voices; eyes watch our steps; hearts follow our ways. Let’s strive to be a Caleb, one who follows God wholehearted and possesses a different spirit. May we develop boldness to use our influence, becoming difference makers.

Mountain Takers

Caleb literally means “whole hearted”, which also encompasses “faithful, devotion, bold and brave.” Even in old age, he refused to excuse himself from battle, while leaning on a cane or resting under an olive tree.

” . . . So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day . . . ” Numbers 14: 10-12

With the wind blowing through his whitened beard, Caleb raised his sword, pointing toward the territory of “his” promise, where the largest of the giants perched themselves resolutely behind their walled fortresses. “Let me loose!” Caleb shouted, “I’m prepared to conquer!” What boldness!

He knew the success of the conquest lay in divine, not human, hands.

“Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb . . . ever since, because he followed the LORD, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly.”
Number 14:13-14

Joshua bless Caleb, but he still had to fight to secure that blessing!

Boldness flows from an intimate relationship with God. Caleb’s family participated in, and benefited from, his audacious faith. As a watchful guardian over his own household, he promised to give his daughter in marriage to only the bravest and boldest man, willing to take the city by force. His nephew, Othniel, rose to the challenge, seizing Hebron with his uncle.

“Only those leaders who act boldly in times of crisis and change are willingly followed.”
Andy Stanley

Difference makers become mountain takers, passing the mantle of boldness to subsequent generations.

Difference Makers

The Bible preserves these defining moments of ancient encounters with giants, impossible assignments of combat, and incredible conquests for God’s purposes. Through them, the Holy Spirit warns us:

“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
1 Corinthians 10:11

Though the circumstances vary, everyone faces challenges — challenges to overcome through wholehearted devotion to God and unflinching boldness. We must resist the temptation to look for the easy way out or follow the often misdirected crowds.

Second, these accounts create pathways of hope.

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Romans 15:4

Boldness

“Fear no one! Love everyone!”
Rob Reimer, Senior Pastor LSC

As we ponder boldness and influence making, the question that each of us must answer is, “Who is the strongest voice in our lives — God or people?” Have we become more concerned with what God is saying or what people are thinking about us? Only if we develop the attributes of Caleb will we become difference makers in our time.

May our lists of difference makers expand as men and women, boys and girls, the old and young, rise up: daring and brave, fearless before danger, confident and assured, standing out prominently, audacious, adventurous and free. Listen! Look around! Can you see and hear them?

Leadership: A Mother’s Love and a Father’s Care

The similarities between parenting and leadership abound. Paul talked about leading with a mother’s love and a father’s care. Stopping to read and reread his analogy several times, I examined my model of leadership.

Perhaps, I struggle in leadership for the same reasons I struggled with parenting. With five sons born in just over eight years, I tended to “run” our household like a military general. What regrets! By God’s grace they have all become such wonderful men, husbands and fathers. Parenting isn’t for wimps; neither is spiritual leadership. 

More than once someone has commented, “People assume you to be a gentle grandmother, but you’re fierce and tenacious.” Ouch! Is that a compliment or an insult? A commendation or a warning? Should I laugh or cry?

Leadership

Honestly, as I analyze my leadership patterns, gentle, fierce and tenacious form a consistent path, sometimes leading into deep valleys and at other times upward to the highlands. I press myself and those I lead hard, while loving passionately. We only get one crack at life. Time flies quickly past without hope of retrieval.

A Mother’s Love

Paul understood. He established the church in Thessalonica under significant opposition. When persecution forced Paul to flee for his life, he prematurely left a fledgling group of Christ followers. His concern for their survival was valid.

“. . . we cared for you in the same way a nursing mother cares for her own children. With a mother’s love and affectionate attachment to you, we were very happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our lives — because you had become so dear to us.”
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

Hippopotamus family

Perhaps no other love compares to the way “a nursing mother cares for her children.” Ponder for a moment, the reality of producing milk to the detriment of her own bone structure; continuing the daily responsibilities despite stumbling through diaper changes and sleep deprivation; walking and rocking a sick or frightened infant for hours on end; rising before dawn and staying up well past sunset with spew in her hair, fatigue dragging her steps; constantly tending to the pressing needs of the one so dependent.

Her love only intensifies through the years: singing “Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,” while walking, driving, shopping, or cleaning; freezing her backside on metal bleachers to cheer for her progeny; teaching sons to cook and daughters to change the oil in the car; dropping everything in an instant when her now grown son or daughter calls in distress; interceding in prayer  for God’s grace to impact and direct their lives. How does one define such love?

Do I lead, like Paul, with a mother’s love and a father’s care? If I don’t, I shouldn’t be leading. The source of such “attachment” comes supernaturally from time at the feet of the One who by divine nature is love.

