Why You Should Read Psalms and Proverbs Daily | Influence Magazine


Several years ago, I began reading the books of Psalms and Proverbs daily during my devotional time. By following a set schedule of readings, I have been able to read each book completely once a month. This daily immersion into the prayers and wisdom of Israel has been deeply rewarding.

Billy Graham followed a similar devotional routine, though his was not the inspiration for mine. “I used to read five psalms every day — that teaches me how to get along with God,” he wrote, explaining his routine. “Then I read a chapter of Proverbs every day and that teaches me how to get along with my fellow man.”

I quibble with Graham’s explanation a bit. Psalms talks about human relationships (e.g., Psalm 15), after all, and Proverbs about our relationship to God (e.g., Proverbs 1:7; 3:5–6). Graham’s explanation nonetheless remains a good way of explaining why reading Psalms and Proverbs daily is a good devotional practice. So, let’s look first at each in turn.

Psalms: Our Relationship With God
The first word of Psalms is blessed (1:1). The last word is hallelujah, translated as “Praise the Lord!” (150:6). To me, that lexical fact makes a profound point about the way God relates to us and the way we should relate to Him. Ever since Creation, God’s fundamental desire has been to bless humanity (Genesis 1:28). And as New Creation shows, everyone touched by God’s blessing responds instinctively and enthusiastically with praise (Revelation 19:6–8).

In this way, our theology and our spirituality mutually support and empower one another: The more God blesses, the more we delight to praise Him. The more we praise God, the more He delights to bless us.

And yet, in between Creation and New Creation, a lot of bad stuff happens. Given every blessing by God, Adam and Eve — and you and me, in their wake — chose to disobey God and seek their own ways. We have thought that by doing so, we would make for ourselves a better life, becoming “like God” as we took charge of our own lives (Genesis 3:5).

The serpent’s words were a lie then, and they continue to be a lie now. There are only two ways in life: God’s way and any other way. The first leads to life, the others to death. “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (Psalm 1:6).

What happens when we find ourselves in the way of destruction? Sometimes, we ourselves are the sinners, doing what is wrong. Other times, we are the sinned against, suffering because of the wrongdoing of the wicked. Between Psalm 1’s blessed and Psalm 150’s hallelujah, the Psalter teaches us the necessity of heartrending repentance and lament in addition to the joy of heartfelt praise.

David, one of Psalms’ most prolific authors, demonstrated how to do both. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). David wrote that after he got caught committing adultery with Bathsheba and killing her husband, Uriah the Hittite, to cover up his offense. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1). We are not sure what the particular occasion was for this lament, but I am sure we have all felt the same way. Even Jesus did, according to Matthew 27:46.

When we sin, we repent. When we’re sinned against, we lament. We can do both because we know that behind all the problems we create and experience in life is a God who desires to bless us, to restore us to relationship with Him. Our repenting and our lamenting are shot through with hope.

The Psalms’ hopefulness is more than wishful thinking, however. It’s more than a positive mental outlook, much more than a Pollyannaish optimism. It’s rooted in who God is and what He has done.

Think of it this way: Psalms is the most quoted book of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Quite often, these quotations draw out the connection between the Messiah the Psalms promised would appear and Jesus who has in fact appeared. He is that promised Messiah.

Consider Psalm 2: Jesus is the “anointed” (literally, messiah) of verses 1–2 (cf. Acts 4:25–27). He is the “son” of verse 7 (cf. Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). He is the divinely appointed king of verses 8–9 who will inherit and rule the nations (cf. Revelation 2:26–27; 12:5; 19:15).

Or consider Psalm 110, the most quoted or alluded-to Psalm in the New Testament. Together with all Jews, Jesus believed that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. The common belief was that the Messiah, because a descendant of David, was inferior to him. But Jesus used verse 1 to show that the Messiah would in fact be David’s superior, his “lord” (cf. Matthew 22:42–46; Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:41–44). The Early Church drew the obvious conclusion: Jesus is both “Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:35; cf. Hebrews 1:13).

When we see the connection between the Psalm’s messianic hope and Jesus, we see why Jesus quoted the lament of Psalm 22 from the Cross (Matthew 27:46). Jesus incarnated the innocent victim; He embodied to the fullest degree the victim who had been sinned against. No wonder He lamented so greatly! And yet, lament — the most common type of Psalm, whether individual or corporate — ends with hope because the lamenter trusts in the God who blesses.

