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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Curse of Passivity

Last night my boys and I were reading in bed about God's selection of David to succeed Saul as King of Israel. As the moral of the selection story is that God looks not at outward appearance but the content of one's heart  (1 Samuel 16:7), we prayed that God would give us a heart for God like David...when my oldest son Mason interrupted my prayer himself praying: "Except for his later heart when he has that guy killed in battle." We laughed and then prayed that. Mason was right though. While David was forgiven and restored by God, his heart was never quite the same after adultery with Bathsheba, killing her husband Uriah, and subsequently losing a child. He grew passive. He allowed his sons like Absalom to first drift, then rebel, and then only casually restore them when they repent (he tells Absalom, who kills his brother & David's son out of revenge: You can return to Jerusalem but don't drop by my [your father's] house...what?!!! - See 2 Samuel 15:24). In large part because he was neither confronted directly nor restored by his dad the king, Absalom returns to rebellion by trying to take his dad's throne. Passivity curses.

The curse of David's passive leadership. David teaches us so much with regard to a singular love and passion for God, patient trust in His promises, and even integrity. But at the very end of his life, we are taught through a negative example of his leadership passivity: In the midst of charging and blessing his son Solomon, he inadvertently curses him - by laying upon him a burden that should've been his own. Here's David to his son:
(1 Kings 2:5-9 ESV) 
[5] “Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. [6] Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. [7] But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me when I fled from Absalom your brother. [8] And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim. But when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, saying, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ [9] Now therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man. You will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.”
Shimei had cursed David in one David's lowest moments - temporarily leaving his throne and on his way out of Jerusalem riding a donkey (1 Samuel 16:9-14). David essentially forgave Shimei and made to him what was perhaps a rash promise - but, even if not, one that should have extended beyond his life. Clearly David had forgiven but not forgotten - evidence that he had not, in fact, forgiven. More egregious was his command (or, worse, strong insinuation) to Solomon to not let Joab's "gray head go down Sheol in peace" (v.6). Joab was a largely faithful and certainly longstanding commander of David's military. But David constantly let Joab off the hook for egregious acts of aggression, most of which violated the king's direct order. BUT Joab was good at what he did - so David largely let it go - at least until this day when he would saddle Israel's next leader with the role of "bad cop." 

The reality of your leadership & temptation to passive. Everybody leads somebody or, at least, should be. Such leadership might be in a church, a workplace, a family, or in your community. Somebody looks up to you and responds to your example (sometimes by avoiding doing what you do or imitating what yo do). It is becoming increasingly tempting in our day and age to lead passively - to be the laid-back leader, the no worries pace-setter, the fun friend who happens to also be your parent, boss, project manager, pastor, teacher. But what happens when you're gone - either temporarily or permanently? Can the person you've lead replace you? Have you been sufficiently intentional with them now to set them up for success later? Is the legacy you leave going to be a clean slate with only the treasures of your good counsel, patient 'training' and humble example framing an otherwise fresh start? 

Objection: What about Let Go & Let God? I just met with a dear friend who lamented that they too often try to intervene and control a situation rather than allow God to work. That is a legitimate problem in any form of leadership - you want them to 'get it,' you want them to grow, or, a bit less healthily/OCD, you want them to perform a function in a certain way. Patience is required. But there is an alternative to the two extremes of either Let Go/Let God or GoGoGo/Get'erDone. Namely: Trust God AND Dig In. Let God and Let God implies that we are to no longer concern ourselves with something important until God acts. But that is now how the Bible conceives of trust. Biblical trust is (a) going to God with the concern and constantly entrusting Him with it in prayer. Hence the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). Prayer is envisioned as God doing the change while we struggle (Colossians 4:12). More important to God than security or military guards to watch over His people was armies of hard laborers in prayer (check out Isaiah 62:6-7). Biblical trust is (b) patiently keep doing what you are doing as you trust God is at work both in you and behind-the-scenes. Hence: Paul keeps working to see people grow in Christ though understanding the ability to work is only because God is at work (Colossians 1:28-29); the believer keeps working at growing but God does all the heavy lifting (Philippians 2:12-13); there is a rest you can only find in continuing to work (Matthew 11:28-30) - but the difference, as highlighted by Jesus in these last verses, is you have someone sharing the yoke and doing the work with you. Your co-worker happens to be the resurrected God of the universe, Jesus Christ. Similarly, when you struggle and labor in prayer, the idea is that you get God, who becomes a Refuge and a Rest in a way that simply "letting go" or getting it out of your mind never can or will be.