A Father’s Care

Fathers handle children much differently. They toss their littles into the air, bounce them robustly on their knees, play fight on the floor and do many other things that drive mothers a scant bit crazy. Fathers provide a different, but equally intense, care — showing strength, confidence and brevity. Yet, we’ve all watched that two hundred pounds of male hulk melt like butter to the request of “his own children.”

“And you know how affectionately we treated each of you, like a loving father cares for his own children.” We comforted and encouraged you and challenged you to adopt a lifestyle worthy of God, who invites you into his kingdom and glory.”
1 Thessalonians 2:11,12

The leadership shown by a father compliments that of a mother, as he comforts, encourages, challenges and invites. These qualities imply intimacy of relationship and closeness of contact.

Love and care

Paul experienced angst due to separation from his spiritual children — especially knowing they were facing such intense opposition.

A father leads by drawing near, “encouraging, comforting and urging” his children to excel at the most essential thing in life — “to adopt a lifestyle worthy of God.”

The “dad” quality of leadership “cuts to the chase,” “grabs the bull by the horns,” and “calls a spade a spade.” He separates the trite from the significant, without being rude or cruel. Rather, the “dad” leader invites, encourages, and invokes — comforting when needed and urging the young to press on despite setbacks.

Leadership which combines both a mother’s love and father’s care creates a synergetic force, propelling the next generation forward.

Remain Teachable

However, before Paul emphasizes his approach to leadership, he points out a critical piece for all leaders to remember.

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.”
1 Thessalonians 2:6,7

When I was a child, my dad’s edict ruled our home. (We were many too!) Unfortunately, I used that same tone much too often while parenting. Paul gives a better directive.

A mother's love and a father's care

An apostle held the highest authority in the church; his voice carried the unquestionable weight of authority. Yet, he refused to impose or demand from his platform of lofty position. Instead, he insisted his whole team become “like young children” — teachable, gentle, submissive, and responsive servants.

“S-e-r-v-a-n-t” spells leadership most accurately.

I recognize with aging, the less flexible, teachable and submissive I become. To follow Paul’s leadership example, I must remain vigilant at countering natural tendencies to rely on my understanding and depend on seniority or status.

A mother’s love and a father’s care should naturally draw me into a place of low servanthood and tender teachability.

Selfless

Through Paul, I’m reminded of the goal for such an attitude in leadership solely rests on the good of others and the glory of God.

Listen to Paul,

“. . . We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”
1 Thessalonians 2:4

Selfless

Or again, 

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else. . .”
1 Thessalonians 2:6

And one more,

“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”
1 Thessalonians 2:9

With a mother’s love and a father’s care leaders give, give and give again. They open their homes to those who eat their food and mess what’s just been cleaned. These leaders sacrifice their “free” time, to encourage the downcast, pray for the sick, and fill in the missing gaps of ministry. They turn off TVs, cell phones and computers to seek God, fasting and praying for the spiritual condition and pressing needs of others.

Leadership costs! It costs financially, demands relationally and drains both physically and emotionally. No wonder Paul so aptly uses the analogy of a mother’s love and a father’s care.

Rare is the leader that rises to such heights by bowing low to the selfless call of God. Yet, I’ve watched those rare gems shine brightly among us.

Protective family

May God continue to challenge me, you and us all to live selflessly for the good of others and His glory. Yes, let’s receive encouragement from the lives of past and present godly leaders, while consistently looking to God — the One who demonstrated ultimate love and care through Jesus Christ.



Leadership Promotion – Man’s Choice Versus God’s Chosen

Leadership promotion comes either through human intervention or the supernatural aid of God. Biblical and recent history proves how often we get it wrong. For churches, parachurch and non-profit organization, choosing leaders takes prayer, wisdom and discernment.

At times, I have blamed hindrances to personal promotion on human restrictions, rather than seen them as acts of God’s grace. At other times, God boosted my area of influence or ministry capacity when I felt least prepared or qualified.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

When God gives leadership promotion, the results are obvious! God sees with equal clarity the present and future, our inner reality and outer facade, one’s natural limitations and supernatural faith. He advances ministers and ministries in indisputable ways.

Daniel

King Nebuchadnezzar enrolled Daniel, an exiled captive, into a rigid three-year training program. The candidates for this elite opportunity possessed specific qualities.

“… Israelites from the royal family and the nobility
young men without any physical defect, handsome,
showing aptitude for every kind of learning,
well informed, quick to understand
and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.”
Daniel 1:4

Daniel’s commitment to God, the true King, actually added to his resume of qualifications. He was “resolved not to defile himself” by eating and drinking things opposed to his religious standards. (1:8) “God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning”, as well as visions and dreams of all kinds.” (1:17)

The king recognized gifting! God decided on anointing!

Psalm 89:17

God multiplied Daniel’s natural gifts! At the end of the training period, the king personally interviewed each candidate.

