It’s worth remembering that our position, privilege, and responsibility are meant to bless others, not just ourselves. Giving thanks for our blessings is intended to provoke us to respond to those blessings in a way that benefits others. We are called as God’s people to care for those who are disadvantaged—“the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns (that they) may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 14:29).
Early in my Christian experience, I thought that the Apostle Paul intended me to retreat from the world to spend all my time focusing on my interior life of prayer… Thankfully, the apostolic command to “pray continually” isn’t primarily about developing our devotional prayer life, even though that is important. It has much more to do with learning to pray our everyday life, particularly in the context of our work, where prayer may be the last thing on our minds.
God alone is the source of our joy, in our work as in everything else. Our joys are like a metaphorical tree, where God is both the root and trunk. All else in our lives, including our work, are like the branches, leaves, and fruit. No joy in our lives is sustainable apart from being rooted in and connected to God. [And] because God calls us to be his servants, all work serves his purpose and therefore has ultimate meaning, even when we can’t make sense of it here and now.
Human beings were created for community. As the creation account reminds us, when God said of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). One of God’s greatest gifts of being human is the gift of the other… We need others to help us rightly see the world around us. Without other perspectives, our view of the world flattens out. Without different perspectives, we lose vital nuance and depth.
Who we become as leaders is every bit as important as what we do. In the language of one tradition, we are called to promise that we will serve the people we lead with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. It is the last of these four promises that concerns us today. For those familiar with the Christian tradition, ending our vows with the promise to serve with love should come as no surprise. After all, love is the greatest of all Christian virtues. Love is the fulfillment of God’s vocation for us as human beings.
Perhaps nothing is more human than our ability to imagine. That should not surprise us. After all, humanity is created in the image of God. We are made in the likeness of the One who loves to create things out of nothing. Our core identity as God’s image bearers resonates like a plucked string when we create something new and original, something for the glory of God that serves the common good. And, there are many ways for us to express our imagination.
We need wisdom and discernment to know how to live well. Because how we are to live isn’t always obvious, because God in his glory hides much from view, and because “to search out a matter is the glory of kings,” we need to learn to “serve the people with intelligence.” The good news is that we are not left alone. God has provided us the Scriptures and the Spirit to guide our work as lead servants.
Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but all work demands effort. Foundational to the promises we make as leaders is that we will give the energy our work requires, even when we feel outmatched and outnumbered. For that reason, I am grateful that the leadership vow from my Presbyterian tradition begins with the question, “Will you seek to serve the people with energy?” While I took that vow as a church leader, the question is equally applicable to other leadership contexts, including, by the way, that of being grandparents!
In Christian circles, there are a lot of conversations about holding each other accountable. But, as my friend Walter Wright, former Executive Director of the De Pree Center, has said, you can only hold people accountable if they desire it, and if they are willing to articulate that for which they want to be held accountable. Vows are the ultimate biblical means for formalizing that process.
As the story of Joseph remarkably demonstrates, farsightedness is a core gift of leadership. Joseph’s ability to see and understand what others do not opens the doors for his work as lead servant of Egypt. He sees the implications of Pharaoh’s dreams… And he simultaneously sees what should be done… Leadership requires both insight into the fundamental problems facing an organization and insight into the trajectory of their resolution.