CHAPTER 7: A LEADER PERSEVERES

The night before I wrote this, my fellow elder and I were talking to one of the budding leaders in our church. I just shared with a promising young man the feedback of our church members to him, an exercise we do annually. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and I see that he could be part of our leadership team at some point. He has spent four years in a Bible school and countless hours studying and honing his skills. However, he is newly married, and the demands of supporting a young family test his sense of calling to the pastoral ministry. He confessed to us that there are times that he is doubting whether he should devote his life to serving the Lord as pastor. Thankfully, he was able to overcome those doubts as he remains passionate about the work of the Lord.

 

Similarly, those of us who work in a secular setting can identify with times when we are not sure we can go on in our leadership roles. Leaders are continually facing stressful situations that can drain them. Thankfully, leading people more often than not brings its rewards.

 

A leader’s passion is not a passing fancy that easily dissolves under pressure. True passion is not just about emotions that could dissipate at the drop of a hat. Instead, passion is all about the commitment of the whole person to a cause more significant than oneself. Charles Spurgeon once quipped that “By perseverance, the snail reached the Ark.”[1]

 

Not that a leader’s commitment will always stay sky-high. All leaders have experienced low points when self-doubt gets the better of them. In some cases, after a great victory and when the adrenalin wears off, a leader may feel the blues.

 

The prophet Elijah is a case in point. He was coming off from perhaps the greatest act of his prophetic career. Before all the Jewish people, he challenged more than 400 false prophets to a duel, and he won. In the dramatic account which we can read in 1 Kings 18, Yahweh honored His name before the people through the burnt sacrifice offered by Elijah. The prophets of Baal were humbled, rounded up, and killed. The evil queen, Jezebel, patroness of the idol Baal, did not take the mass slaughter of the fake prophets lightly. She threatened to kill Elijah within 24 hours. When the message reached the prophet, he ran for his life, his tail between his legs. He found himself in the wilderness, and he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”” (1 Kings 19:4).

 

Perhaps no other prophet is as bold and passionate as Elijah. Yet here he was cowering in fear because of the threat of a woman. His experience shows that no person is immune from occasional attacks of fear and a sense of impotence. Under such circumstances, a leader must learn how to persevere.

 

First, you must remember that God has promised that every true believer will persevere to the end. In general, the Christian life is a never-ending battle against one’s sinful nature, the world, and the devil. The Scriptures repeatedly proclaim that the outcome has already been decided. All genuine believers will safely make it to heaven to be with the Lord forever. In his immortal words, Paul confessed, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39). Being united to Christ, the Bible says that we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly places (see Ephesians 2:6). In other words, from the divine perspective, the war is over. We have won!

 

To the Christian, such an assurance can help put his earthly struggles in the right perspective. Since the ultimate issue of life is secured, the things that happen in our ministry are relatively minor compared to eternal life. If God has granted us the blessing of heaven, why will He withhold lesser things (see Romans 8:32)?

 

Second, you must remember that while you rely on God’s grace, you must also exert effort in meeting your obligations despite the hardships that surround you. In numerous cases, things do not just happen automatically. There will be hurdles along the way that could derail the most well-intentioned programs. There was a time when we in the office were preparing a significant proposal for a donor. We were coordinating people who were in Kenya, Indonesia, and the Philippines. With cultural and time differences, there were times when the process was frustrating. But having persevered, we were able to land a major contract to the jubilation of all concerned.

 

Paul captures the delicate balance between divine action and human responsibility in Philippians 2:12-13:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

 

It is God who works to enable Christians to desire and implement His will, but we have to “work out” to show the fruits of our faith. Many Christians err at this point. Either they rely on God’s sovereignty and do nothing. Or they exert maximum efforts oblivious to the God who controls all things. The former could lead to a laid-back attitude in life or even laziness. The latter could burn out a leader as he tries to take responsibility for many of the things he could not control.  By removing God from the equation, he severs himself from the source of power.

 

There will be times when the people we serve will lose heart. A leader must be the last person standing, able to rally the people to keep on pressing.

 

One day, the young shepherd David visited his brothers in the battlefront to bring them supplies from home. What confronted him was the sight of Goliath challenging the Israelites to a duel, mano a mano. While King Saul and the rest of the army cower in fear, David accepted the challenge, and the rest was history. By persevering in the face of enormous odds, David inspired an entire nation to trust Yahweh.

 

But a caveat is in order there. I am not saying that we will always be victorious in the eyes of people. Quite the opposite, there are moments when from a worldly perspective, a leader will appear to lose the battle. Such was the case to many of the prophets in the Bible. Isaiah and Jeremiah preached on a largely skeptical and even violent audience. Paul seemed to have gone mad to the Roman leaders who tried him. The  Lord Jesus’ life seemed to have ended in utter defeat on the cross of Calvary. Once more, remember that success is persevering in the will of God which at times may be contrary to what others think.

 

Discussion Guide

1. What usually hinders you from completing your tasks and goals?

2. What Scriptural passages can encourage you to persevere in your tasks?

3. How can you balance reliance on God and working hard to attain your goals?

 

Notes:

[1] https://www.forbes.com/quotes/1606/  Accessed 6/19/19

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