“The king talked with them,
and he found non equal to Daniel,
Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah…
In every matter of wisdom and understanding
about which the king questioned them,
he found them ten times better than all…”
Daniel 1:18-20

This was Daniel’s first leadership promotion, but not his last. He remained humble, submitted and dedicated to God in spite of severe opposition. God unequivocally propelled Daniel to the forefront.

Paul

Judas suicide decreased “The Twelve” to “The Eleven”. Together they were “constantly in prayer,” (Acts 1:14)

“… Peter stood up among the believers
(a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)
… it is necessary to choose one
of the men who have been with us the whole time
the Lord Jesus was living among us,
beginning from John’s baptism to the time
when Jesus was taken up from us.
For one of these must become a witness
with us of his resurrection.”
Acts 1:15 & 21 

Through prayer, Peter caught God’s plan of replacing Judas. Unfortunately, human reasoning took over!  Surely 120 people, constantly in prayer, couldn’t get it wrong. So they nominated two candidates for leadership promotion: Joseph and Matthias.

Proverbs 19:21

After much prayer, Matthias, whose name means “gift of Yaheweh”, was added to The Eleven. Matthias, though a gift, wasn’t God’s chosen! God’s choice was absent from the list of elect candidates. God’s choice was on a personal rampage, killing and imprisoning new believers. Until God held a face-to-face confrontation along the Damascus Road!

“And last of all (Jesus) appeared to me also,
as to one abnormally born.
For I am the least of the apostles
and do not even deserve to be called an apostle,
but by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.”
1 Corinthians 15: 8-10

Matthias fell into obscurity! Paul received undeserved leadership promotion in an organization he hated — writing 14 letters included in the Holy Scriptures. Quite the difference between man’s choice and God’s chosen!

Aaron

 “Korah … Dathan and Abiram …
became insolent and rose up against Moses.
With them were 250 Israelite men,
well-known community leaders
who had been appointed members of the council.”
Number 16:1-2

Picture it! Moses and Aaron on one side. Powerful and influential leaders, on the other — 250 delegated spokesmen! Over a million men, women and children witnessed the mutiny. Accusing Moses and Aaron of exerting too much authority, they forcefully expressed their opposition!

These were not rag-tag back-benchers! These men formed the spiritual and civic leadership of the nation. All were members of the ruling council!

Leadership Promotion - Deitrich Bonhoffer

Several times God pressed against the agitators to bring order out of chaos. Nothing was working! Finally, He gave Moses an indisputable plan,

“Speak to the Israelites and
get twelve staffs from them,
one from the leader of each of their ancestral tribes.
Write the name of each man on his staff.
On the staff of Levi write Aaron’s name,
for there must be one staff for the head
of each ancestral tribe.
Numbers 17: 1-2

Each tribal leader brought his staff — the symbol of his identity, authority, and ministry. A man’s staff was more than a piece of wood! It bore lasting generational significance.

“Place them in the tent of meeting
in front of the ark of the covenant law,
where I meet with you.”
Numbers 17:4

God’s Chosen

Each man surrendered his ministry, calling and gifting — hope for future generations, laid first in Moses’ hands, then in God’s. With the names of each written on his staff, there would be no disputing the results. All that long night, their staffs lay hidden before God. He alone would decide leadership promotion.

Leadership Quote - Frank Damazio

Similarly, we too lay our hopes and expectations, visions and calling, gifts and abilities before God. In surrendering our rights, we allow God to determine the duration of hiddenness, trusting Him to bring forth His divine purpose.

“The next day Moses entered the tent
and saw that Aaron’s staff,
which represented the tribe of Levi,
had not only sprouted but had budded,
blossomed and produced almonds.
Then Moses brought out all the staffs
from the Lord’s presence to all the Israelites.
They looked at them,
and each of the leaders took his own staff.”
Numbers 17:9

Can you imagine that moment? Take your staff Simeon — dry, bent and worn. Look at yours Reuben — rubbed smooth. Barren! Check yours Dan — fruitless as before! Each leader “took his own staff.”

The Presence of God brought supernatural fruitfulness to one man’s staff, while leaving the others still dead. Each man needed grace to accept God’s decision, whether chosen or left. God publicly revealed His irrefutable choice for leadership promotion.

Lay it Down

All leaders require grace to lay down and pick up the “staff” of either promotion or limitation. Not once, but continually! Setting everything before God’s Presence! Graciously and humbly “owning” our staff — living or dead.

Those who by ungodly promotion, via self or others, press beyond their God-given parameters become disqualified. God invariably exposes all interior motivations. Even publicly if necessary!

1 Peter 5:6

I relate to the eleven tribal leaders as I lay my “staff” before God. Will He return it without substantial change? I have vision for more! Prophetic words over my life declare more! Yet, the timing is God’s. The position and dimensions of my influence remains His.

