On December 4, 2007 I went to the emergency room because of severe breathing difficulties. What followed was a 43 day hospital stay, 35 of them in the ICU hovering between life and death. It is only by God’s grace and mercy that I survived against impossible medical odds. I was fifty one years old at the time. It is sobering to me that I never should have woken up from my drug induced coma or seen my 52nd birthday.
None of us know how many days are allotted to us except God who wrote each one of them in his book long before we were born. What we do know is that God gives us the time we need to fulfill His assignment for us on this earth just as He did Jesus. This is why intentional living is so important. We want to live at the intersection of His call and His gifting for His purposes.
Living with clarity is living with the recognition that life is a gift, each day is a day of grace and life’s duration is uncertain. Therefore we want to live with as little unfinished business in our lives as possible. There is great freedom in that because unfinished business is like weights in our backpacks that we carry around – burdens that weigh on our conscience or hearts. That weight can be areas of our lives that we have not completely given to God, relationships that are broken and need reconciliation, things that God has been nudging us about but we have not responded, or other areas of life where we have unresolved issues.
People of deep influence live with great freedom because they are intentional about living with as little unfinished business as possible. To the extent that it depends on them they do what they can to live in the freedom of a clear conscience before God and others. Paul lived this way and wrote to the Corinthians….
Periodically I ask myself what unfinished business there is in my life. Usually there is some since God continually reveals to me new areas where I need to press into Him or pursue a higher level of obedience. We will never be free from all unfinished business until we see Him face to face but continually closing that gap rather than living with the burden is freedom.
This is also why I live with an annual plan (Key Result Areas and my Annual Ministry Plan). In living intentionally rather than accidentally I ensure that I do not forget what God’s big rocks for my life are and that I have a plan for living them out. Each month, on my retreat day I revisit that annual plan and realign my life and priorities around it. At the end of each year I craft my plan for the coming year. This applies to both my professional and personal life.
A critical area for unfinished business is in the area of relationships. This side of heaven we will never be free from conflict in relationships. The Apostle Paul had people who intentionally hurt his ministry. In addition, there were relational breakdowns with Barnabas who had mentored and encouraged him over another relational breakdown with John Mark. Jesus had his detractors in the Pharisees. And in leadership, there will always be people who disagree with a leader’s direction or simply don’t like him or her. It is one of the inevitable burdens of leadership.
People of deep influence understand this. But they are also men and women of peace who are always willing – to the extent that they can – to bring relational peace and understanding. They will go the second and third mile to resolve what can be resolved and then live at peace with what cannot be resolved.
This is not an easy discipline. It means that when others fight dirty with us we don’t respond with their tactics (innocent as doves but wary as serpents). Sometimes, living at peace means that we live with the pain that others inflict and leave our reputations to God. Sometimes it means that we agree to disagree but refuse to fight, slander or impugn those who may do that to us. Sometimes it means sitting down and listening carefully, trying to understand another’s point of view even if we do not agree with is.
This is not about accepting unbiblical behavior – which so often occurs in the church or Christian organizations behind a masquerade of spiritual rhetoric. It does mean that we do not respond in the spirit that others may display toward us and that to the extent that we can we will live at peace with all people. Where we need to confront we will do so with honesty but also the desire for understanding and reconciliation. When that is not possible we may have to take action as leaders but we remain committed to displaying Godly character and not sinning ourselves in our anger or pain.
The test of our character is not when all is going well but when we are under attack. That is when what God has built into our core being, the recesses of our lives becomes evident. People of deep influence are slow to anger, willing to confront in love, always desire understanding and reconciliation, are wise and measured in their response to attack and refuse to adopt the tactics of revenge but leave their reputations in the hands of God.
This last issue of our reputation is perhaps one of the hardest lessons to learn. I have had periods of life where my reputation was dragged through the mud by those who despised me. I don’t know of any good leader who has no had this happen to them. Everything in me wanted to fight back, set the record straight and get even with those who had inflicted deep pain.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned from David in Psalm 73 and 37 is that at the end of the day, God is able to defend my reputation far better than I ever can – and when I try I end up adopting the very tactics that I found repugnant. What God wanted of me is to live with His character, in the power of His spirit and let Him deal with those who hurt me in His (usually) gentle way and allow Him to deal with my reputation. It is in these times when I learned the most valuable lessons of character and leadership.
There is great freedom in keeping unfinished business to a minimum. It is the freedom that comes from living out the clarity of what God has called us to without the burden of heavy emotional loads or unclear consciences to weigh us down.