Three Activities of a Servant Leader, Part 1

There are key inner disciplines that develop servant leader character to build on previous articles. Proverbs 4:3 says that the heart, or our inner life, is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 21:2 reveals that God weighs our hearts when considering our actions. Even Jesus drew attention again and again in the gospels to the importance of our inner life and attitudes; they are the source of our actions and speech (Lk 6:45). We will focus on just three of the many activities beneficial for developing the heart of a servant leader—study, prayer, and service. As we look at the first of these activities in this article, keep in mind the principle that our inner life, our heart, is the source of all we say and do (Prov 4:23, Matt 12:34-35) and is of utmost importance for our growth and development.

Studying God’s Word

In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard writes that relationship with God or any other person requires our participation.[1] One way we participate is through study. Richard Foster adds to this concept by writing that it is through study, or paying careful attention, that our mind is trained and shaped to “move in a certain direction.”[2] This transformation of our thought patterns and habits is the core of Romans 12:2 where we are changed as our mind is renewed in Christ!

Richard Foster continues by reminding us that the singularly most important book we must study is the Bible.[3] What we focus on and what we study are the things we are allowing to shape our thinking. This is why Paul urges us in Philippians 4:8 to focus our thinking on what is true, holy, just, pure lovely, and worthy of praise. Additionally, in John 8:32, Jesus points out that it is more than just the truth, it is “the knowledge of the truth that sets us free.”[4]

There are two aspects of study; studying to understand something and studying to apply that something. Unfortunately, we too often rush to the second option when reading and studying Scripture. We rush to apply what we have read without understanding and often wind up confused or making poor decisions based on incomplete understanding. We can avoid some of the frustration in this process by practicing humility in our study since “[a]rrogance and a teachable spirit are mutually exclusive.”[5]

So, how do we approach study? That is the million-dollar question and one that differs from person to person as there are many ways individuals learn. However, there are five basic principles that can help all of us grow in wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.

Repetition. “Repetition regularly channels the mind in a specific direction, thus ingraining habits of thought.”[6] The Psalms are full of Scripture that emphasize the principle of meditating on (studying) God’s word. In Psalm 1:1-3, the psalmist writes that there are blessings for not following the ways of those who mock or disobey God’s Word. Instead, he writes that when we meditate on, and take delight in, the Word of God we are blessed and fruitful in our pursuit of God and His will. “The psalm is content to develop this one theme, implying that whatever really shapes a man’s thinking shapes his life.”[7]

1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:1-3, NIV

Additionally, in Matthew 4:1-11, we see the benefit of applying our understanding. Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and is tempted by the devil. “[F]or each of the three temptations [Jesus] will refute the devil with Scripture, always from Deuteronomy.”[8] This displays Jesus’ familiarity with the Scriptures which we can also see at an early age in in Luke 2:47 where everyone in the temple was amazed at his understanding at the age of 12! Not only did he know the Scriptures, but his understanding allowed him to apply them in a way that brought victory over the adversary who was trying to tempt him.

Concentration. “Concentration centers the mind. It focuses the attention on what is being studied.”[9] After Moses had died, God was commissioning Joshua to lead the Israelites into the promised land. God gives Joshua a key to be able to walk in obedience and understanding.

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8, NIV

Here God urges Joshua to constantly meditate on Scripture. “Unless Joshua makes meditation upon, and obedience to, God’s law his first priority, his leadership will fail (cf. Ps. 1:1–3).”[10] God is extremely specific about how Joshua can keep this law ever on his consciousness—by keeping it on his lips. As Joshua recites and memorizes Scripture, he must focus his concentration upon the words so they are fixed and permanent in his thinking. Therefore, the Scriptures are in the forefront of his thinking and able to be applied in any situation.

Comprehension. “Jesus, as you remember, reminds us that it is not just the truth but the knowledge of the truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Comprehension focuses on the knowledge of the truth.”[11] Comprehension takes us past the bare knowledge of facts and figures. We begin to make connections and see how a concept or passage is connected to the rest of the Word of God, our own lives, and the Kingdom of God manifest within and through us. This, more than any other step, is the most nebulous. Comprehension often comes in the midst of or after failure as the knowledge we have gained suddenly falls into place and suddenly clicks.

Reflection. It is not enough that we study to gain the knowledge or even to come to the point of comprehension and application. We must go beyond this point because “reflection defines the significance of what we are studying. To reflect, to ruminate, on the events of our time leads us to the inner reality of those events.”[12] It is reflection that allows us to exchange our perspective for God’s and to have a renewed mind with renewed thoughts and attitudes (Rom 12:2).

Depend on the Holy Spirit. The most important part of study is to rely on the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised His disciples that the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, would guide them in all truth (John 16:13). He comes as a helper, comforter, and teacher so that we can grow deeper in relationship with and understanding of God.

Jesus knew the presence and power of the Holy Spirit was critical to the growth and life of His disciples. After His resurrection, before He ascended to heaven, Jesus told His disciples that He was sending the promised Holy Spirit and directed them to “stay in the city [of Jerusalem] until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, NASB). Like those disciples we must wait on the Holy Spirit—we must be sensitive to God’s guidance and direction and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal ever deeper understanding to us.

Practice these four basic steps in relation to Scripture. Study Romans 12:1-2 as we learn to apply these steps by following the instructions below.

  1. Repetition. Find Romans 12:1-12 in your favorite translation (the one you use most regularly). Read the verses through several times, pausing after each reading to meditate on the words. Read the verses in another (or more than one) translation.
  2. Concentration. Go back to Romans 12:1-2 in your favorite translation. Read the verses out loud several times. Write out the verses word for word. After writing out the verses. Memorize the verses (you can work on this throughout the coming days).
  3. Comprehension. Read about sacrifice and being renewed in other parts of Scripture to discover how these topics fit it into the bigger picture of the Bible. Use a Bible dictionary or commentary to look up the themes of sacrifice and being renewed. has some excellent study resources on their website that you can examine side-by-side with the passage you are reading. Since this is the most nebulous step, consider a way you might be able to apply in your own life what you have been able to glean from the first steps. Write your idea below—be creative.
  4. Reflection. Reflect and consider the significance of applying these verses in your life. Consider God’s perspective of these verses and write a brief statement why you think these verses are significant for you right now.

The principle of study is beneficial for every area of your life, but it especially impacts your growth as a leader. Begin to incorporate these study practices into your life as you continue to grow in leadership and see for yourself the lifelong impact study has on your development. Join me next time as we look at the practice of Prayer for the servant leader and be blessed!

[1] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 176.

[2] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, special anniversary ed. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2018), 63.

[3] Foster, Celebration, 68.

[4] Foster, Celebration, 65.

[5] Foster, Celebration, 66.

[6] Foster, Celebration, 64.

[7] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 64.

[8] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 84.

[9] Foster, Celebration, 65.

[10] Richard S. Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 80.

[11] Foster, Celebration, 65.

[12] Foster, Celebration, 66.


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