Seeing with spiritual eyes

What did you hear from God?

That’s the question I anticipate others wondering after I’ve taken a full day in solitude and prayer. It is no easy thing to take that much time in a busy period, and it’s painful to consider coming away with nothing tangible. When spiritual expectations are high, leaders have a strong temptation to make something up rather than admit they didn’t hear anything.

I wonder if the reason that no great prayer is recorded in Exodus 17 is that, up on that mountain, Moses is more focused on listening than speaking. In my experience, a day of prayer includes both sending and receiving. I would expect that, as a friend of God (Ex 33:11), any conversation between Moses and God would have been two-way. It’s possible the words aren’t recorded because they are not as important as what Moses is hearing and seeing.

Continuing the discussion of my last blog, in this post I want to consider a second line of thought:

B. What should I see that is not visible?

What does Moses see? When he reports back after his day on the mountain, it’s clear that he has seen some things that went way beyond what played out before him in the valley. When the battle is over, God tells Moses to write down a record, and recite it in the ears of Joshua, of what seems to be God’s plans over centuries (Ex 17:14,16). God has revealed His purposes, pulling Moses out of the present and into His mind for the nations and eras. This will prove to be merely the first battle with Amalek, and it will be a war that carries on from generation to generation. Eventually, someday, Amalek’s memory will be blotted out, but not before continual attempts to “wipe [Israel] out as a nation” (Ps 83:4)

It’s chilling to consider how this will come true in later passages of Scripture.

  • When the Israelites first listen to the ten spies instead of Caleb’s and Joshua’s advice, then change their minds and try to enter the promised land in their own strength, it’s Amalek who decisively defeats them (Num 14:45). Amalek relishes its role when Israel is at its weakest.
  • They will feature in almost every attempt to destroy David’s messianic line. For instance, it’s Amalek who kidnap David’s wives and children at Ziklag (1 Sam 30).
  • It should be no surprise that Haman, the man who led the most blatant effort at anti-Semitic genocide, was descended from an Amalekite king (1 Sam 15:7, Esther 9:24).
  • Moses’ reflection on this moment in Deuteronomy 25:19 takes on modern relevance when he says, “you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

In fact blotting out Amalek is exactly what Samuel commands King Saul to do in 1 Samuel 15:2-3. God tells him to devote the Amalekites to destruction and annihilate them because of the ambush of Israel in Exodus 17. When Saul lets some of them live, failing to carry out God’s “fierce wrath against Amalek” (1 Sam 28:18), God rejects Saul as king.

So this isn’t a run-of-the-mill, single, flesh-and-blood battle. Moses is tuned into an epic battle between the spiritual forces taking place behind the scenes. None of it was visible to anyone else.

In my last post, I mentioned three responsibilities of a leader in his or her intercession:

1. Gaps

2. Traps

3. Opps

To that list, I want to add another:

4. Insights

Seeing the invisible

A leader can gain several levels of insight as he prays. It may be long-term perspective, or spiritual underpinnings, or prophetic revelation. A key factor is the leader’s practiced sensitivity to God’s voice—which largely comes from personal spiritual disciplines such as solitude and silence, reflective practices like examen, and discernment practices such as consolation and desolation. It also comes from a commitment to courageous responsiveness to any direction received from God.

How does a leader develop that kind of sensitivity? For most of us, it doesn’t come easily. Some leaders have more of a prophetic or priestly approach to leadership; I have more of an kingly bent. What’s more, I didn’t have much practice in these disciplines before I stepped into the top job at Wycliffe Canada. Motivated by an overwhelming hunger for God’s presence, knowing that a large organization was too heavy a load for me to carry (Num 11:14), and a longing for the wisdom that comes from God (James 1:5), I was grateful when a board member introduced me to Ruth Haley Barton. Her book, Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership, drew out lessons from Moses’ life—how his own 40 years in the wilderness prepared him to lead a nation through the wilderness for 40 years. Encouraged by her prior book, Sacred Rhythms, I began to try to put into practice Moses’ rhythms of seeking God, spending time with Him and turning to Him in frustration, weariness, and anguish.

Her next book, Pursuing God’s Will Together, led me in leading a team to sharpen our ability together to listen and pay attention to how God speaks: as Scripture comes alive; as we notice His activity and presence; as we sense His peace and consolation in a decision; as He draws our attention to facts we might have missed; or as we examine a check in our spirit, a sense of desolation.

I’m still not great at it. If I’m not in practice, I lose the ability to receive from the Lord. But I’m committed to listening for God’s voice and insights. It’s a discipline that’s critical for my spiritual authority as a leader. I’m only worth following as I follow Him.

