Yesterday, we reflected on the life of Saint Patrick and the legacy he left as a leader. Patrick was known for purposely building relationships with the pagan chiefs in order to reach entire villages, setting up hundreds of churches and monasteries as each village king allowed. Some argue that the Celtic Christian movement finds its roots in Patrick’s legacy. And one of its hallmarks was the practice of hospitality.
Though I’m no scholar of Saint Patrick, I know his legacy leaves a rich bounty of lessons to consider in our modern context that go far beyond the superficial and commercialized ways that we are far too familiar with. St. Patrick, like the Apostle Paul, had a life worthy of emulation that speaks to us today… Suffering didn’t paralyze him, selflessness guided him, and sensing God’s direction was a priority.
The imagery of Philippians 3:12 reveals a God who wraps us up in his love and thus calls us to fully grasp the immensity of this reality. Paul’s leadership was based on his identity as one seized by the love of God. The problem that many people face is that they more readily grasp the negative labels and harmful words inflicted upon them more than they do the love of God.
Here in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul has just stressed how much he has given up in order to attain the matchless beauty of Christ (3:8-11). But he doesn’t want to mislead his readers into thinking he has attained perfection, so he emphasizes that even he, the Apostle Paul, has much room to grow… The best of leaders know that learning is a lifelong process, never assuming that they have arrived.
Leaders are not only called to press forward in building teams, seize opportunities to get ahead of market realities, and acquire resources for expansion. Leaders are equally called to slow down to rest. Leaders who pause and take time to commemorate God’s activity in their lives are less prone to forget about God and their dependence on him for lasting and impactful leadership.
In Ecclesiastes 3:5, the Teacher says there is “a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.” When a farmer needs to work the field to grow crops… the first thing that needs to happen is clearing out the debris from the soil. You can’t grow and harvest good crops without clearing out the rocks… As I read this section, a phrase sticks out to me: you’ve got to throw away the stones.
The pain and trauma of this world are not unfamiliar to the Christmas story… Baby Jesus was entering a battle zone full of oppression, sickness, and death—not a world filled with mistletoe, gingerbread houses, and holiday parties. Jesus came, in the midst of all this, to eradicate death, free the oppressed, and fill us with unspeakable joy. This is the fullness of what it means to “save his people from their sins.”
The Christmas story we know from popular culture can be so sanitized that perhaps the ideas of sickness, isolation, and hopelessness sound foreign to you—perhaps even sacrilegious for the Advent season. But Jesus chose to be born into a broken world and to take on our pain in order to make us whole. Leaders who come near to the pain of those they lead will find they are emulating Jesus.
Yesterday, I shared honestly about the painful irony of my family experiencing so much hardship and heartache over Thanksgiving week. How did Jesus have so much joy amidst his own tremendous suffering?… How can I find joy amidst the reality of the presence of pain? I choose to believe that the writer of Hebrews was hinting at Jesus’s bigger vision of the cross. Yes, the cross was real pain and suffering, but it was also real redemption and hope.
I want to “get in the spirit” of this Thanksgiving season, but there’s just so much bad news that it’s just harder for me this year… As our churches prepare for Advent, I can’t help but think of the name, “Immanuel.” God with us. God in our skin. The Suffering Servant. So I will consider him this Thanksgiving week and trust that gratitude will find its way out of my broken heart and toward my lips in due time.