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Happy Leaders Let Go of These Two Things

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    Stephen Blandino
Every leader faces WANTS and WORRIES. Whether they’re physical, relational, emotional, financial, spiritual or in some aspect of our work, we want what we don’t have, and we worry about what we might lose. These wants and worries don’t free us; instead, they fight for first place. We’re obsessed by our wants and overwhelmed by our worries. We want more influence, bigger opportunities and greater results. We worry about losing our ranking, status or recognition. In the Gospel of Matthew chapter six, Jesus describes our wants and worries by issuing a warning. In verse 19 and 24, Jesus warns us about a want named “money,” and in verses 25, 31 and 32, He warns us of the negative impact of worrying about food, drink and clothing. In these passages, Jesus is saying, “Don’t let your want for money or your worries about food, drink and clothing become first place in your life.” Your leadership wants and worries may look different, but they are no less real. They can even lead to paralysis. Stagnation becomes the permanent condition of your leadership when wants and worries become the dominant craving of your life. When you’re stuck, you tend to want more and worry more. But the opposite is also true. The more you want and the more you worry, the more stuck you become. It’s a vicious cycle. This cycle doesn’t just creep into our lives when things are bad, it can just as easily take center stage when life is good. So what must leaders do to keep the wants and worries of leadership from circumventing them? Is it possible that defeating these internal mountains is ultimately about something sought? After Jesus gives clear instructions not to want and not to worry, he directs our attention to what to seek. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Let’s unpack exactly what He is saying here. Jesus begins by saying, “But … .” “But” is a contrast from the previous verses. Rather than putting wants and worries first in our lives, Jesus calls us to take an approach that’s different from our culture. He says, “But seek … .” “Seek” is a present imperative word that means to make a daily, continual, supreme choice. “Seeking” is like the choice above all other choices. To expand the emphasis on this highly important choice, Jesus adds the word “first.” He says, “But seek first … .” First refers to the order of things. It’s making the most important thing your priority. So that raises a question: What exactly are we to “seek first”? Jesus says we are to seek first “His Kingdom and His righteousness.” His Kingdom is where He rules. Jesus is the King in the Kingdom of God, which means that we are to submit to His rule, His authority and His will. Seeking His Kingdom means seeking His Kingship in our lives … including our leadership. It’s choosing to live in submission to the King of God’s Kingdom and assuming a posture of submission and obedience. So Jesus says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” Notice it doesn’t say to seek “our” righteousness, but rather “His” righteousness. In other words, “seek a life that is full of character and holiness.” It’s choosing to conform our lives and our leadership to Christ’s standard of righteousness. How we live and lead really matters. Now here’s what’s amazing. When we do what Jesus said … when we “seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness,” God takes care of our wants and worries. Verse 33 promises, “And all these things will be given to you as well.” We could literally translate Matthew 6:33: Make your single-minded priority—your first and foremost habit—to pursue a life fully submitted to Christ’s rule and authority, and to conform your life to Christ’s standard of character and holiness. When you do this, God will be sure to provide the things that He already knows you need. If we know that what Jesus said is true, then why do we struggle with it so much as leaders? It’s because of one word: FIRST. “But seek first.” As leaders, we like to choose our own path. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do, how to spend our time or where to invest our energy. We want our wants. We navigate our worries alone. But when our seeking gets mixed up, the order of our lives and leadership gets mixed up too. Author and pastor Stovall Weems said: Happiness isn’t about more, better or greater; it’s about order … the real issue is not having too many problems but operating from a life that is out of order. You can fight your entire life to defeat the wants and worries on your own. You can fight to remove physical, financial and relational obstacles. But OBSTACLES aren’t your problem; ORDER is. When you get the order right, you suddenly find the wisdom, strength and grace to lead through the obstacles. But a life out of order perpetuates a life of disorder. Leadership out of order perpetuates dysfunction in leadership. The key to defeating the wants and worries of leadership is to determine who and what is first in your life. In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown notes that when the word priority came into the English language in the 1400s, it was originally a singular word that meant “the prior or very first thing.” McKeown further observes that priority stayed a “singular” word for the next 500 years, until the 1900s when we came up with the plural term priorities. But if priority meant “the prior or very first thing,” then what does priorities mean? In other words, how can there be multiple very first things? The reason “seek first” is so hard for leaders is because deep down we don’t want to decide who or what gets to be first. We want multiple firsts. We want options. We seek our wants, and yet Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” We seek our worries, and yet Jesus said, “These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers.” There can only be ONE first. Colossians 1:18 says, “Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything.” If you want to defeat the obsessive wants and overwhelming worries of leadership, you have to address the issue of order. Who and what will be first in your life. Who gets to call the shots in your leadership?