Some scattered threads about servant-leadership, self-knowledge, and satisfaction…
One: There’s a lot of buzz about Steven Furtick’s Elevation Church in North Carolina, and the apparent cult of personality that has arisen out of it. There’s a lot of talk about “uniting around the vision of the Leader” and “following the Visionary.” This is a mindset that is creeping up in some segments of the American Evangelical church–how leaders cast a “vision” for the future of the congregation, and people need to get in line and support that vision and that leader. Something about this has always made me really uncomfortable–not the least of which is that the role of pastor in the New Testament is most often described as “shepherd,” not CEO. In my very limited experience with the responsibility of soul care, my approach can’t be authoritarian and demanding; when it starts to get that way, people don’t follow. Instead, when I love and serve well, people listen and respond well. (I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to His disciples about authority and leadership.)
I find myself a little frustrated this week with some of my church folks–particularly, my guys. I teach singles in their 20’s, and I’m noticing a particular spirit of passivity and inertia in a lot of my guys. To be honest, it upsets me–but like so many interpersonal struggles, I am upset in part because I recognize the same quality in myself. I’ve been struggling to overcome these tendencies in my own life for years. While I’m making progress, I still have a ways to go. SO it’s most important for me to remember that, just as I needed grace AND a kick in the butt, so they need both motivation and gracious affirmation. Yelling doesn’t work. But leading by serving does.
Two: I’m getting married in 106 days. This is both thrilling and terrifying. This week, I’ve really been thinking about the implications of that reality. I’m getting nervous. I’m fretting. Not at all because of my bride-to-be; she’s amazing, and I’m ridiculously blessed to marry her. But I’m nervous about myself. I’m not sure how well I’m going to serve her, provide for her, care for her. I’m seeing my own natural selfishness and self-excuses in light of the prospect of bringing her deeper into my life. It’s like, when you invite people over, suddenly you can see all the messiness of your apartment that you would have been totally blind to by staying at home alone. That’s what’s happening; I’m really seeing the messiness of my life, and I’m suddenly frustrated with myself for not dealing with these things sooner. Obviously, you can’t undo the past by worry. But man, there’s more than a little chest-beating going on in my head and heart.
Here’s the crazy thing: I think she knows I’m a mess in some areas. She obviously knows I have a weight problem. I’ve told her about my undisciplined finances. She’s seen most of my apartment (I still haven’t let her see into my massively cluttered bedroom–that day is coming). And repeatedly, like a living vessel of God’s gentle grace, she tells me she loves me, she’s praying for me, and she will walk with me through all of the mess as I keep growing in discipline and wisdom. I do not doubt her love. But I still hate myself a little bit for not being more put together and mature and capable.
Three: In the desert, the people of Israel wandered. As they wandered, they grew thirsty, and complained to Moses, accusing him (and God, by extension) of being unable to care for them or unwilling to meet their needs. God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff, and from that rock flowed fresh water for the people to drink. Hundreds of years later, Paul wrote that this Rock was Christ–God was their source of refreshment and life.
Centuries after the desert wandering, and centuries before the life of Jesus or Paul, the prophet Jeremiah called out a rebellious and idolatrous Israel for digging cisterns (underground water tanks) that were cracked and corrupted. Rather than drinking deeply of the fresh spiritual water that comes from knowing and following the true God, they have pursued counterfeit gods; in so doing, they traded “fresh water” from the living God for the spiritual sludge at the bottom of broken, nasty cisterns. The prophet called the people to forego their idolatry and repent, so that they may drink deeply of a life-giving relationship with their God.
Centuries later, a Jewish rabbi from Nazareth sits by Jacob’s Well in Samaria. A woman with a bad reputation walks up to draw water. He asks her for a drink (breaking many cultural taboos) and when she hesitates, he says that if she knew who He was, she would ask Him and He would give her water that would satisfy her deepest thirst forever.
Not much longer after that, Jesus then stood up on the last day of the Feast of Booths–a feast commemorating the time when the people of Israel were wanderers in the desert, living in tents, trusting God to provide for their needs–and he called out with a loud voice that if anyone is thirsty, they should come to Him and He would give them a spring of living water within them.
I bring all of this up to say: we’re all driven by our needs, our soul’s hunger and our heart’s thirst. And we’re tempted to try to satisfy those needs with all sorts of self-made solutions, but like the woman at the well, we will still get thirsty and still need to draw more and more to try to ease our ragged throats and parched tongues. The Living Water is right here, offered to us every day, but even those of us who grew up following the old time religion (and it’s still good enough for us) can forget that the life within our litany comes from the fountain of living water in our hearts.
As I sit here, on a brilliant-bright Friday morning, my heart is a bit dry, and my fingers are stained by cistern sludge. Yet the River is still there, still flowing, still full of love and refreshment, still inviting me to come, wash, drink.
Summation: The common element here? Love. Love that leads by serving and motivates by modeling grace; love that frees us from fear, that gives security and leads to openness; love that finds its home in knowing Jesus and being known by Him, that finds refreshment in who He is and not in the substitute sludge-water saviors of the world around me.
Lord, give me love to quench the desert-bones of my dusty heart. Like an errant lamb, make me stop and drink, for I’m too foolish to remember where my refreshment is found.