The Power of Example
Having been a building and district level administrator for fourteen years and married to my husband who was a superintendent for sixteen years, I am quite familiar with the criticism associated with administrators. One of the most common complaints I’ve heard regarding leaders is “they don’t walk the talk.” It is disheartening to hear teachers become so disenfranchised because their leaders are strong on lip service and weak on action. I’m not trying to be overly critical of administrators. Having walked in their shoes, I know how extremely challenging the job can be. However, when I hear a comment like this, it is a reminder to me that educators live in glass houses.
People—the lost as well as fellow believers—are always watching. When we profess to be Christians, I would contend others put on their binoculars! Whether we like it or not, everyone wants to see if we will walk the talk. Do our actions really speak louder than our words? Here is the kicker. Do you know when others watch us most closely? They do so when there is conflict and controversy in our lives. It seems like during times of trial, our true colors are on full display as the enemy seeks to discredit our witness. Emotions often run high, and it is easy to forget we have a choice to make. Will we be the example God has called us to be?
Let’s take a look at Colossians 3 so we can be reminded of this choice.
“Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.” (v. 10)
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Make allowances for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (v. 12-14)
Notice that Paul uses strong imagery in this passage and earlier in the chapter to reflect the change in our lives that has come through salvation. He urges believers to take off the dirty clothes associated with our old sinful selves. In place of those clothes, we are to put on new garments. When others look at us, particularly during the difficult times of life, Paul contends they should see Christlike qualities revealed in our lives.
As I read these verses, I can almost hear Paul pleading with the first century believers to make the right choice. It was obvious they were struggling with worldly thinking just like we do today. In Colossians 3:2 Paul implored them to think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. Tony Evans writes in his Bible commentary, “Believers must be tuned into the Heavenly Broadcasting Network to receive the data needed for daily living. The problem is that too many of us frequently change the channel to faulty programming. Some embrace unbiblical data from the world and then wonder why their lives are a wreck. We’ll never become spiritual by using the world’s methodology.” (1)
The only way to be a powerful example to others is to choose Heaven’s perspective, and the only way to have Heaven’s perspective is to take to heart God’s Word. When Jesus prayed for his disciples in John 17:17, He asked God to make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. When we choose to have a heart of obedience, transformation and blessings follow.
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1:21-25
As Christian educators we are often conflicted about what we can say in our workplaces regarding our beliefs. However, there is no law against living out our faith by being a Godly example day in and day out, choosing to be the holy people God dearly loves by putting on our new nature.
Although this is still painful for me, I want to share with you the power of a Godly example from my own life. A little over 16 years ago, I received a phone call no daughter wants to receive. My Dad, at the age of 67, entered the arms of Jesus as a result of a heart attack. To this day I can honestly say this was the most difficult day of my life. It is still hard to talk about. After his death, I spent the next two weeks with my mom.
I watched as she began each morning reading the Psalms, journaling and weeping. She didn’t deny or hide her pain. She was honest and vulnerable. She told me she really couldn’t pray. Her grief was too deep, but she knew God was with her. I learned that when devastation comes, God is there even when we don’t understand. It took time, but my Mom held onto the promises of God. I never heard her question His love or faithfulness.
By her example, Mom taught me what it looks like to not just have head knowledge of God’s Word but a heart to obey, a heart to trust, and a heart to love her Lord when nothing made sense. I learned we don’t have to have all of the answers. Sometimes we just have to say, “I don’t know or I don’t understand, but I trust the ONE who does.”
Recently, I was visiting my mom, and I noticed a decorative box on one of her bookcases. The inscription on the outside read:
When you do what you can, God will do what you can’t.
It reminded me of those weeks so many years ago when she set such a powerful example for me, one I will never forget.
I sincerely hope many of us will not have to go through something like this to be an example for others. However, no matter our circumstances, we have an opportunity each day to clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and love. May we all strive to point others to Jesus by the power of our example.