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"Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come." This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. — 1 Timothy 4:8-9
Each year, people from around the globe compete for the title of world's strongest man. Held in exotic locales, these competitions feature events involving the placing of heavy stone spheres atop pillars, lifting large numbers of children on one's back, and pulling double-decker buses down a street. The strength and determination of the contestants are second to none. But for them to get to the world championships, they have to be disciplined in the way they train, the foods they eat, and the way they recover from injuries. If any one of these three aspects is neglected, the results could be disastrous.
Christians are not typically known for carrying 300-pound weights long distances, but their feats of strength are equally remarkable. People are healed of sickness and disease, families are reunited, and individuals surrender their lives to the Lord God for eternity. For the leader, there has to be a constant regimen of spiritual training. The apostle Paul understood this and made sure Timothy got the message.
The routine is pretty straightforward: Talk to God, the Lord of heaven and earth, daily. Tell him your needs and the needs of others, thank him for his answers, and let him know how wonderful he is. Get to know him and his son Jesus better by reading about them in the Bible. Learn what your spiritual talents are and begin to use them. Spend time with other followers, encouraging and challenging them to become more like Christ. As opportunities arise, tell those who don't know Jesus as Forgiver and Leader about him and his love for them. Repeat daily.
If properly followed, this regimen will provide a lifetime's worth of challenge and excitement. It's time to get serious about the faith. It's time to become truly strong.
It's time to get disciplined.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. — Psalm 51:12
The IRONMAN TRIATHLON© is one of the most grueling endurance events in the world. In order to complete the race, an athlete must swim 2.4 miles, ride a bicycle 112 more miles, then run a 26.2-mile marathon. The best athletes in the world can complete this monumental challenge in under nine hours. But for Australian Chris Legh, his Ironman experience in 1997 was memorable for the wrong reasons. Known as one of the top competitors in the sport, he was unable to keep any fluids or food down during the course of the race. As a result, he became dehydrated, leading to a number of his organs shutting down. Fifty yards from the finish line, his body completely gave out. Legh never finished the race and would've died without immediate medical attention. Thankfully, he recovered and has won two Ironman events since. But first, he had to be restored.
While experiences like Legh's show us humans have physical limits to their endurance, the same can also be said about their spiritual lives. Thankfully, there are warning signs that exist before it becomes too late. When people don't want to read their Bible or pray, if they decide to shut people out of their lives, or if church becomes just a ritual, something deeper may be going on. They may be suffering from spiritual dehydration.
Just as a "Low Fuel" light tells us to fill up the car with gas, it's time to ask God for a renewed spirit when we see these warning signs. Consider that Jesus had crowds following him everywhere, but he knew his spiritual limits so well that he consistently took time to recharge, even when death was near (see Luke 22:39-43).
When your life's "Low Fuel" light comes on, don't ignore it. God wants to recharge and renew your life. Allow him to do just that. Make sure you accept his help to cross the finish line.
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. — Philippians 2:1-2
As author John Maxwell has noted, there is a difference between being a leader and being a manager. He often points out that management focuses on maintaining systems and processes, while leadership is about "influencing people to follow." One way to cultivate such influence is breathtaking in its simplicity: Influence involves caring sincerely about others.
While going through my senior year of college, there were days when it seemed as if the weight of the world had been placed on my shoulders. Classes were scheduled at odd times, so I had to plan meetings, work, and other errands as opportunity allowed. One day, I was feeling particularly frustrated when I stopped by my mailbox. Most of the time, there was nothing inside. But on this day, I found a card containing a few encouraging lines penned in blue ink.
What struck me was that it didn't have a name on it. It didn't have to. The card had done the job it was intended to do--to show me that I was cared for and appreciated.
Of course, showing someone that you care can be accomplished in ways other than sending a card to someone. A kind word can do the same thing. If somebody is struggling with an issue (or life in general), simply sitting and listening can be worth more than any words that may come to mind. And don't forget prayer, for "the earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results" (James 5:16).
However, encouragement isn't just reserved for those who know Christ Jesus. All people need to hear positive words, especially the words that tell of One who died for us so that we can have eternal life. Let's strive to be an encouragement to all we come in contact with daily.
A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls. — Proverbs 25:28
In ancient times, cities were often surrounded by walls for their protection. If those walls were breached in any way, the city became vulnerable to attack from a wide variety of enemies. The maintenance of city walls, therefore, was of constant concern.
Proverbs 25:28 likens self-control to a city wall. When we maintain self-control, we keep ourselves safe from forces that would wear us down, attack our weaknesses, and prey on our failures. Scripture warns us that losing our self-control can lead to disastrous results. We may have tendencies to lose our tempers easily, gossip about neighbors or coworkers, or criticize those in authority. We may have an unhealthy desire to own many possessions, an addiction toward food, or an obsession with television. A careless word, a broken promise, or a disrespectful action is an outward sign that our inner wall of self-control has collapsed. Weak self-control makes us vulnerable to living a life of hypocrisy, and then we lose all credibility as a witness to the freedom and joy of the Christian life.
But developing self-control is not just a matter of willing right behavior. We all have experienced the "just do it" break-down. We decide that we will finally regain control of a certain personal weakness only to find a few days later that we have succumbed once again to temptation. Self-control is not as simple as just "doing it" or "not doing it."
Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit desires to guide our lives. Only he can overcome our sinful cravings and build self-control with staying power. As we turn our moments over to the direction of the Holy Spirit, we will find that we are more often able to resist those things that used to prey on our weaknesses. It is with the power of the Holy Spirit alone that our walls of self-control can be securely maintained.
