The following post is another contribution to the series on Leading Spiritually. Thanks for those who have commented and encouraged the continuation of this series.
Check out the other posts:
The Art of Leading Spiritually – An Invitation to a Journey
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Why Are We Leading?
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Where Are We Heading?
The Art of Leading Spiritually – How Do We Do It?
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning Together
The Art of Leading Spiritually – Discerning on Your Own
I mentioned last week that writing this series on leading spiritually has been something of a process of self examination for me. Listening does not come easily to me. I am a great multitasker and can easily get distracted from what I am supposed to be focused on. So I don’t always take the time to give God or others my full attention. In a world that applauds multitasking especially in leaders, I know I am not alone in this but to be good spiritual leaders we need to be able to focus.
Spiritual leadership is about giving full attention to all that is happening in the moment in which we are living. So how do we equip ourselves personally to be good spiritual leaders?
When I think of leadership Jesus style of think of washing feet, hugging kids, embracing lepers, healing the marginalized. I also think of desert retreats, nights spent in prayer, walks with his disciples. The attributes of a good spiritual leader that I see expressed in Jesus life are contemplative, activist, servant, spiritual director, generosity, justice and love. Some of these may sound contradictory but for me they imply balance. Activism should always flow out of a contemplative centre. Spiritual direction should always flow out of a servant heart that is committed above all else to the nurture and fulfillment of others. And a heart full of the love of God will always be generous and just.
This type of leadership places huge responsibility on us as individuals. In fact the more I have written, the longer the list seems to become so I have decided to break it into two posts. Today’s post talks about intimacy with God and seeking our true and authentic self. Tomorrow’s post addresses listening, acknowledging doubts and uncertainties, gratitude and seeking after love of God and neighbour.
1. We must above all else be committed to a journey into deeper intimacy with God. This sounds obvious but I have noticed that I can easily be fully engaged in my regular spiritual practices of prayer and bible reading and still not be moving closer to God. I have mentioned in the past that the chronic randomness of our prayer and scripture study often disconnects us from the presence and purposes of God. It can become more of an intellectual exercise than a journey into intimacy.
What we need most are intentional and disciplined patterns to our prayer life and to our reading and study of God’s word that deliberately draw us into God’s presence and into a deeper understanding of God’s purposes. My blog series last year on Tools for Prayer was an attempt to identify some of the tools that can help with this. If, like me, you like variety you may enjoy experimenting with one tool for a season and then trying another. Just remember however that the goal of this is not experimentation itself but intimacy with God.
2. We must be seekers after our true and authentic self. Salvation is a journey from death into life, from blindness into sight, from solitude into community, from false self into true self. If, as spiritual leaders, our responsibility is to enable others to become all that God intends them to be, then we too must be committed to the process of becoming who God intends us to be. This is often a very painful journey of self discovery in which God slowly brings us face to face with the distorted and dysfunctional being at the center of our being. It is also a very liberating journey that brings healing not only for us personally but often for those we lead as well.
One of the reasons that I see activism and contemplation in balance is because it is often activism that uncovers our dysfunctionality. It also usually births within us a deep craving for the newness of life that God wants us to experience. It is this that hopefully drives us into the secure womblike safety of contemplation where we can be transformed and reborn. One of my guiding passages as I started to allow God to work his transformation in me was Isaiah 58:6-12. Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness. (v10) Reaching out to heal and make others whole is often part of the pathway into our own healing and wholeness.
Contemplative practices like retreats, regular use of the prayer of examen, regular check in times with a spiritual director or soul friend are some of the keys to this journey, but obviously this is a topic that could give rise to an entire blog series on its own.
3. We must never be too busy to listen, never be too tired to pray. This prayer which I wrote a couple of years ago is a good mantra for me to go back to when I feel overburdened, overstressed or aware of another area in my life where I need transformation. Its intent is reflected in Ruth Hayley Barton’s beautiful discussion of Moses’ turning aside to the burning bush. “The practice of ‘turning aside to look’ is a spiritual discipline that by its very nature sets us up for an encounter with God.”(Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership p52).
