THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
-- 1 Samuel 16:7
My friend Brad writes,
Over thirty years ago a president engages his administration in a massive cover-up over a hotel break-in that eventually forces him to resign. Twenty-five years later another president wags his finger at the public and lies about an affair. Does character matter?
The CEO of a Fortune 500 company takes a small, upstart phone company, goes on a buying spree, and forms the second-largest communications company in history. He now faces up to eighty-five years in prison for cooking the company's books to the tune of $11 billion, wiping out thousands of investors in the process. Does character matter?
A brilliant physicist, who does research in molecular biology, leaves his prestigious office every day, goes home, and beats his wife senseless, because of his low self-esteem. Does character matter?
When Mother Teresa was asked about the utter futility of trying to feed millions of hungry people and rescuing the dying amid abject poverty in Calcutta, she responded, "God does not call us to be successful; he calls us to be faithful."
Yes, character matters. And it matters most of all in leadership, where Jesus talked a great deal about faithfulness versus success. When it comes to the heart of a shepherd, we can say with certainty, "Of course character does matter."
So true! And character, dear reader, is a matter of the heart.
April is a bright, young, multitasking, twenty-something woman, balancing a business career with her role as mom and wife. She was looking for a "sounding board and for wise counsel," she said, but then added, "My generation doesn't have much time for authority figures. Rather, what we are looking for is wisdom figures."
April spoke for many in our day who have grown weary with and suspicious of authority figures -- charismatic preachers, church power players, PhDs, politicians, CEOs, and basically anyone flashing institutional credentials. And this new generation is not afraid to say so. This does not mean, of course, that April and her peers lack God-hunger. In fact, a good many people in our time remain very much open to the supernatural; but at the same time they often express cynicism toward the agents or promoters of "organized religion."
April underscores the bias of this book, that a spiritual leader is not necessarily the person with the most Bible knowledge (though Bible knowledge is of utmost importance), nor the one with the best track record of managerial and administrative skills. It may not even be the person with the strongest leadership skills (at least, as our culture defines leadership). Rather:
A spiritual leader is the kind of person God-hungry people want to be like.
While you will see the preceding words repeated like a mantra throughout this book, they are no mere slogan. Rather, they represent my attempt to encapsulate the DNA at the heart of authentic spiritual leadership. It can help a Christian leader, of course, to know Scripture and to have experience in ministerial skills like teaching, counseling, or facilitating small groups -- even in visionary leadership. But by themselves, these skills do not attract God-hungry followers and shape Christ-like lives.
In fact, I suspect that today's so-called "postmodern people" are not so different from most people throughout history. Way back in "Bible times," Scripture declared that what a spiritual leader is tends to shape the flock much more than what that leader claims to believe. "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." Note: the emphasis falls not on credentials or expertise, but on character and on how well the leaders navigate their own lives.
Especially in this way, spiritual leadership differs from all other kinds of leadership. Contrast spiritual leadership with, say, leadership in the practice of medicine. A medical doctor may take years to learn the principles of healthy living: balanced diet, proper exercise, and ample rest, and thus become equipped to train students how to lead a sick person to health -- even if the doctor practices none of the healthy disciplines himself and, indeed, possibly even while the doctor grows sicker and sicker. Not so with spiritual leadership, however! Especially in our skeptical, postmodern world.
God-hungry persons are not saying, "Tell me your answers!" But they are urging, "Share your life with me. Let me see it. Are you a person of integrity, of real character? Is your faith 'working' for you? Is the church you lead an authentic community?" God-hungry people want to know the hearts of their shepherds.
SHOW ME YOUR HEART
My wife, Carolyn, knows shepherding. She is a consummate spiritual shepherd herself as well as a perceptive observer of shepherds. She writes, "When I look back in my own life to those who had a part in shaping who I am, I remember Elaine Burton, a Sunday-school teacher in the little Tupelo, Arkansas, country church when I was just a child."
Elaine has surfaced in so many of our conversations that one day I asked Carolyn, "Tell me some of the things Elaine Burton taught you." Carolyn sat quietly awhile. I think I could see her eyes peering into the long ago. Finally, she answered a bit wistfully, "Well, I don't actually remember any specific things she taught. I just remember how she was!"
Eddie knows shepherds too.
A circle of ministers sat one afternoon, awkwardly reflecting on our pulpit loneliness and confessing our sense of inadequacy. One man in that circle was Eddie Sharp, minister of a large church in our city. Eddie's father also sat in our circle -- silent, listening. "Sharp Sr." has been in ministry all of his adult life and has two minister sons. A lot of people know him only as "Eddie's Dad." His own ministry has occurred in small churches. Most of these churches he left better than he found them; some he left sooner than he would have wished, usually with tears but never with bitterness.
In our circle that day, Eddie sent warm tears rolling down his father's cheeks as Sharp Jr. recalled, "Here sits the man who has made the difference for me. I don't remember much about his sermons. I just remember what kind of man he was."
