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God Uses Leaders

imgresPsalm 77 and Psalm 78 have something in common that you may have never noticed before. They both end with a declaration of God leading His people by means of chosen leaders. Both Psalms are attributed to Asaph, most likely a member of the priestly line of Levite who was also a part of the temple singers. The Psalms are Hebrew poetry and often could be sung as a way of instructing the people and as a form of praise back to God.

Psalm 77 depicts a person in trouble. His sorrow seems unable to be comforted. He turns to remembering God’s past deeds as hope towards present deliverance. Ultimately he recounts God’s mighty actions in saving the Israelite nation from the Egyptians as they passed through the Red Sea. The Red Sea experience is a climatic moment for the nation of Israel. It is referenced often throughout the Old Testament. But notice how it ends.

Verses 19-20 state, “Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

With their backs against the Red Sea and the Egyptians baring down on them, they were struggling to discern the path by which God would lead them. God chose to use two leaders to provide the way. Moses and Aaron were the human instruments of deliverance. They were the ones who made clear the way and will of God in the midst of desperate circumstances.

Psalm 78 also recounts a portion of Israel’s history in the Old Testament. It reveals the gracious dealings of God and the resulting acts of unfaithfulness on behalf of israel. This Psalm also makes reference to the Red Sea experience. But it takes Israel’s history a step further in recounting the provision of the Promised Land. Yet, Israel continued in her rebellion and sin. God used the surrounding nations as prods to call Israel to repentance. Ultimately we see God’s grace in abundance again as He chooses to deliver Israel from her intruders by way of a human leader.

Verses 70-72 say, “He chose David his servant and took his from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.”

There is much we could ruminate on in both of these Psalms related to leadership. Sometimes God acts unilaterally. Most of the time He uses leaders. When Israel was in need of great deliverance, God used leaders to make his will known and his rescue sure. When Israel was hopeless, God used leaders to advance his salvation history and point his people toward a certain future. It has always been this way. God constantly chooses leaders, both great and small, known and unknown, to advance His kingdom and bring hope to His people. Take heart in that He wants to use even you and me.

A Leader’s Prayer-Psalm 61

UnknownDavid was the greatest king Israel ever had.

He was the second king of Israel and not only expanded her territory, but brought a sustainable peace. David was a great warrior, demonstrated early on by his defeat of Goliath. It was sung among the people that “Saul had struck his thousands and David his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7)

Yet David was not without difficult times or controversy. There was a point in time when David shirked his kingly duties, committed adultery, and murder by proxy. Still, the New Testament records him as “a man after God’s own heart.”

David’s repentance set him apart from Israel’s other kings.

In Psalm 61, David cries out to God as only a leader can and should. Many scholars believe that David penned this psalm during the time that his son Absalom usurped the throne. This put David on the run, away from Jerusalem and away from the tabernacle of God’s presence. We can divide the psalm into two parts. Both represent David’s dependence upon God. Both demonstrate a spiritual leader’s need to be anchored in God.

Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!

So will I ever sing praises to your name,
as I perform my vows day after day.

David Finds His Hope In God  Verses 1-4 reveal David’s desperate plea to be led by God. How profound. A leader seeing his need to be led. David, in the midst of anarchy, cries out to God in desperation. He literally says that his heart is faint. David, in a very intense fashion, pleads with God to be his security-his rock, his strong tower. He declares that God is his hope, his refuge. Even though he is on the run, in peril from his own son, he finds his hope in God, the only surety that he has. Hope is always forward looking. Real hope must be anchored in the God who controls it all. Otherwise, our leadership trials and difficulties make no sense. Our heart will become faint, fragile. We need the rock that is higher than us, who will comfort us with his presence and shelter us with his tender care. Our titles and success provide us with no sure foundation of hope. Only a God who higher than we can be a viable hope.

David Finds His Source In God  Verses 5-8 show David’s understanding that only God can bring him through these difficult times. David recognizes that his leadership success comes from God. He recognizes too that the very people he leads belong to God. David asks for more life and he asks for a longer reign. He understands that it is only God’s unmerited love and faithfulness that will see him through. David, through vows of prayer, will offer up praise to God as a right response to His character being displayed for the future of Israel. David sees himself as just a servant, a steward on duty for the sake of salvation history. So are all of us who seek to lead in His name. If our source is anything or anyone else, we will be left destitute and surely disappointed. But if we are able to sing His praises, we will find the strength to fulfill our prayerful vows unto Him and for His glory.

What is your prayer today?

A Paradigm Leader

imagesA “paradigm” is an example, a model, or a framework.

There are two paradigm leaders when you read about the kings of Israel in the Old Testament. One is David and the other is Jeroboam. After the death of Solomon, Israel becomes divided into two kingdoms, north and south. Jeroboam becomes the 1st king of the northern tribes, which retains the name of Israel. Rehoboam becomes the king of the southern tribes, which is known as Judah. As the biblical storyline plays out, there are no righteous kings in the north and every king is compared to Jeroboam. There is a mix of good and bad kings in the south, and every king is compared to David. But notice the tag lines. For those compared to Jeroboam it reads, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the ways of Jeroboam.” That is not the moniker you want. For those who were compared to David it reads, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done.” That would obviously be the preferable title.