“I will declare your name to my people,” the Psalmist exclaims; “in the assembly I will praise you” (Psalm 22:22). Why? Because God “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (22:24). Because of this, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord” (22:27). Christ suffered in hope and experienced resurrection. Because of His death and resurrection, we have hope of redemption.

Do you see, then, why it is important to read the Psalms daily? They teach us God’s desire to bless. They teach us our need to repent when we sin and lament when we are sinned against. They show us that Jesus is Messiah, Lord, and Redeemer. And thus, they teach us to praise with hope. We have been blessed. Hallelujah!

Proverbs: Our Relationship With Others
What about Proverbs? How does a daily encounter with it change our lives? Billy Graham said that Proverbs “teaches me how to get along with my fellow man.” I think he is basically correct, though we need to remember that Proverbs itself articulates a Godward perspective: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Our relationship to God is the foundation of our relationship to others because His wisdom shapes the way we live with our neighbors. At least, it should.

Notice, by the way, that Proverbs also articulates a two-ways perspective: God’s way and any other, the way of wisdom and the way of folly, the way of life and the way of death. Proverbs 8:35–36, which personifies wisdom as a woman, puts it this way: “For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord. But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death.”

So, wisdom leads to life. But what is wisdom? Is it book-learning? A graduate education? Proficiency in the relevant literature of a given topic? No.

Wisdom is less about knowing what than about knowing how, less theory than practice. We see this in Proverbs 1:1–7 by looking at the terms Solomon places in company with wisdom: terms like “understanding,” “insight,” “prudent behavior,” “doing what is just and fair,” “prudence,” “knowledge and discretion,” and “guidance,” among others. Wisdom is skillfulness at living, the ability to know what to do in a given situation, how to respond, when to initiate, whether to walk away.

This accounts for the paradoxical character of some of the individual proverbs. My favorite example of this is Proverbs 26:4–5: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Wisdom is highly situational, these two verses are telling us.

Sometimes, you avoid correcting fools lest you get caught up in their insanity. This is good advice whenever you’re dealing with internet trolls. But sometimes, you need to step in and show fools the error of their way, as, for example, when I have to remind my 6-year-old daughter that, to paraphrase Jesus, “Man does not live on sugary candies and beverages alone.” You have to eat your veggies too.

And that example brings me to another characteristic of Proverbs. It is often expressly parental advice. “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). As the father of one son and two daughters, I resonate with these words because after 50 years of life, I have learned through hard-won experience what works in life and what does not. Like Solomon, I want to pass that wisdom along so that my kids make good choices knowingly.

Obviously, I want them to make good choices in every area of their lives, and Proverbs will help them do that. But one of the interesting things that stands out about Proverbs is how important finding a good wife is. (Proverbs was written to sons; with a few mental adjustments, you can easily make its advice relevant to daughters too.)

Notice, for example, how often Proverbs warns against adultery (e.g., Proverbs 5:1–23, 6:20–7:27). And notice how its last chapter praises the “wife of noble character” (Proverbs 31:10–31). Life is not always easy or fair, but a good spouse softens its hard edges and makes it not merely bearable, but enjoyable. As Proverbs 18:22 puts it, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”

Wisdom, Proverbs 31 seems to teach us, isn’t just about knowing how; it’s also about knowing who. A good life is demonstrated by good deeds done for the right reasons at the right time. But it is also demonstrated by the quality of the people you surround yourself with, especially in the intimacy of marriage and family.

Do you see, then, why it is a good idea to read Proverbs daily? In life, we need to make good choices about what to do, whom to befriend, whom to marry, because those choices shape the trajectory of our lives, for good or bad. We cannot make good choices without wisdom. And we cannot have wisdom without God. Reading Proverbs daily keeps that decision tree in the foremost of our minds.

Now What?
I hope I have convinced you to begin reading Psalms and Proverbs daily. Once you have decided to do so, the next question is practical: How do I do this? Here are some points to consider:

First, read the chapter of Proverbs that matches the day’s date: chapter 1 on the first day of the month, chapter 2 on the second, chapter 3 on the third, and so on. Proverbs has 31 chapters, and seven months of the year have 31 days, so your reading schedule those months is straightforward. In months that have 30 days, I read chapters 30–31 on the last day. In February, I read chapters 28–31 on the last day.