I’ve been deceived to believe that the right people with the right gifts, accentuated by the right training program, makes great leaders. I’ve slipped into the faulty, half-right, totally-wrong, reasoning of Peter and others in making leadership decisions.

If only God would mark his “Daniel” ministries clearly, propelling them ten times better than all others. Perhaps if there were more Damascus Road conversions, we would recognize God’s choice. Or maybe if every “Aaron” ministry would stand out with miraculous growth and fruitfulness, discerning leadership promotion would be easy.

Or maybe not!

This I know:
the favor that brings promotion and power
doesn’t come from anywhere on earth,
for no one exalts a person but God, the true judge of all.
He alone determines where favor rests.
He anoints one for greatness
and brings another down to his knees.”
Psalm 75:7-9 TPT

There is one thing for certain, God’s choice is often not man’s! One option remains! Continually place everything before His Presence, trusting Him with leadership promotion.

**********

Lingering Long – Joshua, The Making of a True Lingerer

A young man named Joshua learned how to linger early in life. But how did this attribute develop? What is the making of a true lingerer — one whose heart is in constant pursuit of God.

Whether it is a good book, pleasant conversation with close friends, or beautiful surroundings, most of us have experienced that same longing to linger, a reluctance to leave. We cling to each moment, not to overstay our welcome, but rather desiring to engage fully in the experience.

Rest in the Lord and wait for His Presence

“The LORD would speak to Moses face to face,
as one speaks to a friend.
Then Moses would return to the camp,
but his young aide Joshua son of Nun
did not leave the tent.”
Exodus 33:11

Here is a perfect example! Duty called Moses to “return to the camp”, while Joshua lingered in the Presence of the LORD.

The Beginnings

Of course, this wasn’t the beginning of Joshua’s God experience. He was among those who witnessed the miraculous intervention of God bringing an entire nation out from the midst of Egypt

“with a mighty hand and outstretched arm
Psalm 136:12

The awesome deeds of God continued in the desert, turning bitter water into sweet, providing daily provision, and defeating Israel’s strong military enemies.

After the desert comes rest

This is where we first meet up with young Joshua.

“Moses said to Joshua,
‘Choose some of our men
and go out to fight the Amalekites.
Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill
with the staff of God in my hands.’ ”
Exodus 17:9

Later on we would get more details about the Amalekites and their guerrilla tactics. At first they picked off the weak and stragglers of the camp; now they form a serious frontal attack on the nation. An impressive foe to be sure! Joshua takes up strategic position on the field, while Moses assumes a safer spot on the hill!

Together, the battle was won! No one lingers on a battlefield! Get in! Do the job! Get out!

Taking a moment to linger over a sunrise

Next Meeting

Our next meeting with Joshua is quite different. God instructs Moses. The camp is directed to stay away from even the foot of Mount Sinai, or they will die.

“Then the LORD said to Moses,
Come up to the LORD,
you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu,
and seventy of the elders of Israel …
but Moses alone is to approach the LORD …”
Exodus 24:1,2

Count them! Out of approximately 2,000,000 people, 74 are invited to meet with God. And they do — face to face! Most people think it was only Moses who saw and talked with God. Actually, this whole group of prestigious leaders received special invitation.

“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu,
and the seventy elders of Israel went up
and saw the God of Israel
But God did not raise his hand
against these leaders of the Israelites;
they saw God, and they ate and drank.”
Exodus 24:9-11

Linger on the mountain with God

A feast on the mountain! Eating and drinking with God! Who wouldn’t want to be included in this group?  Wouldn’t that change your perspective of God forever? Maybe not! These very leaders would, within days, be involved in mass rebellion, forming a golden calf to worship, then declaring with their own mouths

“These are your gods, Israel,
who brought you up out of Egypt.”
Exodus 32:4

They witnessed God’s miraculous intervention, saw Him in His glory, and tasted of His goodness. Refusing to linger, they left the mountain, and God, quickly following after the delusions of men.

Except for one!

The Uninvited

Have you ever attended an important function uninvited? Honestly, I have been too embarrassed to try. Without an invitation from the host, I have graciously declined several occasions.

What if the host is God — the LORD of all? This invitation was specific, “Moses alone is to approach the LORD”.

“Then Moses set out with Joshua, his aide,
and Moses went up on the mountain of God.
He said to the elders,
Wait here for us until we come back to you…”
Exodus 24:13,14

The leaders were instructed to wait, to linger; they didn’t. Moses was instructed to proceed alone; he didn’t.

Alone but never alone!

Was Moses falling to the old temptation of fear, like he had at the burning bush? Then afraid to approach Israel on his own, he had Aaron join him. Was he again afraid to go alone? There is no preempt to Joshua’s presence.

Uninvited!
Not included in the list of dignitaries!
Not chosen!
A silent, unnoticed witness!
A humble and faithful servant!

