In the first article of this series, I introduced the effortless paradigm. This is the sweet spot of effective leadership, where God’s abundant blessing ensures that the fruit of our labours is exponentially disproportionate to the effort. This is a counter-cultural approach to leadership because it causes us to recognise that leadership is not about me.
Rather, fruitful leadership is proportionate to our dependence on God. However, that does not mean we are idle. We are called to partner with God and play the part he is calling us to play within his cosmic mandate. Therefore, I concluded the first article by proposing that the key to having an exponential impact through our life and leadership is learning to live in the biblical paradoxes of waiting and working; striving and surrender; struggle and security. We start by considering how Christian leadership requires both waiting on God while working for God.
I remember the night with absolute clarity. I lay in my bed somewhat panic-stricken. Anxiety was crippling my mind as I came to terms with the long-term impact of the diagnosis I’d received. Although not life-threatening, chronic fatigue syndrome meant I was facing an uncertain future. I had been quite severely debilitated and in pain for some months. As a 19-year-old young man, hard-wired to be an activist-achiever, I struggled to understand God’s purpose in allowing me to have a prolonged illness when I should be entering the prime of life. In my confusion, I cried out to God.
It’s always hard to describe the deepest spiritual encounters with God. Sometimes words are insufficient and I’ve always found it almost impossible to explain how God met with me on my bed of illness and anxiety that night. It literally felt like a blanket of love was placed around me to comfort me. And I experienced absolute peace that God was in control. He assured me that this was part of his plan and purpose for me. Through this encounter, he transformed my perspective. I realised that God’s love for me was not conditional on what I could do for him. Even if I spent the rest of my life unable to do things for him (e.g., run the youth group, lead the sports ministry I’d started, even attend church), that didn’t change how he felt about me.
Over the next couple of years, as I began to recover from the illness, I recognised that my activity for God needed to emanate from this revelation that God loved me unconditionally. My doing was not to earn his favour, rather it was an act of worshipful gratitude for his love and all he had done for me. It’s a lesson God has had to remind me of countless times since.
For so many leaders, our identity is wrapped up in our work and activity. We find our value and sense of worth in the work of leadership. The danger in this is that there is a very fine line between working for God out of love for him and working for God to earn his approval. When seeking to earn his approval, we will operate from our own efforts rather than dependence on the Holy Spirit. We may experience some short-term success but it is unlikely that we will see lasting fruit or experience exponential impact beyond our labour (see 1 Cor. 3:12–15).
Effortless leadership, on the other hand, starts from the position of obeying the biblical instruction to wait on God (given consistently to leaders throughout scripture e.g., Ex. 14:14, Ps. 37:9, Ps. 40:1, Hab. 2:3, Mt. 14:23, 2 Pet. 3:8–10). Our identity and sense of self-worth should not be wrapped up in our work and accomplishments. It is rather intrinsically connected to our position as sons and daughters of God (Rom. 8:15–17). The posture of waiting on God is consistently presented in scripture as the appropriate starting point for all effective and fruitful ministry. Waiting on God is essential to counteract the temptation to focus on success, numbers, profit or any other metrics related to our work for him.
However, the biblical counsel to wait on God does not call us to a life of disengagement from the world. Instead, waiting on God provides the impetus for our work, recognising there is a biblical mandate upon us to work hard for the cause of the Gospel. Jesus himself instructs us; “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me” (John 9:4).
The nineteenth-century South African pastor and church statesman, Andrew Murray, oversaw a spiritual renewal which started in the small town of Wellington and went on to have a global impact. Murray worked tirelessly with incredible zeal and passion as a pastor and evangelist. Through his example and his writings, there has been exponential fruit far beyond his effort by which God continues to receive much glory. I feel that the secret to his fruitfulness was that he understood how to live in the tension between waiting and working. Among his many writings, he wrote two small devotional guides. The first was called, Waiting on God and the second, Working for God. In the introduction to the second volume, he harmonises the states of waiting and working by stating the following:
“Waiting on God has its value in that it makes us strong in work for God… as waiting on God lies at the root of all true working for God, so working for God must be the fruit of all true waiting on Him.” (Andrew Murray, Working for God, p. 1–2).
The apostle Paul was another man of action. Following his dramatic conversion, he worked tirelessly to extend the Gospel around the world. However, he didn’t define his success by virtue of his hard work. Rather, he defined it as follows: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me”. (1 Cor. 15:10).
Paul’s work for God flowed out of God’s work in him. Paul’s dependence on God’s grace came as he waited on God and discovered that God’s grace alone was sufficient for him (2 Cor. 12:9). However, that led him to work tirelessly, instructing us to do the same (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:58).
Waiting on God in order to work for God is the antidote to seeking salvation by merit. It is also the antidote for leaders whose self-worth is tied up in their productivity. By grace, God has chosen us for “good works which he has prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
It’s not a choice between waiting or working. The Christian life is an inextricable combination of these two states of being: we wait and work; we work while waiting. Sometimes there are seasons where the emphasis is on waiting on God. There are other seasons of incredibly productive work. The temptation for leaders is to keep working without ever waiting. Therefore, in this area, I advise we need to afford ourselves extra accountability in order that we can see God work mightily through us, meaning that we’ll see our work is effortless in comparison to the exponential fruit harvested for the kingdom.
 See www.grabatowel.site/2023/07/26/working-while-waiting-leadership-gems-from-andrew-murray/ for more helpful quotes from these books.