Jesus' brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! You can't become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!" — John 7:3-4
The pressure was on. Michelle was really being pushed to launch the new product in the spring and get a jump on the competition. Everything was ready--almost, but not quite. It was the "not quite" that caused Michelle to hold back and reexamine the data. By the time the product was ready to be launched in the fall, the product had required critical changes. In the end, Michelle's ability to stand firm against outside pressures ensured the viability of the product and preserved the integrity of the company.
Jesus faced similar pressures in John 7. His brothers were pushing him to go to the Feast of Tabernacles early and show off his miracle-performing abilities. Like many Jews, these brothers were looking for someone to "wow" the crowds and eventually lead the people in a rebellion against the Romans. The Feast would have been an ideal platform for launching Jesus' political career.
But Jesus could not be persuaded to become a crowd (or brother) pleaser. Jesus knew that his mission on earth was not to win fans, but to redeem people from their sin. Keeping his ultimate purpose in mind, Jesus chose to go to the festival, but in secret. In his wisdom, Jesus could not be persuaded to veer from his purpose, not even for one day of earthly glory. His choice to enter the festival quietly, instead of with a fanfare, led to a day of heated debates with his enemies and intense discussions with the crowd but no flashy miracles. By the end of the day, "many among the crowds at the Temple believed in him" (v. 31).
Regardless of the agenda others have, a leader needs to stand firm and keep her goal in focus. Leaders with integrity know that they cannot allow themselves to be persuaded to cave in to people-pleasing or glory-grabbing decisions. Pursuing integrity may not always be the popular or easy path, but it usually proves to be the wiser path.
Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them. — Mark 4:33-34
The fine, the deep mid, the silly, the short square, the leg slip, the gully . . . If one is not familiar with these terms, he will find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and will certainly lose the game of cricket for his team. Where would one learn the terminology for the game? It is readily available in the encyclopedia. But learning the terminology and actually playing the game are two different things entirely. Playing the positions well can only come from experience on the cricket field.
Jesus was a master at speaking in riddles for the public while at the same time teaching his disciples valuable lessons. He spoke with words that both taught and challenged. He taught those who could hear with faith and challenged those who were trying to trap him.
There were times, however, when even the disciples were unable to understand Jesus. Then Jesus would patiently explain everything to them in detail. Jesus knew that as the disciples gained experience in the mission field, their understanding of his parables would grow. Meanwhile, Jesus took the time to spell parables out for the disciples by defining terms or by retelling the stories more simply.
Sometimes it may seem that things would go faster if we just used shortcuts to get the task at hand over and done with. However, in the long run, spelling things out and bringing new people along can be more efficient than doing it all on our own. Growing people into their positions takes patience and diligence. It requires commitment to the betterment of that other person. It requires the ability to see beyond the task at hand to the value of the person at hand.
Are we as patient as Jesus was with new Christians at church, or even new people at our workplace? The patience we show to our teammates can make the difference between a weak team and a strong, maturing, effective team.
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers--Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew--throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, "Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!" And they left their nets at once and followed him. — Matthew 4:18-20
A good leader looks for undiscovered qualities in people and provides opportunities for those qualities to become assets. The ability to nurture talent and encourage growth in others can also create deep loyalty.
One of the tasks Jesus had to accomplish in his three years of ministry was to put an effective team together that could follow through with his mission after he had ascended to heaven. One problem was that no one had ever been trained in the field of church planting. Jesus had to pick people for his team who could grow into their jobs. His ability to see potential in people brought twelve very different men together.
How did Jesus persuade the disciples to join him? No begging, no buttering up. Jesus did not give the disciples false hope or exaggerate their potential. He simply told them that they would remain fishermen but that the bait and the catch would be much more significant.
Scripture tells us that Andrew and Peter responded immediately to the offer Jesus made. They faltered and fell along the way but always got back up and continued to follow Jesus. History records that they were loyal to Jesus unto death. Jesus called them away from an unexciting, common existence to a compelling and challenging career. The disciples could not have envisioned themselves as part of future earth-changing events, but Jesus knew exactly how they would be used to further his kingdom. Jesus had a vision and he invited simple men to step out of the common and into something completely new. That invitation made all the difference for the disciples and for the world.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. — John 16:13
While hiking in the lower elevations of the Alps, I saw small white clumps of sheep darting back and forth in the distance. Suddenly, among all the white spots I noticed a black border collie tenaciously herding the sheep. At first glance it appeared that the border collie was running randomly, chasing the flock around. It appeared that he was simply wearing the sheep to exhaustion. Upon closer examination, I noticed a man with a walking stick perhaps as far as half a mile away paying close attention to the collie. How was the collie receiving its directives from this shepherd? I stood very still and listened. Soon I heard a faint whistle: sometimes short, sometimes long, one high tone, one low tone. With every tone the collie changed his tack. I thought, He hears the whistle and knows it is his master's call. He has learned what each tone means and what his next move should be. He is completely synchronized with his master. The master and the collie worked in perfect harmony to lead and protect the shepherd's flock.
Unless we have our ears pricked high, we may very well be simply running our people and ourselves to a frazzle. Listening for the faint voice that directs our tactics and guides our words is absolutely essential. We may think that just plowing through will get things done more efficiently, but we are called to be in synchronized harmony with the Spirit. He will relay to us all we need to direct his people. Though there may be times when we aren't certain of the path, we can be certain that the Spirit is with us and directing us. We need only listen and obey when we hear. How well do you recognize the Shepherd's voice? How closely do you listen for the Master's whistle?
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