As a spiritual leader you have two formidable enemies. Each picks at you daily, constantly, relentlessly.
If left unchallenged each will undermine your ability to lead people onto God’s agenda.
What are these two enemies? It’s not your culture. Or whatever -ism is in vogue this year. Or problems in your organization. Or other well-intentioned leaders vying for power or control (of course they would never say it quite that way).
Henri Nouwen, in The Way of the Heart, a classic work on authentic spirituality that mines the insights of 4th and 5th century desert fathers and mothers of our common faith, suggests that the two main enemies of the spiritual life are anger and greed.
Anger and greed are by-products of my compulsive self — my false self, or old nature — that craves affirmation from constant activity and others’ approval. Nouwen writes:
Whether I am a pianist, a businessman or a minister, what matters is how I am perceived by my world. If being busy is a good thing, then I must be busy. If having money is a real sign of freedom, then I must claim my money. If knowing many people proves my importance, I will have to make the necessary contacts. The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failing and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same — more work, more money, more friends.
[These compulsions] are the inner side of a secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependencies. What else is anger than the impulsive response to the experience of being deprived? When my sense of self depends on what others say of me, anger is a quite natural reaction to a critical word. And when my sense of self depends on what I can acquire, greed flares up when my desires are frustrated. Thus greed and anger are the brother and sister of a false self fabricated by the social compulsions of an unredeemed world.
I’m taking some time this week to reflect on the impact anger and greed have on my leadership. A mentor once told me, “Ken, people can’t follow anger.” James tells us that the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
How do you fight against these two enemies of your leadership?