Encountering God in the midst of heavy responsibilities requires these moments of deliberate turning aside, retreating into ourselves so that God can permeate our being. Often a repeated centering or breathing prayer enables us to retreat in this way without being in a place of physical solitude.
4. We must be willing to listen to all the voices through which God speaks. As a keen organic gardener I know that diversity is an important priority in maintaining a healthy garden. I think that it is also an important priority in maintaining a healthy, spiritually leadership team. Jewish philosophers believe that argument is the highest form of discourse and that we cannot have a true discussion unless there are dissenting voices.
God often speaks loudest to us through those who are different theologically, culturally or socially and if we are not open to voices outside our own little enclave then we will never hear the voice of God clearly. Particularly if we are making major decisions we need to make sure that the voices we listen to are as diverse and varied as possible. This is just as important for personal discernment and spiritual growth as it is for group discernment and spiritual leadership.
Even though I am not in a position of leadership, nor do I choose to be, this series has been very helpful in my own continueing journey with God. I feel blessed to have your help guiding me along the way. This series could easily become a book. Thank you so much.
Thanks Shirley. It is good to know that people appreciate what I write even when I feel I am just thinking out loud.
This is great, I love the balance and also that you include the dissenting voice. A badly needed commodity these days given the highly geared levels of cultural conformity expected these days. Blessings
Diversity is at the heart of God’s creation – night and day, sea and land, plant life, animal life, male and female, the Trinity – the list is endless. Only hell seeks conformity whilst the angelic host and all of heaven celebrate diversity, difference and paradox! Well said Greg!
Thanks Greg – not always easy to stand against cultural conformity. It is so ingrained
How I have learned to rest in contemplative prayer for my own sanity and everyone else’s protection. A born activist, my initial encounter with God and entry point into the global fellowship of followers of Jesus was through an activist portal. My initial ministry with YFC in youth evangelism – my first burn out aged 27. Indeed in the activity I lost sight of prayer as anything other than a survival tool. God loved me in spite of that – he is so wonderfully gracious.
As the years have passed and I have battled both with childlessness and the slow lingering illness and eventual death of my wonderful wife, Katey, I have been invited back into the nursery by the holy spirit. I have learnt to relax and rest in God’s presence – recognising prayer is about God and not about me.
Yes and the false self that drove me and inspired my lifestyle and timestyle has been exposed for the fraudulent monster it was. Something of a Gollum caricature, finding myself having conversations with myself as two natures wrestled. Now I am deeply suspicious of most of my instinctive decisions and actions – for these are programmed from childhood with the emergence of my false self. However, I am slowly allowing God to walk me through the silence and clothe me in my true self – or, as I see it, my right mind – no longer roaming aimlessly but resting and serving in fulness of life.
Here at Angel Friary we explore the ways of God and, linked with The Contemplative Network (an expression of the Axiom Monastic Community) commit to Solitude, Solidarity, Service and Simplicity. These relationship connections I find invaluable as reference points along the journey – Mustard Seed Associates is the first of these encounters I enjoyed and continue to benefit from today.
Journeying towards the heart of God is a challenge we all face and can only be realised through the ancient disciplines about which Christine always writes so eloquently. Sad to say there seems to be some distress around the word discipline for some – we can miss all the benefits in a vain attempt to manage the semantics!
Be encouraged to seek out God, even though it cost you everything! Friar Micha
Thanks Micha – always appreciate your insights. As you say the instinctive decisions and actions that are so programmed in us from childhood can be so misleading. I think that is one of the best reasons for always discerning and making decisions in a group. Hopefully together we are more able to hear the voice of God. It is also a very good reason for deep commitment to seeking the heart of God through contemplation, silence and solitude. Blessings on you