What makes the difference between these two paradigms?

We know from reading all the biblical evidence that David was not a perfect king. He committed adultery, lied, and had his general murder one of his mighty men. He certainly sinned in big ways. Yet the New Testament calls him “a man after God’s own heart.” Jeroboam is not even mentioned in the New Testament. Therefore, we can assume that while David is memorialized as a paradigm king for good, Jeroboam is conversely memorialized as paradigm king for bad. But again, why the distinction? I think it boils down to two things.

God reserves the harshest judgment for kings that succumb to idolatry, and never repent.

God forgives the king who recognizes, confesses, and repents of his sin.

The primary sin of the northern kings is that they chased after other gods and abandoned the God of Israel. While David did sin greatly, once he was confronted by Nathan the prophet, he confessed his sin and changed his heart attitude concerning his sin. We see this clearly in 2 Samuel 12 and Psalm 51. This action of repentance did not erase all of the consequences of David’s sin. But his heart had turned back to the Lord. His humble attitude of repentance over his sin allowed him to be called a man after God’s own heart–and leave a lasting paradigm for leadership.

What example do you want to set?

What model do you want others to follow?

What pattern do you want to establish for emerging leaders behind you?

There is mercy and grace for the leader who can humble himself and repent of his sin. An impact can still be had. A good legacy can still be maintained. But only if we follow the paradigm of King David.

What are your thoughts?

Profile in Leadership: Abigail

250px-Antonio_Molinari_David_y_AbigailIn 1 Samuel 25 there is an intriguing story about a woman who exhibits great courage and leadership.

David, the would be 2nd king of Israel, is on the run from Saul, the reigning 1st king of Israel. Rightfully, David should already be on the throne, but Saul will not relinquish his seat of power. As a matter of fact, Saul is doing all that he can to kill David. So David is running and hiding from place to place trying to evade Saul and wait on God’s sovereign timing to assume the throne. While David is hiding in the wilderness, he provides protection to a band of shepherds who are tending the sheep of a very rich man. When David and his men become hungry, he sends a delegation to this wealthy man to request food.  The man, Nabal, refuses to provide anything for David and his men. In his arrogance, Nabal refuses to recognize the protection that David has afforded the shepherds. And he also fails to recognize David’s plight, but instead accuses David of being a runaway slave. David decides to take action and intends to slaughter Nabal, his household, and all of his servants. This is where Abigail, the wife of Nabal, steps in. One of Nabal’s servants reports to Abigail the foolish decision made by her husband.

In these circumstances we see three character traits that would serve any leader well in pressing circumstances.

1. The inclination to take action.  Leadership is influence. But leadership is also active, not passive.  Leadership clearly sees the situation at hand, determines a course of action, and moves ahead properly. Abigail decides to intercept David and his troops and offer them the provisions that Nabal withheld. There is no way that she could be sure of the outcome. A woman trying to stop a king bent on vengeance usually does not stand a chance. But she threw off convention and cultural custom to intervene on behalf of a foolish husband and his household. This was bold action.

2. The ability to demonstrate sincere humility.  Humility leads to boldness and pride often lives in fear. It not only takes a clear sense of the situation for a leader to act, but it also requires a great sense of knowing who you are, and who you are not, to be able to act correctly. Abigail confronts David and his men on the road. When she does, she immediately falls down before David on her face in a powerful demonstration of humility and reverence for David. She clearly understands the possible consequences that confront her, unlike her husband, Nabal. She knows the protection that David and his men have provided for the shepherds of Nabal. And she rightly knows the nature of her husband’s folly. But rather than flee and save only herself, she pursues David, and out of humility seeks his favor.

3. The fortitude to claim corporate responsibility.  Good leaders take responsibility. Good leaders take responsibility for mistakes made and give credit for successes gained. Before David even has time to address Abigail, she claims corporate responsibility for the sin of her husband and asks for forgiveness. Abigail was completely ignorant of Nabal’s folly when it occurred. She wasn’t to blame. But one person stood in the place of a whole household to seek salvation. Sound familiar?

The end result is that David relents of his quest for revenge because of the courage and leadership of Abigail. David views Abigail’s intervention as divine and grasps the nature of her substitutionary act. He realizes that Abigail has kept him from committing a transgression himself. When Nabal finally dies, David remembers Abigail and makes provision for her by taking her as his wife. This was an act of generosity on David’s part since a widow in the Ancient Near East would have had no way to provide for herself. One strong act of kindness was met by another.

Abigail took bold action, with great humility, and corporate responsibility.
Abigail stands as a representative of leadership traits we should all imitate.
By the way, Nabal’s very name means “fool.”  Let us lead like Abigail!

