February 11, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Ephesians 5:15-17 (NRSV)
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Ephesians 5:15 invites us to what we in the De Pree Center have been calling “inner work.” Yes, we also should pay attention to our actions. But careful attention will look beneath what we do to what’s going on inside of us. It will examine our thoughts and feelings, our longings and losses, our hopes and fears, our hates and loves.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Inner Work.
When it comes to contemporary thinkers on leadership, I am particularly impressed by Ronald Heifetz. I won’t summarize his bio here, but it’s unusually diverse and impressive. His work on leadership is found in three books, Leadership Without Easy Answers, Leadership on the Line, and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership. The last two books Heifetz wrote with co-author Marty Linsky. These books equip leaders for adaptive leadership, that is, for leading organizations in times of significant change and disruption, when mere technical solutions won’t work.
In Leadership on the Line, Heifetz and Linsky recognize how difficult it is to lead when adaptive change is needed. Leaders frequently fail, often painfully, in this effort. Why do they fail? Heifetz and Linsky propose this answer:
Frequently people are defeated because, though they are doing their best, they make mistakes in how they assess and engage their environment, as we have explored so far in Parts One and Two of this book. But sometimes we bring ourselves down by forgetting to pay attention to ourselves. We get caught up in the cause and forget that exercising leadership is, at heart, a personal activity. It challenges us intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically (p. 229, emphasis added).
Thus, in Part 3 of Leadership on the Line, the authors focus on “Body and Soul.” They help leaders pay attention to what’s going on inside of them, including their hungers, anchors, purposes, and “sacred heart.”
I believe the Apostle Paul would approve of Heifetz’s and Linsky’s concern for leaders who forget to pay attention to themselves. In fact, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul uses language that is strikingly similar to that of Heifetz and Linsky. In the fifth chapter of the letter he writes, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (5:15-17).
The opening exhortation, “Be careful then how you live,” translates a Greek phrase that literally means, “Therefore, watch carefully how you walk.” This isn’t about looking at the path in front of your feet. Ancient writers frequently used the verb “to walk” whereas we might say “to live” or “to adopt a lifestyle.” In fact, I might be inclined to render the first part of verse 15 in this way: “Pay close attention to how you’re living!” The Message goes with, “So watch your step. Use your head.” (That last part sounds just like my mother.)
Notice that we’re not being asked to watch our living casually. The Greek says we’re to watch akribōs, an adverb often translated as “accurately” or “carefully.” That’s why I went with “Pay close attention to how you’re living!” Scrutinize your living. Look beneath your assumptions and rationalizations. See what’s really going on with you, both inside and outside.
Thus, Ephesians 5:15 invites us to what we in the De Pree Center have been calling “inner work.” Yes, we also should pay attention to our actions. But careful attention will look beneath what we do to what’s going on inside of us. It will examine our thoughts and feelings, our longings and losses, our hopes and fears, our hates and loves.
If Heifetz and Linsky are correct, if leadership actually “challenges us intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically,” and if we who lead frequently bring ourselves down by “forgetting to pay attention to ourselves,” then we certainly need to follow the advice, not only of Heifetz and Linsky, but also of the Apostle Paul. We need to pay close attention to how we’re living and how we’re leading, since both are so intertwined.
In future Life for Leaders devotions, I’ll examine in greater depth what we learn from Ephesians 5:15-17 about paying close attention to our lives. This passage offers a concise guide to inner work. In the meantime, I’d invite you to consider your own life and leadership. The following questions might help you do this.
Would you say that you already tend to “be careful then how you live”? Or to put it differently, are you paying close attention to how you’re living? If so, why? If not, why not?
What helps you to scrutinize your life and leadership accurately?
Do you ever set aside an extended period of time to prayerfully reflect on your life . . . your work, relationships, priorities, health, hopes, longings, losses, and so forth? If so, when do you do this? If not, why not?
See if you can devote at least a half hour in the next week to paying close attention to how you’re living. Be sure to talk with God about what you’re learning.
Gracious God, thank you for the exhortation to pay close attention to how we’re living. We need this encouragement. And we also need the help of your Spirit to see ourselves accurately.
Lord, give us eyes to see what we ought to see. And no matter what we observe about ourselves, may we come before you as we are, confident in your grace and love for us. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: What Helps You Pay Attention to How You’re Living? Part 3 .
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.