June 26, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Matthew 5:3 (NIV)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Even in our brokenness, there’s something inside us that reminds us of needing something outside us. In Jesus’ remarkably vivid description, becoming fully human requires that we acknowledge and embrace our essential poverty of spirit. Only then, can God’s rule (the kingdom of heaven) be operative in our lives and in our world.
Michelangelo’s painting of the creation of humanity reminds us that, integral to our being made in the image of God, we are created “naked and not ashamed.” That’s a startling fact. Unlike other creatures, we are created to be exposed and vulnerable. In our shared, fallen state, we all want to hide and to protect ourselves by covering up. We want to appear powerful and invulnerable.
But what if that’s not, at the core, who we are created to be? As Andy Crouch writes in his book, Playing God, the Genesis account reminds us that “Vulnerability and dignity (are) not opposed to one another, and neither (are) dependence and dominion.” God says much the same to the Apostle Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).
Learning wisdom as leaders begins with understanding God’s intentions for humanity. Along with the charge to take responsibility for God’s creation, human beings are “hardwired” for relationship with one another and with God. “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18 NIV) hints at humanity’s created condition. Even in our brokenness, there’s something inside us that reminds us of needing something outside us.
Jesus’ first Beatitude calls us back to God’s original intention for humanity. We are created to live in lifelong vulnerability towards and trust in God and one another. In Jesus’ remarkably vivid description, becoming fully human requires that we acknowledge and embrace our essential poverty of spirit. Only then, can God’s rule (the kingdom of heaven) be operative in our lives and in our world.
As a leader, it’s difficult for me to go there, much less stay there. In a world that expects competence and character from us as leaders, it’s hard to cultivate the attitude of humility and openness implied in Jesus’ extraordinary statement. What’s worse, exercising leadership often requires exercising power which, even when it is used for good (and perhaps particularly when it is used for good!) goes to our heads. At least it does for me.
That’s why, as I wrote yesterday, this all seems so backward. How can we grow in our leadership if we are to embrace our poverty of spirit? How can we exercise the great power we have been given and at the same time do it with a spirit of utter humility? Perhaps that very paradox suggests the depth of our need for and dependence on God in our work. This is nothing we can do on our own. Living into God’s expectations for us requires that we live in complete vulnerability towards and trust in the person of Jesus. As Jesus himself said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NIV).
Perhaps one more biblical image would help. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus provides this helpful illustration: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4, NRSV). What are the distinctive conditions and dispositions of a child? Two that strike me are that children are vulnerable and learn to trust those who care for them. Little children are weak not only when they are born but for much of their existence as children. They learn to put their faith in others without whom they could not survive, much less thrive. They are the most easily identifiable examples of the poor in spirit of whom Jesus speaks.
What is helpful in Jesus’ simile is that childlike poverty of spirit is not merely a kingdom entrance requirement, but an ongoing kingdom expectation to be cultivated. Becoming “great,” being “blessed,” means embracing for ourselves the expectations of vulnerability towards and trust in another. This comes difficultly for those of us who consider ourselves adults, and even more for those of us who consider ourselves mature leaders.
In one of the many paradoxes of Kingdom expectations, human beings are called to not only be mature (“wise as serpents”) but childlike (“innocent as doves”). Fulfilling God’s expectations for us begins and ends with learning to live out our lives being vulnerable towards God and towards others, and learning to trust in God and in one another in community.
What would it mean for you to be childlike in your leadership? What issues and concerns does that bring up for you?
How might being mature and childlike coexist in leadership? When might they be in conflict? How might you live in that tension?
Take one helpful insight from your reflections around the questions above and work to embody it this coming week in your work.
Lord Jesus Christ,
As the prophet Isaiah said millennia ago, your ways are not our ways. We struggle with how to return to a life of childlike simplicity. We wrestle with how to live out this childlikeness in the complex and fallen world of our leadership. We don’t want to be either naïve or simpleminded.
Grant us wisdom and insight. Teach us how to serve you and those we lead with childlike vulnerability and trust as well as mature discernment and courage.
We ask in your name,
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: But What Are You For?
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.