We take on the characteristics of what we worship. And western culture fosters a self-centered focus on personal freedom and individual satisfaction. The problem is, when unconstrained by the love of God that binds us to a loving relationship with Him and loving relationships with our fellow man in the context of a greater, benevolent purpose, the search for freedom and satisfaction becomes ephemeral, hollow, meaningless.
When we assess culture, we encounter distorted worship in a myriad of directions as well as distorted and impoverished relationships with self, others and resources. If we turn away from social responsibility and focus exclusively on the soul and individual responsibility, we will not fulfill our calling to bear the image of God in the world. On the other extreme, when our sense of justice becomes secularized, we don’t consider the paramount need for a restored relationship with God that allows people to be who they need to be in the world.
On a recent trip to New York City, I ran several mornings on the boardwalk along the river and enjoyed the cool breeze and spectacular view. Along the route, I stopped to stretch in front of a building where I was struck by an impeccable garden. Every pebble, tree and flower stood out as a work of art. The man who tended the garden stood watering the trees. When I surveyed surrounding buildings, similar spaces were untended and messy. In a large city, every inch of space is extremely valuable. Someone took the time and expended resources and energy to cultivate their small space into an oasis of beauty and peace. It didn’t happen by accident.
Like a recurring theme, I encountered a broader example a few nights later when my husband and I met a successful Italian businessman and his wife at a rooftop party. When he told us about the alliance he started for businesses in his part of the city, his heart for the community came through. He cares about the burdens of his fellow business owners and the needs in his part of the greater city. He is a family man and a faithful steward. I started to think about what the city would look like if many people shared his sense of responsibility.
We must cultivate what lies within our sphere of responsibility – our relationship with God, our view of self, our relationships with others, and our talents and resources.
Four areas to cultivate (to draw out the potential in someone or something) :
Relationship with God
Yesterday we met with Bert and Sheila Thompson, friends who pastor Every Nation Toronto. Bert talked about how their greater church planting team in Canada frequently reminds one another to “Gospel themselves”, meaning that they need to stay Christ-centered and apply God’s solution to whatever they are facing. I know I harp on the daily habit of prayer and Bible study, but I harp on it because it’s important and often neglected. Strong spiritual vitality is not just important for spiritual leaders and all of us are called to lead in some way.
Relationship with Self
Are you self-aware? Do you understand your strengths and blind spots? Can you accept criticism, affirm others and maintain healthy boundaries? While failure is difficult, people can get up and learn from it if they believe they have worth. But success mixed with insecurity or arrogance can be a dangerous cocktail that affects the people around you and the people you lead. Know you are loved, forgiven, and entrusted with abilities for a purpose – to serve.
Relationship with Others
Family comes first. Always. And you must spend quality time to know and love each person. Stress, the tyranny of the urgent and the incessant distractions of media and technology can kill relationships. Build in dates, family prayer, family fun, traditions and serving others together. You can’t fly on autopilot, you must chart a course and stay on it to reach your destination in your most important relationships.
Talents and Resources
In urban ministry and missions, people often take on a messianic approach by parachuting in to offer resources. We need to remind ourselves that we are all impoverished in some way so we should come alongside the people we help as people who also need God’s grace. During times of crisis and disaster we must provide resources, but long-term solutions help people in impoverished communities learn to use the talents and resources they have to improve their lives and communities. Then lasting change happens. I was pleased to speak with our team member who helps at-risk girls this week as she told me about an idea to mentor girls to make and sell items. This is a step towards empowering them so they will not be victimized.
What do you need to cultivate during this season of life?
“Fifty years ago it would have seemed quite impossible in America that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose but simply for the satisfaction of his whims. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless. It is time to defend, not so much human rights, as human obligations.”
– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn