November 19, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Mark 1:9-11 (MSG)
At this time, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The moment he came out of the water, he saw the sky split open and God’s Spirit, looking like a dove, come down on him. Along with the Spirit, a voice: “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.
Leadership is hard. And because it’s hard, sometimes we are particularly hard on ourselves when things don’t go well. Sometimes we face hard days, sometimes we have to admit hard truths, and sometimes we get discouraged. When that happens, let the voice that echoes in your mind be something different than your own voice of self-accusation. Let it be the voice of God speaking over you with the same words that resounded in the ears of Jesus.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Tempered Resilience: How leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change.
The speaker at a dinner I once attended was a Catholic nun, and the only reason that this was unusual was that the dinner was a gathering of triathletes at Ironman Canada in 2006. The nun, Sister Madonna Buder, was not there to give a trite invocation before the meal but was a veteran participant asked to say a few words of encouragement to her fellow competitors. Nicknamed “Iron Nun,” Sister Madonna would become in 2012 the world record holder in her age group and the oldest person, at eighty-two, to complete the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run that makes up the Ironman Triathlon.
That evening her message was simple, “Tomorrow, when things get tough out there, remember, you were loved into existence. If you get discouraged and want to quit, if you get injured and can’t finish, if things don’t go the way you hope even though you have trained for this day for months or even years, even then remember: You were loved into existence.”
A competitor herself with several age-group world records in several running events to her name, she wanted to remind that group of dedicated performers that the most important thing about them was true about them before they had performed at all.
Which was also true about Jesus.
Before there was a single miracle, there was a voice. Before there was a single act of world transformation, there was an affirmation. Before Jesus had done anything for anyone, something was done to and for him. He was baptized in the Jordan River and this word was spoken over him: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
While commentators affirm this passage as a kind of inauguration of the work that Jesus is about to undertake as Messiah, it’s a subtle but crucial point worth pausing on as we consider what it takes to lead change well: before he had done anything, Jesus was already known, already loved, and already pleased his Father.
This is important, not only because it is true and wondrous, and gives us great comfort, but also because it affirms a critical truth that leaders need to know: Resilient leaders are grounded in something other than their success as a leader. Resilient leaders have a grounded identity. Their sense of self is not dependent upon the affirmation of those who celebrate them for their successes or laud them for their accolades. Truly resilient leaders are grounded in the reality that they are already known and already loved, and are secure in that reality even when their circumstances are most unpredictable.
The good news of God is that we are loved before we have accomplished anything. God is well-pleased in us before we have done anything to please him. We are loved into existence. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and—even if we fail in our leadership efforts, as we surely may—God’s love for us never fails. God will complete God’s own work in us, and someday the justice will roll down and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ and he shall reign forever.
Let this truth transform you. Let this deep truth deepen you. Let the love of God ground you.
Think back to a time when you felt that your identity was challenged because of a setback or personal misstep. What helped you to get re-grounded? What do you need at moments of insecurity to help you feel secure again?
For five consecutive days, spend some time praying about and reading—in different Bible translations, if you can—the following passages: Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22. (Note that all the passages are based on the same event.) Substitute your own name for the word “son” in the passages and write a brief journal response each day.
O Father, you call me beloved. You claim me as your child. You speak words over me of blessing, affirmation, acceptance, and love. You proclaim your delight in me, your fatherly pride in me, your affection for me. Some days, I can hardly believe it sometimes. O God, thank you for your love for me before I do anything to earn it. It’s such amazing grace, O God; please help me believe it. Help my believing it change the way I follow you and serve others. Amen.
This devotional was adapted from Tod Bolsinger’s Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change (IVP, 2020).
Today I’m pleased to introduce our guest Life for Leaders writer, Tod Bolsinger. Many of you already know Tod from his contributions to the De Pree Center website, but especially from his bestselling book, Canoeing the Mountains. I’m excited to let you know that Tod has just published a new book, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change. Canoeing the Mountains was about helping people lead deep, adaptive change in their churches and other organizations. Tempered Resilience follows up by helping leaders of change grow into greater resilience. Given all that’s happening in our world, especially the challenges related to COVID-19, it’s hard to imagine a more timely and more desperately needed book than Tempered Resilience.
When Tod shared his manuscript with me several months ago, I asked if he might write a few Life for Leaders devotions, drawing from the wisdom of Tempered Resilience. Partly, I want to share this wisdom with you. And, partly, I want you to be aware of Tod’s new book. If you’re a leader in a church, non-profit, or business, I expect you are feeling a great need for resilience these days. Tempered Resilience might be just the right thing for you. Plus, you might also get a copy to give to your pastor for Christmas.
Until recently, Tod was a vice president at Fuller Seminary and the chief of the Leadership Formation Division. But, a couple of months ago, he transitioned into a new role as Senior Congregational Strategist for the Church Leadership Initiative (part of the De Pree Center). Tod is thrilled to be focusing more of his energy on training, supporting, resourcing, and encouraging leaders. He continues on as an associate professor of leadership formation at Fuller. Before joining the seminary, Tod was for many years a pastor. He brings to his work a wonderful combination of pastoral experience and academic insight, as well as a mature faith in Jesus Christ.
I commend today’s devotion to you and others from Tod that are coming soon.
Grace and Peace,
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Beginning of the Gospel (Mark 1:1-13)