There are an estimated 115,000 weddings per day around the world, but one that occurred yesterday is making global headlines this morning. Here’s why: the bride wore fatigues, the groom wore a helmet, and the wedding party carried rifles and RPGs. Their wedding took place next to a military checkpoint in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Kyiv’s mayor attended the ceremony and noted that a week ago, the couple were “normal people” with no plans to carry weapons. Now “they want to defend our city together.”
This courageous couple is simply following their president’s example.
Andriy Yermak is head of the Presidential Office of Ukraine. He recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he stated, “I am writing this appeal from a bunker in the capital, with President Volodymyr Zelensky by my side. For a week, Russian bombs have fallen overhead. Despite the constant barrage of Russian fire, we stand firm and united in our resolve to defeat the invaders. We will fight to the last breath to protect our country.”
Rep. John Garamendi, a senior member of the House of Representatives armed services committee, spoke with Mr. Zelensky on Saturday and said later, “He knows that he is at the top of the kill list, and he knows that his life is in jeopardy, but he has pushed that aside to lead this nation.” Rep. Garamendi called him “an incredible man of courage and leadership.”
“The face of Ukrainian resilience”
An article in the New Yorker by David Remnick is headlined, “Volodymyr Zelensky leads the defense of Ukraine with his voice.” Remnick describes Mr. Zelensky as having “assumed the role of Winston Churchill.”
Michael Blake, a political philosopher at the University of Washington, notes that “whatever happens in the coming weeks,” the president “will go down as the face of Ukrainian resilience during the Russian invasion of his country.” He contrasts Mr. Zelensky’s everyman story with Vladimir Putin’s carefully cultivated “strongman” persona. In his opinion, Mr. Zelensky’s appeal resides largely in “the most central lesson of democratic politics—that our leaders are no better, morally speaking, than those they lead.”
In a Western secular sense, Dr. Blake is absolutely correct. America’s founding document, for example, rejects the monarchy of our mother country for the assertion that “all men are created equal.” There’s a reason our presidential candidates appear at state fairs and town hall gatherings across the country.
When they succeed, we feel that we have all succeeded. If someone can do something, Americans think we can do it. This Western focus on the individual stands in contrast to the stratified cultural classes of Europe, the class-centric ideology of Marxism, the caste system that still exists in many ways in India, and the tsarist and emperor-driven historical narratives of Russia and China.
Mr. Zelensky is especially emblematic of this anyone-can-be-someone ethos. I wrote a biography of him for our website last Friday in which I chronicled his unlikely rise from improvisational comedy, television, and movie roles to president of his nation.
“Struggling with all his energy”
Offering the world a transformational example they can follow is a biblical model as well, but with an important caveat.
Paul encouraged the Philippians, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9, my emphasis). It was not enough for the apostle to have taught them what they should practice—he showed them by his personal example that they could do so.
But here’s what makes the biblical leadership-by-example ethos different from the secular modeling Dr. Blake and others are celebrating with regard to Volodymyr Zelensky’s courageous leadership: Christians know that the most powerful source of character and courage does not lie within us.
Paul testified, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29, my emphasis). He embraced his Father’s assurance, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) and could therefore state, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV).
As we work, God works. As God works, we work.
“The founder and perfecter of our faith”
The writer of Hebrews 12 captured this balance perfectly.
First, he reminded us that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” and encouraged us to emulate them: “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (v. 1).
Second, he showed us the power to run our race: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (v. 2).
When we remember what others have done in the power of Christ, we are encouraged to emulate them by making their Source ours and finding in Jesus the strength and hope we need. Then others will follow our example by trusting our Lord as theirs.
“The thing that tells in the long run”
As we intercede for Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Yermak, and other courageous Ukrainians, let’s pray not only for their courage, protection, and perseverance. Let’s also pray for God to redeem their suffering by leading them to Jesus and the source of strength they need most.
Then let’s pray the same for ourselves. I often warn myself and others that self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide. Our greatest need as Christians is to be empowered and transformed every day by Christ (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 5:18).
Oswald Chambers was right: “The thing that tells in the long run for God and for men is the steady persevering work in the unseen, and the only way to keep the life uncrushed is to live looking to God. Ask God to keep the eyes of your spirit open to the Risen Christ.”
Are your eyes open to him today?