In a recent trustees meeting, my friend Kenny shared this Scripture passage from Joshua 3:1-5 : ‘Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before…” Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God dwelling in the people’s midst, first under Moses’s leadership and now under Joshua’s. Joshua is standing with his people at the edge of a vast unknown land and they are about to go in a “way they have never been before.“
Sound familiar? How many of us as leaders feel that we find ourselves currently facing a similar vast unknown of life after Covid-19, taking tentative steps on an unfamiliar path, wondering desperately if we are leading our people in the right direction?
Can we learn something from Joshua here? Remember, Joshua was the one who would stay behind in the tent of meeting in God’s presence long after Moses had come out. And what does he do now? He encourages his people to “consecrate themselves” to prepare for their journey into the new and unfamiliar. This typically involved prayer and fasting, a sort of rededication of their lives to God and His purposes. Joshua again seeks the presence of God and leads his people in that.
My own years of leadership could best be summed up in this prayer: “Father, I don’t know what to do. Help!”
Unfortunately, that prayer often came after I tried following my own ideas, which then at times preceded burnout or near burnout.
I was blessed to have a pastor who called me out on this unhelpful pattern in my life and leadership and challenged me to put some life-sustaining rhythms in place. ( Thank you, Jon! Neither of us will ever know what disaster you may have helped to prevent in my leadership! )
As I began to learn more about spiritual disciplines and rhythms, I came across this quote from Henri Nouwen which pierced deep into my soul and became, in a way, my north star by which to navigate my little boat of life and leadership:
‘In the spiritual life, the word “discipline” means “the effort to create some space in which God can act”. Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied… to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.’
This has become key for me, not just in my personal life, but in my leadership. All my decisions come out of that place of sitting in God’s presence. And when life is extra busy, I try and become more intentional in “creating some space in which God can act.” And when I don’t do this, I feel it immediately. I lose focus, I lose awareness of His presence. I look up and am not certain which direction He has headed off in. I am more insecure, unwilling to step into the unknown.
But when I am creating that space to be in His presence, then I am at rest, even in the busyness. And I am not as afraid of the unknown path, because even though I can’t see that far ahead, I can see Him. And His presence is enough.