GROWING STRONGER, DEEPER, AND HIGHER (ISAIAH 40:31) by Ven. Nelson Adewole

THEME: GROWING STRONGER, DEEPER AND HIGHER

TEXT: ISAIAH 40:31

  1. Exegesis of the Text

Thompson Chain-Reference Bible did a concise and helpful summary of the book of Isaiah. Prophet Isaiah is without doubt the greatest of the Old Testament Prophets. His messages of redemption are unrivaled in the Old Testament. Passages in Isaiah are mostly quoted by us. The key word in Isaiah is “Salvation”, the name Isaiah means “Salvation of Jehovah”

Synoptically, the book is divided into two sections: chapters 1-39 which deal majorly with events leading up to Israel’s captivity. The second section is from chapters 40-66 from which our text is chosen.This section contains predictions, warnings, and prophecies after captivity, till today. The messianic prophecies are all over pages of the book of Isaiah, they give us the most complete pictures of the history, mission, titles, and characteristics of Christ. Issues in the book of Isaiah covered 300 to 500 years and could not all have been written by the prophet himself. Stories and prophecies during the reign of king Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah are in the book. However, we are aware of the richness of the revelation of God granted Isaiah and the redactors who gave us this book and through this, our own limited understanding of God may be enlarged. Chapter 40 was used in the composition of Handel’s Messiah “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith Your God”. This gave to the post-exile Jewish community such rich source of encouragement and faith in despondency. The Abrahamic covenant was reactivated here after captivity (my people, your God). God was set to restore His people. God as sustainer was ready to translate the Israelite exilic experience and the thought of being forgotten to glory. The pericope of 40:27-31 reproved God’s people for their unbelief and lack of trust in God. But to remember God’s power of old, and how those who look to Him will never be lacking in strength of restoration and growth. “If we go forth in our strength, we shall faint, and utterly fall.” God is able to restore those who have gone astray among us; He is also able to rejuvenate us spiritually. We are ready in this retreat for these divine actions.

  1. Introduction to the Topic

For us, growing stronger, deeper and higher means a deeply formed life. A pattern of personal life and ministry which serves as road map to real communion with God, and attaining a place of purpose and fulfillment in life and ministry. This entails training in spiritual and leadership formation for emotionally healthy leaders of the church. As God’s redeemed people with holy calling, we are set to grow into spiritual maturity through personal and leadership character formation.

  1. Growing in Learning to stand still

Maturity in life and ministry is learning to wait. “But they that wait upon the Lord…” (Isaiah 40:31). One of the craziest things we want to hear in our generation is to “stand still” It is also one of the hardest things for anyone. We live in a very fast and destructive pace of life in our generation. A leadership book written by Rich Villodas A Deeply formed Life is very good and helpful for pastors in our fast-lane generation; where we struggle and live with realities of airplane, jet, internet, e-voting, e-mail, e-learning fast-food, quick-money, swift-response, quick-fixes, instant-solution, quick money-transfer, instant-messages and many more. Yet God would always tell those He would redeem throughout history to “Stand still” (Exo. 14:13; Num. 9:8; Jos. 3:8; 1 Sam. 9:27; Ps. 46:10; Lam. 3:26). Life with God Bible defines solitude as “as the creation of an open, empty space in our lives by purposely abstaining from interaction with other human beings, so that, freed from competing loyalties, we can be found by God.”We practice little solitude during our liturgical services (Hab. 2:20). No doubt, our pace in this generation is too frenetic to be in union with God.Most believers and leaders live in the state of “being a Christian” without ever being deeply formed by Christ. We shall adopt three out of Villodas’ suggested trajectories to restoring balance, focus and meaning for our souls and ministry. These are ways to grow deeper, stronger, and higher in our spiritual and leadership formation:

  1. Way One

Contemplative Rhythms’ Value: This means slowing down our lives to be with God. Our lives can easily lead us to the brink of burnout. The lack of margin we arrange is debilitating. We are worn out. Can we really deeply connect with God in a rhythm of life He dictates instead of a lifestyle dominated by hurry and exhaustion? Can we live our lives and do ministry with peace and joy? Are we able to set ourselves loose from the culture of speed, superficiality, and distraction and be the people God longs for us to be? Our struggles are real. Some over-function to the points of breakdown. When do we think our works will end? Some deprived themselves of sleep, keeping their minds always racing. Some can do anything to get money. Sometimes we and others set unrealistic expectations to perform within choky time frame. Unattainable goals setting makes leaders to lose focus. What about ever demanding and insatiable church members. What about enormous family pressure and unmet demands. Some live daily in panic mode, very chaotic and erratic life. In all, the pace of our lives can be brutal.

