One spring, I overworked to the point of exhaustion, and I caught bronchitis right before I had a teaching commitment. I remember the sleepless nights wheezing and coughing, wondering how I was going to be able to teach. I had crammed way too much work into a limited time period without taking care of my body, and I ended up imbalanced. In my desire to fulfill certain goals, I didn’t keep my regular day off, which meant my family time and my time with the Lord suffered. It was a wakeup call that taught me that I must maintain certain priorities in my life if I want to succeed over the long haul. Great leadership starts with life balance.
If leaders are going to be effective and fruitful, they must first take care of themselves. I’m convinced the most vital aid comes from spending quality time in God’s presence each day. I believe, in fact, the most important discipline of the Christian life is spending daily time in his presence.
Spending daily quiet time is not a meritorious act to make us worthy in God’s sight. We don’t do this to prove ourselves before God, to offer him another good work. Rather, our quiet time is a response to his love. Because Jesus loves us and has made us righteous by his blood, we desire to spend time with him and know him more intimately. We long to be with him—not because we have to, but because we want to.
A.W. Tozer, a spiritual leader of the twentieth century, says, “We pursue God because—and only because—he has first put an urge within us that spurs us to pursuit.” God’s grace births a desire in us to spend time with him. We simply respond to his love and desire to enter his presence.
Having a daily quiet time will help you know God, feed from his Word, and be empowered by his Spirit. In the quiet time, you will worship the King of kings, listen to his voice, and receive direction for each day. When you spend daily time in his presence, you will grow accustomed to his voice. That same voice will give you words of counsel while you are ministering to others. As you confess and surrender your weakness to him, he will work through you to minister to others.
Take a Day Off
I like to get things done. That’s the way God made me. Yet, several years ago when I was planning how I could do more, the Lord convicted me to stop “doing.” God reminded me that he set aside one day for rest, and he made the human body to run effectively for only six days out of the week—not seven. Genesis 2:2–3 declares, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
After six days, we naturally run out of gas. If we go against God’s norms, we will eventually pay a costly price. I don’t believe any of us are so indispensable we can neglect our own bodies and souls by not taking a day off.
I once talked to a leader who refused to take a day off. He insisted those he was counseling needed him too much, and he felt it would be sinful to neglect those who needed him. He couldn’t imagine selfishly thinking of himself and not being available 24/7 for those needing his counsel. “But you’re not going to help them,” I said, “if you’re frazzled and burned out.” Unfortunately, this particular leader didn’t change his ways, and he died two years later; he was in his early forties.
I don’t believe we need to rest on one specific day (e.g., Saturday or Sunday). Pastors and directors, for example, are often busiest on Sundays, and have a hard time resting as a result. Whatever day you choose, the goal is to truly rest on that day. Your 24-hour day of rest should not have a lot of rules or regulations (e.g., I can’t do this, I’m not allowed to do that). You will need to do some work to survive—like washing the dishes and taking out the trash. As much as possible, however, try to avoid the regular, job-related work you do the other six days of the week. Leviticus 23:7–8 says, “On the first day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. For seven days present an offering made to the LORD by fire. And on the seventh day hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.” The emphasis is on regular work. On your day off, you should cease to do those things that are part of your normal work load. Give yourself a break and do only those things that help you relax and feel refreshed.
On my day off, for example, I only read books that are non-work related. I don’t check my email, and, as a family, we don’t answer the phone. My wife and I have agreed not to talk about stressful, work-related topics on our day off. I want to rest my mind—not engage with the problems and stresses of the other six days. I do sleep a lot, take walks, spend time with the Lord, and enjoy family, food, and anything restful.
Success with Those Closest to You
I was attending a Promise Keeper’s rally when I first heard John Maxwell talk about true success. He said, “True success is having those closest to you love and respect you the most.”
I didn’t catch the full weight of what he said that afternoon, but over the years I have had time to reflect on life, ministry, and relationships. Maxwell’s words have convicted me again and again to prioritize what really matters in life. To lead others effectively, we need to be most successful with those at the most intimate levels of our lives. Who are those closest to you? Only you can answer that question, depending on where you are in life.
If you’re married, I believe your spouse is number one on your list. If you’re single, this might mean a few close friends, roommates, parents, or children. If you don’t have an inner circle, ask Jesus to help you form one. He will direct you to one or more people with whom you can have a close friendship and accountability relationship. I believe God first uses the community in the inner circle to mold and shape us. It is with these people we must first live the Christian life successfully.
I pray with my wife on a regular basis and consider her my closest friend and accountability partner. When I stumble in any area of my life, she’s the first one to whom I confess. Such accountability protects me, prepares me, and qualifies me to coach others.
I have noticed some husbands quickly share their failings with other men, but they won’t go directly to their wives. It’s also easier for wives to talk to other women about their problems while not going directly to their husbands. Although it can be easier to talk about problems to someone of your own gender, this should never be an excuse not to go directly to your spouse. Your spouse is your first line of defense against Satan’s darts and temptations.
If you are single, I encourage you to find a good friend of the same gender to talk to and share with. You will grow in your spirituality and relationship with God as you share intimately with someone else, and you will be a far better leader as a result.
You are on the way to being a great leader if you are growing in your relationship with God and those closest to you. Neglect these two, and you will have little—if anything—to offer others. I’m not talking about perfection—only God is perfect. If you’re like me, you will continue to feel a huge need for improvement in your relationship with God, your spouse, and other key people. But do keep pressing on.
We have all read about successful leaders who were only later caught in sexual sins or moral failures. Don’t be one of those statistics! Allow God to mold you in the secret places, so that you will then shine in the light as a man or woman of truth. D.L. Moody once commented, “Character is what you are in the dark.” God works on our character because he knows our character will eventually find us out. Most of the requirements in the New Testament, in fact, involve character. Virtues such as honesty, faithfulness, and good judgment are synonymous with New Testament leadership. No amount of talent or giftedness can replace these characteristics. Bad character qualities will ultimately show up, while good ones will shine and make the leader more effective over time.
A man once had a beautiful garden which yielded rich and abundant food. His neighbor saw it and planted his own garden the next spring. But he did nothing to it. There was no watering—no cultivating or fertilizing. In the fall, he returned to his devastated garden. There was no fruit and it was overgrown with weeds. He concluded gardening did not work. On further thought, he pondered the problem was bad soil, or maybe he lacked a "green thumb" like his neighbor.
Meanwhile, a third neighbor began gardening. His garden did not immediately yield as much as the first man, but he worked hard and continued learning new skills. As he toiled, he learned. As he put his new learning into practice year after year, his garden reaped an increasingly abundant harvest.
Effective leaders minister from the overflow of their lives, rather than talent, technique, or persuasion. But it does require careful cultivation of time with God, time of rest, and time with those with whom we are most intimate. And of course, the goal is for Jesus to receive the glory as leaders remain in him and bear fruit—both in the present and in the future.