Leadership Lifter – Principles of Leadership: Meditation and Relaxation

by Rick Warren

For the past few months we have been looking at Principles of Leadership from Jesus. This month, I will wrap up our discussion with the principles of Meditation and Relaxation.


Meditation is listening to God. Listening to God continually and throughout your day. Make listening to God a habit of your life.

The Bible tells us in Mark 1:35, “Very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place where He prayed (NIV).” We think prayer is talking to God. But that’s only half-right. Prayer is conversation. And in a conversation you both talk and listen. What if you had a conversation with a friend and you did all the talking and they never talked back? Or they did all the talking and you never talked back? That wouldn’t be called a conversation. That’s a monologue.

You hear about people who pray thirty minutes a day. You think, “How do they do that? I run out of stuff to say after ten seconds. What do I say?” How about this? Talk to God for ten minutes then sit still and be quiet for the next twenty. Some of you are frightened by silence. Perhaps you have never sat still for twenty minutes in total silence. In our world, it is a rare moment when we do not have radio or television playing, even it is in only background noise. How many of us listen to music on our computers while we work? Silence is rare. When we fill our world with noise we can’t hear what God wants to say.

We use the excuse of busyness. We just don’t have the time to get alone and sit in silence. I think we would all agree, though, Jesus was pretty busy. No matter how busy He was, He always took the time for solitary meditation. That verse from Mark tells us Jesus went to a solitary place to pray. If you are a leader, you will have people surrounding you, always wanting something from you. That is the definition of leadership. You can’t lead without being around people. But you also need time away from people. I find that the bigger Saddleback gets, the more I love solitude. The truth is you need both. You need time with people and you need time alone. Alone with God.

Luke 5:15-16 tells us, “Now news about Jesus spread even more and crowds came to hear Him and to be healed. But Jesus often slipped away to be alone so that He could pray (NCV).” Jesus was in the habit of slipping away from the crowds to pray alone with God. If Jesus felt the need to get alone and listen to God, don’t you think that you need to? You need quiet times to reflect, to renew to recharge. Pascal said, “All of man’s problems come from his inability to sit still.” That’s true. Psalm 46 God says “Be still and know that I am God.” You can’t know God unless you be still.

If you are always moving and you are always busy and you are always listening to something, you are making it more difficult for God to speak to you. Noise can be a source of stress. Look for ways to quiet the noise in your life and listen to God. You need time to just get alone and be quiet and listen to God.

Many, many times, several times a week I will pray a three-word prayer. It’s often in the middle of the day. I’ll just stop, pause, and say this: “Lord, what’s next?” Three words. That’s all I pray. Then I just stop and I listen. I listen to God and just be quiet. Sometimes an idea or inspiration will pop into my mind. Then I’ll go and act on it. Sometimes nothing happens. When nothing happens, I just go on with my planned schedule for that day. But I give God the opportunity to rearrange it. I ask, “Lord, what’s next?”

As a leader you want to ask, What’s next? What’s next for my family? What’s next for my business? God, what do You want to do next in our church? What do You want to do next with my small group? What do you want to next with the Small Group Ministry? What do You want to do next in this relationship that I’m in? You give God the opportunity to give you advice. And you provide the silence to listen and meditate on His answer.

I have never heard God speak verbally – out loud. He doesn’t need to. He goes directly to my mind. When the devil speaks to you, he puts an idea in your mind and we call it temptation. When God speaks to you, He puts an idea in your mind, and we call it inspiration. That’s what inspiration is, God speaking into your mind.

Colossians 2:7 says this “Plant your roots in Christ. Let Him be the foundation for your life. [And, by the way, the foundation for your leadership] Be strong in your faith just as you were taught (CEV)”. This is the foundation of good leadership. You can’t lead like Jesus until you know Jesus personally. You can’t know Jesus personally unless you spend time alone with Him.

The single greatest source of stress in your life is when you get disconnected from God. Anytime throughout my day when I get disconnected from God, there’s always a warning sign. It’s called stress. Stress is the warning light that at that moment in my life I’m disconnected from God. And I need to get reconnected. Stress is the sign that says “Hello! You’re out of contact with God at this moment. You’re not walking in the Spirit. You’re walking on thin ice. You’re not connected to the source.” When I get disconnected I get angry and cantankerous. I get irritable. It creates all kinds of problems like fear and worry and shame and guilt and loneliness and bitterness.