Leaders can learn from Jesus’ visit to Mary and Martha in Luke 10. What we fail to realize is that we are only players with definite roles in God’s agenda for His world.“God has all the time in the world and as a result, he is not in rush”. He has nowhere to go. If you want to try a different way of being in the world, connect with God and travel at God’s speed. The Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama wrote a book titled “Three–mile-an Hour God”. The message of the book is that, an average, human walks at a pace of three miles per hour. When we walk in amble, unhurried, and in contemplative way, then we often encounter God. N.T Wright similarly affirmed “It is only when we slow down our lives that we can catch up to God.” Dallas Willard famously said “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day” (Mat. 11: 28-30).Contemplative life is the way of the monastic. We need to learn from the monks in our generation of addictive speed. We desperately need a way of thinking and living that is not captive to the power of efficiency or addictive achievements, speed and performance. Deep in our souls, let us create space with God that is defined by silence, stillness and solitude.

Questions for Reflection, Study, and Application

  1. How does waiting, standing still, and contemplation relate to the contemporary Anglican ministry?
  2. Are there implications in the fast-lane life and ministry?
  • Let us reflect on how the following can help us to grow stronger, higher and deeper in life and ministry:
  1. Solitude–Gen. 32: 24; Exo. 33:7, 11; Lam. 3:26; Ps.46:10b; Mk. 6:31-32; Lk. 5:16.
  2. Crucible of suffering – Overcoming Jericho wall in ministry; Jos. 5:13-15; Heb. 11:30; 1 Pet. 1:7, 4:12; Jam. 1:2-4.
  3. Tempered resilience – “Tempering is a heat treatment process that is often used to improve hardness, strength, and toughness, as well as decreased brittleness” and resilience is “surviving in the face of harsh personal adversity and bouncing back from a failure or setback and continuing on” (TodBolsinger). This implies perseverance – Pro. 24:16; 2 Cor. 11: 24-27; Phil 3:13-14; Jam. 1:12; Job was a major character in the Bible.
  4. What does it mean for you to trust in the “slow work” of God today?
  5. What are the greatest obstacles preventing you or stopping you to be with God once or twice a day, monthly or annually?

 

  1. Way Two

Interior Examination Value: This means looking beneath the surface of our lives to live free and love well. Peter Scazzero says a leader’s life is like an iceberg, a fraction is seen (visible) and the other hidden (invisible) mass underneath. When the (beneath-the surface is transformed then a leader will be emotionally and spiritually healthy”. An emotionally unhealthy leader exhibits emotional and spiritual deficits. They are leaders that are lacking in emotional maturity. Only about 10% of an iceberg is visible; which are the things people see about you. But the 90% remains hidden which must be thoroughly transformed by Jesus Christ.

Growing stronger, deeper and higher means you develop a deep, inner life with Christ which will help you to survive the stress of ministry,and  sustain your loyalty to the authority.It will also help in your planning and decision making, create healthy ministry culture, build your team, influence others, and guide other issues around your ministry.

Please examine your interior (inner life) when you are overwhelmed with life and unable to sort out the demands on your time; when you are doing your best, yet not making meaningful impact and perhaps get stuck and powerless to change your environment. Your leadership strategies and techniques may not sustain you in ministry, but a deep and transformed inner life will. Your soul is the matter here (Matt 16:26). Scazzero says “It is possible to gain the world of ministry success and lose your soul in the midst of it all.” Your inner life is the foundation of your ministry. Mature spiritual leadership is who you are in the inner life. You must face it.

Face Your Shadow

This means confronting who you are. It is a difficult task we face as leaders. This is the part of us we neglect, forget or deny. This is our inner life. It is far easier to deal with the exterior than to deal with our souls.That inner part of you is your shadow you must face. The “accommodation of untamed emotions, less-than-pure motives, and thoughts that while largely unconscious; strongly influence and shape your behaviours.” It is the damaged but hidden version of any human being. It manifests in various ways that are sinful, but some may be weakness or wounds among which are judgmental perfections, outbursts of anger, jealousy, resentment, lust, greed, bitterness etc (sinful behaviours). Others are subtle behaviours like heightened desire to be liked by people, need to be noticed by people, inability to stop working, a tendency towards isolation, rigidity, and many more.