Joshua’s humility and servant heart to his master not only gained him access to see the LORD, eat and drink in His Presence, but then to go higher … higher up the mountain.

Lingering Begins

One taste of the Presence of God was not enough. Joshua was never content to boast of his mountain experience, or lounge in yesterday’s glory. What began on the mountain marked Joshua’s life from this point forward.

Waiting and resting!

Every opportunity Joshua had in the Presence of God became one of lingering.

“The LORD would speak to Moses face to face,
as one speaks to a friend.
Then Moses would return to the camp,
but his young aide Joshua son of Nun
did not leave the tent.”
Exodus 33:11

Right here my heart grieves! What draws each of us so easily and quickly away? What duty is so pressing? Why are other pleasures so enthralling? Not just for the young, but also for the mature!

Linger to Lead

It is no surprise that when God summoned Moses to step down from leadership, Joshua was ready as successor.

“The LORD said to Moses,
“Now the day of your death is near.
Call Joshua and present yourselves at the tent of meeting,
where I will commission him.”
So Moses and Joshua came
and presented themselves at the tent of meeting.”
Deuteronomy 31:14

The tent of meeting! The place where Joshua lingered long, refusing to leave God’s Presence, became the very ground of His commissioning into greater service.

How many commissioning moments have been missed because those God would have chosen have failed to linger? How few commissioned are so captivated by the Presence of God they seek nothing else?

It is in His Presence that every promotion, elevation and advancement begins. Here we are transformed, equipped and ordained. Here our hearts remain subtle and wills flexible to the moving of The Spirit and the promptings of God.

Oh that we would all become lingerers, learning from Joshua’s example. That we would inhabit the Presence of God, coming more often and staying longer. What an example to emulate!

Welcome the Presence of God

**********

Further Reading:

A Hero – “If You Need Someone Strong, I’m The One!”

Leadership 101 – Take it from the Eagles

Lead and Follow! Who is in the Lead?

Some people find it naturally easier to lead; others prefer to follow. Whether we lead or follow, the question arises “Who is the leader here?” Without followers, a leader isn’t leading; without a leader it is difficult to know who to follow.

Who is in the lead?

Lead and Follow

I introduced a practical exercise to a group of children learning worship dance. First a leader was chosen. Each child faced the leader and mimicked the lead dancer’s movements. After a couple of minutes the leader  became a follower designating the next dancer as the new leader. Around the circle we went. Everyone had opportunity to lead; all attempted to follow.

Afterward I asked what was difficult about leading. These answers and more came in childlike honesty:

  • “I was afraid no one would follow!”
  • “What if others didn’t like what I was doing!”
  • “Everyone was expecting me to come up with the ideas!”

Then I asked what was difficult about following.

  • “I was moving in one direction and the leader went the other way!”
  • “When I thought I had the leader figured out, she changed what she was doing!”
  • “I never knew what the leader would do next!”

If we are honest, we too would acknowledge similar problems when leading and following.

A Leader who is Safe

Whether we articulate it or not, we want leaders who are safe and predictable!

Jacob had connived his brother out of his birthright and his blessing. Then, fearing for his life, he fled to the far side of the known world. God met him in his running.

In a dream, he saw angels ascending and descending a stairway to heaven.

” There above it stood the Lord, and he said:
I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.
I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.”
Genesis 28:12-13

 

Leaders who are safe and predictable

Needless to say, Jacob was disturbed by the dream. Frightened, he bargained with God:

If God will be with me and will watch over me
on this journey I am taking
and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear

so that I return safely to my father’s household,
then the Lord will be my God…”
Genesis 28:20-22

If my thoughts and prayers were publicly exposed to scrutiny, they would appear just as self-centered. If God will be a safe God, a me-serving God, ensuring my comfort, provision and care, then I will worship and follow Him.

Jacob wasn’t ready to give up the lead, until God proved He was good!

A Leader who is Present

How do you follow a leader you cannot see? That was Peter’s predicament!

Just a few short years prior, Peter made the choice to “leave all” and follow Christ, even when leaving meant passing up the greatest windfall catch he had ever seen.

“Then Jesus said to Simon,
“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
So they pulled their boats up on shore,
left everything and followed him.”
Luke 5:10-11

Peter was a natural leader. For three years, his leadership training took him through unfamiliar territory of following Jesus. Just when he was beginning to get the hang of this following stuff, Jesus left. What does a follower do without a leader?

The most natural leadership Peter knew was from a fishing boat. He immediately diverted to old patterns. Three years of training appeared to fly out the window, or should I say jump overboard?

Follow the leader!

“Quack! Quack!” Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, plus two other disciples joined the line of would-be-deserters and followed Peter’s lead. Like it or not, a leader is always leading – for better or worse!

