March 23, 2019 • Life for Leaders
And [the LORD] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
Whom can we count on? Reliability – or to use an older word found in our text today, “faithfulness” – is not just a religious concern, but something that is essential in all aspects of life. In business, for example, it’s difficult to function without having some degree of confidence –faith, in fact – in those with whom we deal. The financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated vividly what happens when there is a systemic lack of confidence between parties in financial transactions. Our financial system almost came to a dead stop. Though our financial world seems often to operate on distrust of others, at its core confidence and reliability – faith and faithfulness – are essential to its functioning and health.
Where does that kind of confidence and reliability in relationships come from? Our experiences of human relationships are littered with examples of lack of dependability and breach of trust. It’s entirely understandable that we would approach life with suspicion and distrust.
As I suggested in my last reflection, the ancient world projected onto the divine the uncertainty and lack of dependability of the human condition. That’s why God’s self-disclosure to Moses some three millennia ago changed the course of human history. The Mosaic tradition carries within it a great gift to humanity: its extraordinary witness that the God of all things visible and invisible is unlike anything or anyone we’ve ever known. The God who made our universe is unchangingly reliable, “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
That’s good news in a harsh and unreliable world. We have a divine counterclaim and divine counterexample to the world around us. In a world that is regularly ruthless and self-absorbed, God is always “compassionate and gracious.” In a culture increasingly ready to do and say anything, God continues to act consistently and overflows with “love and faithfulness.”
We are called to follow this God and learn to become like him in his character. Particularly for those of us who serve as leaders, these qualities that God uses to self-describe are essential to our core identity as “lead servants.” Jesus sets the bar high for us: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). No wonder the journey begins with us coming to the end of ourselves, and with a new divine beginning in us, a beginning so radical that it is spoken of as a new birth. A new hidden life begins to take shape within us that is the work of the Spirit of God.
How do we participate in the formation of this life in us? My friend, Steve Garber, says that all learning takes place “over the shoulder and through the heart.” We learn by watching those we follow in action and by learning what motivates them. This happens in many ways, not least by carefully and over a lifetime attending to the biblical story—where we see God’s actions and motivations narrated for us—and actively participating in a local community of Jesus followers, where we learn from others who have gone before us and wrestle with how to live this out in our generation and location. God’s faithfulness provides the foundation and wellspring for our formation as faithful leaders who serve as God’s image bearers.
Much of our culture is preoccupied with creating reliable systems that exclude the possibility of human failure. Designing carefully thought-out systems that serve people and the world dependably and well is a noble goal, and one which I have pursued much of my professional life. However, in the words of T.S. Eliot, it is an illusion to “dream of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good” (The Rock). The God of the universe, in whose likeness we are made, exhibits the essential character traits of goodness: compassion, grace, love and faithfulness. We are here to be and do no less.
Something to Think About:
Whom do you admire as an example of faithful leadership?
How have you learned from that person, to use Steve Garber’s phrase, “over the shoulder and through the heart”?
Something to Do:
Invite someone you look up to in leadership for coffee or a meal. Ask them about their leadership journey. What has formed the character you admire in them as a leader?
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou has been, Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided –
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
(Prayer from “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by T. O. Chisholm)
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project:
A Poem by T S Eliot on Economics and Church
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.
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Thank you Mr. Chi for your thoughtful and inspiring column. I don’t often comment, but I always read and look forward to your column. Best Wishes to you.