On deflecting attention from ourselves to honour God

Sep 2008    

‘We know that what we do from selfish motives will be burnt up in the fires of judgement (1 Cor. 3:10-15), and that the things that we do for God’s glory reap eternal rewards.’

COLOMBO – My wife and I have returned after a week in Singapore attending GoForth, the National Missions Conference there. It is very encouraging to see the way Singaporeans are taking the missions challenge seriously.

The highlight of the trip for me was the journey back. I was hoping to watch a movie, but providentially my earphones malfunctioned, and I read a booklet instead – Live to be Forgotten: D. E. Hoste by Patrick Fung, the General Director of OMF (the organisation Hudson Taylor founded). The book is published by OMF Hong Kong.

It is a short reflection on the life and leadership of D. E. Hoste who succeeded Hudson Taylor as leader of China Inland Mission (as it was then called) and led this movement for more than 30 years. The title comes from the fact that Hoste was determined that his name and reputation would be subsumed under the desire to see Jesus get all the honour for everything.

This booklet was especially inspiring because it presented clearly what I feel are some of the greatest aspects of Christian leadership which, sadly, are often missed in discussions of leadership today. This may be because we have been influenced by ideas of success common in our appearance-fixated, marketing-oriented era.

Interestingly research is showing that successful leaders in great “secular” institutions also followed some of these principles. This is revealed in Good to Great by Jim Collins (New York: HarperCollins), which discusses why some companies make the leap to greatness and others do not. Jim Collins’ researchers found that the CEOs of some of these great companies were self-effacing people who, while working extremely hard, sought to deflect attention from themselves and to honour and affirm their team members.

I was struck by the fact that Hoste was another of the many “reluctant leaders” whom God used mightily. Hoste believed that he was not qualified to take over the leadership mantle and accepted it only after God spoke to him through some drastic means.

We know that some great biblical leaders such as Moses (the greatest?), Gideon, and Jeremiah did not think they were qualified, and that those aspiring to leadership, like James and John, were rebuked for it.

I cannot find solid biblical reasons to say that it is wrong to pursue a position because we think we are the most qualified for it. But taking into account biblical examples I have given above, I believe I am justified in being uneasy with commonly heard statements such as, “I want a job where my gifts are best used”, and with the jockeying for position that we see in the church today.

We know that what we do from selfish motives will be burnt up in the fires of judgement (1 Cor. 3:10-15), and that the things that we do for God’s glory reap eternal rewards. This would fire us with a passion to do all we can to lift up the name of Jesus. Besides those searching for recognition on earth will never be really happy because this world cannot be guaranteed to recognise and appreciate our achievements.

Actually, living solely for the glory of God is ultimately in our best personal interest because it will guarantee joy and contentment. And what better reward is there on earth than the blessing of being content with our lives.

I made four resolutions after reading this book.

1. When we face problems in Youth for Christ (YFC) and in church, always my most important response will be battling these problems in prayer. This is something that Hoste learned from his mentor, the Chinese Christian leader and drug rehabilitation pioneer Pastor Hsi. Hoste said: “I have found that waiting upon God, and intercession on behalf of others, are really the most vital and effective part of my service [in the mission]… the persistent opposition of the powers of darkness, can only be overcome by perseverance and importunity [persistence] in prayer.” (pp. 22-23).

2. Next to praying for our staff, my main responsibility in YFC will always be doing everything I can to help make our staff great and effective servants of Christ. If they do well, YFC will automatically do well. When you are committed in this way, some will exploit the opportunity and try to get unfair advantage from our generosity. Others will try to grab whatever they can get from the organisation. Some will use our generosity and not work as hard as they should. Still others will be jealous and angry about benefits given to some that they seem to not get.

This happens when organisations get big … Passion for the glory of God as expressed in a passion for the welfare of our people must always control us.

3. I will spend more time fasting. This would be a way of affirming my resolve to seek God first in everything. And this is an area I am very weak in. Hardworking people can sometimes think that the most important ways to grow a movement and solve its problems are planning, organising, networking and hard work. These are essential. But it is more essential for leaders to seek the face of God. Fasting helps affirm the priority of seeking God.

4. As I get close to retirement, I see that I urgently need to have a specific ambition. I must never, never, never do anything aimed at leaving a legacy behind which has in it anything to do with my name. Living for the glory of God alone is such a great and joyously fulfilling goal in life that nothing, absolutely nothing, must be allowed to detract from it. Colleagues remembered D. E. Hoste as one who “lived to be forgotten in order that Christ may be remembered” (p. 6).


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