Cease Striving — Calling Leaders to Rest

Rest Here, Esther Simpson, Flickr

Photo Credit: Rest Here, by Esther Simpson, Flickr

“Cease striving and know that I am God.” – Ps. 46:10

Getting Things Done

As leaders, we tend to be achievers. We tend toward making things happen… toward work… toward activity… toward doing… toward performance… toward striving.

Of course, these characteristics have some very positive dimensions to them. Things tend to get done. Teams tend to perform. Organizations tend to run well. But can there be too much of a good thing when it comes to this leadership tendency?

Too Much of a Good Thing…Cease Striving

For Christian leaders, it is important to remember that leadership does not just happen by human effort and work. The reality of God’s existence changes the leadership equation for our lives as leaders and for our organizations. Christians believe in a God who does not simply sit back and watch His people work. Rather, Christians believe in a God who not only watches, but He is also engaged in the work itself.

The verse quoted above calls us to be still, to cease striving, and to know that God is God (Ps. 46:10). We are called to trust that God is at work even when we are not. We are called to trust that God is in control even when we feel we are not. We are call to take the attention off of ourselves and our striving, and transfer that attention to God who is actively engaged in our lives, organizations, and world.

He Gives to His Beloved Even as They Sleep

Beyond Psalm 46, there are many other passages in the Bible that remind us as leaders that striving is not always the answer. Sometimes the answer is resting rather than striving, because God is at work even when we are not.

One of my favorite passages on this point is Psalm 127:2…

It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep
.”

What a powerful reality. God gives to us, even when we sleep. God works while we rest.

Some versions translate the end of this verse as “he grants sleep to those he loves.” The reality is both concepts are true and powerful. He gives us sleep. He gives to us and our communities while we sleep.

Resting in the One Who Works

As leaders who work hard during the day, we should take time to “cease striving” and to rest. We should cease our work and go to sleep in peace knowing that:

  1. God grants sleep to his beloved, and
  2. Even in our sleep, God is still working on behalf of those who are resting in Him.

Good Theology = Good Rest

What powerful theology for those in need of rest. As leaders, we need to be able to shut down and rest. We need to be shut down and spend time with friends and family. We need to be able to shut down and sleep.

Leaders who believe the entire story of leadership success is written by their own effort will struggle to find the rest and restoration they and their people need. As we trust that God is at work, even when we are not, then the rest we need as leaders will be found by relying on the one who graciously works on our behalf.

Are you finding your rest in the Lord? Are you waiting on the one who is able to work for you? Are you finding refreshment by resting in the one who gives to His people even while they sleep?

Leadership Insights from the Book of James

Photo Credit: First edition King James Bible, 1611, by bookchen, Flickr

Photo Credit: First edition King James Bible, 1611, by bookchen, Flickr

The Book of James is a significant example of a church leader who longed to exert positive leadership influence at a distance. Through this early form of distance leadership in the form of a letter, James is wanting to communicate a vision for how followers of Christ are to live faithfully under God’s leadership within their diverse and global contexts. Noting his audience as the twelve tribes in the Dispersion, James communicates visionary direction, helps to align the people of God behind this vision, and seeks to motivate those who are struggling in various ways. Here are a couple themes that stand out in reading James’ letter.

Rightfully Orienting Ourselves before God

While most leadership books do not begin with a discussion of rightfully orienting ourselves before God, James’ letter does communicate this near the start of his letter. James notes, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (1:5). As leaders, we must understand the source of the visionary direction we provide for followers and our communities. Although leaders gain visionary insight from many sources, the implication of James’ teaching is that God is to be sought out for wisdom when individuals (including leaders) lack wisdom. My viewing God as a source for “every good gift and perfect gift” (1:17), includes viewing God as a source for leadership wisdom when wisdom is lacking.

There are many times I face challenging decisions in leadership—times where I feel like the answer is not immediately clear and I “lack wisdom” related to the situation I’m facing. James’ reminds us that we do not need to be alone in these moments. I can invite the Lord’s guidance as I face decisions that impact the lives of followers and the lives of organizational members I desire to serve. I can, drawing on James’ advise, “ask God” in prayer for wisdom and insight, and ask for peace and clarity in the face of anxious organizational times and unclear organizational decisions.

Rightfully Orienting Ourselves toward One Another

James not only advises people toward rightfully orienting themselves toward God, but also rightfully orienting themselves toward one another. Some examples of this in James are (a) the call to not show favoritism or partiality (2:1), (b) erring on mercy over judgment (2:13), (c) recognizing that the people we work with and lead are made in the likeness and image of God, have great worth and value because of this, and therefore we should bless rather than curse those around us (3:9-10), (d) treating those who work for us fairly and equitably (5: 4), and (e) and caring for the suffering and those in need (5:13-16; 1:27).

Leaders who rightly orient themselves before God and toward others are in a good position to lead humbly (4:6-7) before God and others and recognize that they are not in the task of leadership and management alone. I desire this in my own life and leadership, and am thankful for perspective from sources like James.

What leadership insights do you see in the Book of James?