A Leader’s Prayer-Psalm 101

David-Psalm101-Leader-Prayer

Dennis Hill on Flickr

The book of Psalms found in the Bible is a collection of poems. It is Hebrew poetry. The individual psalms were often sung and recited as prayers or praise to God. Most of the Psalms found in the Bible are penned by King David of Israel. Psalm 101 is one such poem. It is a brief psalm, only eight verses long.

David addresses his poem of prayer to Yahweh. In the opening four verses he makes five declarations. Each declaration begins with the phrase “I will . . . ” David as a leader is taking a stand before God as to the type of leader he wants to be. But don’t forget that this is a prayer also. While David is declaring his intent he is also trusting in the steadfast love of God and the justice of God to make this true of him (see v.1).  These are prayer declarations. David is committing himself to lead with integrity. Look at the declarations below.

I will sing of steadfast love and justice

I will ponder the way that is blameless

I will walk with integrity of heart within my house

I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless

I will know nothing of evil

I would suggest that we as leaders pray the same declarations before God today. We can’t make these come true in our own strength. We need the grace of the gospel that is in Jesus Christ. Thus, why we pray. Prayer is always an act of dependence. But if the above declarations were becoming more true each day of you and I, think of the difference it would make in our leadership-and the blessing it would be to those we influence.

Lead well!

A Leader’s Prayer-Psalm 5

medium_1795109345King David in the Bible faced many leadership challenges. Some were outside his control and some were a direct result of his personal sin. We do not know the exact circumstances that surround Psalm 5, but it is clear that David feels some anguish and senses his need for divine help.

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
    consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
    my King and my God,
    for to you do I pray.

David is expressing an attitude of heart as well as a petition. He groans and he cries out. Notice that David calls the Lord “my King and my God.” David rightfully acknowledges his own dependence and submission as he calls upon Yahweh. Certainly David is facing threats from those who are less than reputable. He speaks of these opponents as “bloodthirsty and deceitful men.” What is the essence of David’s prayer?  We find it in verse eight.

Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
    because of my enemies;
     make your way straight before me.

David the leader prays to be led. He prays for God’s righteousness to prevail and for straight paths. David is crying our for clarity and for vindication. He looks not to his own resources but to God alone.

When we as leaders are faced with half-truths and deceptive practices we must also rely upon the One who controls it all.

When we may be tempted to grab control and retaliate we must lean on the One who deeply understands and is able to act on our behalf.  

David concludes this Psalm by pointing to God’s protection and blessing. David the king places his trust in the King of Kings. This is a leader’s prayer.

Can we do any less?

(photo credit)

Recalibrating Hope & Glory

Two weeks ago I took a three day retreat to get away and rest.  I try and do this on a regular basis-at least yearly.  I think this is useful for any of us, regardless of our role.  But I think this is especially important in the life of a leader.  Leaders live busy lives and are in constant danger of either believing their own press toward their successes or being completely overwhelmed by their problems.  For the leader leading in God’s kingdom there is always the problem of burnout-usually some combination of being under “relationshiped” and over taxed.  The subtle contributing causes and/or consequences are wrongly placed hope and misdirected glory.

In Psalm 3, David, the great King of Israel, is describing through song the flight of his life.  More disconcerting, he is fleeing from his son Absalom.  This takes us back to 2 Samuel 15 where we recount the narrative that drives this Psalm.  David has made his great error of having an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and directing the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah.  Even though David repents of his sin, the consequences of his selfish actions continue.  The kingdom is beginning to unravel and his son seeks to usurp the throne.  Absalom is certainly one of David’s favorite sons.  The glory of any king is the love of his family and the love and honor of the people of his kingdom.  David had tasted all that and more prior to committing his sin with Bathsheba.  Now he was running for his life and the disparaging comments of others.  At some point prior to chasing after Bathsheba, David had traded kingdoms.  He had decided to put more stock in his own estimation of life and pleasure and pursue his own glory over and above Yahweh’s.  But in verses 3-8 we see David recalibrating his hope and glory.  He declares God to be “my glory, and the lifter of my head.”  He cries out to God.  He rests.  The Lord sustains him, and his courage and vigor return.  He ends the Psalm by rightly declaring that it is Yahweh who is his salvation and that the people are Yahweh’s people.  David regains perspective.

That is what slowing down and retreating will do for you.  I find it takes a whole day just for the noise of everyday living and leading to go away.  Then in the next couple of days I can begin to see where I have misplaced my hope and tarnished His glory.  Finally, by His grace, I can recalibrate.  I can freshly surrender.  I can place my full hope back in Him.  I can reorient my life and leadership towards His glory over mine.  This takes time.  This takes solitude. This takes crying out to God for His presence.  This takes thoughtful reflection.  This takes the generous ministry of the Holy Spirit to saddle up beside you to prod, pull, nudge, tug, convict, renew, and restore.  The personal retreat in the life of a leader becomes a re-starting point-a recalibrating point-so that he or she can return to the battle with fresh energy and a renewed sense of the greatness of God.  Every leader who  leads in God’s kingdom needs periodic recalibration so he or she can lead with rightly placed hope and for God’s glory.

As you begin 2012 plan your personal retreat right now!