The foundation of leadership, we said in the last blog, is character. Leaders need strong foundations, deep roots, so that when their tree is shaken, their ministry doesn’t fall because of weak character. The fertilizer for growing character is discipline.
If all believers are called to a life of discipline, how much more so are we as leaders. We’re called to run our race and help others run theirs with single-minded determination and maximum effort. See 1 Corinthians 9:24-29. We should be in strict training like an Olympic athlete for the prize of gospel life, in every sense.
Athletes don’t just wake up one day and have an amazing ability to perform better than anyone else. Even the most naturally talented must put in countless hours of training, routinely overcoming the pain barrier even when their body screams in agony ‘Stop!’. Boxer Muhammad Ali used to say: “The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
Paul literally says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I give my body a black eye.” Like a boxer he swings and connects at full force with the sinful desires, appetites and cravings of his body.
The only other New Testament occurrence of this word translated “beat” or “discipline” is in Luke 18 describing the persistent widow. Paul wore down his fleshly resistance day-in, day-out. That’s what the spiritual disciplines are all about, destroying sin by seeing and savouring God.
What’s the secret to Paul’s self-control? The answer is joy-power not will-power. Tim Keller brought this home to me explaining that Genesis 29:20 says, “So Jacob worked seven years for Rachel. But it only seemed like a few days, he loved her so much.” Joy-power kept him going. But human ‘love’ goes hot and cold; something greater is needed to sustain our discipline.
Paul’s discipline was rooted in Jesus’ loving discipline for him.
How did Jesus remain disciplined in prayer and Bible study? How did Jesus overcome temptation? How did He not grow weary with doing good? How did He bear the pain of the cross?
Hebrews 12:2 tells us that he did it for the joy set before him. Jesus relied on joy-power. He had set His heart set on something so beautiful, so wonderful that He was able to endure pain the likes of which we cannot imagine. But what was it that He wanted that He didn’t have before the cross? His Rachel is you and me: the Church. And when you see Him enduring because you’re His delight, you’ll be able to endure because He’ll become your delight.
To what particular disciplines did Jesus give Himself that we should give ourselves to?
There are many but for simplicity here are three essentials: solitary prayer, Scripture, and Church, being a faithful member of a family on mission. Yes, you guessed it, another triangle.
Solitary Prayer (up)
The word solitary is small because not all prayer should be solitary, but Jesus teaches us that leaders need a lot of alone time with God. It’s interesting He says “that is why I have come” (speaks with such clarity about His purpose) in Mark 1:38 immediately after we read, “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
- Practice. Daily morning prayer was Jesus’ regular practice. In Luke 5:16 it says Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed”. When big decisions were needed He pulled an all-nighter in prayer (Luke 6). Faced with the unimaginable pressure of dying for sin, He prayed so intensely in the Garden of Gethsemane, He sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:39-46).
- Pattern: Jesus’ pattern of prayer was the Lord’s prayer. Matthew 5:5-15. It’s about orientation before intercession. It’s to a loving Father who’s transcendent yet near. It’s hallowing His name: awesome be your character. It’s your kingdom come, your will be done. It’s an act of surrender. It’s praying for needs not greeds, daily trusting God to provide. It’s a cry to experience the positional forgiveness Jesus won for you, confessing sin and choosing not to bring others’ sins to remembrance. It’s watchfulness, alertness and total victory over sin.
- Persistence (faith): In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus tells a parable to encourage us to always pray and never give up. The widow prays with discipline. If an unjust judge gives in to a widow’s persistence, how much more will the Just Judge respond to your requests.
Next, Jesus was disciplined in reading the Scriptures. “It is written” He says three times in response to temptation. At least seven times in Matthew’s gospel He asks the question, “have you not read?” He expected people to know the Bible.
Three sets of threes to get you started, if you’re not familiar with this already.
- New York Pastor Tim Keller’s Three Bible Study Questions: (i) Adore: what stirs praise/gratitude for God? (ii) Admit: what do you need to repent of/change? (iii) Aspire: what are you challenged to ask for/act on?
- Three powerful more technical questions: (i) Context? Biblical (Mark 8:22-26 in light of 14-21 & 27-30) Historical (Samaritans, Luke 10:25-37) (ii) Author’s Purpose? (Direct: Luke 1:1-4; Indirect: 1 Cor 1:10-12, 3:1-4, 4:6-10, 6:1-8, 11:17-18); (iii) Language? Tone. Linking Words (e.g. what is the “therefore” there, for). Repetition.
- Three important how to study the Bible books you should read in progressive order: (i) Dig Deeper (Benyon & Sach); (ii) Grasping God’s Word (Duvall & Hays); (iii) Seeing with New Eyes (James Jordan).
Church: missional community (out)
- Submitting to leaders: Jesus submitted to the Father (John 6:38, 15:10; Matthew 26:39). Anointing comes, I believe, through submission to God and His delegated leaders.
- Serving believers: Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). See also Galatians 6:10.
- Sharing with seekers (words, works, wonders): gospel proclamation, meeting needs, healing & deliverance.
Talk to someone, a mentor ideally (if you don’t have one, find one) about where you’re strong and weak in regard to the above, and how you might grow in these disciplines.