According to the Global Agenda 2014 survey, 86 percent of people worldwide agree we have a leadership crisis around the world. Today this crisis continues to deepen. Even our own President Joe Biden is hampered by old age and an approval rating of just 38%. Why is the quality of global leadership plummeting?
I love reading books written by old people because they are packed with the wisdom of a lifetime. When I heard the 99-year-old Henry Kissinger published a new book, “Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy,” I immediately grabbed it and started reading it. If you think you are too old to contribute to the world, consider Kissinger writing his 20th book at 99. He will be 100 years old in May.
Whether you like him or not, his achievement is undeniable. A laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, he has advised John F. Kennedy and every president after that except Joe Biden. Biden has not yet invited him to the White House. Kissinger is concerned about how our leaders have been handling the Ukraine war.
The book is not just relevant to global leadership. The wisdom can apply to everyone. Whether you are a parent or president, you are called to lead your children, company, community, or country. Your leadership is seriously needed, especially at times like this.
Kissinger describes how the leaders led the world through times of transition. We are going through a similar transition today, not only in politics but also in more innovative machines with artificial intelligence. But we see no leaders today equal to those mentioned in Kissinger’s book.
In an interview, Kissinger was asked whether great leaders are born or made. To my surprise, his answer was, “They made themselves.” That means institutions cannot produce great leaders. Most of the great leaders are from ordinary families, so they are not born with a leadership silver spoon. “They made themselves” implies a personal spiritual formation that needs to develop from within.
I have discovered that leaders today lack the spiritual component that made great leaders like those in human history. We have lost the art of leadership spirituality that made us highly effective. Today we will learn from the greatest of all who led the world through a crisis.
First-century Israel and the world was going through a similar leadership crisis. King Herod was corrupt, and the religious leaders kowtow to the Roman occupation. A carpenter’s son named Jesus of Nazareth led the change and launched a tidal wave of leadership reflection and reformation not only in Israel and the Roman Empire but also all over the world for over 2000 years.
If you say, “Of course, Jesus could do it because he is the Son of God,” then you are wrong. He is also fully human, and most importantly, he came on earth not only to lead change but also to train leaders. When he left the earth, he had only 11 disciples and about 500 followers that continued his mission to lead the world through leadership evolution. But it seems to have stopped today. It’s time for us to reflect and renew what he has taught us.
Last week, we talked about Jesus calling us to change—metamorphosis. He also calls you to lead others to change and reconcile the world. I believe you can lead change by applying what Jesus taught us, whether you are a parent, president, or parish.
Today is the First Sunday in Lent, and we are given a scripture lesson that lays the spiritual foundation of great leadership. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 4:1-11. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. (Mt 4:1–11).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s Word. Thanks be to God!]
The passage begins by saying:
“Then (meaning after his baptism), Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Mat 4:1).
The question is, why did Jesus need to be tempted by the devil? He was the Son of God, the chosen one. At his baptism, God announced that he was “My beloved Son.” You would think he came on earth fully equipt. Despite his divine heritage, he still needs to pass the test.
That somewhat explains what Kissinger means by saying, “Leaders made themselves.” You are not born a leader. Being a Prince of God does not automatically qualify to lead the world. You are not made a leader by institutions either but by surrendering your ego.
How do you prepare yourself for leadership? The next verse says,
“He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.” (Mat 4:2).
Fasting is the lost art of leadership formation. It’s proven to be a highly effective way to discern God’s will and become enlightened. Every major religion and culture around the world has a tradition of fasting. Historically, fasting was compulsory for great kings and high-ranking officials.
[Before I continue, a disclaimer: consult your doctor before attempting fasting.]
Today, we water down fasting using some scriptures as excuses. Jesus warned people not to fast to show off, but today’s Christians take it as Jesus discouraged fasting. If so, why did he fast? He fasted in the wilderness. He wanted us to fast secretly because it’s our up close and personal feast with God.
Some churches promote fasting from smoking, sugar, soda, or carbs for Lent. All these are watered-down wimpy fasting. Most of today’s church leaders don’t fast, so they don’t know how to teach fasting. They skim over this topic during Lent and avoid discussing the more profound discipline of fasting.
According to research, we can’t fast today because we are addicted to food. Food triggers dopamine, a happy hormone, which is highly addictive. The bread we eat today is mainly made from genetically modified wheat that triggers a particular part of our brain that makes us feel good and become addicted. We have become dopamine addicts.
Long-term fasting triggers a different happiness hormone, oxytocin, which is not addictive but provides healing to the body, mind, and spirit. Fasting also turns our body from burning sugar to burning fat. Fat is a better fuel for the brain and body than carbs. Fasting also makes you younger because it trigger autophagy—a biological process that recycles your cells.
When I started teaching fasting about ten years ago, everybody cringed. Some people even attacked me for teaching fasting as if I was trying to take away their cocaine. Even some doctors thought it was dangerous. However, now many doctors have jumped on the bandwagon of fasting. Today, fasting is one of the most popular subjects on YouTube and Social Media.
