The ABCs of everyday spiritual leadership

Lessons about spiritual leadership from every letter of the alphabet.

Victor M. Parachin writes from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Attitude. "People can alter their lives by altering their attitudes," declared William James. This is a thought in which to soak our consciousness because our attitude toward life will always be more important than the facts we face in life. Attitude, even more than circumstances, can determine whether we succeed or fail in what ever we do. We are to be positive, filled with faith and hope because we know that "God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God" (Rom. 8:28, NLT).

Bible. You will never lose your sense of direction if you use the Bible as your guide. Saturate yourself with Scripture. "I study my Bible as I gather apples," said Martin Luther. "First, I shake the whole tree that the ripest might fall. Then I shake each limb, and when I have shaken each limb, I shake each branch and every twig. Then I look under every leaf."

Character. We are to be persons of integrity. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Let your deeds match your creeds, and your behavior your belief. Ralph Waldo Emerson's statement is worthy of careful thought: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

Determination. The difference between success and failure, between the impossible and the possible, lies in determination. Difficulties erode in the presence of fierce determination.

Enthusiasm. Cultivate enthusiasm. When times are tough, the chances slim, the odds long, enthusiasm will always propel forward. The spirit of enthusiasm lifts us (and those around us) during low times. Enthusiasm adds vigor to all things and helps build community.

Failure. Expect some. It comes to every per son, sooner or later. Don't let it demoralize you. Rather, let the failure strengthen you, toughen you, mobilize you. Think about Washington Irving's observation: "Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortunes, but great minds rise above them." Gratitude. Never fail to show appreciation.

Gratitude strengthens relationships, energizes colleagues, and fortifies friendships. "Always be joyful.... No matter what happens, always be thankful" (1 Thess. 5:16, 18, NLT).

Hope. Always let your hopes, not your hurts and handicaps, shape your future. Clare Booth Luce wisely observed, "There are no hopeless situations in life; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them."

Influence. "A man leaves all kinds of foot prints when he walks through life," says writer Margaret Lee Runbeck. "Some you can see, like his children and his house. Others are invisible, like the prints he leaves across other people's lives: the help he gives them and what he has said his jokes, gossip that has hurt others, encouragement. A man doesn't think about it, but everywhere he passes, he leaves some kind of mark." Do your best to leave behind a legacy of positive influence.

Joy. Spiritually balanced leaders live with joy. They know that life is a glorious gift; they allow themselves to be dizzy with joy and grateful for the many blessings that flow their way. Also, they rejoice in the success of others.

Kindness. Toward others, always be charitable, courteous, decent, gracious, hospitable, and thoughtful. Kindness reaches minds, touches hearts, and changes lives.

Learn. "There is only one corner of the uni verse where you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self," wrote Aldous Huxley. Spiritual leaders are lifetime learners.

Money. According to the Bible, it is not money but the love of money that causes many problems (1 Tim. 6:10). As Henrik Ibsen noted, "Money can buy the husk of many things, but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintances, but not friends; servants, but not faithfulness; days of joy, but not peace and happiness." Keep money in proper perspective.

Nip. Spiritual leaders know the wisdom of nipping things in the bud, of catching things in the early stages, and thus preventing major issues from emerging. They appreciate the wisdom of Lau Tzu, who wrote the Tao Te Ching over 25 centuries ago as a handbook for leaders in ancient China. In it he said, "Deal with the difficult while it is still easy. Solve large problems when they are still small."

Opportunity. Every adversity con tains opportunity. Before the Civil War, Edmund Mcllhenny operated a sugar plantation and a salt works on Avery Island, Louisiana. Union troops invaded in 1863, and Mcllhenny fled. When he returned in 1865, his sugar fields and salt works were ruined. One of the few things left were some hot Mexican peppers that had reseeded themselves in the kitchen garden. Mcllhenny, living hand to mouth, started experimenting with the ground peppers to make a sauce that would liven up his bland diet. His creation today is known as Tabasco sauce. A century later, his product is still sold the world over.

Perseverance. "With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable," wrote the eighteenth-century British philanthropist Thomas Foxwell Buxton. Spiritual leaders understand this.

Quiet. Be certain to give yourself ample times of quiet. God shapes mind and heart through silence and solitude. Wrote Trappist monk Thomas Merton, "It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brother and sister."

Respect. Effective spiritual leader ship always involves respect for others. Spiritually mature leaders listen respectfully even when the speaker is offering a different view point. Author and management consultant Judith M. Bardwich says, "The best leaders don't waste other people's brains. Leaders need a core sense of confidence that allows them to be comfortable receiving input, including disagreement, from others. Although the best leaders are often strikingly knowledgeable . . . they're neither wimps or Genghis Khans, neither humble nor arrogant. As a result, they don't think that needing other people's input is demeaning."

Struggle. Life is not always smooth sailing. Nor do things move in predictable patterns. There will be stormy times occasions when the unexpected, even the disastrous, occurs. Strong leaders are prepared to struggle through hard times. The darkest days in the life of author Thomas Carlyle happened when his friend, philosopher John Stuart Mill, informed him one morning that the manuscript Carlyle had given him to read was used by the maid to start the fire that morning. It was the only copy and had taken Carlyle months in research and writing. Alternating between rage and grief, he one day looked out the window and saw bricklayers at work. "It came to me," he wrote later, "that as they lay brick on brick, so I could still lay word on word, sentence on sentence." Picking up his pen, he began to rewrite The French Revolution. His work endures, a classic, and he is an example of some one willing to struggle with an unexpected difficulty.

Trustworthy. While Jim Copeland was CEO of the multibillion-dollar Deloitte Touche accounting firm, those who worked closest with him admired him for his trustworthiness. He demanded that Deloitte audit every expense report he turned in. Copeland, a Southern Baptist deacon and Sunday School teacher, ended each year by writing a $500 personal check to the company to cover his personal use of the copy machine. Universe. Permit the magnitude and majesty of the universe to remind you of God's vastness. The psalmist praised God saying, "I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers" (Ps. 8:3, NLT). Let the sun, the moon, the stars, and the galaxies be God's signature and autograph.

Values. Those who lead effectively have values beyond mere material ism. They are more focused on family, friends, colleagues, and their relationship with God than on building empires. "No one who is a lover of money, a lover of pleasure, or a lover of glory is a lover of man," warned the Greek philosopher Epictetus.

Words. Choose them carefully. What you say can inspire or injure, hurt or heal, wound or win over.

X. The letter X is the mathematical symbol for the unknown. Those who lead are not intimidated by the unknown. In spite of uncertainty, they move forward into uncharted waters, trusting God. Fear of the unknown did not keep Abraham and Moses from responding to God's call. They left the comfort and security of the familiar to do God's work.

Yearn. Strongly desire to continue thinking, learning, growing, developing, expanding. Keep challenging yourself. Yearning should never end.

Zoom. Learn to zoom in on what's important and what's not. Separate the trivial from the urgent, the necessary from the superfluous. Be a spiritual leader who sees the bigger picture.

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Victor M. Parachin writes from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

July/August 2005

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