If you’ve never opened your life to Christ you need to do it today. That’s the starting point. We can’t help you become the leader that Jesus needs you to be if you don’t have Jesus in your life. So you say, “God, I don’t understand it all but today I want to open my life to You. I’m saying yes.” Let me tell you what a Christian is. A Christian is giving as much of myself as I understand, to as much of Jesus Christ as I understand, at this point in my life. That’s what it means to be a Christian. Giving as much of myself as I understand to as much of Jesus Christ as I understand at this point in my life.

Whether you’ve been a leader for 25 years or this is your first year in leadership, I invite you to follow me in this prayer. In your mind just say, “God, I want You to use me. I want to make a difference with My life. I want to influence others instead of being influenced. I want to become the leader that You want me to be. Help me to know who You made me to be, who I am. Help me to clarify what You want to accomplish with my life. Help me to focus on pleasing You and not worry about everybody else. I want my life to bring glory to You, Lord. Help me to work with our small groups, to build a team, to not try to do it all on my own. God, help me to focus on what’s important. Forgive me for the times I get distracted. Teach me to listen to You, continually through my day, to pause, to take a minute and just listen to You. I want You to be the foundation of my life. I want to plant my roots in You.”

To be an effective leader, you must not only give direction, but you must take direction – from God.


There’s one more very, very important principle of leadership we can learn from Jesus. It’s a fun one. It’s the principle of relaxation, which means take time to recharge.

Take time to recharge. Why? Because leadership is draining. Leadership is hard work. And leadership means you have to, in the long haul, take time to recharge.

Mark 6:31 says this “Crowds of people were coming and going so that they [that’s the disciples] did not even have time to eat [that’s pretty busy!] He said to them, ‘ Come away by yourselves and we’ll go to a lonely place to get some rest’” (NCV). Jesus looks at the disciples. They’d been ministering. They’re tired. He says, “Fellows, you deserve a break today!” He says, “I want to take you out.” I love the King James Version. It says, “Come ye apart for to rest.” If you don’t come apart to rest occasionally you’re going to come apart.

Rest and recreation are never wastes of time. They’re so important that God put them in the Big Ten. I’m talking about the Ten Commandments. The Fourth commandment says this: Every seventh day you take a day off. God wired the human being on a six-day cycle. He says I want you to work six days and on the seventh day you take a day off. He said this is so important He puts it right up there with Don’t murder anybody and Don’t commit adultery. You would never think of murdering anybody. You’d never think of committing adultery. But leaders violate the fourth commandment, and I do too, all the time. Because what you do is on your day off you end up catching up on work that needs to be done. That’s not rest. That’s work. God says every seventh day you take a day off. My day off is Monday. Monday night we do something fun. It is important, but I have to build it into my schedule or I won’t do it.

Jesus modeled this. Matthew 11:19 says, “But the Son of man goes around eating and drinking…” (CEV). The original Greek tells us the Pharisees were accusing Him saying that Jesus was a glutton and a wine bibber – a glutton and a drunk. The worst thing that the Pharisees could accuse Jesus of was that this guy was a party animal. Why? Because Jesus knew life was meant to be enjoyed, not just endured.

As a leader you will carry the load of your leadership. But that doesn’t mean you walk around all the time frowning. You are to enjoy life, not just endure it. Take time to recharge just like Jesus did. He served and He pulled back. He had times of rest.

Kay and I have learned this the hard way. If we don’t schedule time to recharge, we never will rest. There will always be something more urgent and more pressing. Have you discovered this to be true? If we both know that we are facing a particularly busy week, we might schedule a three-day get away after the busy week. But we have to schedule that ahead of time or something else will come up and steal that time.

Years ago I learned a little formula that is the key to lasting in leadership. It’s this: Divert Daily, Withdraw Weekly, Abandon Annually.

Divert Daily means every day you do something fun. I don’t care what it is. Just do something. Get a hobby. You want to paint, play the piano, sing, go shoot some hoops, work out, go work in your garden, or wrestle with your kids. Whatever relaxes you. Different things relax people differently. You need to have a little bit of fun every day in your life. Divert daily.

Withdraw Weekly. Take a day off every week to relax and restore. Turn off your phone and don’t check your email.

Abandon Annually. Go away once a year for an extended period of time like a week or two. Don’t give work a thought. Abandon yourself to the moments of rest and relaxation.

As you continue on your journey as a leader, look to Jesus for principles of leadership. Your ministry is not larger than His, or more demanding, or more time consuming. He meditated on direction from His father. He took time to rest and relax. If you want to be an effective leader, not just for today or this year, but for the long haul, you must do the same. As you lead, follow His lead.

Rick Warren is the author of internationally best-selling books such as The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church. He is also Founding Pastor of Saddleback Church.

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