Leadership, throughout history, has called for men and women with characters of iron. Commonly, leaders become the targets of preconceived ideas, prejudice, evil surmising, projection, fears and envy. The Word is filled with stories of leaders who were misjudged, slandered, unjustly mistreated, envied and viciously attacked. Moses is a great example of a leader who lived his life under constant attack. His own people frequently misjudged him. Even his own blood-related siblings turned on him and challenged the legitimacy and authority of the leadership role he tried to dodge.
Why are leaders so often the focus of unremitting criticism? Well, embedded into the position of leadership are influence, position and prestige. Add to the list vision-casting power, decision-making power, and character and lifestyle expectations. Have you noticed our tendency to demonstrate tolerance, leniency, patience and grace with non-leaders? Sadly, when one is assigned a leadership position, the degree of grace, patience and tolerance drastically declines. You are called to a higher standard, to moral choices that rise above the masses. Christian leaders are not only expected to be exemplary role models; they are too often expected to be perfect.
The perpetual expectation of perfection is emotionally-spiritually debilitating and can drain the leader’s morale. When people complained to Moses about the lack of variety in their desert menu, they were unashamed in boldly expressing how uninteresting and insipid the heavenly manna seemed to them after having dined on Egypt’s “fish, the cucumbers, the melons, leeks, the onions and garlic” (Numbers 11:5). They went as far as to express that they felt “dried up”. The Message version gives an interesting rendering of this passage: “The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, ‘Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free! —to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.’” (Num. 11:4-6; The Message)
Moses felt so disappointed with their negative mindsets and ungrateful spirits that he “Said to the Lord, ‘Why have you afflicted your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight that you have laid the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I beget them that you should say to me, ‘carry them in your bosom, as a guardian carries a nursing child, to the land which you swore to their fathers?’ . . . I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now—if I have found favor in Your sight—and do not let me see my wretchedness.” (Num. 11:11-15, emphasis supplied). Can you detect Moses’ desperation? Can you hear his anguish, helplessness and hopelessness? His emotional state is in such a disarray that he is feeling wretched, worthless and grimly inadequate. Does any of this sound familiar?
Often, many leaders don’t even get a break from their own families when what they need most, is to get a respite of peace and tranquility in the midst of their personal battle. It is deeply stressful and painful to feel you are waging war with your spouse, children, and or extended family members, as you try to fulfill your God-given mission. In Moses’ case, even his own sister and brother were conduits of evil surmising against him. They had convinced themselves that there wasn’t anything that made Moses more special or particularly gifted that qualified him to rank higher than themselves or gave him the authority to wield so much power over the escaped nation. The siblings’ leadership envy seemed to be getting the best of them: “Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married. So, they said, ‘Has the Lord indeed spoke only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?’” (Num. 12:1).
Have you ever been there? Your people are against you. Your own family is against you; and it appears that even the Lord is against you? Leadership is not for cowards! I suspect you have heard a variation of this accurate statement. We all know very well that volume of responsibilities and accountability we carry, coupled with our human brokenness, can result at times in our feeling that the leadership load is just too much, that God is not taking care of you or that perhaps He doesn’t even care! So why bother even trying to continue . . .?
I am assuming that Isaiah’s “leadership moment” was no less trying than Moses’s was. During this period of deepest angst, Isaiah was given the leadership task of speaking prophetic words to God’s people even as an attack and occupation from the Syrian armies was frighteningly imminent. Would he be able to muster up the fearless courage to invite them to trust in God, even in the midst of national devastation? Or, might he instead choose to shirk his God-appointed mission which was intended to avert his people from giving themselves over to dark dissolution and debilitating despair? Isaiah was called in a time of crisis to share a salvific message of hope, healing, and victory. His message echoes with the familiarity of the Good News Gospel message that we are invited to share with a more modern culture, also doomed for destruction, unless they choose to believe in Jesus’ salvific message.
Amid this time of turmoil, God’s people, and even the prophetic voice himself, needed the promised divine reassurance that they would be protected and saved. And healing reassurance is indeed what they received from the Lord: “You are my servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isa. 41:9-10).
These are our realities as Spiritual leaders in this increasingly turbulent world:
1. We are not serving a human. No human extended our call. We are God’s servants, called by Him alone.
2. The Master-King chose us (period). He did not choose us because we had an influential last name or a family tree in great favor with God. It could be that He choose to call us precisely because we had no social or genetic pedigree to qualify us to be His #1 pick.
3. God has not cast us away, even when our feelings suggest otherwise. Thus, we are still part of His team. Paul reassures us, “we are accepted in the beloved” today. (Eph. 1:6). Hard times and trials have never been a sign that God has abandoned us. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed from every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”(2 Cor. 7:7-10).
4. We are invited to “fear not” for He is with us. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the soul-destroying trap of hopeless despair; for we are not alone.
5. Now comes the best part, it happens every time God intercepts the human experience, “I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isa. 41:10
Moses and Isaiah were upheld. Some synonyms for uphold are: support, sustain, defend, endorse. Moses was given 70 elders, with the same courageous spirit he personified to assist him with the great responsibility of leading the motley group of former slaves to the Promised Land. Isaiah was told: “Behold all those who were incensed against you shall be ashamed and disgraced; they shall be as nothing, and those who strive with you shall perish. You shall seek them and not find them—Those who contended with you, those who war against you shall be as nothing, as a nonexistent thing. For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘fear not, I will help you.” (Isa. 41:11-13).
I can remember that as a young boy, I would walk to the park in front of my home hoping to get a chance to play baseball. Once there was a group of boys large enough to form two teams, two leaders were chosen; one would toss the bat to the other and proceeded to take turns wrapping their small fists around the bat intermittently until the one who was able to grasp the very end of the bat, would get the yearned for, first pick. The two leaders would continue to take turns choosing players. For me, these were high anxiety producing moments. Furthermore, this process became more and more difficult as the number of players needed for each team would near completion. I would remain very still on the outside, while my insides were desperately hoping I would be someone’s pick. Well, sometimes I got lucky and was picked. I would have a grand time playing ball. Other times, I was left standing on the sidelines because other boys were better players than I was.
I have good news for you. Abba has picked you to be a Spiritual leader at this precise time in human history. The Gospel Mission needs to move on, people need to be inspired and encouraged. Our Adventist movement is in dire need of Spiritual leaders with Spirit-fueled, principled back bone to lead, inspire, motivate, envision and radically impact individuals and communities hungering and thirsting for that something that no amount of status, money, education or possessions can satisfy. You have called by the I AM. You are not alone. The Lord is with you He will help you, strengthen you and uphold you ALL the way, until the victorious end. Cheer up, you have been picked to play in the game! Not because you are the best hitter or because your pitch is a bomb, but because HE has a divine purpose, plan and mission that you need to fulfill!
César De León is Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference