We are continuing on with John Piper’s The Marks of a Spiritual Leader. His thoughts on “The Inner Circle of Spiritual Leadership” are below.
4. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR HELPLESSNESS
But finally, we must ask: how does a person come to be willing to spend time with and be open to the word of God? The answer seems to be that we must acknowledge our helplessness. All true spiritual leadership has its roots in desperation. Jesus commended the man who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Jesus said of his own ministry, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).
This means that the beginning of spiritual leadership must be in the acknowledgement that we are the sick who need a physician. Once we are humbled to the point of desperation, we will be open to reading the doctor’s prescription.
And as we read the wonderful promises that are there for those of us who trust the doctor, our faith will grow strong and our hope will become solid. And when our faith is strong and our hope is solid all the barriers to love, like greed and fear, will be swept away. When we become the kind of people who can risk our lives, even for our enemies, and who don’t hold grudges and who devote our energies to do others good rather than seeking our own aggrandizement, then people will see and give glory to our father in heaven.
The implication of this inner circle of leadership is that in order to lead you have to be out ahead of your people in Bible study and prayer. I think there will be no successful spiritual leadership without extended seasons of prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Spiritual leaders ought to rise early in order to meet God before they meet anybody else. They will probably want to keep a journal of insights and ideas as they read the Bible and pray. They will want to read books about the Bible and about prayer. They will want to take a periodic half-day or daylong retreat with a Bible and a notebook and a hymnbook. If you want to be a great leader of people, you have to get away from people at times to be with God.
HUDSON TAYLOR’S EXAMPLE
Dr. Howard Taylor, in Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, describes an experience that he had traveling with his father, Hudson Taylor, through China. He writes,
It was not easy for Mr. Taylor, in his changeful life, to make time for prayer and Bible study, but he knew that it was vital. Well do the writers remember traveling with him month after month in northern China, by cart and wheelbarrow, with the poorest of inns at night. Often with only one large room for coolies and travelers alike, they would screen off a corner for their father and another for themselves, with curtains of some sort; and then, after sleep at last had brought a measure of quiet, they would hear a match struck and seek the flicker of candlelight which told that Mr. Taylor, however weary, was pouring over the little Bible in two volumes always at hand. From two to four A.M. was the time he usually gave to prayer; the time when he could be most sure of being undisturbed to wait upon God. That flicker of candlelight has meant more to them than all they have read or heard on secret prayer; it meant reality, not preaching but practice.
The hardest part of the missionary career, Mr. Taylor found, is to maintain regular, prayerful Bible study. “Satan will always find you something to do,” he would say, “when you ought to be occupied about that, if it is only arranging a window blind.”
GEORGE MUELLER’S EXAMPLE
George Mueller is noteworthy for his great faith in the work of his orphanages. In his autobiography, he has a section entitled, “How to be Constantly Happy in the Lord.” He complains how for years he used to try to pray early in the morning and found that his mind wandered again and again. Then he made a discovery. He records it like this:
The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.
The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . .Before this time my practice had been at least for ten years previously as a habitual thing to give myself to prayer after having dressed in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, while meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. I began, therefore, to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning early in the morning.
The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious word, was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my soul.
The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it; but still continually keeping before me that food for my soul as the object of my meditation.
The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation and that my inner man almost invariably is almost sensibly nourished and strengthened and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not a happy state of heart.
Now that God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for the inner man. As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time, except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as everyone must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and here again, not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.
By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways than I have ever had before; and after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one!
It should be an encouragement to all of us to persevere in meditation upon the Scriptures when we read a letter which, in 1897, George Mueller sent to the British and Foreign Bible Society in which he had to excuse himself from attending a meeting in Burmingham. He said, “Will you have the kindness to read to the meeting that I have been for sixty-eight years and three months, viz., since July, 1929, a lover of the word of God and that uninterruptedly.
During this time I have read considerably more than one hundred times through the whole of the Old and New Testaments with prayer and meditation.” If we are going to be powerful spiritual leaders we must move in the direction of Hudson Taylor and George Mueller.