Encouraging words

By Elaine Vitikainen

“This was not a good year for me” a colleague said as we sat together for dinner a few weeks ago. We began to console each other on the many challenges of being freelance consultants – until another friend interrupted. She started telling my colleague the many ways in which he’d done well in the past year. I saw how his face suddenly lit up with her encouraging words. And that was just a single time – imagine what a difference it makes to hear such words regularly.

Words are powerful. They can build up or tear down. It made me stop and think about the words I speak into my own life and others. My well-intended criticisms may actually discourage. But my positive words build someone’s courage. Romans 12 talks about love in action. In verse 10, it reminds us to ‘devote to one another in love, honouring one another’. What does this mean in practical terms? I think it includes regularly speaking words of encouragement.

This week:

  • Think of those who are struggling at work. How can we encourage them? How can we show that we genuinely care for them?
  • Think of those who you work with? How can we be a blessing to them?

Self-care is never selfish

By Stanley Arumugam

It is our ethical responsibility to take care of ourselves so we are fully available and able to do the work we have committed to.

Many of us are expected in our work to do more with less. But in reality, we can only do so much. Recognising the limits of our capacity is a vital first step in looking after ourselves.

As Christians we feel we must always sacrifice our personal needs to serve the cause of Christ. We get caught in a trap of continuously giving without replenishing.

We are all familiar with the habit of Jesus who regularly took time away from the crowds. He made time for silence, prayer, rest and relaxation. If Jesus needed this, how much more do we need to listen to the quieter internal demands of our body, emotions and spirit? As we listen, we will hear our bodies asking us to slow down, retreat, rest, and take care of ourselves.

To overcome the challenge of dedicating time in a busy schedule, I’ve started with a few basics that work for me: daily meditation; stretching exercises; sleep well; regular walks; breakfast; drinking water; breaks in the office; switch off the smartphone when sleeping; don’t read e-mails when taking breaks; weekend breaks; setting boundaries at work
in terms of your time, meetings you join and weekend working. I don’t always get it right but I’m mindful of developing these new habits of self-care.

Taking care of ourselves is an intentional act of good stewardship. We are the only gift we have to offer other people. Self-care gives others permission to do the same without feeling guilty. The Bible describes our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. We need to look after that temple.

This week:

  • What can I do more of to look after myself? 
  • What should I do less of?

Less of everything

By Jonathan Mbuna

The world is now talking of ‘less’ in almost every new innovation that is coming on the market. We now are seeing paperless offices, tubeless tyres, cordless appliances, wireless phones and many more ‘less’ innovations. I wonder if the same ‘less’ can be said of church leadership today. It got me thinking and even daring to question myself. What I all too often see is:

  • Valueless leadership: Leadership which does not value honesty, integrity, faithfulness and truth is valueless. Leadership without values usually follows the saying ‘the end justifies the means’ – Where am I tempted to compromise my values?
  • Directionless leadership: Some leaders have a poor sense of direction. They are
    not able to communicate to their followers where they believe they should go. Vision is blurred – How clear is my vision in my leadership?
  • Thoughtless leadership: Some “decisive” leaders are prone to speaking before thinking, deciding without consideration and acting impatiently – When did I last act too hastily?
  • Spineless leadership: Some leaders do not have a strong moral stand. They shift with the prevailing winds of opinion. As Mark Twain said ‘Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect’ – What principles do I need to relentlessly hold onto in my leadership?
  • Headless leadership: Some leaders fail to lead. They abdicate responsibility and refuse to take difficult leadership decisions – Where am I failing to fulfil my leadership responsibilities – at work, at home, in church?

This week:
Let’s see where our leadership can be ‘more’, not ‘less’.

Leading by Letting Go

By Knud Jorgensen

I remember when I was dean of a department for leadership, management and communication at a seminary in Ethiopia. I had a word of wisdom hanging on my wall. It encapsulates so much of what I believe about leadership:

Go to people
Start with what they know. Build on what they have.
When their task is fulfilled
And their work is accomplished, The people will say
to their leaders:
WE DID IT OURSELVES!

Training others to lead involves equipping them for service, showing them the way, focusing on core values, such as integrity and honesty, and encouraging them to use their natural and spiritual gifts – and then letting go. That was how Jesus and Paul trained leaders. That is how we have developed.

This week:

  • Who can we help to develop as leaders? How?
  • Where do we need to let go more?

For whose benefit?

By Jes Bates

‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.’

Uncompromising words from Philippians 2:3-4. What does it mean for us in practical terms? I suppose it is that we are not leaders for our own benefit, our own status, our own reputation. We are not doctors for our own benefit, our own status, our own reputation. We are not building houses, palaces or kingdoms for our own benefit. It is only our insecurities that make us seek these things. We do what we do; we are what we are; we have what we have for others, for service, for love, for compassion, for healing, for justice…for others.

We need to learn true humility, practice self-denial, sacrifice, giving and mercy. We will not lack anything except pride. As we realise that our real security is only found hidden in Christ, we will find that to be valued by God alone all we really need.

As we look ahead to this week, how can we create space for stillness to know peace beyond understanding? What do we need to do to take captive our human fears and know every day that God is with us and in us? What choices about how we live our lives this week will give God pleasure?

