There's a question that I started asking when I was a young man, that I continue to ask today. I wanted to know, "What makes a great leader?" When I was a child, my aunt had an almanac that contained a lot of interesting information, including profiles of every U.S. President. Every time I visited, I used to sit down and read that thing. Eventually, after years of pouring through it, she gave it to me and I still have it. I was fascinated by reading the stories of the leaders it spoke about.
Growing up, I worked in our family grocery store. As a child, I observed the leadership of my grandfather, father, and uncle as they ran the business. I watched them hire, fire, and interact with employees. I observed and participated in the strict and sometimes severe ways they treated shoplifters. It was a very helpful context in which to learn leadership principles.
In the years that followed, I worked in various contexts alongside different bosses. Some were excellent leaders and some were terrible. Some I admired and copied and others I appreciated in a different way because they helped me learn what it felt like to serve under a bad, unethical, or ineffective leader.
You may or may not consider yourself a leader, but if you have any form of influence in the life of someone else, you are, at least to them, a leader. And if the Lord has given you the privilege to influence others at home, in society, at work, online, or in the church, it's worth asking the question, "What makes a great leader?" Thankfully, we find some answers to that question in God's word.
The other day I heard someone tell the story of what his friend once told him was his ideal life. His friend said he hoped to be living on a beach somewhere in Hawaii, with a simple hut that had a satellite dish so he could watch a lot of TV. He didn't want to experience any stress. He didn't want to be bothered with long conversations. In general, he didn't want to have to interact with very many people. This was his picture of stress-free life.
If you were given the ability to carve out the ideal version of your earthly life, what would you want it to look like? Would you be by yourself or are other people included in your vision? What are some of the stresses that bother you now that you would make certain to not include?
As fun or interesting as it may be to try to imagine what an easy life might look like, the reality is that isn't something we've been promised on this earth. In fact, when you look at what Scripture tells us, we're encouraged not to be surprised or discouraged by our trials. These things will come and the Lord has a purpose for them.
What else does His word tell us about the trials and difficulties we might experience as those who trust in Jesus Christ?
The other day, out of the blue, I received a brief note of encouragement from someone who used to attend our church, but moved away. I appreciated it and I made sure to tell her that. I also told her that in my opinion, she seems to be one of those unique people that has a gift for encouraging others. In fact, after mentioning that, she confirmed that encouraging others is something she takes great delight in doing.
Isn't it nice to have a few people like that in your life? Why do their actions tend to stand out as special to us? I think one of the reasons they stand out to us is because they're so different from what we experience in many other areas of life. In many contexts, we're forced to deal with people who care more about themselves than they care about others.
Driving can be one area where this becomes apparent. We're in the process of helping my daughter, a new driver, practice the skill of driving. Recently, I told her that the way people drive tends to be an extension of their personality. Gracious drivers tend to be gracious people. Aggressive and dangerous drivers tend to be selfish people that can't even be bothered to think about the safety of others when they're on the road.
Jesus isn't selfish, and His desire for the body of Christ is that we reflect His heart in the ways in which we interact with and treat each other. He invites us to look after each others' needs. He invites us to make sacrifices for the benefit of those we care about. His word teaches us what it looks like to live an others-centered life in the midst of a self-centered world.
Take a look at some of the principles the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to share about this subject with the church.
Think back to when you were twelve years old. What was life like for you then? Was that an easy time of life for you, or was that season of life more on the awkward side? I know for me personally, that was a challenging year of my life. I was in a new school. I was trying to figure out who I was and how I wanted to carry myself when I interacted with others. I was easily impressionable and many of my personal influences were not very good. The things I valued were, for the most part, unhealthy.
Over the next few years, things changed. The context that I lived in didn't change, but the people and the values that I allowed to influence me did. By God's grace, He put people in my life that had the desire to honor Him. Some of my greatest influences during the second half of my teen years were people who were just a few years older than me and they blessed me with a highly visible picture of what it meant to trust in and follow Christ.
During that season, I remember drawing a line in my life. I had an extremely strong desire to no longer live according to the faithless, worldly mindset I had welcomed into my life for far too long. I wanted to move beyond that manner of living and experience what it meant to be a fully devoted follower of Christ because I became convinced that that's exactly what God wanted for me.
And when we look at the content of 1 Peter 4:1-6, we can see that that's exactly what the Lord desires for all of us. He invites us to draw a line in our lives and to move forward as His family, instead of drifting backward into the mess He rescued us out of. So how can that be done?
Imagine attending a church worship service and never hearing the message of the gospel taught or proclaimed. Sadly, there are many contexts where that has been an issue historically, and it's also a concern in some contexts during present day. It can be a little too easy for us to lose sight of who Jesus really is and what He has chosen to accomplish on our behalf.
When we read the Scriptures, sometimes we have the benefit of learning something new. Other times, we have the benefit of being reminded of something we already know that we haven't necessarily thought about in a while. The portion of Scripture that we're about to look at probably incorporates both benefits. As we think about its content, some Christians will learn something new while others will be reminded of things they haven't thought about in a while.
