Leadership advice for Advent and all the days that follow

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Leadership advice for Advent and all the days that follow

November 29, 2022 - Jim Denison, PhD

Eight wooden pawn pieces form a circle, casting a singular shadow of a crown onto a white background. © By ronstik/stock.adobe.com

Eight wooden pawn pieces form a circle, casting a singular shadow of a crown onto a white background

Eight wooden pawn pieces form a circle, casting a singular shadow of a crown onto a white background. © By ronstik/stock.adobe.com

When I was pastoring in Atlanta, the Holy Spirit moved in an especially powerful way one Sunday morning. The next day, our worship planning team was meeting. I commented on the anointing on the service the previous day and asked what we needed to do to experience God’s power in such a remarkable way again.

A dear friend on our team smiled and said to me, “Jim, it’s not about us.”

He could not have been more right.

As you move into the busy, hectic, pressured days of Advent and Christmas, these are words to remember. Even though the crowds may be larger than normal and the schedule more pressured, it’s not about us. Even though we’re tempted to try to impress those who come to hear us (especially those who come only at Christmas and Easter), it’s not about us.

Every day of Advent, we need to take time to remember the real reason for the season.

And we need to remind ourselves: it’s not about us.

To that end, I’ll tell two stories today.

Abraham Lincoln’s “eternal truth”

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln was chosen by the Republican State Convention of Illinois to be their candidate for the US Senate. In response, he delivered what has become known to history as the “House Divided” speech. Though judged radical at the time and widely blamed for his subsequent loss to Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, it also defined the cause which eventually made him president.

His law partner William H. Herndon said of the speech, “Lincoln as a statesman and political philosopher announced an eternal truth—not only as broad as America, but cover[ing] the world.”

In his address, Lincoln boldly proclaimed that “this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free” and quoted Jesus’ warning, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25).

His prophetic address began, “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it” (his emphases).

Our nation’s greatest president understood leadership in a way we would do well to embrace today.

“Where we are and whither we are tending”

In 1 Chronicles 14 we find David newly enthroned over the Jewish nation. Note this inspired observation: “David knew that the Lᴏʀᴅ had established him as king over Israel, and that his kingdom was highly exalted for the sake of his people Israel” (v. 2).

David knew the source of his authority: “the Lᴏʀᴅ had established him as king.” From the time Samuel selected him to be Israel’s next ruler (1 Samuel 16:1–13) to this moment, David had known that his reign was by the providential purpose and hand of the Lord.

And David knew the purpose of his authority: “His kingdom was highly exalted for the sake of his people Israel” (1 Chronicles 14:2b). His leadership was in the service of the people he led. He was a means to their end; they were not a means to his.

When we face the inevitable challenges of pastoral leadership, it is vital that we remember the source and purpose of our calling. Know where you are, as Mr. Lincoln suggested: you are serving in your ministry at the providential direction of your Lord. Know whither you are tending: your ministry exists to serve your Lord by serving your people.

On this basis, you can “better judge what to do, and how to do it”: do what most honors your Lord and most serves his church.

What does this mean in practical terms?

“David again inquired of God”

As David’s rule began, “the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel,” so “all the Philistines went up to search for David” (1 Chronicles 14:8). When the Philistines “made a raid in the Valley of Rephaim” (v. 9), “David inquired of God, ‘Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?’” (v. 10a). The Lord assured him that he would (v. 10b), so David attacked his enemies and defeated them.

However, “the Philistines yet again made a raid in the valley” (v. 13). This time, “when David again inquired of God, God said to him, ‘You shall not go up after them; go around and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then go out to battle, for God has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines’” (vv. 14–15).

Once again, “David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army from Gibeon to Gezer” (v. 16). With this result: “And the fame of David went out into all the lands, and the Lᴏʀᴅ brought the fear of him upon all nations” (v. 17).

The key was that David continually “inquired of God.” He did not assume that yesterday’s guidance was sufficient for today’s challenges. He knew that the Lord has a will for every need and that it is vital to seek and follow his leading for every battle as it arises.

Because he knew that he served at God’s command for the sake of God’s people, he was free to seek God’s leadership and to trust God’s purposes.

It’s not about us

Abraham Lincoln and King David both knew what we’re discussing today: it’s not about us. If we serve the One who called us by serving those we are called to serve, our omniscient and omnipotent Lord will lead us through every battle and redeem every challenge.

So let’s remember “where we are, and whither we are tending” so we can “better judge what to do, and how to do it.” Then let’s do what we are called to do as God calls us and as he empowers us.

Once more, let’s agree together for Christmas and all the days that follow: it’s not about us.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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