It has even become a global phenomenon. Recently, when Sophie and I were in Vietnam, we heard people talking about IF, which means Intermittent Fasting. I was surprised to hear that on the other side of the globe. Biology reveals that the human body is made to handle starvation, not overnutrition. Ever since we started eating three meals a day, we have developed all kinds of diseases.
It’s good that today’s medical community has rediscovered the benefit of fasting, but they are doing it for a superficial purpose. Most of them are doing it for weight loss and health benefits. But the true goal of fasting is to tame our ego and unite with God to become a leader to make a difference in the world. Health and weight loss are just fringe benefits.
We must overcome three temptations of ego to become a change leader. They are pleasure, prestige, and possession. Advertisers know these traps and often use them to make you buy their products. If you look at TV commercials, they are either selling you pleasure, prestige, or possession. So, let’s learn from Jesus how he overcame the temptations through his forty days of fasting.
1. Find Pleasure in God’s Word
The human ego is trapped in pleasure seeking. You can corrupt a person by giving him pleasure. History shows many leaders have been destroyed because they could not resist the temptation of pleasure. Here’s the first temptation.
The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Mat 4:3).
A Chinese idiom says, “Birds die for food” (鳥爲食亡). Hunters use food to lure their prey to catch or kill them. The Buddhists say food makes you stupid. What they mean is food is a major obstacle to enlightenment. Our digestive system consumes a lot of our energy and shuts down some of our brain functions. When your stomach is full, your brain is foolish. With the surplus of food today, we can imagine our society has become dumber than ever before. Interestingly, Jesus said,
“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” (Mat 4:4).
Jesus is saying God’s word nurtures our brain as much as food nourishes our body. We need a balance between feasting and fasting. Most animals have a season of fasting, especially during winter. Just observe the birds around your neighborhood; they live healthily and happily to the end of their lives by balancing fasting and feasting.
Prophet Jeremiah, one of the most influential leaders in history, said,
“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” (Je 15:16).
I have discovered that most great leaders are also artists, musicians, and poets like Jeremiah and King David. At least they have a great appreciation of art. God’s words are like art, which needs a special state of mind to appreciate. Fasting takes you to that state. Like Jeremiah, we must find pleasure in God’s word since we are all called by God’s name. King David also wrote:
“You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps 16:11).
Through his life experience, he discovered eternal pleasures in God’s presence.
To overcome the second temptation of prestige is to …
2. Find Prestige in God’s Love
The second ego trap is prestige. By prestige, I mean fame and attention. Especially in today’s social media, everybody can become popular and addicted to fame. Prestige is a distraction to leadership. The alternative is to find prestige in God’s love, so the devil cannot tempt you. The Bible says,
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” (Mat 4:5).
It’s like the devil took Jesus to the top of the Empire State building and asked him to jump down, misquoting the Bible, saying that the angels would bear him up. More than Midtown Manhattan, the temple area was a very crowded place. By jumping down and being held by angels in front of a large crowd, Jesus could show off his power and prestige. He could become very famous.
The temptation of prestige has destroyed numerous leaders in history. I am sure you have seen many depending on your age. The desire for fame and attention can distract us from fulfilling our divine calling. It is hard to stay humble when you become famous.
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Mat 4:6).
It means he trusts God loves him and doesn’t need to put God to the test. The love that needs to be tested is not true love. Jesus finds greater prestige in God’s love, so he does not need people’s attention. If you know God loves you so much that he would even die for you, will you still thirst for prestige?
Long-term fasting can dissolve your ego and give you emotional peace and satisfaction that you don’t desire power, prestige, fame, or attention. It has been documented by clinical research.
The third temptation is the biggest one—possession and power. To overcome it, you must …
3. Find Possession in God’s Service
The third ego trap is the possession trap. It’s the love for money and shiny things. The Bible says, “That love of money is the root of all evil.” Few people can handle the temptation of wealth, and many are destroyed by it. Most importantly, it’s a distraction from becoming a great leader. The next verse says,
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Mat 4:8-9).
There are many idols, temples, and pagodas around the world set up by the devil, promising you to become wealthy if you worship them. Those are empty promises because the devil doesn’t really own the world. He doesn’t have the authority to give it to you. He just wants to distract you from worshiping and serving God.
Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” (Mat 4:10).
Many people have bowed down to worship anything that can make them rich and get distracted from serving God to change the world. Long-term fasting makes you feel rich inside, so the devil cannot tempt you with wealth. Then you can concentrate on fulfilling your divine calling to be a leader.
The Bible says God is looking for people to use, especially at trying times like this:
“For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose heart is true to him. You have done foolishly in this; for from now on you will have wars.” (2 Ch 16:9).
This verse was addressed to King Asa of Judah. It reveals God is looking for leaders who are true to him. Because of his foolishness, there were wars. Today we have a prolonged war in Ukraine, which could escalate to a deadly nuclear war. You might say that’s beyond your paygrade to address, but God is not looking for a noble birth or elite lineage, but someone simply true to him.
So, let us take advantage of this Lenten season to learn from Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to rediscover the lost art of taming our ego and be true to God so that he can strengthen us to become change leaders that the world seriously needs. This is how Jesus taught us to do it:
1. Find Pleasure in God’s Word
2. Find Prestige in God’s Love
3. Find Possession in God’s Service
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom and happiness.