As leaders, we don’t get to write the script for our lives ahead of time, and there’s no way to predict the future and there’s no way to control every circumstance. The only thing we can control is our response. If we simply respond impulsively in the moment to the circumstances of the moment, we have no guarantee that our decision will be the right one. Instead, we must decide beforehand that, no matter what, we will not be redirected from the purpose God has called us to and we will not compromise the truth of who He is.
In early 2020, no one could have predicted the year we were heading into. Nothing could have prepared us for the chaos, uncertainty and outright craziness that we faced. By the grace of God, most of us survived the year. Churches adapted and refocused, taking services virtual and caring for people in crisis. Ministries redirected resources and redeployed in new directions. Businesses regrouped and adjusted strategies to respond to disruptive new realities.
But in the midst of it all, there were some who not only survived, but thrived. They leveraged new opportunities, stepped out in faith, pursued God through it all. In fact, many leaders and pastors were forced to confront where they had compromised in vision, in implementation, or in excellence. It was the perfect opportunity to make changes, which resulted in making a bigger impact.
THRIVING VS. SURVIVING
What’s the difference? Surviving is existing, breathing, continuing; thriving is growing, building, expanding. Surviving is paying the bills, paying the rent, paying the mortgage; thriving is paying someone else’s bills, someone else’s rent, someone else’s mortgage. Surviving is accepting; thriving is attacking. Surviving is hunkering down; thriving is building. Surviving is living by natural instinct; thriving is living by supernatural power.
Some leaders look at the world in flames and say to themselves, I’ll just wait until everything blows over to start something new or change the way I’m currently doing things.
The problem is, there will always be something that stands in the way of achieving the purpose God has placed on our lives. Were we to be truthful with ourselves, we’d admit that our instinct is usually to retreat rather than advance. If we allow the circumstances to delay or distract us, we’re like the man described in Proverbs who won’t leave his house: “The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” (22:13)
There will always be a “lion in the street.” If we wait for the lion to leave, (or tiger because I went to LSU), we’ll never make a move.
It comes down to one simple decision, a mindset that says, “No matter what happens, no matter what takes place in my life or in the life of the organization I lead, I’m not going to compromise. I’m not going to change or alter, or I’m not going to allow anything that happens in this world to disconnect me from what God wants to do through me.”
THE POWER OF OPPOSITION
We see this consistently in Scripture: opposition, threats and hostility provide an atmosphere for God to do something that would not happen under normal circumstances.
The Israelites, enslaved in Egypt, multiplied to such an extent that it terrified their Egyptian masters: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so, the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly” (Exodus 1:12,13).
In other words, Egypt (like the world today) was doing whatever it could to apply pressure to God’s people, to force them to just give up and accept an enslaved mindset, to buckle under the weight of all the oppression.
But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, they just kept thriving, expanding, growing, multiplying. What was in them and what covered and enveloped them was greater than the Egyptians’ control over them. It was the favor of God over their lives.
The same principle applied to the early church. As the gospel spread, it was resisted by the Jewish authorities and the Roman government—along with all the powers of darkness. One by one, followers of Jesus were imprisoned, persecuted and even killed. We can hardly comprehend this in today’s western church. Yet, despite persecution, the church grew, multiplied, and made an amazing impact. Within a few hundred years, Christianity covered the Roman world. All this happened, not in ideal circumstances, but in the midst of opposition and bloody resistance.
The same principle that caused the Egyptians to multiply under slavery and the early church to explode under the thumb of the Roman Empire can work in us today. We live in a world that is doing whatever it can to drive the Word of God out of us and, with it, to drive out righteousness and holiness. But there needs to be something that is on the inside of us that resists this with all our might.
When this happens, the power of God will actually become more real to us in oppression than it is in prosperity. This seems counterintuitive, but it’s a biblical principle. When we are in crisis, it disengages us from this world and it causes us to hunger and thirst for God’s presence. When people come to Celebration Church in Austin, we want them to leave with a taste in their mouths that makes them want to come back for more. It’s like prime Texas barbecue or a perfectly seasoned Louisiana gumbo. We see through scriptures and I have witnessed in years of ministry, that the people who are most pain-filled are also the most desperate for God to do what only He can do.
This is because the weapons we are given access to in His presence are supernatural—not natural. As Paul writes, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).
And when leaders quit living in prayer, quit living in fasting, quit living in the presence of God, they are wide open to be destroyed by the enemy. Instead of thriving, they’re just surviving, walking in fear and trepidation. In other words, there’s always a “lion in the road.”