Second, reading Psalms is a bit more complicated than reading Proverbs because there are 150 Psalms. Billy Graham read five Psalms a day. The problem with his approach is that the individual Psalms are of uneven length. For example, if you follow Graham, you will read Psalms 116–120 on the 24th day of the month. That means you will read the Psalms’ shortest (117) and longest (119) chapters on the same day, and it will take a while.

In my experience, it’s better to read a few Psalms in the morning, just after you wake up, and few more in the evening, just before you fall asleep. The Book of Common Prayer divides the Psalms into roughly equal sections morning and evening. Depending on how fast you read, it will take 5–10 minutes in the morning and another 5–10 minutes in the evening to read all the Psalms and Proverbs each month. See the Daily Psalm Reading Schedule below.

Third, if you miss a reading or two, do not worry about making it up. Just move on to the next scheduled reading. Over the course of a year, you’ll be exposed to all the chapters of both books several times.

And finally, keep in mind that the purpose of reading Psalms and Proverbs is practical, not legalistic. The goal, in other words, is to grow in your relationships with God and others, not to check off a box on a spiritual to-do list.

May God bless you as you begin your daily journey through Psalms and Proverbs!

 

Appendix: Daily Psalm Reading Schedule

Day A.M. P.M.
1 1–5 6–8
2 9–11 12–14
3 15–17 18
4 19–21 22–23
5 24–26 27–29
6 30–31 32–34
7 35–36 37
8 38–40 41–43
9 44–46 47–49
10 50–52 53–55
11 56–58 59–61
12 62–64 65–67
13 68 69–70
14 71–72 73–74
15 75–77 78
16 79–81 82–85
17 86–88 89
18 90–92 93–94
19 95–97 98–101
20 102–103 104
21 105 106
22 107 108–109
23 110–113 114–115
24 116–118 119:1–32
25 119:33–72 119:73–104
26 119:105–144 119:145–176
27 120–125 126–131
28 132–135 136–138
29 139–141 142–143
30 144–146 147–150

 

The Emotionally Intelligent Pastor | Influence Podcast


Greater emotional intelligence leads to reduced stress and increased influence,” writes Dr. Jeannie Clarkson. Pastor, if that sentence appeals to you, you definitely want to listen to this episode of the Influence Podcast because I’m talking with Dr. Clarkson about how emotional intelligence accomplishes those results.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dr. Jeannie Clarkson is a Christian psychologist and founder of Christian Care Connection, a multisite counseling service in the greater Toledo, Ohio, area. Her doctoral dissertation researched the links between emotional intelligence, performance-based self-esteem, and burnout among Christian pastors. She is author of The Emotionally Intelligent Pastor: A Guide for Clergy and Other Church Leaders, published by Wesleyan Publishing House.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Including Children with Disabilities, part of the Momentum Training Series.

Whether you already have children in your church with disabilities or just want to be prepared for all students, this resource will show you how to share the love of Jesus with everyone who enters your class.

For more information visit MomentumTrainingSeries.com.

P.S. You can read my review of Clarkson’s book here. As always, if you like it, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Help! I’m in Charge | Book Review


The highest compliment I can pay Rod Loy for his leadership is that the better you know him, the better you think of him, both as a person and as a pastor. That’s not always true of Christian leaders, but it’s true of him. I can recommend his new book, Help! I’m in Charge, because I can recommend him as someone to listen to.

Help! I’m in Charge is the fourth book I’ve read by Rod. (The others are 3 Questions, Immediate Obedience, and After the Honeymoon.) According to the subtitle, it examines “stuff leadership excerpts didn’t tell you.” And that’s about right. Most leadership experts discuss mission, vision, and values from a 30,000-foot level, Rod gets into the weeds, talking the nitty-gritty of leadership on the ground.

