Author: Mark Roberts

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.

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Pay Attention to Yourself

Ephesians 5:15 invites us to what we in the De Pree Center have been calling “inner work.” Yes, we also should pay attention to our actions. But careful attention will look beneath what we do to what’s going on inside of us. It will examine our thoughts and feelings, our longings and losses, our hopes and fears, our hates and loves. 

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The Inner Work of Ash Wednesday

During the winter of my freshman year of college, I went into the dining hall for lunch. As usual, a half dozen women in official uniforms were standing behind the counter, ready to serve the students.

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Closeup of a foosball table

Inner Work and Team Leadership: A Personal Example

The example of Nehemiah encourages us to think about how we have done inner work that shapes our leadership. 

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The Inner Work of Leadership for ALPHA

ALPHA friends, Here is a PDF of the slide deck for the workshop I led in Miami. You can download it here. You should…

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Colorful ceramic letters spelling TEAM

Inner Work and Leading a Team

The book of Nehemiah shows that Nehemiah’s effectiveness as a leader wasn’t just a matter of skill or charisma. It was a result of the prayerful inner work he had done at the beginning of the story and continued to do as he was leading the people. There was something about Nehemiah that called forth a positive response from those who chose to follow him. Yes, it had to do with his vision and plan. But it also had to do with his character as a leader people wanted to follow. 

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The opening pages of the book of Nehemiah

The Inner Work of Leadership: The Case of Nehemiah

The book of Nehemiah portrays its central figure, Nehemiah, as a person who gets the job done. We might even say that he demonstrates a bias for action. But it’s essential to note that Nehemiah doesn’t act apart from doing the inner work of leadership. In fact, it would be accurate to say that his activity and success as a leader are founded on his intentional inner work. Moreover, as Nehemiah’s example reminds us, we often do this by setting aside time for an extended conversation with God in which we pour out our hearts and hopes without holding back. In Scripture, prayer is a crucial feature of deep inner work that leads to effective leadership. 

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Inner Work and the Third Third of Life

The third third of life is a perfect time for inner work. Or, to put it even more pointedly, inner work is essential for third third flourishing.

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A red hand on a "DON'T WALK" sign

Further Reflections on the Inner Work of Jesus

As we do the inner work required of leaders, the story of the temptation of Jesus reminds us of how Scripture makes such a difference. Not only does the Bible reveal to us who God is, who we are, and what we’re called to do, but it also helps us see into our own hearts and minds. When we face temptations that would take us away from our best work, God will help us do the inner work that enables us to clarify our true identity and calling. 

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A tree empty of leaves in the middle of the desert in Namibia

Inner Work as Preparation for Leadership: The Case of Jesus

When he was tempted by the devil, Jesus did what we would call “inner work.” In this case, the inner work of Jesus had to do with questions such as: _Who am I? What is my mission? How am I to act in light of my true identity?_ Though you and I won’t be working through questions like these as the fully human, fully divine Son of God, we do have to figure out who we are and what is our life’s purpose. Along the way, we often have to reject opportunities that, however tempting they may be, are not what God has for us to do.

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A brightly burning campfire

Inner Work as Preparation for Leadership: The Case of Moses

The story of Moses at the burning bush reminds us of something we have seen many times before in this _Life for Leaders _series on inner work. Yes, inner work is something we do. And, yes, it often happens when we are by ourselves, in a place to reflect thoughtfully and feel freely. But inner work is also something we do with God. We may never have an epiphany as astounding as a voice from a burning bush, but we are certainly welcomed and encouraged to invite God into our internal process. Moreover, it is often the case that we begin our inner work in response to God’s prior invitation. In conversation with God, we can reflect honestly upon our strengths and weaknesses. We can be honest about our fears and look to God for confidence and courage. Thus, our inner work helps us prepare for the leadership tasks that lay before us. 

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A man standing and praying with his head and arms against a row of lockers

The Sacrifice of Brokenness

It would be easy for us to assume that what we offer to God when we have sinned is not only our sorrow, but also our intention to do better. We might think, “If I promise that I won’t sin this way again, then God will forgive me.” But Psalm 51 offers quite a different perspective. Notice that the sacrifice acceptable to God is “a broken spirit, a broken and crushed heart.” We don’t come before God with our lives all put together. We don’t come even with our hopeful promises to do better in the future. Rather, we come in our brokenness and pain. We come acknowledging how messed up we are and, therefore, how desperate we are for God’s mercy and grace.

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A heart locket padlocked to a fence over a river

Inner Work and Inner Renewal

Psalm 51 reminds us that honest inner work will help us to see things in us that are not so pretty, things that need cleansing, and ways in which we need spiritual transformation. Inner work doesn’t focus only on such things, of course, but it mustn’t neglect them either. The good news is that God will help us, not only to identify ways in which sin has corrupted our hearts, but also to have our hearts renewed by God’s grace. 

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A woman sitting outside at a cafe working on a computer

Inner Work, Truth, and Wisdom

The “personal process of ongoing inner-work” isn’t something we do by ourselves. Psalm 51:6 reminds us that God teaches us wisdom in our secret hearts. Thus, on the one hand, God helps us to identify and root out false beliefs through a variety of means, including the study of Scripture, Christian community, reflection, prayer, and experience. On the other hand, God teaches us the truth about the world, ourselves, and God’s own nature. As this happens, God also gives us the wisdom to know how best to use this truth in our life and leadership. 

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A sign reading "Repent: Say Jesus I'm a Sinner Please Come Upon My Heart and In to My Body And All That I Am" on Salvation Mountain, Calipatria, United States

The Inner Work of Repentance and Self-Discovery

Psalm 51 provides a striking example of a certain kind of inner work. In this psalm we see David dealing, not only with his sinful actions, but also with his sinful heart. When we have done what is wrong, we have the opportunity to do the inner work of repentance and self-discovery. But this sort of work takes courage. The Spirit of God will help us to deal honestly with both our actions and our hearts.

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A crown suspended in midair

Will You Examine Your Heart?

King David was “a man after God’s own heart.” But even such a man can do wrong, and in 2 Samuel 11 David lets his lust and power take over, doing things that are horrible even to imagine. Though he planned to move on with his life as if nothing terrible had happened, God had other plans, sending the prophet Nathan to confront David. In the end, David admits that he sinned against the Lord. This story prepares us to dig into Psalm 51, which reveals the inner work David does of dealing honestly with himself and his sin. 

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