How do we grow our leadership capacity?
Everyone has felt the muscle soreness that reminds us of a previous days physical exertion. Athletes often take this pain as an indication that they are doing the right things in their training regime. Arnold Schwarzenegger tells heroic tales of not being able to pick up a comb some days after a heavy workout as he built his prodigious strength.
Of course today physiologists and fitness experts tell us that muscle pain is not a prerequisite for muscle growth. Stretching the muscle fibers -whether it causes pain or not - is what is needed. Nevertheless, those of us committed to physical fitness take muscle pain as a 'medal of honor' when we feel it. 'No pain…' Well you know the rest.
This seems to be a principle of both spiritual and physical growth. In the same ways that we stretch ourselves physically, we challenge ourselves emotionally and spiritually, trying to do things that we've never done before.
Perhaps we try to share our faith and for the first time with someone we know.
Perhaps we try to heal the sick.
Perhaps we try to engage a new community or culture as one of God's representatives.
We stretch into a new uncharted territory and inevitably find ourselves reaching a point of inadequacy. We find the point to where we can stretch no further. Paul spoke very honestly about this when he said,
‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. Philippians 3:12
Paul recognized that he had not 'taken hold' of that for which he had reached. Should he be content? Should he recognize his limitations? Listen to what he says,
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ Philippians 3:13-14
Paul believed that God wanted great things for him and so he stretched himself to try to attain them.
There is something deeply counterintuitive here. As we extend ourselves to grow in new areas of discipleship we find that the pain of failure or inadequacy – what the New Testament often calls 'weakness' – accompany the process; but our weakness is the beginning of God's strength. We stretch to find our limit and having found it discover a mysterious power beyond anything that we could muster from within
Paul speaks very candidly of this process in 2 Corinthians,
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Paul came to understand that his weaknesses – the point from which he could go no further – were the point where cots power began to flow over more. Paul embraced the point at which everyone assumed he was inadequate and by doing that revealed that God was releasing power through him. Perhaps this is why he is able to say
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
When Jesus died on the cross it was the ultimate portrayal of human frailty and weakness. As we 'reach our limit' we participate in this frailty and have the opportunity of embracing a fresh the death of Christ. Embracing our weakness becomes an opportunity to 'carry around in our body the death of Jesus' and this means that we are but one step away from seeing his resurrection power. And so in the same passage Paul goes on to say,
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Of course I could also quote several other passages from Paul's writing not least of which Romans 8:31-38. But by now you probably got my drift.
To grow spiritually means growing in the confidence and experience of seeing God work through you powerfully. This occurs by reaching for the goals of Spirit empowered discipleship and in finding our point of inadequacy, then embracing our inadequacy so that we find God's power. This is the 'open secret' known to the spiritual giants of the past- Antony the Great, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Smith Wigglesworth, Kathryn Kuhlman, John Wimber, Mother Theresa – you name them, they knew it.