The book’s chapter titles helpfully identify the practical topics Rod examines:

  1. You’ll Need to Get Comfortable Outside Your Comfort Zone
  2. The One Thing You CanExpect Is the Unexpected
  3. We all Make Monumental Mistakes
  4. Unresolved Conflict Never Solved Anything
  5. Your Ability Won’t Get You Far if People Don’t Like You
  6. A Leader Leads Everybody, Not Just a Select Group
  7. Don’t Go into the Poor Without a Lifeguard
  8. You Can Respond Stupidly or Wisely to Criticism and Correction
  9. Everyone Wants to Be Treated with Respect
  10. Great Leaders Are Willing to Sacrifice Their Rights

Chapter 5 was the most personally challenging for me. So much so, that I’ve written “Your Ability Won’t Get You Far If People Don’t Like You” on a sticky note and affixed it to my computer screen, which—because I’m an editor—I stare at most of my working hours. Leaders need to turn off their screens, get up off their chairs, and grab face-to-face time with others if they want to be effective. At least I do.

Here are some other passages in Help! I’m in Charge that I’ve dogeared: “How to Handle the Unexpected” (pp. ##), “How to Know Which Person Is in the Right” (pp. ##), “How to Become a Secure Leader” (pp. ##), “How to Bring Out the Best in Insecure People” (pp. ##), and “Reasons People Avoid and Resist Accountability” (pp. ##).

Rod is great at epitomizing matters, so there are a lot of helpful lists throughout the book. Chapter 9, “Everyone Wants to Be Treated with Respect,” outlines the differences between exclusive and inclusive leaders, for example. Sometimes, I’ll write that a particular chapter is worth the price of an entire book. For what it’s worth, I thought this entire book was worth the price of the entire book.

As with Rod’s other books, Help! I’m in Chargecombines helpful principles, biblical insights, telling anecdotes, and personal authenticity. For me, this is most evident in the Epilogue, which recounts how Rod and his wife Cindy responded when she was diagnosed with cancer in spring 2017. Cindy is healthy now, but they welcomed that experience as an opportunity to draw closer to God. By sharing it with their church, they invited others to draw closer to Him as well.

A leader who models how to follow God when life is hard is the kind of leader I want to follow, even if only by reading his book, which I think you should.

Book Reviewed
Rod Loy, Help! I’m in Charge: Stuff Leadership Experts Didn’t Tell You (Springfield, MO: Influence Resources, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. Check out my Influence Podcast with Rod about the book:

Leaders: Myth and Reality | Book Review


What is leadership? John Maxwell’s definition is the most common answer: “Leadership is influence.” That’s true to an extent, but it’s also too simple because it’s leader-centric, as if influence flowed only one way. In their new book, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone identify three myths people believe about leaders and offer a more complex definition of leadership. Somewhat ironically for a book that criticizes leader-centricity, Leadersreaches its conclusions by examining the lives of thirteen leaders.

First up is Robert E. Lee, the “Marble Man” of the Confederacy, who profoundly illustrates the distance between the myths and realities of leadership. Lee was admired by many white Americans for his martial valor and personal virtue. That admiration was given even though Lee lost the Civil War and miserably failed the greatest moral test of the nineteenth century by defending a way of life built on white supremacy and black slavery. His leadership consisted in what he symbolized, then, not in what achieved — or rather, thankfully failed to achieve.

Then come several chapters in which McChrystal and his coauthors pair leaders under six headings: Founders (Walt Disney and Coco Chanel), Geniuses (Albert Einstein and Leonard Bernstein), Zealots (Maximilien Robespierre and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi), Heroes (Zheng He and Harriet Tubman), Power Brokers (Boss Tweed and Margaret Thatcher), and Reformers (Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr.). These leaders often exercised influence despite their personal flaws (e.g., Boss Tweed) or the immorality of their causes (e.g., Zarqawi). Their profiles remind readers that leaders are flesh-and-blood people, not statues on pedestals.

Taken both singly and in pairs, these profiles make Leaders a fascinating book, biographically informative but also analytically shrewd. As you read each short “life,” you come to realize that leaders exercise an important role, but not in the way that a simplistic definition portrays. Too simple an understanding of leadership results in myths about leadership, which McChrystal, Eggers, and Mangone describe this way:

  • The Formulaic Myth: In our attempt to understand process, we strive to tame leadership into a static checklist, ignoring the reality that leadership is intensely contextual, and always dependent upon particular circumstances.
  • The Attribution Myth: We attribute too much to leaders, having a biased form of tunnel vision focused on leaders themselves, and neglecting the agency of the group that surrounds them. We’re led to believe that leadership is what the leader does, but in reality, outcomes are attributable to far more than the individual leader.
  • The Results Myth: We say that leadership is the process of driving groups of people toward outcomes. That’s true, to a point, but it’s much broader than that. In reality, leadership describes what leaders symbolize more than what they achieve. Productive leadership requires that followers find a sense of purpose and meaning in what their leaders represent, such as social identity or some future opportunity.