What would our lives be like without Jesus? What kind of future would we be currently looking forward to if He hadn't intervened on our behalf? Sometimes, it can be far too easy for us to become complacent in our understanding of what He has accomplished on our behalf. We're so used to the benefits He brings to our lives that we don't consider the kind of mess we'd be in without Him.
This portion of Scripture helps us gain a better glimpse of some of the obvious and some of the behind-the-scenes things Jesus accomplished for us. The work He has done on our behalf is of far greater significance and far greater effect than we often realize.
Do you consider yourself easy to intimidate or not easy to intimidate? Are there certain personality types that produce a certain level of fear within you when you encounter them? Are there people in your life that you care a little too much about their opinion than you really should?
One of the most common fears we face on a regular basis is the "fear of man." Sometimes, we're afraid of what people might say about us, think about us, or do to us. I have also learned that those who try their best to convince me that this isn't something they struggle with, are also wrestling with this kind of battle (often on a deeper level than they're willing to admit).
Truthfully, it isn't hard to see why people become fearful of other people. In this world, who has hurt you the most... rabid dogs, great white sharks, poisonous snakes, or other people? We all have the same answer to that question. Other people may have slandered us, caused us physical or emotional pain, and may have intentionally conveyed a stand-off attitude toward us that keeps us at a distance.
Because of what we've experienced in the past, it's reasonable to be concerned about what people might have the potential to do to us in the future. That's certainly something the early church that Peter wrote his letters to would have been wrestling with as they experienced persecution, suffering, and disdain in their culture. But becoming overly fearful of other people isn't Christ's desire for His church.
So, if we've been wrestling with the fear of other people, what kind of counsel do we find in God's word to help us overcome that struggle?
We have been designed by God to grow mature. Just a quick glance around creation illustrates that. We see that in His design for humanity. We see that in His design for plant life. We see that in His design for animals. In the natural realm, the Lord has designed us to progress from infancy to maturity.
In the spiritual sense, this is also true. When we first come to Christ, we operate like infants. Everything is new to us. We begin the process of learning the Scriptures. We practice the process of walking by faith in Christ. We are strengthened by Him in the midst of trials and adversity. And by His grace, we have the privilege to grow spiritually mature.
One of the shocking realities that occurred to me when I was a new believer was the fact that many professing Christians don't place a high value on their spiritual maturity. It isn't one of their major priorities, nor is it a priority they attempt to model to their children. As a result, it feels like something is missing. Young believers aren't benefiting from the example of older believers and older believers aren't experiencing the joy of helping younger believers learn how to walk with Christ.
Thankfully, God's word gives us a picture of what spiritual maturity really looks like. Whether you feel like you've been blessed with great examples in your life to copy or not, we can all look to this section of 1 Peter 3 to find the picture and the pattern we're being invited to adopt as our own.
Few things in this world are as joyful, dangerous, unpredictable, and emotionally challenging as getting married. Biblically speaking, marriage isn't a contract, it's a covenant. It's a permanent pledge before God. When you make the choice to marry someone, you take the risk to entrust many aspects of your well-being to their care or provision. You also make the pledge to love them unconditionally and care for them in every high and low moment that comes your way over the course of your life, for decades and decades.
Marriage isn't easy, but few things of lasting value ever are. What does Scripture tell us about how God has called us to honor and respect our spouses?
There are certain aspects of the Christian faith that are quite different from some of the more common cultural expectations. One of the big differences is the attitude or the heart that we're encouraged in Scripture to convey. Some aspects of our culture seem to value dominance and control, but God's word encourages us to value cultivating the heart of a servant.
Servanthood is easier to value in theory than it is in practice. Many times I have heard it said that, "Servanthood sounds great, right up to the point when someone actually treats you like a servant." I know for me, this has been a lesson that the Lord has chosen to drive home to my heart quite a few times. When I was directing the Pocono Mountain Bible Conference, this was a lesson I had to re-learn every week when I took off my director's hat and helped wash dishes for retreats and mop cabins after they were used.
Is this a lesson you can sense the Lord trying to teach you as well? What has He been teaching you about the value of servanthood? Has Christ given you the heart of a servant? If so, how is a servant called to live, even in the midst of a world that doesn't always esteem servanthood?
As a Dad, it has been fascinating to me to watch my children grow up. I probably annoy them a little because I tend to take a lot of pictures, but it amazes me to watch how quickly they have changed and how drastically different they seem when I look at pictures or videos I took just a few short years ago. They're growing bigger, stronger, and more mature.
Regardless of our age, every one of us is a work in progress. As God's children, there are things that the Lord has already done for us, as well as things that He continues to do for us. He is building us and strengthening us. He is facilitating maturity in our lives. What do you suppose He wants His finished product to look like? Who is the Lord building us to be?