Just like his last fishing excursion, Peter’s all night fishing accomplished nothing. Then Someone on the shore suggested he try fishing in a new way,

“Throw your nets on the right side of the boat
and you will find some.”
John 21:6

The immense catch of fish revealed Jesus’ identity. Peter immediately jumped overboard and approached Jesus, leaving his would-be-followers alone in the boat.

Jesus challenges Peter’s devotion three times and then finishes with,

Follow me!”
John 21:19

This unpredictable, unseen One is still asking and inviting one-time followers and would-be leaders to follow undeterred His lead. “Follow even when you can’t see Me. Out of heart of love, follow Me, leading others well!”

A Leader who is Predictable

I have always felt drawn by nature into secluded places. As a young girl, I chanced upon a herd of white-tails. The buck sensed something alien hiding in the willow bush and advanced with nostrils flaring and antlers flinging dust in the air. I crouched breathless – unmoving! Though he could not see me clearly, he was wary. With one flick of his tail, the entire herd of thirty-or-so deer turned, springing effortless over fences and out of sight. My heart raced in the midst of unpredictable danger and wonder!

Whitetail deer - encountering a stag in the lead!

Following God often leaves me breathless in heart-racing uncertainty with a combined sense of danger and wonder!

[bctt tweet=”Following God often leaves me breathless in heart-racing uncertainty with a combined sense of danger and wonder!” username=”MAWardAuthor”]

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8-9

I want God predictable! But ask Job how predictable God is! Or maybe Joseph!

God, unpredictable? Yes! He seems unpredictable only because His ways and thoughts are brilliant and magnificent in every dimension.

Climbing to mountain heights

While He is leading the way to jagged mountain peaks, I’m content frolicking in the plush meadow. I’m know I’m not alone! Others have been caught slip-footed as He has leading them through flooded rivers, toward “invincible” armies, or into prisons and cave fortresses.

Lead And Follow

Following well has always been difficult for me. I echo the sentiments of my little dancers. It is uncomfortable to follow, when I’m not sure where, how or when God is about to move, change directions, or lead toward unfamiliar terrain.

I often sense God looking over His shoulder wondering if I will follow here… now… ever…

Though His ways are confusing, at the least, and perplexing more oft than not, I know I can (and should) trust His lead. Why? Because I know He is indescribably good. Where He leads is for my inevitable benefit, though perhaps lacking in personal comfort.

“Lead and Follow” is far more that a children’s activation exercise. I, too, am perpetually working on my step-by-step follow to my Father’s perfect lead. You see, to follow well requires complete surrender to another’s will and ways.

The only way I will grow as a leader is to ultimately become a faithful follower. It is wonderful paradox!

 

**********

More on leadership!

 Leadership 101 – Take it from the Eagles

Moses – The Defining Qualities of a Great Leader

 

 

The Heart of a Servant – To Serve is in Your Hands

Heart of a Servant - It's in your Hands

To be a servant literally means “to tie or to bind.” Jesus taught and demonstrated a life of absolute service, to His Father, to His disciples and to the world. No other person in history has given Himself as wholly to serve as Jesus did. The privilege to serve is in our hands and in our hearts.

Serve Upward

There are multiple examples of people serving those of higher status or position. These are only a few:

  • Joseph served Potiphar and then Pharoah
  • Samuel served Eli even as a young child
  • the Shunammite woman served Elisha
  • Nehemiah was servant and cup bearer to the king
  • Ruth left her home caring for her mother-in-law Naomi, and gleaned in the fields
  • David carried cheese to his older brother’s who were stationed at the front lines of battle
  • Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Susanna served Jesus

Someone has to carry the cheese

Carrying the cheese may seem like the most insignificant of tasks, yet it was the first step from shepherd boy to king. Great promotions are often wrapped in small acts of kindness and service.

The easiest One of all to serve is, of course, Jesus. He has given so much for us, loves us beyond comparison, and paved a wide road of selfless servitude.

“Whoever serves me must follow me;
and where I am, my servant also will be.
My Father will honor the one who serves me.”
John 12:26

The words “servant”, “service”, and “serve” are found over 1100 times in the bible. To serve in Hebrew had two key ingredients: the action of working and obedience. In the New Testament, it refers to “a relation of absolute dependence, in which the master and the servant stand on opposite sides, the former having a full claim, the latter having a full commitment.”

Serve Outward

Jesus disciples lived in a culture much like ours with people striving for bragging rights to top-dog positions.  These chosen men quarreled over who was the greatest and best.

“He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him,
and said, “Whoever wants to be first
must take last place
and be the servant of everyone else.”
Mark 9:35

I flip the page in my bible to find the same problem within their ranks. Jesus admonished them,

“You know that the rulers in this world
lord it over their people,
and officials flaunt their authority…”
Mark 10:42
 

Blow our own balloons or lift others up

Flaunting and lording remains common place; however, it has no place in God’s kingdom!