RECIPE FOR RESILIENCE
So, what is it that will put us on the offensive, that will cause us to multiply in the midst of crisis, to thrive rather than just survive when everything around us is in chaos? I believe there are five simple principles, and they are modeled in the life of Daniel.
Exiled in Babylon, Daniel had distinguished himself above the pagan wise men in the king’s court with his supernatural insight. Of course, this invited jealousy and opposition from his enemies, and they sought to discredit him and portray him as disloyal to the king, by entrapping him in the one area he had most distinguished himself.
What was it that was distinct about Daniel? What was the only thing that they could get him on? It was his prayer life. He wouldn’t compromise his relationship with God. So, they manipulated the king to pass a law banning prayer to anyone but the king.
Like Daniel, Satan is attacking your prayer life. If he gets a leader’s prayer life, he gets their thought life, their faith life, their influence. Everything. If Satan can keep you from talking to God, he will do his talking to you.
Of course, we’re familiar with the story of Daniel. He held strong and thrived in the midst of opposition. On the other side of the lion’s den, he regained his stature and influence, and his enemies were defeated. But what were the principles that drove Daniel’s faithfulness and caused him to be fruitful and thrive in the midst of unspeakably difficult situations?
Daniel could have continued praying, but done so secretly, and possibly avoided exposure and arrest. But he didn’t. “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10, emphasis added). Daniel stood for God. He was undeterred by the surrounding culture that disdained him and his God.
At some point—perhaps sooner, rather than later—you and the church or organization you lead will be given a choice: compromise or lose your influence, privileges, access, money or rights. You will be slandered, written about, ridiculed, and maybe even protested like we have been. If you don’t choose to stand for God in those moments, you won’t stand for anything. We can look at the world around us and see the unrighteousness and pray that the world will repent. However, the world will not repent unless it sees the people of God standing up for truth. When the church sets a standard of holiness, the world will see the difference. If we compromise, what reason will they have to do so? No matter what, we stand for God.
Paul writes, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1). No matter what, we worship. This is closely tied to the first principle. The reason there are martyrs in the world is because people stood for God in the face of opposition. But they didn’t just stand. Like Daniel, they openly declared in worship their allegiance to God. As Paul says, worship is not just an internal alignment, but it is the presentation of our entire lives—body, soul and spirit—as a living sacrifice.
Crisis can often cause us to become consumed with self-interest, to protect that which is ours, to preserve our autonomy and control. However, it is in these moments when God calls us to reach outside ourselves and serve—no matter what. Daniel’s service to the king and his fellow Jews in exile in Babylon continued, even as his life circumstances became tenuous. He recognized that the service he rendered was actually done for God. We have always led our church to serve our city and serving has never been more appreciated than it is right now.
Are you serving others in some capacity? At some point you’ve got to step up and begin to invest in others, recognizing that the reason you are who you are is that someone else took the same initiative to invest in you and created an opportunity for you to encounter God.
In Luke 18:1, Jesus told a parable of an unjust judge and a persistent widow who wouldn’t leave him alone, finally—due to her persistence—securing from him the justice she wanted. The reason Jesus gives for telling this parable is “to show [His disciples] that they should always pray and not give up.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll recognize that our anxiety level is tied to our prayer level. Every metric of our effectiveness or failure as leaders can be tied to our persistence in praying—no matter what. Daniel’s unwillingness to hide his commitment to prayer was what landed him in the den of lions, but I can assure you, it was his prayers that led him out of the den in one piece.
Finally, we have a choice—when we have been obedient in standing for God, worshipping, serving and praying—to allow God to do His part. We trust God, no matter what. Like Daniel, we must have unshakeable confidence that what God has promised He will accomplish, that He will be faithful to fulfill His purposes in and through us, no matter what circumstances we face.
While we may be impressed with Daniel’s boldness in standing up to the pagan king’s blasphemous demands, even more impressive is his quiet certainty—while surrounded by ravenous lions—that God was in control, no matter what.
We don’t know what the future holds. I found it amazing (and a little amusing) that, emerging from the chaos of 2020, many people breathed a sigh of relief, perhaps assuming that the year of the pandemic was the worst year they would ever have to endure and that things could not possibly get any worse. But we have no guarantee of that. However, our confidence as leaders is that God’s purpose for our lives and ministries has not changed and we can trust him with an unknown future. So, let’s confront where we have compromised in our faith, values, and disciplines and let’s be reminded that God has called us for moments like this. We will trust Him, no matter what.
"This article was extracted from Issue 6 (Summer 2021) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.
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