For examples in leadership:

Good Shadow
Gifts of speaking and mobilizing people Insatiable need for affirmation.

 

Excellence When it crosses into perfectionism (no allowance for mistakes)
Zealous for God’s truth and right doctrine Hating those who disagree with you
Love to serve Insatiable need for appreciation and commendations

Brothers and sisters, we are more than our shadow. Only be honest to yourself and do not fall into any of the two extremes: Rom. 7:18 (Feeling that you are too bad), and 2 Cor. 5:17, Ps. 139:14 (feeling that you are too good).

Both views have elements of truth in them, but holding into one without the other leads us into a biblical distortion. We must hold unto the two views in a healthy tension to have a healthy perspective on the shadow. You know it’s your shadow when you:

  1. Act out inappropriately when under pressure.
  2. Don’t want someone to succeed because they have hurt you.
  3. Are triggered by a person or circumstance and say things you later regret.
  4. Disregard your spouse or co-worker when they bring up a difficult issue about you and your behavior.
  5. Keep doing the same thing over and over even though the consequences remain negative.
  6. Are angry, jealous and envious a lot.
  7. Do and say things out of fear of what other people think.
  8. Get busier rather than more rather than more reflective when you are anxious.
  9. Make negative comments to others about those who frustrate you rather than go to them directly.

You have your self-protective part that stops you from the formidable task of facing your shadows. We maneuver by denial, trivialization, blaming yourself, blaming others, rationalizing, distracting, or projecting anger outward. If you fail to face your shadow or ignore it, your shadow will undermine the best of who you are. It will limit your ability to serve others. Your shadow will also blind you to the shadows of others. (You will expect too much from people, even Jesus never did – John 2:23-25). Good that you discover your shadow and break its hidden power. Paul was able to break his own (2 Cor. 12:7-10). It became paradoxically source of strength for him, through which Christ’s power and life flowed through him.

  1. Way Three

Sexual Wholeness Value: This means exploring how our sexuality connects with our spirituality. Many leaders especially pastors struggle unsuccessfully with their sexual lives. In matters of sexuality, “no one can deny the biological and passionate fore that flows through our bodies”. As a leader, you must grow into maturity in dealing with the downward pull of your flesh to sexual immorality and sin. You also need to set a standard of spiritual leadership formation for others in the contemporary higher sexualized world. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”. Matthew 6:13 is a prayer that reminds God how weak and vulnerable we are and a plea for grace.

Sobriety, strength of social bonding and closeness, accountability are character formation that can help you.A functional accountability relationship/group unashamedly ask and reflect on questions like: How is it with your soul? How is it with the soul of your family? How is your walk with Jesus? What is God inviting you to quit or let go?

Jesus himself gathered disciples around Him. A pastor’s edge becomes powerful when you are well connected to others in life-giving relationship. Infidelity in marriage destroys a leader. It is just a time bomb. When you sleep with workers under you, members of your choir, youths around you, or widows in your church, and another man’s wife or single ladies;you become empty and begin to vigorously live a double life. A life on pulpit and the other of sin on Delilah’s lap is a dangerous and deadly web. Adulterers will soon wreck their ministry and destroy their family if they do not repent. Many church leaders have crash landed in the way you treading now, please repent. (Pro. 16:25)

Questions for Reflection, Study, and Application

  1. How can one tame his/her feelings? Prov. 25:28; Rom. 6:16, 12:1-2; Gal. 5:22-23; Phil. 4:13; 1 Cor. 6:13; Gal. 5:16; Jam. 1:14-15.
  2. How can one break loose from negative family history and dynamics? Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 8:2; Mat. 16:19; Gal. 3:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:17.
  • One is consciously and unconsciously affected by negative memories of past behaviours, how can one break loose from them? Mat. 18: 21-35; Phil. 3:13b-14, 4:8; Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15.
  1. Conclusion: Spiritual and leadership maturity is a marathon, not a spirit, allow yourself to take one step at a time.” For the wise, we continue to learn till we draw our last breadth. God wants us to integrate these issues that are real into our self-understanding and leadership “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels…” (2Cor.4:7). It is God’s desire that Christ be formed in us.Staying with Jesus to grow and following in His steps expose your nakedness, vulnerability, fear and pains. He will reborn you into a new place of maturity, and you will be transformed into His image, meekness, serve His missional purpose on earth, and accepted into His kingdom at last.

 

The Ven. Nelson Adewole

The Dean, Cathedral Church of St. James’

Ipate Oyinbo, Otta.