I have found that, over the years, one of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced as a leader is the constant need for me to be ‘on’. It’s hard to have a day off when you are leading, particularly in a Christian context. I always get the impression that people think, “Well, Jesus didn’t have a day off, so why are you complaining?” Which got me to thinking…
I think that God is not calling us as leaders to be doormats. He didn’t create us in His image, and restore us for His purposes through Christ, so that we’d become an impersonal, broken and wasted shell of a person. Even though Jesus suffered and died, and many have been martyred for their faith throughout the centuries, it was because they stood up for who they were in God’s eyes, and not the other way around. So how, then, do we become humble servant leaders with confidence and healthy boundaries? Where’s the balance?
I think that part of the process, and possibly a very central part of the process, is learning the rhythms of God for our lives. It’s a basic Christian discipline, and one that becomes absolutely essential when we step into the responsibilities of leadership. Throughout Scripture, it’s not too hard to see the natural rhythms of life presented. You only need to look at the major Jewish festivals to see the passage of the seasons and the rhythms of a farming culture. When we come to Jesus’ life, it becomes even more clear.
The Gospel writers regularly tell us of Jesus’ rhythms of prayer and solitude, counterpointed with His public ministry of preaching and healing. Mark 1:35 says, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” It’s in Matthew and Luke as well. If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s probably good enough for us!
I think, even more powerfully, is the pattern we see in Mark 3:13-15. As Jesus calls His disciples, we read: “And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” I think there’s a few elements that we can draw out of this.
Firstly, Jesus had withdrawn to a mountain. Often in the scriptural record, mountains are places of meeting with God. Moses met with God on Mt Sinai, God showed up the prophets of Baal with Elijah on Mt Carmel, the transfiguration of Christ happened on a mountain. Even in the book of Hebrews, the picture of God’s restored humanity in intimate relationship with Him is presented on a mountain top. Mountains are places of separation from the ordinary world, where people go to meet with God. If we put ourselves in the place of the disciples instead of Jesus, the lesson extends. God is calling us to come up to the mountain and meet with Him: Jesus called those whom He desires to come up to Him.
Do you let God call you away from the busyness of ministry? He loves you, He desires you, He has called you to be His child, and He also calls us to times of separation from the busy work of life and ministry. It’s in these moments and seasons that we remember that God desires us, that He has indeed called us, and we let the noise and distraction of the world fall away. Often, it’s not until we step out of our context that we recognise the things that God is building up, and the ways that the world and the enemy are breaking things down.
Recently, an American acquaintance of mine was telling me about the times he calls and visits family who are still in the States. Whilst he’s an American, he’s lived other places around the world for a number of years, and so has been out of his homeland context for ages. He told me that when he calls home, he recognises the context of his former culture, and the ways that he sees God working and the world’s systems clashing with that. But when he points that out to his family and friends, they don’t understand. It’s because the withdrawal and separation give us perspective. And without that perspective, it becomes increasingly hard to see what’s right and wrong, what’s a godly call and what’s an earthly motivation. And we can get stuck in our own cultural moment without a reference point.
However, the second part of this passage in Mark is also essential to our call as leaders. We must remember to respond to God’s call to come up the mountain with Him. But we must also remember that He has sent us to be about His kingdom business. Jesus appointed these disciples to “be with him” and to be sent “out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” The time of separation and withdrawal is a time of preparation and perspective, so we come back to the work God has given us, to be empowered with intimacy (being with Jesus) and authority (sent intentionally). Those we lead may not know it, but they need us to be doing both.
So, this poses us the question: do we see and practice the rhythms of God’s life for us? Do we separate from the crazy pressure of always being ‘on’ when we’re at church, in the shopping centre, workplace or classroom? Do we make sure that when we are ‘on’, we are leading and loving from a place of intimacy and authority? The rhythms are there for us, and Jesus’ invites us to enter into them. His words in Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG) stand as the invitation to each of us:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
By Jo Leutton