Signs you might be drifting toward passivity & what you can do about it. 
1. You have not given away a vision. David possessed a singular mission & vision for his life, which I think is best expressed in Psalm 27:4: "One thing I ask of the LORD / this is what I seek / to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life / to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord / and to seek Him in his temple." While David demonstrates such a singular passion and trust to those who fought with and for him (see 2 Samuel 23:16-17; 1 Samuel 24:3-7), such instruction and example is wholly absent in interacting with those over whom he had the most influence - his children. We have a family mission: "To make disciples who grow by grace in becoming mature in Christ." Accordingly, Katie and I take any opportunity to show our kids every gift of grace comes from above (James 1:16-17), we are totally dependent on God working to save us and others (Romans 9:16), it is returning to the cross daily that strengthens us (Hebrews 12:2-3) and helps us become more loving (Luke 7:47). Frankly, this happens a lot by responding well to sin - which we do a lot! (I am a professional sinner and amateur pastor). Katie and I demonstrating forgiveness of one another in front of our children, asking our children for forgiveness when we are unnecessarily harsh toward them or, in other cases, not harsh enough (let disobedience go unpunished out of our own laziness), giving God credit as much as possible, helping them see the importance of hard work and discipline as a response to God's grace not in order to earn it, giving to others as a family in recognition of His gift toward us are ways we intentionally impressing a godly vision upon our 'replacements.' What about you? What's your mission and vision? How are you passing this on?  As a recent guest preacher reminded our people: When the Bible talks about "drifting," it is always toward disobedience and never toward God. Intentionally give away a God-sized vision.

2. When those closest come calling, you sigh, gripe and roll. When those closest to us (you know the kind who are so close and familiar that your rep won't be ruined if you don't respond angelically) come asking for something, seeking help or guidance, reach out for a listening ear, you find yourself rolling your eyes a bit more at the Caller ID, sighing at their voice from far away, or respond a bit abruptly to their needs - this is a sign that you've stopped caring to lead them well. It's so strange: But haven't you found that those with whom you're closest often get your 'scraps' at the end of the day or in a less pressurized moments? This defies logic, especially considering it is these upon whom you will have the greatest long-term influence (probably not that client, nor fitness instructor, nor little Jimmy's teacher). As highlighted above, David was ready for work-life and gave his best to it. He was likewise ready for church-life - he even wrote a good portion of the Bible's songbook. But was he too preoccupied on his walk home with success in these areas to consider: How is Joab really doing in loving God? If I've really forgiven others, why the bitterness inside? Am I really ready to minister to my family? If you are like me and at some point during the day travel back to those with whom you are closest (home, restaurant, gym, etc.): Use that time in the car or on your bicycle to ask God to refresh you, forgive you, renew you, get your mind and heart right so you can minister and lead well. When you arrive, God will have you ready to listen to problems, ask good questions, draw out desires & goals, and help them both plan and work toward greatness.

3. People soon suffer in your absence. You see the writing on the wall. "The quality of work will suffer a bit and these people will miss me when I'm gone." And too often we secretly envision this as a sign of our worth and contribution - but really it's the failure of passive leadership. David thinks he sets up Solomon for success by getting all the materials together to build a temple to God (1 Chronicles 29:1-2). But he saddles Solomon with the immediate problems of a renegade military commander whose personality is too large and decision-making unsound because both have gone unchecked and a father's last wish to exact justice where he failed to finalize forgiveness. In his classic work Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders notes: "The true test of a person's leadership is the health of the organization when the organizer is gone." Would your absence leave: A vacuum in volunteering? Other potential servants paralyzed to step up? Family members ill-prepared to carry on with even a 'routine' emergency (ie. sickness, cancelled flight, last-minute project sprung upon you by your boss)? I know I need to be better trained in making at least 3-4 gluten-free meals for our kids which don't require a grill in Katie's absence while I need to show Katie how to access important financial documents and information in my absence. Perhaps a good starting point is: Should something happen to me, have I prepared someone to step in? If not, who should I ask? Approach them: "I may not always be around. Can I show you what I do?" Such an approach is an extension of the Apostle Paul's approach to training: "Follow me as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

An Example of the Blessing of Active Leadership. Most people have heard the story of Isaac Newton's discovery of the law of gravity after observing the fall of an apple. What few people know is that is that Edmund Halley, the astronomer who discovered Halley's Comet, provided for a young Newton the kind of active leadership that set him up for success and greatness. Halley didn't go the laid-back route of offering his pupil a couple encouraging words and lots of 'space' (so he could set about his own research on that comet). In fact, Halley challenged Newton to think through his original notions. He corrected Newton's mathematical errors and prepared geometrical figures to support his work. Not only did he encourage Newton to write his groundbreaking work: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, but Halley edited the work, supervised its publication, and financed its printing, even though Newton was wealthier and could much more easily afford the printing costs. Halley gave away vision, stuck with encouraging and patiently challenging Newton when Isaac wanted to give up (versus sigh, gripe, and roll), and left behind a far larger legacy in his absence - namely, Newton & his work on gravity - than in his presence. A truly great leader!

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