The team has returned safely and soundly from our journey to China. From the start, I want to make clear that this was a good trip with a great team from here and great people with whom we were connected once we arrived in Hong Kong. I have no regrets about having gone, or about taking a team with me. Please keep this in mind as you read of God’s latest work in me in this post. While there are many great experiences I could share from 2 ½ weeks of trip, I prefer to share a lesson that only came clear to me once I returned home. I hope it will help some of you avoid the same pitfall as you walk in new places of leadership, whether at home or abroad.
From the time I began preparing for this trip, all the way through to the return home, I have felt that this was a much harder trip than the one I took last year. I sensed the press of darkness against me in much greater measure than last year, but I had a greater part to play, so that wasn’t a total surprise; nevertheless, I just couldn’t understand the dis-ease inside. In my mind, I knew it really was a good trip, but the overriding description for me was “hard.” One way the Lord helped me begin to unravel this was by reminding me that Paul’s journeys were hard – beyond anything I experienced, for sure – but accomplished much for God, so they weren’t considered bad journeys, by any means. That helped, but I knew there was more.
A week after my return home, the Holy Spirit made clear to me the very simple truth that I had missed from the beginning: As leader of the team, the trip was not about me. Last year’s trip was so personally fulfilling that I wasn’t ready to return to America, even after 2 ½ weeks away. It was during the process of leaving Hong Kong in ’08 the Lord made clear I would be back and would bring teams with me. I was eager to follow through on this mandate from the Lord, but was surprised (even disappointed) that it wasn’t so exciting to me this time. It’s not that it was boring, by any means, or that I didn’t have many opportunities to minister – more than last year, actually. No, the disappointment I felt was strictly on a fleshly level (Ugh!). The trip just wasn’t about me, but was about leading the team (by serving) and working with the others already in that land so that this specific mission could be a success. It’s called dying to and denying self!
Luke 9:23 (NIV) “Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Matthew 20:28 (Amplified) “Just as the Son of Man came not to be waited on but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many [the price paid to set them free].”
A leader isn’t in it for himself, but for the people he leads, regardless of the arena in which he leads. My struggle came because I didn’t grasp the depth of this simple truth, so my flesh fought from beginning to end for personal gratification and enjoyment. My whole purpose for being there, according to God’s plan, was simply to serve the others so they could corporately and individually fulfill God’s plan for them in China. A very interesting note, now that I understand this, is that I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. It’s just that my attitude would have been so different that I would have seen differently during both the preparations and the journey itself.
Now that I do see this, and now that the jet lag has finished its course, I am free to consider the next trip the Lord would call me to lead – without dread. Remember, the Lord told me I would bring “teams” – plural. This trip may have been the first, but it definitely wasn’t the only one in which I’ll lead a team to the nations. Any future trips, however, will have so much less of my flesh in the mix, because I choose to deny myself, taking up my cross with that thing nailed to it, and following Christ in serving those I lead – both in action and attitude. By His Spirit, I will be made aware of my flesh trying to rise up and demand gratification, and I will deny its entrance! My fulfillment will come from knowing that I have had the same attitude as Christ as I did the will of my Father. That’s leadership in the pattern of Christ.
Philippians 2:3-8 (NIV) “3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”