Tears bathed my cheeks too.
Elaine and Eddie's dad both have the heart of a shepherd.
Yes! Oh, yes, at the end of the day, the heart is what matters most to God-hungry people. And to God.
HEARTS MATTER TO GOD
When God sent Samuel out to find a man fit to lead God's people, Samuel pondered hearts. Saul, the first king, had held so much promise. He so looked the part -- but he didn't have the heart.
So God sent Samuel in search of someone better. Still, when Samuel met the sons of Jesse, who first caught the prophet's eye? Eliab, the tall and impressive looking one -- that is, until God reminded Samuel,
Do not consider his appearance or his height,
for I have rejected him.
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.
Man looks at the outward appearance,
but the LORD looks at the heart.
God had His eye on the shepherd boy who had the right quality of heart! But even after Saul anointed David, God sent David back to the pastures to season the young man's heart for the throne. The psalmist explained,
He chose David his servant. . . .
From tending the sheep he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people. . . .
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart."
Integrity of heart. Don't miss that! In fact, God himself calls David a man after his own heart. The Shepherd-King David had a heart hungry for God. Listen to him pray:
My heart says of you "Seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, I will seek.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
This notion will never become outdated. The wind can never whisk it away and cause it to be forgotten. Long after Samuel's day, for example, Isaiah the prophet put his finger on the folly of correct religious words without an authentic heart for God when he lamented, "These people come near to me with their mouth, but their hearts are far from me." Seven centuries later, Jesus repeated Isaiah's words, setting the "heart of the matter" in stone for all time.
AND WHAT IS "THE HEART"?
What precisely do we mean by "the heart"? Of course, in Scripture, the term usually does not refer to the literal blood pump. Rather, it is a metaphor for something infinitely larger and deeper.
Some say the heart refers primarily to the brain and the central nervous system; thus, growing a heart for God would be to program the mind with God thoughts and condition the central nervous system to godly reflexes.
Others equate the heart more with the emotions. So we often hear statements like, "My religion moved down twelve inches, from my head to my heart."
I believe a biblical view of "the heart" includes all of the above -- plus a whole lot more, much of which defies human understanding. Attempting a precise technical definition thus runs the risk of "mechanizing" the mystery of the human being. So I won't go there. I'll say only that, taken all together, Scripture seems to refer to "the heart" of a person as one's core character, which goes beyond mind and emotions and will to the deepest motivations and passions that drive his or her life. That, at least, is my assumption in this book.
Surely, the heart of the shepherd is the heart of the shepherding matter.
A HEART SEEKING THE FACE OF GOD
How, then, does an aspiring shepherd find this kind of heart? If I am to become "the kind of person God-hungry people want to be like," first and above all I must eagerly seek the face of God.
Listen to the prayers of some ancient God-hungry poets:
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
And yet again,
O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
And once again,
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: . . . to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.
Jesus summed up this God-hunger in a blessing that contained a promise: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Hunger for God will not starve one to death, but to life!
Across the centuries since biblical days, the greatest spiritual leaders have always hungered for God. St. Augustine captured God-hunger in his classic phrase, "You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you." Still later John Wesley made it clear that shepherds must make an intimate friendship with God their first concern. When ordaining a lay leader, Wesley raised three fundamental questions: "Does he know God? Does he desire and seek nothing but God? Has he the love of God abiding in him?"
This is the kind of heart, even today, that both God and God-hungry people are looking for.
THE WAY OF THE HEART
We cannot lead people where we have not gone. When we merely talk a religious game without God-hungry hearts -- even if we tell our people true words -- we betray them at the deepest level. Either consciously or subconsciously, we lead our people down the same misguided path into which we ourselves have strayed. We lead them toward the shallows, rather than deeper into the heart of God. More importantly, we betray the trust of our heavenly Father and dishonor his magnificent name.
The good news, however, is that the heart of every helpful shepherd provides a dwelling place for the Good Shepherd. And the soul of a spiritual shepherd still cries out, "Search me, O God, and know my heart. . . . See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
So walk with me through these pages and together let us explore the heart of a shepherd.
CARDIOVASCULAR WORKOUTS FOR SHEPHERD HEARTS
John Wesley used the following set of questions in peer accountability groups. You might find them valuable as you offer self-examining prayers before God. Get out a pen and make yourself some notes. Prayerfully ask yourself each of these questions, and then write down your answers. Finally, pray over your answers.
- Is the love of God shed abroad in my heart?
- Does any sin, inward or outward, have dominion over me?
- Do I really desire that others tell me what they think, fear, and hear concerning me?
- Have I mentioned any failing or fault of any person when it was unnecessary to do so?
- Have I unnecessarily grieved anyone by word or deed?
- Have I desired the praise of men?
- Have I resumed my claim to my body, soul, friends, fame, or fortune, which I gave over to God?
- Have I said anything with a stern look, accent, or gesture, particularly regarding religion?
Copyright © 2007 by Lynn Anderson