There is a sad side to one of the aspen groves on my favorite Sabbath hiking trail. I’m not sure when it happened, or why it happened here and not at the other groves on the gentle slopes of this Flagstaff mountain. But something knocked down a bunch of the trees. They lie scattered everywhere, some flat on the ground, some leaning against other trees. The storm, or avalanche, must have been terrible to cause all that damage.
I hike here several times a year, and I’ve always been curious about this grove. What happened? When did it happen? And why did some trees fall, while others stood?
I was praying my way through this grove last week, and I’m not sure why my mind went here, but it did.
These trees are spiritual leaders. Some have fallen. But some are still standing, despite the pressures that they experienced. And I desperately – desperately – want to be among those who stand.
Leaders fall with depressing regularity, so frequently that it has almost become a cliché. Moral failure seems to be the most common cause, and I’ve grown sadly accustomed to the internal cringe upon hearing the news of one more fallen leader. One more conference speaker whose personal life revealed the hollowness of the principles he taught. One more pastor who tried to take care of the bride of Christ while failing to be true to the vows he had made to his own. And the same sad word comes to mind each time: “Again?”
I was near a falling tree on a hike several years ago. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it, and it was terrifying. I’ve been close enough to a couple of falling leaders to feel a similar sense of dread, to see the damage they cause as they go down.
I never, EVER, want to cause that kind of pain. I don’t want to fall.
But not all trees go down, and not all leaders fall. I’ll be driving to Los Angeles today to be part of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the church where I met Jesus when I was 11 years old. It was my church for over 30 years. Those people taught me how to pastor, sent us out as missionaries, supported us through good and bad days, and welcomed us home 15 years later.
The room will be full of my heroes, and as the MC I get to talk about some of them. I will tell the story of the pastor who baptized me in 1970, present a video message from my Junior High Youth Director, and introduce the pastor who ordained me to ministry and sent us out to Africa and France. Some of the faithful church members who will be in the room tonight were there for all of those moments, and made indelible impacts on my life. I went to seminary with the current Lead Pastor of the church, and served for over 10 years with the Worship Pastor.
These people are standing. They aren’t perfect, and I’m sure they have bent under the pressure of a storm or two over the years. But they are standing.
I desperately want to stand with them.
Can I be bold enough to ask you to pray, right now, for whomever you see as your spiritual leader? Pray that he or she would stand tall in the storm. Pray that their roots would be deep, and that they would know what the Lord means when He says “In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). Pray that they would take Jesus at His word, and would come to Him to find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:29).
You’d be wise to add yourself to that prayer. It’s almost certain that someone sees you as a spiritual leader, looks to your example and depends on your advice. They would be hurt if you fell, and they will be helped when you stand.
And yeah, pray for me as well. By the grace of God, I want to be a standing tree. Let me know if I can pray the same for you.
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