5 Simple Pictures of 1 Thing: How to be a Better Servant Leader

Today we find ourselves in an era of information overload. Countless “experts” have written books or articles with dozens of steps to make yourself a better servant leader/parent/employee/person.

It’s kind of impossible to follow all of them. It’s overwhelming even if you try.

Despite the modern productivity tools that supposedly simplify our lives, many people feel expectations of performance have risen to unsustainable levels. Not only are you supposed to be a great mom or dad and always available to your kids, but you’re also expected to have a great career and always be available for work. Don’t forget about community involvement or your social life either!

All of these expectations and directions have led to a culture of burn out, but fortunately I have a 27-step solution!

Just kidding – this is a 1-step solution, and it comes from the Bible. If you want to grow in your faith, love others well, and be a better servant leader, then this 1 thing is where it all starts.

This 1 thing appears multiple times throughout the Bible and is accompanied by several different pictures to help us understand. It is profoundly simple, but that does not make it easy.

What is the one thing? To live in intimate relationship with Jesus. Here’s what I mean:

1) Like a Tree

The book of Psalms begins with the picture of a tree:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalms 1:1-3

Imagine what it is like being a fruit tree. Do you think that, every year when it is time to bear fruit, the tree clenches its “fists” and tries really hard until fruit pops out?

Of course not. When a tree is planted in good soil with a healthy amount of water, it can’t help but bear fruit. The fruit is a natural result of its location and nutrition.

fruit tree - be a better servant leader

In John 1:1, Jesus is identified as “the Word of God.” In John 4:10, Jesus explains to the Samaritan woman that he offers “living water.”

Just like the fruit tree, when we meditate on God’s word and plant ourselves firmly in the presence of Christ, we cannot help but bear fruit. He speaks truth to our heart and satisfies our needs with living water. We don’t need to focus hard on following a 17-step program to bear fruit because, when we focus on the one thing, bearing fruit is the natural result.

2) Sitting at His Feet

In Luke 10, Jesus visits some close friends: Mary and Martha.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

It’s slightly ironic that, on a website about servant leadership, I’m using an example of someone who was in the wrong because she was serving. Martha’s sin, however, was not service. It was the fact that she was so focused on a good thing (serving), that she neglected the best thing: Jesus.

clean-up - be a better servant leader

The spiritual version of this is way too common in the church today. Martha was focused on the appearance of her home, the quality of her food, and (probably) everyone’s opinion of her as a host. In the same way, we focus on the appearance of our spiritual lives, the quality of our works, and everyone’s opinion of how good we are.

And we completely miss Jesus.

“One thing is necessary” Jesus says. The key to an effective spiritual life, to growth and cleanliness and holiness, is not to focus on cleaning your own sin. Instead, the key is to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his teaching. He is the Word, he transforms us, and he alone can make us clean. As we pursue him, we can’t help but walk away from the sins that trouble us.

3) Sheep with Their Shepherd

The Bible frequently labels people as sheep. This is not a complement. I once spent a week working on a sheep farm in college, and in just a few days I learned how helpless sheep really are.

For instance, my wife once attended a sheep race while teaching in New Zealand. The sheep had to run about 50 feet to a student who was holding food for the sheep. Watch how quickly the sheep become distracted, lost, and simply wander away from their source of nourishment:

This is who we are compared to in the Bible. But there is good news – we have a really good shepherd. And as sheep we have one job to do: stay close to the shepherd. Jesus explains in John 10:

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

John 10:7-15

If sheep want to eat, drink, and survive, then their only hope is to follow the shepherd. I’ve seen a sheep walk to its death by stepping off the edge of a cliff, I’ve seen sheep get lost by simply turning their head, and I have heard the sound of a frightened sheep because it’s alone.

In the same way, if we want to grow as leaders and do anything, then we must follow the good shepherd. When we do, he leads us to good pastures and offers abundant life. This environment is where he changes us and enables us to become more like Himself.

Again – this is very simple, but it isn’t easy. We’re prone to wander, but the closer we stay to the shepherd the more abundant our lives become.

4) Abide

In John 15, Scripture gives us another picture of fruit. This time, instead of a tree planted by streams of living water, Jesus calls us to be like a vine and attach ourselves to the true vine (himself).

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

John 15:1-5

Did you catch that last part at the end? It still takes me off guard – you mean apart from God I can do nothing?

And yet, when you consider the analogy he gives it makes sense. Last week I had to trim back our rose bushes. They were over six feet tall and I cut them down to below three feet. That means some of the branches I cut away are larger than the ones that remained.

But guess what? None of the branches I cut away from the roots will survive. They won’t bloom later this Spring or become plants of their own. It doesn’t matter how big the branches are, once they are not attached to the true plant they are good for nothing but to be thrown away.

the vine - be a better servant leader

In the same way, we cannot bear fruit unless we are attached to the true vine – Jesus. Once there, however, God works in us and through us to help us produce more fruit.

Jesus uses the word “abide” eleven times in John 15. It’s a simple word, but one that resonates. It’s no coincidence that “abide” and “abode” are such similar words. “Abode” means your dwelling place or home. “Abide” means to remain or stay in a place.

When Jesus calls us to abide in him, he is not suggesting that we stop by for a visit or check-in with him every Sunday. Instead, he calls us to dwell in his presence, to make him our true home. Click To Tweet

And so, once again, we are called to do one thing – park ourselves, permanently, at the feet of Jesus. When we do that, he does the work to produce the fruit.

5) The Fruit of the Spirit

Galatians is known as a book where Paul adamantly argues for justification by grace alone. But that’s not the only message – he also speaks extensively to the fact that our sanctification is also done through grace. (Check out my post on justification vs sanctification for a simple explanation of the difference).

One of the more famous passages in Galatians is the fruit of the Spirit, found in Galatians 6

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 6:16-24

For years I read this and thought, “if I want to be spiritual I need to focus and try hard not to do the works of the flesh and then try hard to do the fruit of the Spirit.”

fruit of the Spirit - be a better servant leader

And then one day I realized, these are the fruit of the Spirit – not the fruit of the Evan.

In other words, the fruit is the result of the work of the Spirit, not the result of my own efforts.

What is the key to producing the fruit of the Spirit? It’s in verse 16: “walk by the Spirit.” Once again we see that the key to bearing fruit, to living a righteous life, and therefore to being a great servant leader is to remain in God’s presence. God is holy – he does not sin. When we live in His presence and recognize his holiness, our desire to gratify sin simply fade, but our desire to do what is right will grow stronger and stronger.

Conclusion

This post may have explored 5 different pictures, but they were really all about 1 thing. There is 1 primary key to being a great servant leader: live life in the presence of Jesus. It’s not about completing a to-do list, it’s about building an intimate relationship.

There are many ways to do this (entire books could be written on the topic), but a great place to start is to listen to His Word, pray to Him, worship Him, get involved in His church family, and remember that he offers you a relationship with Himself.

What is your favorite way to sit at the feet of Jesus?

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