Joanne walked casually to the Gospel Rescue Mission’s smoking area. She felt like she needed a quick smoke before she sat through another chapel service. Deep down she had to admit that they were not as bad as she thought they would be. The idea of going to church several times a week still miffed her just a bit. Most of the time she came away feeling pretty good, and she was learning to pray. Mostly she prayed that she would figure out what to do next. Her life had been a mess for far too long. She wondered what she would say if she ever found her father. What would he say? Most of the teachers encouraged her to read the Bible. They had even given her, her very own Bible. She read it but most of it made little sense to her. Taking a deep drag off of her cigarette she pondered life and decided that she would go visit her mother’s grave the next morning. Throwing the stub to the ground she followed the others to the chapel.
Bruce sat in his cell pondering his life. The judge had sentenced him to twelve months in this overcrowded place. It seemed like most of the people here did not even have a bed. Some slept on mattresses on the floor. Others curled up in a corner at night. He hated the smell and the nearly constant noise. Everyday there were fights. Some sections were basically owned by gangs. Bruce wondered how it had come to this again. He realized that when he got out his job prospects might not be so good. When another prisoner offered to teach him how to pick a lock, Bruce figured that might come in handy someday. Other skills were eventually taught in informal classes. Bruce knew that when his time was up here he would be a great criminal. He also learned that there were many who would get arrested on purpose so that they could smuggle in drugs. The price they were getting for the weed, meth or other drugs was incredible. He did the math and decided that when he got out it would be worth it to be arrested about once a month. Though he hated this place he figured that it was the best option for his future.
As Joanne looked around the chapel she noticed that almost everyone there looked bored. Some were scrolling through social media and others were trying to catch a little bit of sleep. Soon a lively but seemingly shy woman led them in a couple of songs. She had heard most of these over the past couple of weeks. With the songs over, the mission’s executive director stepped forward and put his Bible down on the pulpit. Opening to the twenty third psalm, he read the entire psalm. Many had opened up the pew Bibles to read along with him. Then he stepped from behind the pulpit and walked up the central aisle.
“It is my dream that you all begin to look at yourselves differently. God looks at you as the apple of His eye. You are the ones that he likes to tell people about. He says things like ‘Have you noticed my friend Job? He is pretty awesome.’ I see you all as potential leaders in our community. Those that have been here awhile know that I believe that many of the problems that we see in our society can be solved by the minds, souls and bodies of the people sitting right here. I remember being in Germany. Looking across the meadow there are thousands of sheep. At least it seemed like thousands. Maybe it was only a few hundred. Though I am certain that there are differences that my untrained eye cannot see; they all appear pretty much the same. Watching from a little rise though is the shepherd. He is the leader. He whistles and every sheep will look up. With a gesture he will direct the flock and they will follow him wherever he leads them. They totally trust him. He is a leader.
But what if the shepherd did not lead himself? He would not know where to take the sheep. He would not know when it was time to shear them, or when to move them to new pastures. Life would become bad for the sheep. The shepherd must first lead himself. I want to share four things that we must all do before we can hope to lead others, to lead our selves. First take responsibility. It is true that others have manipulated to us, lied to us, and treated us poorly. Circumstances might have been such that you have lived your life oppressed and always twenty steps behind the pack. But if you are to take leadership of your life you must start with yourself. Look at where you are now and take responsibility for how you are going to get to the next rung. Once I worked with a very attractive young lady who was unbelievably single. I wondered what was wrong with all of the young men of this generation that they were not spend their every effort to win the heart of this intelligent, fun and beautiful woman of character. One day I was sitting next to her at a meeting and I got my first clue. She smelled terrible. I thought wow. She has everything going from her but a little hygiene is stopping her from ultimate success. The meeting lasted for about an hour and we went our separate ways and my mind was spinning with this apparent miss in her development. However, I soon noticed that the smell was still there. It was then that I noticed that I had stepped in some dog doo on my way into the meeting. I was the one who stunk. Look at yourself first and quit blaming others for your lack of success. It is yours to win or lose. Secondly, live deliberately. For a short season I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I had quit my job believing that I could find another job easy enough. However, two weeks had gone by and not even a nibble. I lay around and watched TV all day. I guess that I was hoping that some employer would dial seven random numbers and call and I would be just what she was looking for in an employee. What do you think the odds of that working are? Right. Nada. To get a job I had to go get a newspaper (this was pre-internet days) and go out and hunt for the job. All of life is like that. I cannot sit on the couch and hope to get healthy. We cannot sleep away the day and hope to get smarter or wealthier or happier. It does not happen. We must wake up and go hunting for what we want. It won’t land in our lap without some effort. Leading yourself takes effort. Thirdly take risks. Every moment off your couch is a risk. You could step outside your door and be struck by lightning just moments before a bus driven by your ex girlfriend runs you over on the way to take the job that you just got fired from. All of that could happen. But you might also be the one millionth customers and get a lifetime of pizza at your favorite restaurant where the cute waiter suddenly falls for you head over heels and whose father is looking for an eligible young woman to lead his fortune 500 company. The point is that you never know what the day holds. Get off of the couch and explore. Consider setbacks as adventures and opportunities as motivation to keep going. Leading yourself requires risks. Finally, live for life. Leading yourself requires that you make it a lifestyle. We cannot choose to waver in the wind day after day. Rise up today and declare, ‘Today I am going to make my life, the life of my family and community better.’ All of this self leadership must be shared and utilized to enhance the world. You can change the world but it must start with yourself.
Get started today and lead yourself. Find your passions and strive to enhance yourself by taking responsibility, living deliberately, taking risks and living for life. Watch and act.”
With a prayer the group was dismissed. Most eagerly rushed out to catch a quick smoke before dinner, a small handful hung out hoping to talk the speaker into some special exception. Others wanted to learn more. Joanne just sat in her seat. She wondered what she could do to make her community better. She noticed some trash left behind by those that had just attended the chapel. One row at a time she straightened the Bibles and song books. She threw out any and all trash. Quietly, she went to the dining room.