By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
The key to being a true Servant Leader, in the mold of Jesus, is to recognize that in the great drama of life and leadership, ultimately “it’s not about me.”
That’s a tall order because with self-awareness comes the instinct to self-preservation. We can’t help but ask the question: Who is going to take care of me? And it’s nearly impossible to avoid the response: I’ll do it myself.
That’s a huge fiction, of course.
Interdependence to the core
At the very least we are interdependent beings. Without others, we can’t develop into whole human beings. The self is a social phenomenon. We are one-anothered into existence, into development, into maturity and eventually into eternity.
Our welfare – even our self-awareness – is dependent on others, no matter how well we might delude ourselves into thinking we are “self-made” men or women.
Nevertheless, there is certainly a dimension of self-determination in the process of moving from the abject dependence of infancy to a sense of independence in adolescence and beyond.
- We have a free will, however much of it is conditioned by our environments.
- We have the experience of making individual decisions that affect our development and welfare.
- We persist or we quit; we hope or we dread; we achieve our goals or we fall short.
Indeed, even as we strive for a fuller appreciation of the interdependent nature of reality and self, we hear and respond to calls -- from within and without – to shape ourselves in certain directions.
Misleading but motivating
Perhaps the epitome of this self-reliant dynamic is the oft- quoted mantra of two-letter words: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
That’s misleading, of course. All by myself, there is very little I can do to shape any of life’s outcomes, even my own personal ones.
Nonetheless, whether I act or fail to act, my behavior has consequences that affect me – and nearly always others as well.
So to a certain extent a great many of life’s outcomes are, at least in part, “up to me.”
Self-discipline ... and its limits
If we exercise more, we will probably be healthier. If we study more, we will probably learn more and do better in school and life. If we foster and practice sound habits of the mind, body and spirit, we will probably live better, healthier, longer and more fulfilling, beneficial – even holy -- lives.
So what we do does make a difference – in our lives and in the lives of others.
But that is not the full story. There is something else to consider, and not just at the end of the story.
There is the matter of God’s grace.
Without it, we can accomplish nothing. Without it, our last breath was, in fact, our last breath.
Everything, beginning with life itself, is a gift from God – given to us not for our own glory or aggrandizement, but for the common good.
A healthy reminder
Pentecost, which is observed this coming Sunday, June 4 (in both Western and Eastern Christianity this year), is a healthy reminder that; “If it is to be, it is up to God’s grace and my response.”
Of course if we want to accomplish something, we need to apply ourselves to our goal. And yet, the who and what we have to apply to our goal are gifts from God, His graces.
If we could go back in time to the days immediately after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and meet his apostles and other disciples, we would surely find people with good hearts, committed to following the teaching and example of Jesus.
And yet, we would also find them unable to serve him – to respond to Jesus’ Great Commission – as they wish they could. They pray (Acts 1:14). They choose a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:14-26). But they remain in the “upper room” (Acts 1:13). They don’t venture out to proclaim the Gospel to anyone – much less, as Jesus commanded them, go out and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).
It is only after Jesus’ Holy Spirit descends on them (Acts 2:1-4) that they are able to profess the faith they embrace. It is only after the Spirit visits them that they are able to respond to Jesus’ Great Commission.
So it is with us too. It is only by virtue of the Holy Spirit that we are able to live, love and lead like Jesus.
Everything we do, everything we achieve, is God’s gift to us. And in response to this realization, we should be grateful.
Only then, in a spirit of gratitude, can we be purposeful and effective -- effective Servants, Stewards and Shepherds. God willing, as always.