The key concepts to take away from the authors’ description of these myths are the importance of contextrelationship, and symbolism in leadership. According to the authors, when those concepts are taken into account, leadership can be defined as “a complex system of relationships between leaders and followers, in a particular context, that provides meaning to its members.” This implies that leaders exercise a twofold role as “a bottom-up servant to enable action and a top-down symbol to motivate and provide for meaning.”

I write this review as a Pentecostal minister and editor of a Christian leadership magazine — intentionally named Influence, by the way. Though Leaders is a secular leadership book, it teaches several valuable lessons that can benefit pastors and other church leaders. I’ll close with four that came repeatedly to mind as I read the book:

First, as pastors and leaders in your church, there is no foolproof, multi-step formula for becoming or producing other leaders. You should have a leadership pipeline and provide leadership training for your staff and volunteers, but you should also keep your eyes open for influencers who arise through other means. Paul’s leadership pipeline was the Damascus Road, after all, not the Jerusalem church.

Second, share the work of ministry with others. Too often, we speak of what Pastor So-and-so accomplished at Such-and-such Church, as if he or she accomplished everything alone. But as Paul put it, the congregation is a body in which every member must do its part. So, share the work and spread the credit around.

Third, tend to your soul. Jesus said, “Follow me.” Paul wrote, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” People will follow your leadership if you personally embody the joy and life-changing power of the gospel. Who you are as a leader is as important as what you do, in other words, because who you are as a spiritual leader symbolizes the life of meaning and eternal significance that people aspire to in Christ.

Fourth, and finally, use your leadership for good. Both Robert E. Lee and Martin Luther King Jr. were Christians. And yet, at the height of their leadership, separated by a century, they exerted influence to achieve morally contradictory goals — Lee in defense of white supremacy and King in defense of racial equality. At the end of the day, however one defines leadership, shouldn’t doing the right thing be the most basic test of our leadership?

Book Reviewed
Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone, Leaders: Myth and Reality (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Leading Healthy, High-Performance Teams | Influence Podcast


It’s been said that teamwork makes the dream work. That’s true for any organization, but it’s especially true for churches. After all, the business of Church isrelationship — with God and with others.

Unfortunately, many churches experience relational dysfunction in the leadership team, the congregation as a whole, or both. They also often fail to realize the vision for the Church laid out by Christ in the Great Commission. In High Impact Teams, Lance Witt explains why churches don’t have to choose between relationships and results. He then shows how to bring those two things together for greater effectiveness in ministry.

Witt is founder of Replenish, a ministry with two goals: (1) to help individuals live and lead from a healthy soul and (2) to help teams and organizations become healthy and high-performing. Before launching Replenish, he served 20 years as a senior pastor and six years as an executive and teaching pastor for Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.

He’s my guest on Episode 157 of the Influence Podcast.

 

P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. Here’s my brief recommendation of the book from the November-December 2018 issue of Influence:

Ministry is a team sport. Too often, however, ministry teams don’t play to their full potential. “The best teams are both healthy and high performing,” writes Lance Witt. “They focus on relationship and results.” To help ministry teams achieve their potential, Witt outlines a Christian approach to ownership, self-leadership, productivity, relationship, conflict resolution, and culture. If you’ve played on a high-impact ministry team, this book will explain why that team worked well. If you haven’t played on such a team, it will explain how to up your team’s game. Either way, High Impact Teams is insightful and practical.

Book Reviewed
Lance Witt, High Impact Teams: Where Healthy Meets High Performance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

High Impact Teams | Book Review


Ministry is a team sport. Too often, however, ministry teams don’t play to their full potential. “The best teams are both healthy and high performing,” writes Lance Witt. “They focus on relationship and results.” To help ministry teams achieve their potential, Witt outlines a Christian approach to ownership, self-leadership, productivity, relationship, conflict resolution, and culture. If you’ve played on a high-impact ministry team, this book will explain why that team worked well. If you haven’t played on such a team, it will explainhowto up your team’s game. Either way, High Impact Teams is insightful and practical.

