Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God… (1 Samuel 30:6, NKJV)
I have always been intrigued by this passage. That phrase “strengthened himself in the Lord…” seems like a million-dollar phrase to me in leadership. Reading that story you would discover that as a pivotal moment in which David turned around. From being greatly distressed, facing grief of his followers and possible stoning, David marshaled his resources to seek God, rally his men, overtake and route those who kidnapped the families of his men and rescued the hostages (1 Samuel 30:1-20).
This remarkable season of leadership was triggered by this turn-around in the person of the leader David. This was the pivotal moment, where David “strengthened himself in the Lord”—a truly “million-dollar phrase”!
If only every leader could have “strengthen-himself-in-the-Lord” moments where his/her leadership turns around.
If only every leader could have such moments where he/she rises above circumstances to lead God’s people to take back what they lost, and lead them into their destinies!
Well, I believe they can. I believe God wants to give such moments! After all, the prophet says,
For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…. (2 Chronicles 16:9a).
I once consulted for a church where the senior pastor had reached a point where she considered leaving. There were many crises that had occurred which took a toll on her. Upon my advice, we journeyed through a guided time of rest. She took a 4-week break to examine herself, her role and the call upon her life. She took a good look at the people, the ministries and her future years in ministry. Then, ministered to by God, she returned to make some changes, both within and without, to lead again, although in a slightly different way. In other words, she strengthened herself in the Lord her God.
There are some practices that facilitate leaders to receive strength from God. Such practices should become regular spiritual disciplines in a leader’s life.
More importantly, such times of strengthening need not happen only at the onset of crises. Though, as in David’s case, leadership shines best in dark times, I believe what David did to strengthen himself was probably a heightened and intense practice of what he did regularly as part of his spiritual discipline regime. The many Psalms written by David through difficult times reveal that his “strengthening in the Lord” moment was possible only because it was a culmination of developed practices through his life. It was this training of discipline that enabled him to practice a heightened and intense time of seeking God under pressure of enemy and time in 1 Samuel 30:6.
Let me share some thoughts about what David might have done in “strengthening himself in the Lord”, as well as some reflections on what practices give godly strength to leaders in the best and worst of times.
1. GOD’S “BIG PICTURE”: STEPPING BACK TO LOOK AT HIM
When we are enmeshed into a situation that seems overwhelming, stepping back to look again at what God has called us in the picture reminds us that God is in charge despite our failings and struggles.
When people spend time meditating in a nature-scape of great mountains, huge lakes, awesome waterfalls, it reminds them they are playing a small role, and there is something larger then themselves. It brings a sense of perspective, and a sense of calm.
We were made to remember that there is something larger than just us in this picture. GOD is the one who called us, and is ultimately in charge. The Complete Jewish Bible puts 1 Samuel 30 as “David strengthened himself in ADONAI his God”. Adonai, the LORD GOD is the one who is supreme despite the pain, the politics and the overwhelming lack of resources. Despite that, God will fulfill His purpose. We only have to partner Him.
Some ways to think big picture for our calling:
i. What did God call me to do here in the first place?
ii. What is His role, and what is my role He has called me to play? Who am I supposed to be in this situation of God’s call? Therefore, what is NOT my role?
iii. What are “nice to haves” in this situation but not critical in the light of God’s calling?
iv. How can I trust God to provide what this situation needs, which I may not have?
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Psalms 19:21)
2. GOD’S PROVIDENCE: GIFT-MIXES, TEAM-FITS
No one has the complete gift-set to fulfill a humongous calling or challenge. The Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) that certain leadership circles coin refers to a vision from God that is often too large for any one person to fulfill—it needs God! Often, God provides through the gifts of others that often break our paradigms, humbling us to learn to depend on God and on others.
A leader tried to raise a successor for his ministry for many months, but simply could not. He could not find suitable people as the good ones “had already been taken”. The people who were available were not appropriate in some ways, and he “did not want to set them up to fail”. But the leader himself had reached a point of burnout and could not lead any longer. All the principles he cited were good leadership principles. However, the circumstances he faced forced him to simply have to change some of his paradigms. At one point, he paid attention to a possible candidate that he had deemed inadequate. As he listened more intently, he realized there was a deep hunger for God in the candidate’s life. However, this hunger had been distracted by a number of burdens, which included sickness and even relationship difficulties. As the leader examined and engaged these burdens, over time, God convicted the candidate to be willing to take up future leadership. The candidate made a commitment to change some practices and grow. The ministry leader realized that God had opened the door for a possible successor; though not one he initially expected.
A pastor was struggling for a number of years in leading the congregation. She was counseled to get outside help for some of her struggles. However, she felt that as a Senior Pastor there were certain things that fell solely upon her to do so. She continued to struggle for 1-2 years and reached a point where she was exhausted. Finally in a time of reflection she admitted she was not good at planning and setting goals. God provided a consultant in that season to journey with her, and she got a board’s approval to seek consultation on planning and goal setting. God provided a gift-set “outside of the box” of her comfort style to lead the church better, albeit from an unexpected source.
God’s normative way of providence is through the gift-sets of others, and to teach us to be humble to depend on others in some way.
Some ways to be open to God’s providence of gift-sets:
i. What are the gifts needed for this season to lead the ministry well?
ii. If I don’t have them, where can I find them, no matter how “out of the box”?
iii. Are these possibilities new ways of God’s providence?
iv. How can I manage people and my own expectations that I must do everything by myself?
When great effort for a sacrifice was needed, God provided an out-of-the-box ram sacrifice for Abraham. And then, Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. (Genesis 22:14)
Hudson Taylor, the great missionary once said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”
By Rev. Dr. Philip Huan
(This articles continues in “The Strength that Eludes the Leader” Part 2)