“But among you it will be different.
Whoever wants to be a leader among you
must be your servant,
 and whoever wants to be first among you
must be the slave of everyone else.”
 Mark 10:43-44

Paul later wrote: 

“Don’t push your way to the front;
don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.
Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.
Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.
Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
Philippians 2:3-4

Daily we have opportunity to either puff ourselves up or propel others to reach their full potential. It is no surprise that God blesses and promotes those who serve and honour others above themselves.

Serve Down

Throughout the world, most cultures demonstrate a healthy expectation to serve those in higher position. It is quite easy to serve within our peer groups. It remains beyond our understanding to comprehend Jesus, the King of Glory, willingly serving downward.

Shoes of humility serve others

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power,
and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
so he got up from the meal,
took off his outer clothing,
and wrapped a towel around his waist.”
John 13:3-4

Remember, the meaning of servant is “to tie or to bind.” The towel wrapped around the center of Jesus’ body was a perfect symbol of servanthood. He bound Himself to serve. It was such a profound illustration that the disciples were shocked by His move.

After that, he poured water into a basin
and began to wash his disciples’ feet,
drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
John 13:5

Peter, one of the dog-eat-dog Twelve, at first refused the gesture. Later he grasped the concept:

 “Each of you should use whatever gift
you have received to serve others,
as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
I Peter 4:10

To follow Christ’s example we must know who we are, Who we belong to, and why we are here. Unless we are secure in our identity in Christ, we will have limited capacity to serve with wholehearted devotion.

Am I prepared to pick up the servant’s towel and wash the feet of all those around me? My honest answer is not entirely! Yet, the challenge is before me!

“I have given you an example:
you should do just as I have done for you.”
John 13:15

Humility to Serve

Through Christ our only right is to humbly serve!

[bctt tweet=”Through Christ our only right is to humbly serve!” username=”MAWardAuthor”]

The mark of every Christian is humble service. When Peter began to comprehend what Christ was doing, he declared emphatically,

“not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
John 13:8

We may have good intentions with hearts rightly positioned and yet still get tripped up in the follow-through. It is our feet that need cleaning – these feet that embrace the ground, the dust of humanity, taking the most abuse and getting the dirtiest.

Need only to wash your feet!

As Christians, Christ has already purified our hearts and cleansed our minds. Still, we need foot-washing reminders of our purpose in serving others.

Jesus actions prepared the disciples for servant leadership. Each of them would eventually lay down their lives in service for others.

All, that is, except one! Jesus washed the feet of Judas, who would soon betray Him to the cruelest of deaths. What an expression of ultimate servanthood!

Servanthood Demonstrated

Last fall I was privileged to attend a Women on the Frontlines Conference in Winnipeg. On opening night, a group of prominent male leaders, apologized for not being willing servants to women in their churches, communities and homes. They acknowledged the glass-ceilings they had perpetuated over women.

The sounds of gentle weeping crescendoed around me. Many women had never experienced such a gesture of respect and honour, even though the majority were recognized leaders in their churches and communities, sacrificially serving in various capacities.

For the remainder of the weekend, these men served consistently, joyfully and lavishly. Their acts of service washed deep wounds and lifted invisible burdens from many women present.

No towels wrapped the waists of these men, yet they displayed how people of strength open doors of opportunity, minister healing, and restore dignity through humble service.

Servants open doors for others

Participants were impacted by this “upper room” experience. They were inspired to greater acts of service as they returned to cities and towns from Ontario to Alberta. Why? Because a handful of men showed the way!

Let each of us be encouraged to pick up the towel of service where we live and serve well. May we activate the words of Jesus, “do just as I have done for you.”

Further Reading:

Creating a Culture of Honour – Honour God – Honour All!

Wake Up Deborah! Part 3 – Jael Strike the Enemy!

Deborah Arise - Jael Strike the Enemy

God planned every detail of their victory, not just for Israel, but beyond. Deborah’s voice and Barak’s bravery secured the battlefield, but the courage of Jael would extend the victory to all. It is time to strike the enemy!

You never have to go looking for your enemy! The enemy is looking for you!

Be alert and of sober mind.
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.”
1 Peter 5:8

Our story began with a woman, “the wife of Lappidoth.” Let me introduce you to Jael, “the wife of Heber.”

Opposites Attract

If ever there were opposites, Deborah and Jael are a perfect illustration. Jael’s husband Heber had

moved away from his tribe…
Heber’s family was on friendly terms with King Jabin.”
Judges 4:11, 17

Heber means “alliance”. As a descendant of Moses’ brother-in-law, Heber believed in God but allied with the enemy.  Heber had led his whole family to do the same. In this no-man’s-land of compromise, Jael’s home was in constant jeopardy.

Heber a lover of God but ally of the enemy

They lived by the Oak of Zaanannim, “removings”.