Book Reviewed
Lance Witt, High Impact Teams: Where Healthy Meets High Performance (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

Leading from Your Gut | Book Reviewi


“I have a bad feeling about this” is not just a well-worn linefrom the Star Wars movie franchise. It’s also a gut-level experience many leaders have when making important decisions. It can be a positive experience too: “I have a good feeling about this.”

Leaders often ignore their gut when making decisions. They believe it’s best to base decisions solely on external data, not internal feelings. Dr. John Townsend thinks that’s only half right: The premise of Leading from Your Gut is this: “Great leaders succeed by harnessing the power of both the external world and the internal world.”

Townsend is a New York Timesbestselling author, leadership and organizational consultant, and psychologist. He is founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and offers counsel from a Christian perspective. Most of the examples in the book come from the business world, but Townsend also shows the relevance of his advice to ministry and other non-profit forms of leadership.

Leading from your gut is leading by intuition. Our intuition is not always right, of course, but it’s not always wrong either. Every leader can recall specific instances when the data pointed one way and their gut another, so they followed the data, only to have the negative results prove their gut right. I certainly can.

Why does this happen? Because leaders have developed an intuitive feel for things based on long experience that they can’t always provide reasons for. The gut is nonrational, in other words, but not irrational. Along with developing the ability to interpret data correctly, leaders need to hone their intuition. To help them do that, Leading from Your Gut outlines thefive aspects that shape a leader’s internal world — values, thoughts, emotions, relationships and transformation.

In my opinion, the chapters on emotions alone are worth the price of the book. “Your emotions have a function, a purpose, a role. When you understand this role, you can harness your emotions to lead others well,” Townsend writes. They “exist as a signal to you. They alert you that something is going on, something you need to pay attention to and deal with. That somethingmay be an event outside of you or one inside.” He then goes on to describe the signal function of both negative and positive emotions, and how recognizing the signals can change the way you lead.

Leading from Your Gutdoesn’t absolve leaders from their responsibility to lead from the data. To be successful, leaders should know their “business,” whether it is making widgets or making disciples of all nations. But they should also know themselves.

Book Reviewed
John Townsend, Leading from Your Gut: How You Can Succeed by Harnessing the Power of Your Values, Feelings, and Intuition(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is crossposted here with permission.

Value, Worship, and Evangelism | Luke 2:1-20


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 2:1–20

 

The Christmas story in Luke 2:1–20 teaches us five lessons. We looked at the lessons of sovereignty and humility yesterday. God rules over all creation, directing the course of history toward the fulfillment of His purposes. And one of His purposes is to draw all people to himself, which He does by sending His Son in the humble form of a baby in a manger. Today, we’ll look at three other lessons the Christmas story teaches about value, worship and evangelism.

What is most valuable to you? All right-minded people will say they care most about their relationships. The value of a loving family and good friends far outweighs that of material possessions. God values relationships too, to a degree that we will never fully understand. Most of our significant relationships are mutually beneficial; we supply what our friends lack, and they supply what we lack. But we have nothing God needs or wants. He loves us, not because of any benefits we provide Him, but simply because He loves us and because we need Him.

We see God’s values at work in the angel’s announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. In Jesus’ day, shepherds rated low on the hierarchy of valuable relationships. They were considered dishonest and disreputable. And that, it seems to me, is precisely why God sent an army of angels to shepherds to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was His way of reversing worldly values and saying, “I value these men. I love them. I want to save them.”

At Christmas, we ought to pay special attention to people whom the world doesn’t value, precisely because that is what God does.

Worship is a way that we express God’s value to us. Notice the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (verse 14).

This song makes two statements: (1) that glory belongs to God and (2) that the byproduct of grace (divine favor) is peace among people. Unfortunately, we too often focus only on the second statement. We want peace on earth. But peace comes as the result of right values. Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33). The only way to have “all these things,” including peace, is to seek first God’s kingdom. God values you. Do you value God?

