We live in times of great change. The COVID-19 pandemic, shelter at home and social distancing marks an unprecedented disruption of business as usual and an opportunity to explore Jesus and leadership as business unusual. As the wisdom of Solomon advises, “there is a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ESV). This is a time for change, deep change from the inside out and outside in. Change that affects everyone for the obvious reasons, loss; of gainful employment, of ability to provide for our families, even loss of life but, for the most part, the ubiquitous loss of our liberty. God created man to be extraordinarily flexible and agile, indeed, to be creative and innovative, agents of change. According to William Bridges, change is a natural, organic process, we are quite adaptable to change. However, it is not change we fear, no, but rather, the transformations that require reorientation, it is the letting go, of familiar patterns of interaction; attachments, addictions and idols that make us anxious. It is the in-betweens that cause us to stumble and fall. In this sense, change is about loss. And we tend to mourn and grieve loss. We experience the stages of grief–denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
It has been said that God is in the business of transforming people’s lives. However, I believe, He often calls us into a journey, not of our own choosing. If we have the courage to step into this new normal with arms wide open, we discover how the Lord has “opened doors for us no one can shut” (Revelation 3:8). Transformation involves an interesting “experiential dance” between solitude and community. It is a collaborative journey of joint exploration, understanding self in relation with God and His creations–each other. Change, therefore involves both an intrapersonal and interpersonal, within groups and between groups dynamic. So, while we have been created to experience community together, we must also be intentional about spending time alone with our Heavenly Father, just as Jesus showed us. So, what happens when we are forced into exile–isolation and separation? Is God absent in this darkness? Of course not.
I believe, solitude is an opportunity for self examination, introspection and reflection–an opportunity to rediscover our heavenly Father’s Love, Truth and Grace. Solitude provides the opportunity for restoration and renewal of the spirit. In these times of solitude and reflection, we come to realize some things may have subtly changed or, need to change. We might have had to surrender or let go of something (attachment, addiction, idol) in order to experience a rebirth, a new identity emerges. N. T. Wright (2008) proclaims that “the resurrection of Jesus’s body points toward the time and affirms God’s promise to fill the earth with His Glory, transform the heavens and earth and raise up all believers in a new relationship with the Lord” (p. 265). Space, time, matter and hearts are renewed. Take time and find a quiet space to reflect on your life experiences prior to and during COVID through the end of 2020. Where do we go from here? Who can we trust?
Questions: How has the Lord re-directed your steps? How have you responded? How have you been, in some way, transformed or reborn?
Jesus’s resurrection is directly instrumental in bringing about this new birth (p. 271). But first, according to Wright, there must be a death and the curtain veil, must be torn so that we can draw closer to Him and no longer experience this separation of God and self. As we seek Him, we must meet Him in a place of full surrender (Acts 17:27). To be sure, we all enter this journey with a bit of trepidation (approach / avoidance) because it rattles our perception of ourselves, what we know, how we know what we know and, who we are in Christ Jesus which is oftentimes very different from who we think we are in the natural world. We have to take the risk of removing the mask and meeting oneself in the presence of our Lord.
Some of us have an intense fight or flight response and at the same time, we are all learning how to be more resilient and adaptive. I have been in the business of change my entire adult life and frankly, since I was a child. I am used to being all alone and pushing myself or, I should say, picking myself up from my bootstraps. So, I tend to feel confident in the in-between transitions and times of uncertainty. A child sent into the basement, for punishment finds creative ways to overcome darkness and loneliness. After a while, your eyes adjust, and you begin to see glimmers of light everywhere. I have learned that there is more than one way, one truth, that is, we can choose to perceive the world around us as dark and sinister, living in the shadows and, as such, cast same or, we can choose to see lightness gleaming through the darkness. What is obvious is that we need Spirit-led leaders that cast light and hope for rebirth, restoration and renewal–a vision for new beginnings, assuring our God-given inalienable rights for faith, family and freedom. But, what is less obvious is, leaders need followers. America’s exceptional individualism has given way to extreme individualism, narcissism and nihilism.
Indeed, times of great change. This event is different. It’s a tipping point, a paradigm shift. It casts its shadow in the light of day. And, it’s big, really big. The scale of this darkness is global touching the lives of everyone. Again, it eclipses and transcends our God given inalienable rights. This is cataclysmic. Remember, not so long ago, before everything changed, we had so much hope and vision for a prosperous future, didn’t we? The economy was doing extraordinarily well, unemployment was way down, job security was at an all-time high and compensation was on the rise. We were emotionally and spiritually healthy, spring had arrived and we were all looking forward to a new season of prosperity; summer vacations, future successes and unbounded opportunity. But, and it is a rather big BUT, we were divided as a nation. How can we assimilate? Looking back 2,000 years, within that zeitgeist (spirit of the time), I am struck by the request of James and John in the following scripture of (Mark, 10:35-38, ESV);
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking” (Mark 10:35-38).
