I’m thinking about John the Baptist and some lessons we can learn from this faithful prophet. In these days of success driven ministry, leaders can fall prey to the seduction of power, popularity, and to abusing their access to extravagant resources. But with John, we see a man who stood the test of popularity and opportunity with a humble and faithful heart. We should pay close attention to this man that Jesus called one of the greatest ever born (Matthew 11). Here are some observations:

John was prepared. He prepared for a lifetime for a ministry that was at best 18 months before his arrest and imprisonment. His being prepared was not about duration of service but rather the impact of mission.

John was content with God’s limited plan for him. Limitations can be hard for decisive leaders. Though born of the High-Priestly line of Aaron on both his mother and father’s sides, and conceived through miraculous circumstances, he understood his role and was content to run in the lane God had planned for him with its predesigned boundaries.

John was secure in his identity in God. He contrasted these facts effectively and humbly: He knew that he was personally selected by God to prepare the way for the coming Messiah and was the first prophetic voice in over 400 years, yet he didn’t seize the opportunity to be something he was not, even though it was offered and suggested by those around him. He refused to try to live up to other people’s expectations for the sake of popularity or opportunity. When asked, “Are you the Messiah?”, he could have said, “Maybe” or “I might be”. But he held tightly to his clear and limited calling from God.

John was self-aware. He understood his medium, “I baptize with water”, and functioned well within it while understanding something better was coming. Instead of attacking it or becoming casually adversarial to what was new or different, he saw it as the next step in God’s redemptive plan.

John shared his influence. He threw his support behind the leader who would emerge with a ministry superior to his own and who would build on his ministry at what some would have suggested was his expense. John said of Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

John was transparent when he was weak. He was humble enough to ask for clarity in a moment of weakness and discouragement even after the tremendous highs of large crowds and fawning followers. (“Are you the one? Or should we look for another?”) Moments of discouragement come to us all. There is safety in seeking wise counsel and a confirming word; it doesn’t diminish your stature with God at all.