Experiencing Grace Ourselves Changes Our Message and Leadership

By: Tom Lipkin, Finland
From: March 2009

In Luke 15 we have the story about the prodigal son. You have surely heard the story. But let us think about this story from a leadership view.

We surely all agree that the father (representing our heavenly Father) did everything right. He is the ultimate leader. He could speak into the lives of his sons and deal with them in a loving, forgiving and uplifting way. He did not condemn either of his sons. The younger son’s problem was his attraction to the world. The older son’s problem was his tendency to self-righteousness and his condemning attitude towards others.

From a human standpoint we might think that the older brother could have been a good leader. It seems like he was dedicated to his task. At least he tried to follow the rules as well as he could. He wanted to do well and impress his father. From a moral standpoint he thought that he was blameless. But would he have been a good leader? A good pastor?  Let us not judge the older son too harshly – he made some mistakes – I have made mistakes as well!

Trying to make an impact on God

Like the older brother, it is so easy to base our life on performance. If we are insecure, we have a tendency to measure ourselves against others. We easily feel we are doing better or worse than the neighbor church. We try to make an impact on God, as if he did not know us already. Being a leader or pastor becomes a burden, not a gift that we enjoy. I made these mistakes. I did many things just like the older brother.

I realized that the only thing I needed to do was to step into God’s peace and rest from my own works.

But God spoke to my heart from Hebrews 4. I understood that in a leader’s life there is only one thing one has to strive for. I realized that the only thing I needed to do was to step into God’s peace and rest from my own works. Though I was a Gospel preacher I needed to embrace the goodness of the gospel for myself! I do not say I was doing everything wrong, but obviously God was trying to get my focus on the free gift of grace again.

An inner change

Let us go back to the two sons in Luke 15 again. Would the younger brother have become a good pastor? The story does not tell, but it is obvious that the father’s grace and mercy became an experience for him. After all that happened he would never talk about the father’s grace just as a theory. Grace would always be a very vital part in his whole being! I believe the older brother needed this experience of the father’s grace just as much as his younger brother did. Without an inner change the older brother would easily have become a demanding, performance-oriented leader with little mercy for his followers or co-workers!

Now I can realize that understanding God’s unmerited and free grace is the fundamental qualification for any Christian leader. How could we as leaders help others to find grace if we have not experienced God’s grace ourselves? The older son had just the outward nice behavior. He could only pass behavior to others. The younger son realized some of the depths of the Father’s unconditional love. That became the gospel he could give to others. “Freely you have received, freely you give” - how true that is!

Grace in your personal life

God also wanted the messengers themselves to grasp the grace in their own personal lives.

Why do we have such a strong emphasis on the grace of Jesus in the New Covenant? Why is the gospel simply called “the gospel of grace?” One reason is that grace and performance religion are opposites. When time was fulfilled and religious traditions were to be replaced with the Gospel, the transition was not easy for the human mind. God wanted His message of grace to be clear for all to grasp and understand. But God also wanted the messengers themselves to grasp the grace in their own personal lives. We can see that the apostle Peter made mistakes many times.  Even after being mightily used by God he let the old way of religious thinking come back (read Gal 2). He became afraid of the Jews. But God’s grace never left him, nor did he fight against God’s grace when he realized his mistakes. If there was enough of God’s grace to put Peter back on track, don’t you think there is enough grace also for you and me?

If there was enough grace for the apostle Paul (who was persecuting the church), does God have less grace for us? It is obvious that Paul was very conscious about the grace he needed himself. We can understand that grace was not just “a topic” or something he needed only for his salvation, but the fountain of every good thing that came out of his life.

We can see that the leaders in the early church had experienced the grace of Jesus themselves.

We can see that the leaders in the early church had experienced the grace of Jesus themselves. Personal ambitions were replaced by the passion from God’s heart. I believe God is doing the same things in our hearts!

According to the Gospel of John we understand that Jesus came to give us grace upon grace. In the Amplified version we read,  “For out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received [all had a share and we were all supplied with] one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favour upon favour and gift [heaped] upon gift.”(John 1:16)

From this scripture I understood that God’s unmerited grace is the only foundation I can stand on when facing challenges in life or ministry. This scripture says clearly that grace, spiritual blessings, favor and gifts will always be ours. I can refuse to receive what this scripture is promising, but I can never nullify God’s heart and His promise. Before I often wondered, “do I measure up to God’s standard and expectations?” Now I understand that God intended this scripture for me personally.

When we talk about favor we understand that Jesus walked all his life under the favor of his heavenly Father. The same Jesus is living in you and me. I understood that I was favored because of Jesus, not because of my own performance as a pastor or preacher. Of course, God’s favor does not mean that everything is easy. In one verse in Acts chapter 14 Paul was considered to be a god in the eyes of the people. In the next verse the same people stoned Paul! We can see that God’s favor is much better than popularity which so easily changes.

Whatever circumstances we might go through we understand that there will always be enough grace to see us through. Before, I used to depend on “how I felt the anointing.” Yes, it’s good to “feel” the anointing, but it’s better to know that God will never leave me. The promise in Heb. 13:5 has nothing to do with my feelings. No part of the Trinity will ever leave you. The Father’s unconditional love will always be with you. The presence of Jesus will be where you are! And the help and anointing of the Holy Spirit will always be assured to you!