If you do, the next obvious question is this: Do you share God with others? The angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (verse 10). And the shepherds shared the good news of Christ’s birth with everyone they talked to. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (verse 17). The Christmas story is the gospel, and all who tell it become evangelists.

God values you. Do you value Him? And are you helping others to value Him? Those are good questions to ask yourself at this time of year.

 

P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:

Review of ‘The Power of the Other’ by Dr. Henry Cloud


The-Power-of-the-OtherHenry Cloud, The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have on You, from the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond—and What to Do About It (New York: Harper Business, 2016).

Leaders often say, “It’s lonely at the top.” That’s true, of course—at least to an extent—but it’s also tragic. Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely.

In fact, as Dr. Henry Cloud argues in The Power of the Other, success depends on relationship. “The undeniable reality,” he writes, “is that how well you do in life and in business depends not only on what you do and how you do it, your skills and competencies, but also on who is doing it with you or to you” (emphasis in original).

But not just any relationship! What leaders need is “specific qualitiative relational connectedness” (emphasis in original). This is what Cloud calls “True Connection” or “Corner Four relationship.”

In Corner One relationships, leaders feel “disconnected.” He writes: “True connection always means being emotionally and functionally invested in other people, in a give-and-receive dynamic. Disconnection lacks something, in one direction or the other—either in the giving or the receiving. Truly connected people do both. They are emotionally present and able to give and to receive.”

In Corner Two relationships, leaders have “a bad connection.” They experience a “connection, preoccupation, or pull toward a person who has the effect of making you feel bad or ‘not good enough’ in some way” (emphasis in original). Think of a son trying to gain the respect of a hypercritical dad or an employee trying to please a boss who rarely praises employees.

In Corner Three relationships, leaders form a “seductively false ‘good connection.’” In this corner, leaders gravitate toward relationships that make them feel good. They cultivate people who flatter and praise them but overlook people in the organization who bear bad news. People in high-stress jobs who live in Corner Three often find themselves engaging in extramarital affairs or using addictive substances to maintain an artificial “high.”

None of these corners is a good place to be. Leaders need to go to Corner Four. Here, leaders form a “real connection” with others, “one in which you can be your whole self, the real, authentic you, a relationship to which you can bring your heart, mind, soul, and passion. Both parties to the relationship are wholly present, known, understood, and mutually invested. What each truly thinks, feels, believes, fears, and needs can be shared safely.”

In contemporary parlance, authenticity is often interpreted in non-relational terms. “I gotta be me!” people exclaim. The problem is that this understanding of authenticity is individualistic, not relational. “I gotta be me” is often used to slough off or criticize the counsel others are trying to give us. That’s not what Corner Four looks like.

Instead, Cloud identifies eight characteristics of Corner Four relationships. True connection:

  • fuels,
  • gives freedom,
  • requires responsibility,
  • defangs failure,
  • challenges and pushes,
  • builds structure,
  • unites instead of divides,
  • and is trustworthy.

When we truly connect with others, they help us draw out the full potential of who we really are and what we can truly be. Relationship makes authenticity possible.

Cloud opens the book with a story that I’ll close with. It’s about “Hell Week,” the final week of training for Navy SEALs. That week is “a grueling exercise requiring the utmost physical and mental endurance, pushing these already-at-the-top specimens to their absolute limits.” Cloud’s brother-in-law Mark was a Navy SEAL who was later killed in Iraq. In the days after Mark’s death, Bryce, one of Mark’s fellow SEALs told, how he almost failed “Hell Week.”

He was swimming in the cold Pacific Ocean after a week of grueling training. A way from the shore, he “hit the wall.” Cloud comments, “He tried to will himself to keep going, but his body would not obey.” It was at that moment that Bryce looked up and saw Mark, who had already reached land. Mark caught his eye, gave him a fist pump, and yelled an encouraging, “You can do it!” And that was all Bryce needed. “His body jumped into another gear,” Cloud writes, “into another dimension of performance that he had not had access to before…That is the ‘power of the other.’”

To be one’s true self, to reach one’s full potential—whether as a leader, a spouse, a parent, or whatever—you and I need others. Authenticity requires relationship. That’s what The Power of the Other is all about.

I recommend the book highly.

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P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon review page.

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