The Four Temptations For Leaders

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Ezekiel 47:1-12, "Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.

3 Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits,and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. 5 Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. 6 And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. 8 And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. 9 And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. 10 Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. 11 But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. 12 And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”


So, for those of you who I have sadly not been able to get to know or spend much time with, I apologize and I really do want to get to know you better. For now though, my name is Philip (with one "l"). I peed my pants in 4th grade and was home schooled every year after that. It was inevitable with how much "P" is in me (my name). And, no, being home school hasn't imPEEded my God given extrovertedness. I also love puns. And irony. So naturally I'm going to focus on flowing water in this mini message.

Because I grew up close to a river, most of my fondest memories revolve around family trips down the Harpeth River. It was family tradition to go down a certain stretch two, sometimes more, times a summer. The river was always different. This presented us with an always challenging and adventurous trip. Sometimes the water would be full and rushing. Other times the water would be low and barely moving. The river was always eroding the banks and river's floor revealing new landscapes, trees, and wildlife. Yes, it is accurate to say that this flowing water was the centerpiece for an entire ecosystem's life. This is something that, as humans with water at our fingertips, we often take for granted and lose sight of. The power of living water. Because, truly, this water was living and moving to bring life to everything around it. Without it, no life would be able to exist.

My question for you all as we work through Ezekiel 47:1-12 is this. As leaders, what temptations can steer you and those you are leading into the Dead Sea and away from living water? I believe that there are four major things.

The first major temptation for leaders is the temptation of familiarity, I'm going to define familiarity as the unconscious, and therefore unintentional, decision to not progress forward. In other words, the temptation is to find comfort and stay in a place we recognize easily. Whether it was because I didn't think we could get past a patch of rough rapids or I was afraid of what the next corner would bring, there were a couple times my family and I went down the river and I felt this temptation. But just like there are times I recognize the direction a discussion in small group is going (Really guys, a twerking party? Or, "OHMYGOSH! A One direction, T-swift, AND Justin Beiber tour and I can't go?!") doesn't justify giving in to just being comfortable. People who struggle with this temptation find themselves either almost nonexistent or without influence since their actions are almost completely controlled by those they wish to lead. The presence of a river changes the landscape it flows through. Always remember that this river, this living water, is what you and everyone else needs most, and not necessarily to feel comfortable where you are. The challenge when faced with this temptation is to intentionally push deeper into the love of Christ. The moment you stop struggling to stay put in living water is the moment you'll find movement and growth is a natural outcome of being in living water. In fact, the tough part about giving into the temptation of familiarity over and over as you try and lead is that it's like trying to swim up river which leads to the second temptation… Fatigue.

Fatigue comes either when you give into the temptation of familiarity OR when you feel as if it is up to you to propel yourself and others down river. I'm going to define fatigue here as the tendency to break under repeated stress. The truth is that when you are in a position of leadership there is a natural tendency to look a certain way, act a certain way, talk a certain way, have that life changing thing to say, and be a certain way or you are going to ruin those who you lead's lives. Or, is it stressful because it might ruin YOUR life? (Ouch, that's ugly of you to suggest Philip!) Yet, we all throw this stress on ourselves. People who struggle with this temptation find themselves overwhelmed by who they're leading and often they react emotionally to that feeling. Some of the times we went down the river, the water was low, and it was exhausting having to paddle and portage ourselves and the boat down river. However, there was always rest to be found in the constant downstream flow of its living waters. The water in this passage is flowing down a Wadi that mainly only has water during winter, but 'Praise be to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a LIVING HOPE through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (I Peter 1:3)The water in Ezekiel's vision has a continuous flow! Jesus realizes though that there are times when we will feel tired and thirsty. He stands up and shouts His response in John 7:37 saying, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” Did you hear that? You have this same power of living water flowing inside of YOU. Right before that in John 4:13 Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Yet there are still times when we think of ourselves as so significant that we can ruin God's plan for our life or others. Often times this leads to the third temptation for leaders; frustration. I'm going to define frustration in this context as the realization that you aren't enough to bring others life, the projection of that shortcoming onto those you're leading, and the inability to see circumstances from God's perspective. When you are going down a river in the same boat as 5-6 other people AND a dog there is always frustration that surfaces. When you struggle with the temptation of frustration you constantly make yourself the judge of how short your group is from the end goal or how your group is incapable of acquiring deeper conversation or knowledge. But, who made you the judge? You did. Can a self-proclaimed judge see things clearly, unbiasedly, and unselfishly? This is why it's important to note that in Ezekiel's vision he is not the one who measures the distances. It is his guide, which is a reference to the Holy Spirit. And, even when it might not feel like it, there will be marked and measurable changes wherever living water goes. But, it's important to see that everything is done in grand totals, therefore we may think the water is only inches when it is actually a deep river. We can only see a tiny part of what God is doing through us and in the people we're leading. That is the simple reason why we cannot make a judgment through frustration on what the living water is doing in us, through us, and through others.

So, what causes the temptation of familiarity, fatigue, and frustration in our lives? The fourth and final major temptation for leaders is faithlessness. Without faith familiarity, fatigue, and frustration easily take over in how we lead. Because, faith believes that God CAN and that God CARES. Faith says you believe that God can do all things and also that He cares enough about you and your sphere of influence to do all things through Christ who is working and living in you. Growing up I was always a really good swimmer, but one thing I couldn't do was float on my back. Now, we know that the human body is naturally buoyant, but I couldn't get past the knowledge that I had the ability in myself to not drown and, therefore, never learned to trust in the water to keep me alive. It's when you start saying that "I can" and "I only care" that you find yourself jumping into the Dead Sea with those you lead behind you. Jeremiah 2:13 says, "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." I feel like too often as leaders we feel a pressure to be some profound and wise person in our kid's eyes and, while we think we are leading them to living water, we are actually digging our own cisterns. And, because we cannot be perfect in everything (and have now opened ourselves up to familiarity, fatigue, and frustration), eventually they will break and no longer be able to hold up. You might spend a long time chiseling, sculpting, and crafting what seems to you to be a beautiful cistern, it might even hold some water inside of it, but that water is not "living water." It is stagnant, and will give birth to all kinds of diseases and bacteria.

How do you keep from building up your own cisterns and continuously guide others to Jesus who is the living water? There have been several times in my life when I have all of a sudden felt my cistern breaking apart and immediately felt regret simultaneously realizing that I had built my own cistern. There are two pains you will experience in your life. The pain of discipline and the pain of regret. Naturally then, the way you can avoid feeling the pain of regret from falling into one of these temptations is to live a spiritually disciplined life. So, quickly, what does that practically mean? It means being in God's Word daily. It means preaching the Gospel to one another daily through both your actions and words. It means spending time in prayer and constant awareness of God's presence in your life. It means living in community with one another and helping to spur one another on in life together under God's Word. I Peter 4:10 says, "Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve one another; faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."

Is Jesus the centerpiece of your sphere of influence or is it controlled by cisterns you have built yourself out of familiarity, fatigue, frustration, and faithlessness?

It’s now, in closing, that I should probably adjust my opening question, “What temptations can steer you and those you are leading into the Dead Sea and away from living water?” Because, as you read through Ezekiel 47 it is quite apparent that while our natural state is to be like the Dead Sea Jesus is pursuing us and those He’s placed in our lives as the living water that can turn even the most dead water into water that produces life in abundance. We are new creations and through Him we can lead others to everlasting water. Through Him we can tell others what He told the Samaritan woman at the well. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” When was the last time as a leader you asked someone if they were thirsty and wanted living water?

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