This scripture sets the stage for a dramatic turn in events–business unusual, indeed. It was getting exciting, this “movement” was becoming something really big. Think about Palm Sunday and how Jesus was greeted. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hallelujah! Then it takes a sudden turn. It gets very dark. Everything changed in a heartbeat. This story always reminds me of how proud and risk aversive God’s people can be in times of uncertainty, when we need Him most. Leading without God’s divine direction is not only foolish, it’s pernicious. People want to be a part of something that is successful and exciting. But when the tables turn, the same people turn and run away, they’re nowhere to be found. Life’s experiences are mostly cyclical. We have ups and downs and no one can ride the wave without crashing. The challenge is understanding the benefit of risk. There is a difference between taking risks and recklessness. How can we accept this challenge, to take a risk and step into the epicenter of the COVID-19 storm and create something new and innovative, something all people need. This is the time for innovation. God want’s us to experience the richness of our inheritance in Christ (Ephesians 1:11-17). But this is risky because we need to trust His Word. We need to trust that He is who He says He is. And, He always keeps His promises (Hebrews 10:23).
A lot of decisions that have been made over the past two-three decades focused solely on short-term ROI. And, now we see serious long-term consequences. Trusting in the Lord is like a long distance marathon. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3). Where do we turn in these times of great disruption and uncertainty? Bible studies and small groups have relocated online. Join one or, start one. Others have turned their attention to binge watching Netflix or social media where social influencers spin fanciful stories and rumors for their own personal self gain. And, we are all riveted to the daily news where the progressive news media sow seeds of despair, nihilism and darkness. The Good News, the Word provides reassurance, hope and salvation.
Perhaps it is our own brokenness, co-dependence, projection and denial, approach avoidance that keep us from becoming the people the Lord created us to be. So, I see these times of extreme uncertainty as an opportunity to lead change, encourage and inspire one another, to do God’s will that He has for each of us, individually and collectively and fight the good fight, go the distance and keep the faith (1 Timothy 6:12). Although these times can appear very dark, sinister and frightening, we know how the story ends. We should be singing halleluiahs right now, here on earth as we will throughout all eternity in Heavenly places. Praise God, He is good.
Here are some more tips for leading in times of uncertainty. https://aboutchange.com/services/coaching/
Wright, N., T. (2008). Surprised by hope: Rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishing.
Bridges, W. (1980). Transitions: Making sense of life’s changes. New York, NY: Addison-Wesley Publishing.
John, thank you for laying out a path to light, hope, and transformation amidst so many dark voices clamoring for our attention. Transition and uncertainty can be the fodder for fear which fuels skewed thinking and poor choices. Staying attached to the Trinity and our redemptive communities fuels faith, hope, and love for all including our enemies.
I enjoyed your thoughtful u sight and believe in the midst of everything Romans 8:28 still reigns true, “And we know all things are working together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. Trials and tribulations works patience so in the midst of the state of the world can and will the believer persevere in faith especially as you stated the economic and humanity systems appear to be in shambles; when uncertainty of how to survive is plagued for some with if they will survive due to the color of their skin; life can appear in a topsy turvy state but whosoever call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered. I often reflect and think about the plagues in the Old Testament and correlate it to Ecclesiastes where there is nothing new under the heavens or earth seeing that God is seemingly calling us to sincerely be the nation that is printed on the very thing that causes decisions to be made to open society despite the possibility of losing more lives to a pandemic that has confounded even the scientists. The words In God We Trust are engraved in the very thing that most put their trust in; the item that Gods word says if you love it it’s the root of all evil….hmmmmm….so are we plagued with evil that has allowed the plagues of old to penetrate our today that 2 Chronicles 7:14 has to come to pass( if my people who are called by name will humble themselves seek his face pray and turn from their wickedness then God will hear from heaven and heal this land). I believe God has allowed the shuttering of brick and mortar to see who the real believers are; will you still serve him when the ritualistic opportunities of being the good ole church goer has been snatched away, will you find the online bible study and prayer lines to stay connected with God, will you attend services even though they are virtual or do you sit idly by letting the oil in your lamp burn risking the chance that when Jesus return there will be nothing left. I am not political but people seemingly people are politicizing our present day circumstances instead of seeing that right before our eyes God is showing us that He is soon to return and when He comes for the church it will be without spot or wrinkle. We must remember that this battle is not carnal for we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness and principalities in high places (Ephesians 6:12)