There is so much preparation that goes into the start of football season. I got to see how much time, energy, and effort my husband invested in to become the best version of himself. We began dating in college, where he was the starting center for Liberty University. Dating a football player had its perks, like free club seat tickets, but it also came with its hardships.
There wasn’t a whole lot of free time to go and “do” like other students. When regular students got out of class, they often got together to hang out. My husband hurried off to practice and then headed home to do homework, for both football and school. He understood that his position required more of him, and he worked hard to be the best version of himself for it, because he considered it a privilege and an honor. He was a full scholarship athlete and knew he had to work to earn his pay, because a number of other guys were ready and willing to take the position if he wasn’t.
The time he spent practicing paid off with success and perfected skill, but it required focus and drive. The energy he used in practice would be pushed to its limits, especially during summer two-a-days. Most, if not all the players, ended up vomiting from suicide drills and sheer physical exhaustion. Those days ended in full body ice baths and a whole bunch of taped ankles and physical therapy. The effort he put in, both on and off the field, set him up for success when the pressures of a game begged him to quit.
The process of spiritual maturation is no different than the one my husband so faithfully demonstrated in his collegiate football career. His growth as a player greatly depended on his ability to listen to his coach’s instruction and then learn how to apply it practically. Sometimes that meant hours’ worth of time and energy spent in the weight room and other times it meant hours of diligently studying playbooks and game film. It also required him to know when to rest and when to work, when to listen and when to act, and eventually, when to learn and when to lead.
He started all four years as the center for LU, and his growth and success landed him the captain position his senior year. There were so many game nights players would come off the field with a win, gearing up to celebrate into the wee-hours of the night. Not Mike. He knew as a leader, he had to sacrifice what he once participated in, to be an example for those who looked up to him. To lead requires great sacrifice but yields great dividends.
I’ve wrestled with this truth in my own life recently. As I gain followers, as I lead women in ministry, and as I lead my own children in to their futures, the weight of my actions and decisions have gotten heavier. I have more eyes and more responsibilities pressing on me than when I wasn’t pursuing God’s call on my life. I had more freedom and liberty to do without repercussion, and if I’m honest, I miss that freedom sometimes. It was easier.
But I’m recognizing that as I step into the calling of leadership, the things God is stripping me of, He replaces with a greater desire for Him. It doesn’t come naturally to sit down and ask God to “search my heart” for anything that may be driving a wedge between Him and I. The old phrase, “be careful what you pray for” comes to mind. But as I trust in His voice and obey His command, He gently corrects my wrongs and grows me from the spiritual milk I once drank to the solid food of relationship He has for me. And believe me, a big, fat juicy steak tastes so much better than a bottle of milk.
To learn how to lead well is to continue to die to oneself so He can begin to replace the old with the new. It changes who I am in the most literal sense. I am not the same as I was even a minute ago. My desires, goals, and aspirations all shift and change. This changes the dynamics of my friendships, my marriage, and my daily routine.
“…Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, NIV.
Paul is appealing and warning the church of Corinth to imitate himself by setting an example for others. He was able to make such a bold statement because of how closely he walked with God, how much time he spent in the word and in prayer, and was always aware of God’s presence in his life. God was Paul’s example; therefore, Paul’s life could be an example to other Christians. Paul wasn’t expecting others to imitate everything he did, but they should imitate those aspects of his beliefs and conduct that were modeling Christ’s way of living. Paul was exemplifying what a great leader in Christ looks like.
The yeast Paul speaks of represents sin. As the Hebrews prepared for their exodus from slavery in Egypt, they were commanded to prepare bread without yeast because they didn’t have time to wait for it to rise. And because yeast also was a symbol of sin, they were commanded to sweep all of it out of the house (Exodus 12:15, 13:7). Christ is our Passover lamb, the perfect sacrifice for our sin. Because he has delivered us from the slavery of sin, we should have nothing to do with the sins of the past, or as Paul describes to the church of Corinth, “old yeast”. To grow as a leader, we must be willing to give up the sins of our past and present to move into the giftings in our future.
Whether we’re leading in life in our place of work, church, home, or community, we all need to recognize that the maturation process may be difficult, even painful at times, but it’s necessary for growth and success. If we focus on our hearts and the corrections the holy spirit is lovingly revealing, we will continue to move into the things God has for us. We will continue to get stronger, making us more capable of the things He has in store.
If God has called you to be a leader, you must submit your whole life over to Him so you can become the person who is capable of handling that position. Great leaders go first, sacrifice much, and in return, gain access to the Kingdom of God.