Before you throw too much judgment at Heber, consider his predicament. He was a foreigner in a foreign land. The incessant and degrading worship of non-gods was invading his home. However by “removing” his family from Israel’s wicked influence, he was also exposing them to a greater threat of destruction by invading troops.

Heber and his family walked a fine line for survival!

On one side, we see Deborah married to a powerful man of fire and faith. She was an anointed, fruitful and honoured woman, a beautiful and rare “palm” within Israel. On the other, we find Jael as common, as ordinary, as the sheltering oaks that surrounded her tent. Yet, she possessed a strength she did not yet know.

Defeated before she began!
Struggling to make ends meet!
The cards stacked against her!
The wrong family!
The wrong place!

The Enemy Knocks

Before Sisera knocked at her door, Jael saw him coming. His presence always signaled trouble for her and her household. Alone and running for his life,

Sisera fled on foot to the tent of Jael.”
Judges 4:17

A heart as dry as the desert

Though her ears never heard Deborah’s prophecy, God had this courageous, quick thinking woman ready!

“The LORD’s victory over Sisera
will be at the hands of a woman.”
Judges 4:9

How trapped in the cycle did Jael feel?  She knew already Sisera’s army lay defeated. Why else would he be on the run, fearfully glancing over his shoulder. Even without an army, Sisera possessed enough personal strength to annihilate her family.

God had asking her distant relative,

“What is that in your hand?”
Exodus 4:2

What could she, a woman, possibly do now? Courage rose above fear! She steeled her heart and steadied her mind! Her existence depended on it!

Sisera’s wild eyes and hands whitened against his sword disclosed his unpredictable nature.

What is in Your Hand?

It was a woman’s responsibility to tend to every aspect of her tent, from construction to maintenance. She would be the one to set up, repair and dismantle it. Like every mother today, it was her responsibility to protect it!

“Come into my tent, sir. Come in. Don’t be afraid”
Judges 4:18

Jael disarmed Sisera’s fear and used his fatigue as opportunity. She calmed the wild bull of a man with warm milk, settling him in a secluded corner of her own tent. Jael covered him with her blanket assuring him to rest.

“If anybody comes and asks you if there is anyone here,
say no.”
Judges 4:20

No where to run! No where to hide!

So many lies! The deceiver asleep in her tent! How tired was Jael of running, moving and longing for security? There was no where to hide. No more lies! No more making peace with the enemy!

The Courage of Jael

How many times had lies increased trouble for her household? Countless! Each lie strangling, poisoning, numbing to truth.

“No more! No more lies!”

As Jael watched her tears fall to the dusty ground something caught her eye. There they lay where she had fastened the last cord of her tent.

Numbly she reached for the long spike and crept toward Sisera, her heartbeat echoing in her ears.

As Deborah spoke in a voiceless land, Jael would no longer be silent! If Barak moved in audacious faith to engage Sisera in battle, she would not sit still! Because 10,000 men rose to the call without sword of shield, she would not rest!

While Israel’s warriors raised their voices in triumph, one obstacle prevented lasting peace. He was asleep on Jael’s floor.

God, who brought victory for the army of Israel, steadied her hand and her resolve.

“with her left hand she reached for a tent peg,
and with her right hand for the workman’s hammer.”
Judges 5:21

Courage is contagious. It started with Deborah, ignited Barak, and activated an army. Once awakened, courage flowed to the common, the ordinary, the survivors, the crippled, and the wounded. From the same dust that drank the blood of Sisera, courage continued to rise.

A Hammer and A Nail

Jael did not know that she was the fulfillment of Deborah’s prophecy. She was simply a mother watching over her tent.

Jael also didn’t realize she signalled another blow that would crush another head.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
  Genesis 3:15

Every believer since Adam and Eve has lived, like Heber and Jael, in the borderland between faith and alliance with the enemy. Some are caught in this broken place paralyzed by fear, incapacitated by sin, and numbed by lies.

In the North American Church today only 5% of Christians live in vibrant faith:

 bible reading full of exciting revelation
readiness to share the Good News of Christ
stepping into areas of ministry
praying with fervent faith
caring for the poor and under privileged
raising up disciples
enjoying God’s abiding presence.

Borderland is the prison confines of the too many!

Christ has paid the price for freedom! In His death and resurrection, He has crushed the deceiver once and for all!

May Deborah, Barak, 10,000 warriors and an ordinary woman named Jael, ignite an appetite for more. May we not settle for borderland living, but move toward freedom! If Satan has gained access anywhere in our homes, our families, our communities, our nation, or our world… arise!

Through the victory of the cross, STRIKE the enemy! God has already crushed his head and won the battle! Reach for the hammer and the tent peg. We may only get one swing, so let’s make it good!

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If you missed the first two parts of “Arise! Wake up!”, read on!