Working from rest

By Pieter Messelink

2014 was the hardest and darkest year in my life. Christmas 2013 I was diagnosed with burn- out. I had to stop work completely. This was incredibly difficult. I was so used to being busy, to have my head filled with stuff, to carrying on. I have always done so much in my own strength, relying on my own insight. But this proved unsustainable.

People around me challenged me to rest. The Holy Spirit confirmed this. The passage from Isaiah 30:15 has become very important to me: The holy Lord God of Israel had told all of you, “I will keep you safe if you turn back to me and calm down. I will make you strong if you quietly trust me.” —– Then you stubbornly said, “No! We will safely escape on speedy horses.”

I have learned so much during the past year as I tried to discover the roots of my unrest. As I came to the place of surrender, refusing the escape on speedy horses, I realised in a new way that God is there. After all, His name is Immanuel (God is with us, Jesus came to live among us). I know that I do not need to worry about tomorrow’s problems as there is a Heavenly Father who takes care of my life. I had thought that the Christian life was about being active, working hard and bearing fruit. I have learned that I can only bear fruit from a place of rest. In rest, God directs. In my busy life my challenge was to start living healthy rhythms of resting and working.

But it is not about resting from work. It is the other way round. It is about working from rest. I can only work effectively from a firm foundation of rest. This has released me and strengthened my relationship with my wife and children.

I am back to working full-time. As I practice working from rest, it seems I am actually bearing more fruit than before.

This week:

  • How will you establish a firm foundation of rest?
  • What challenges do you invite God in, to accompany you through this week?

Who is praying for you?

By Niklas Eklöv

”God, I pray that mom and dad will have a good time at work”. It was Moses my 7-year old son who prayed for the day, as we try to do at breakfast time every day. A short prayer. I had heard it before. Actually every time he prays, it’s the same one. But that morning, the words came alive somehow. It was like I really understood what they meant. I was so encouraged that he prayed for me and my work. That prayer carried me the whole day and reminded me that having someone to pray for you is such an asset. Something I really need.

That’s why I miss Ingrid. She was an old spinster in our church in her 80’s. Always extremely energetic, although bodily frail. Passionate for God and always with her Bible close to her. For some reason, she had adopted me as her “prayer child” and she was always keen to hear how my work life was. I particularly remember one Sunday. Ingrid came up to me and said: “Oh, you should know Niklas. Jesus woke me up in the middle of the night and said I should pray for you and your work.” Ingrid is not with me any longer. But she taught me the importance of having people that could accompany me in prayers in challenging work or leadership situations.

This week, take time to reflect on:

  • Who is praying for you in your work situation or leadership role?
  • Who are you praying for?

Finding a critical friend

“Leadership is so hard”, I said to myself. I was reading the whiteboard in the meeting room. The last group had obviously been discussing leadership traits. The list went on and on. As I studied the long list of seemingly impossible demands, I wondered which of these traits are necessary and which ones are extras. I realised that perhaps one of the most important traits of a leader was not even on the list…

It is the ability to come to grips with his or her own flaws. It is only through accepting their own limitations that a leader can depend on others. Leaders who understand their limitations will tend to look for the potential of those he or she works with.

We all need people who encourage us and affirm us. We all enjoy positive feedback. But more precious still are people who will be honest with us about where we are failing. Leaders need people they can trust to give them honest feedback, however uncomfortable. Without such people, leaders will not see their blind spots. They will lose their humility. Their growth will be stunted.

This week:

  • Who do you trust to give you honest feedback?
  • How aware are you of your limitations? What are you doing about it?

Cultivating honest feedback

Recently, I have been disturbed by reading about the life of Saul. Saul entered kingship with a humble spirit. As he became more experienced as a leader, he let his position
go to his head. When pride and disobedience replaced his humility, he rejected God and His presence left him. Although Saul clung to his leadership position for another 15 years, he did so in his own strength and faced increasing difficulties.

All of us in any position of leadership face the real danger of pride – particularly when we are surrounded by people who want us to like them. We find it more difficult to see our faults and admit our mistakes. We begin to blame others more and more. Pride grows like a weed. Leading by human inclination alone can never replace leading by the spirit of God. It takes God’s wisdom to lead in a Godly manner.

There are practical steps we can take to avoid this. We need to actively seek out people who are honest enough to speak truthfully to us. Feedback, however painful, is a vital way to root out pride.

This week:

  • Who do you have at work who will give you honest feedback?
  • How can you make sure you hear honest feedback on a regular basis?

What makes us any different?

The email requested: “Please send us a message for our anniversary”. It came from a faith-based organisation I knew well from the Philippines. As I reflected, a few verses quickly leapt to mind, particularly those positive ones that promise reward and success. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9-11 “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap…” Luke 6:38. I like those verses!

But as I considered, I also thought about the many secular organisations who do good work. Many of them even do greater work with wider reach to the poor and the needy. Even people who don’t profess any faith believe that we must love and care for people to be able to succeed in what we do.

So what makes Christian organisations any different? Our motivations are always pretty mixed and often a bit more self-oriented that we dare admit. At our best I think it’s about worship – wanting to see God glorified. So I decided to send them the verse “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. Matthew 5:16.

This week, stop and think:

  • Why are you really doing what you are doing? What are your mixed motivations?
  • What can we do to refocus our work on glorifying God?