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Moses on the Mountain series:

Wartime leadership: under armor

In my last post, I named four strategies we can deploy as wartime leaders. There’s one more.

5. Wear the right clothing
When you heard “clothing,” many of you immediately jumped to Ephesians 6:10-20, which unpacks the armor of our warfare as believers, the outerwear believers are exhorted to put on before standing “against the schemes of the devil.”

The remarkable thing about that list of armor is that almost every piece can be used ineffectively. We’ve all seen Christians wildly swinging their swords and using Scripture in a way that causes “friendly fire.” We’ve seen people use truth as a hammer instead of a belt. Others put on the breastplate of self righteousness, hide behind their shields of faith or misunderstand their helmet of salvation. Confident in the fact that their own eternal salvation is secure, their helmet narrows their vision, makes them hard-headed or prevents them from asking if salvation has relevance to this life.

How can we Christians misuse our armor this way? Because we go out to war commando-style. We forget to put on our underwear.

Before we grab our armor, shield and sword, Paul recommends some additional clothing in Colossians, some traits that we should put on first. Think of these as the Under Armor of the believer (with apologies to the company, I think the idea translates pretty well).

I think Eugene Peterson’s rendering captures the essence of these verses:

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (‭Colossians‬ ‭3‬:‭12-14‬)

Be honest: we think of compassion, humility and love as “soft skills” for peaceful, “kumbaya” community. This list of clothing doesn’t read like preparation for warfare, does it? So let’s look a little deeper. We’ll see that these characteristics have very real application to wartime leadership.

First, the Colossians list maximizes the effectiveness of each piece of armor. Look again at the list in Ephesians 6. The Bible is full of verses that pair “soft skills” with each piece of armor. A sampling:

  • Proverbs 21:21 pairs righteousness with kindness. He who pursues the two together will find life and honour in addition to righteousness.
  • Psalm 45:4 matches truth with meekness and righteousness. A victorious king puts on his armour and sword, and defends the causes of truth, meekness/humility and righteousness.
  • In Ephesians 4:15, Paul pairs truth with love within the context of growing up.
  • In Philippians 2:12, Paul speaks of the process of learning to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Other translations use words like reverence, awe, humility and sensitivity.
  • In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul urges his protege to become an approved worker, “rightly handling the word of truth.” The context is maturity, hard work and discipline, drawing from the metaphors of a soldier, an athlete and a farmer.

Second, the traits in Colossians provide incredible defensive protection on their own merits. Knights knew the best way to prepare for flaming arrows was to cover their shields with dampened hides before they went to war. That’s the image Paul had in mind when he said faith is a shield that can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one (Eph 6:16). Character traits like compassion, humility, gentleness and patience are equally effective at dousing the flames of accusation, violence and rage. As Solomon pointed out, “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov 15:1).

There’s another application. Many of the attacks on the believer come from within and behind. Our own spirits are waging war within us (Gal 5:17; Rom 7:15-8:11). Unity and community are constantly breaking down. The clothing in Colossians 3 is our best response to the everyday situations of tension, misunderstanding, abrasive personalities, false motivations, jealousy and narcissism. Leaders in particular are vulnerable, because a large part of leadership is dealing with personnel and personality issues.

Third, the Colossians characteristics prove to be our most effective offensive weapons. In my last post, I mentioned the immense power in forgiveness to disarm our most fervent attackers. Proverbs 25:21-22 associates kindness and compassion with an image of surprising violence: feeding a hungry enemy is like heaping burning coals on his head. In Romans 12:19-20, Paul picks up that image and sets it in the context of forgiveness and allowing God to mete out vengeance and wrath. “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Rather, our job as sons and daughters of God is to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44-46).

Bottom line: our flesh wants to fight back in kind, but we cannot win God’s victories without using God’s weaponry and methodology. It’s counter-intuitive, and it’s counter-cultural. In Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, meekness trumps power, humility can defeat hostility and death can equal victory. Recently, as I read A Wind in the House of Islam, I noted what the research showed about movements to Christ. People are drawn to the Lord when other religions model violence. But people move just as quickly away from Christianity when Christians (or “Christian nations”) respond with violence. It’s only in responding with compassion, kindness, meekness, forgiveness and love that the kingdom of God expands. Those are the weapons of our warfare.

Changing the choosing part of you

At Leadership Rising, we talked about a life of integrity, and I was reminded of a quote I heard from C.S. Lewis:

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life you are slowly turning this central thing into either a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature.

In other words, if you cut corners in a small thing, next time you are faced with a choice, it will be a little easier to cut corners again. If you discipline yourself to choose the right choice on the little things, it will be easier to choose to do the right thing on the bigger decisions you face. Integrity is the word we use to describe the sum of a lot of good choices.