In high school science lab, we were given an assignment to dissect a cow's heart. My first time really seeing an organ up close was a little anticlimactic. This grey, heavy, lump of muscle was no longer functioning (obviously), and it was hard to imagine what it would look like alive.
I now know, and recognize, living tissue and organs are bright with colour, nourished and healthy through the supply of blood flow.
Our spiritual heart, too, reveals characteristics of life or death as we serve and lead in our local communities. It's a privilege to walk alongside others, growing in knowledge and maturity together. Though there's many good moments, sometimes we face more difficult tasks that require our effort and strength.
So, what qualities help us in our devotion and maturity as we serve our people?
Let's visit the lives of two leaders to spot 3 similarities and a big difference.
A King of Judah
First, let's observe Asa, King of Judah (2 Chr 14-16)
In times of peace, he fortified (2 Chr 14)
During the early years of Asa's reign, Judah was experiencing a time of rest. With no enemy armies encroaching on his borders, the king uses this opportunity to take down altars and idols, and strength the defenses of the cities.
In the same way we lead and serve our people by taking every opportunity to fortify our spiritual foundations in habits of grace; we know that in times of chaos it's difficult to work on skills of discipline. You're not going to pickup a basketball for the first time during a game and expect to be the leading scorer (or even to score at all). It takes time and practice to get better.
In times of crisis, he cried out to God (2 Chr 14)
Overwhelmed against the vastness of the Ethiopian army, Asa calls out to God, "O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you" (2 Chr 14:11). He recognizes both their need and the only one who could save them.
So too, in relationship with others we're going to find ourselves wading through deep waters of struggle, pain and hardship. The marks of sin on the earth are easy to spot and leave us wrestling. Walking alongside others, we bend our knees and lift our voices in humble dependance on the One who is mighty to save, faithful to the faithless and gracious beyond measure.
In times of instruction, he leaned in [2 Chr 15]
The prophet Azariah comes to the king with a word of encouragement and a word of warning. Like water to a parched plant, this gave Asa boldness to press on: removing idols, repairing the temple altar, and leading the people into covenant with the Lord God.
We don't serve alone, even when we're in a leadership role. We're accountatable to our church leaders, the team we're working with and the people we're serving. Carrying a title or position doesn't mean we walk on our own. There will be times we need instruction, from the Word or wisdom of others. Proverbs 19:20 reminds us, "listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future." Receiving and discerning the words given us will prepare us for a long ministry, as wisdom marks the trail.
At this point, we'd say King Asa was doing pretty good.
But in times of rebuke, he resisted (2 Chr 16)
As Israel makes war on Judah, King Asa makes a grave mistake. He bribes Syria to defend Judah when he could have trusted and relied on God, as he had in the past.
Then, he's called out by Hanani, a prophet, for his self-reliance and forgetting the Lord.
His response? Rage.
Instead of accepting responsibility, he abused his authority - throwing Hanani in prison and taking out his frustrations on the people. His heart became hardened, so that even later in his life, inflicted with disease, he refused to seek the Lord.
This is a heart-wrenching ending.
Perhaps you've experienced this in your own ministry, or even your parenting. Things don't go our way, we're called out on something we've done, or a choice we've made, and instead of responding in wisdom, we react out of emotion.
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice" (Prov 12:15).
It's hard to accept when we've made a mistake or when we've sinned against others, especially when there are many eyes on us, but the name for this is pride.
John's words to the church in Laodicea, "those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent" (Rev 3:19). This declaration is written to believers - those who love and follow Jesus. The same way we're passionate in our ministry, we need to be earnest in accepting responsibility and demonstrating humility. Growing in wholehearted devotion to the Lord Jesus means confessing our sins - for we know he is faithful and just to forgive, even us.
An Outspoken Disciple
Let's contrast this by looking at the life of Peter.
In times of peace, he fortified
Sitting under the teaching of Jesus, he asks "explain this parable to us" (Matt 15:15) and acknowledges, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68). By following Jesus he's growing in his knowledge and strengthening his understanding of God's kingdom.
In times of crisis, he cried out to Jesus
Seeing Jesus walk on water, Peter calls out to join him, "but when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matt 14:30). His eyes are fixed on the one who can, and will, rescue him.
In times of instruction, he leaned in (maybe a little too much sometimes)
When Jesus began teaching his disciples about his upcoming death, Peter refuses, "this shall never happen to you!" (Matt 16:22) and Jesus responds strongly with, “get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt 16:23). There's a moment of correction here, but Peter didn't walk away, he didn't take offense, he didn't ghost Jesus or cancel him, he steadied himself with right thinking about the Lord Jesus, and was invited up the mountain the next week to the special moment of his transfiguration. (Notice Jesus didn't ghost or cancel him either).
Then, as the Lord Jesus takes on the role of servant, washing the feet of the disciples at the Passover meal, Peter wants to refuse, but the Lord teaches him it's a symbol of partnership with him. His response: "wash all of me then!" And when Jesus tells him Satan wants to sift him, his declares, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). He's willing and ready to follow.
In times of rebuke, he repented
After denying Jesus (Matt 26:72-75), Peter left deeply sorrowful. Knowing what he'd done, he wept. He didn't need anyone to tell him the mistake he'd made, the rebuke was resounding in the memory of Jesus' words.
Yet with a humble heart, he faces the other disciples. He runs to the empty tomb at the news. He hadn't given up on his faith. He didn't grow bitter at his mistake, nor resentful. He didn't even blame anyone else for what he did.
And we watch how he's restored.
The angel tells Mary, "but go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee" (Mark 16:7). Peter is included. Maybe he was afraid Jesus wouldn't want him anymore or that he wasn't good enough. Nope. Peter was brought along.
Then, having breakfast with Jesus on the beach, the Lord gives him the opportunity to affirm his love, the instruction to feed his sheep, and the invitation, once again, to follow him (John 21:15-19).
We look at these two leaders. Their moments of obedience and their moments of error. The results of their ministry hinge on the ability to accept responsibility and move with humble repentance. King Asa's life ended distant and hardened against God, while Peter flourished in leading and teaching the early church.
How we respond to our sin, our mistakes, and our circumstances will paint the landscape of our journey and form the quality of heart - soft or hard, moldable or rigid, teachable or resistant.
May we be those who serve our local churches, by the grace of God, as those clothed with the humility of Christ, that we may bring glory to God and serve others well.