by Israel Steinmetz
Are you a contemplative leader? Do you see yourself as a leader at all? If you are a follower of Christ, you have been re-created as a leader! Embracing your identity as a leader involves growing in qualities that increase your influence. One of these is qualities is contemplation.
In 10 Qualities of Influential Christians, Amber Riggs writes,
Christian leaders must draw strength from a regular contemplation on the mysterious and gracious works of God. At the end of the day, none of our efforts are responsible for our advancement, none of our works are responsible for our sanctification, none of our words are responsible for changing others. We are at all times wholly dependent upon God, even when He invites us to join Him in His work. Contemplation reminds us of who is in control, carries us through times when we do not see ‘results’ and ‘success’ and ‘progress’, and grounds us in the grace that actually empowers us to serve.”
I believe this. I want to live this. But life crowds out contemplation. Life can smother contemplation to death. Especially the leader’s life.
Contemplation is deep, reflective thought. As a leader my thoughts are often shallow and reactive. Contemplation takes time and attention—two things I never seem to have enough of.
I’m busy, always working, thinking, and talking. In the few moments I have to myself I’m exhausted, emotional, restless. So I scroll through Facebook, read a few articles, watch Netflix, check my emails again, and again, and again. Time to scroll through Facebook again. Anything to avoid being alone with my thoughts. Anything to avoid contemplation.
Contemplation means admitting we need something beyond ourselves. This isn’t easy for Christian leaders. Contemplation forces us to face our mortality, our inadequacy, our incompleteness. It calls for deeper breathing, slower pacing, and intentional stillness. These are not skills modern leaders learn. In a world of tweets and soundbites, introspection and thoughtfulness are pushed to the periphery. The God who does not send emails, doesn’t have a social media platform, and doesn’t record His talks on YouTube or Ted.com is easy to ignore.
Contemplation requires that we put away not only our electronics and schedules; contemplation requires that we put away our self-obsession and self-reliance. It calls us to think about something other than our responsibilities, our relationships, our reputation. If we’re honest, that is very difficult to do.
When I read the book of Psalms I’m struck by the depth of the psalmists’ contemplation. Whether they’re reflecting on the beauty of nature or the ugliness of sin, their eyes are turned toward God, longing for a vision of heaven that puts the earth in proper perspective. The psalmists recognized that behind every conflict or reconciliation, in the midst of every trial or victory, and through every sin or righteous act, God was at work and they were dependent upon Him. They recognized God in the grandeur of the mountains and the simplicity of livestock. Their existence was permeated with God and they reflected on that awesome reality.
I want to contemplate God in that way. But it doesn’t come easy.
In the midst of busy lives and a visceral resistance to contemplation, how can we recover this lost art? How can we restore our focus on the God who is worthy of our contemplation? How do we look beyond the immediate and the practical and all that is within our control to the eternal and the intangible and all that is outside our control?
While the journey toward a life of contemplation will be different for each one, here are three things I’ve found helpful:
Set Aside Daily Devotional Time
This seems basic, but I know the struggle of staying consistent with it when so many other things demand my time and attention. I also know we cannot cultivate the relationship with God that we need as everyday leaders without spending quality time with Him. Quality time is best defined as “giving someone your undivided attention”. This is what devotional time is. Whether that “undivided attention” is prayer, reading Scripture, or meditation, it is the contemplation of God alone that makes it meaningful.
Sing Songs of Contemplation
Whether in private devotions or corporate worship, I find music to be an excellent invitation to contemplation. However, not all music will do—it must draw us into reflection on the beauty, glory, mystery and goodness of God. My favorite song for contemplation is Stuart Hines’ classic hymn “How Great Thou Art”. The stanzas contemplate God’s power in creating the universe, His beauty in creating the world around us, His grace in sending Jesus Christ, and His hope-filled promise to return. Each chorus takes us to the heart of contemplation—recognizing and proclaiming the greatness of God.
Focus on the Beauty of God’s Creation—Even in the Daily Grind
For me, there is something about being in the woods or on an ocean beach that draws me immediately to contemplation. Being surrounded by God’s beautiful handiwork, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, is powerful. However, for many it is a rare opportunity. So I’m learning to recognize and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation in the mundane and everyday experiences: a child’s laughter, a kind gesture, a blooming flower, a starry night, a warm hug, a good day’s work. These—and millions of other everyday occurrences—are evidence of God’s greatness and goodness in creation. Learning to see our daily lives in this way is key to a lifestyle of contemplation.