June 8, 2017 • Life for Leaders
This is what the Lord, the LORD Almighty, says: “Go, say to this steward, to Shebna the palace administrator: What are you doing here and who gave you permission to cut out a grave for yourself here, hewing your grave on the height and chiseling your resting place in the rock? “Beware, the LORD is about to take firm hold of you and hurl you away, you mighty man.
Shebna was a “palace administrator” in Jerusalem whom the Lord singled out for rebuke through Isaiah. We don’t know all of Shebna’s faults, though they must have been many, given the fact that he was “a disgrace to [his] master’s house” (22:18). In particular, Shebna was preoccupied with his own legacy and honor, building for himself a lavish and prominent tomb. Apparently he had used his position in the government to become wealthy so that he might promote himself, both in life and in death. For such self-centeredness, God promised to take away his position of authority, thus ending Shebna’s career in disgrace.
Shebna serves as a powerful reminder of the folly of seeking our own honor above that of the Lord. It’s natural for us to want others to think well of us, and to an extent this is consistent with our Christian discipleship (for example, 1 Tim 3:2). But if we become preoccupied with our own glory, we dishonor the Lord and risk our own demotion. As Proverbs 16:18 reminds us, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Shebna’s sad life illustrates this proverb perfectly.
How can we avoid Shebna’s fate, especially if we’re successful, a person of power whom others praise? There are many ways to answer this question. But, as I think of highly successful people whom I have known, I find that two things are generally true about their lives. First, they are deeply engaged in a community of people who love them and know them for who they really are. This community can be a family, a church, or a group of close friends. With this group, the person of great success can live genuinely, apart from the hype.
Second, someone who regularly worships God can be empowered to live humbly. The heart of worship is submission of our whole lives to God. If we do this on a regular basis, then we are protected from placing ourselves on the throne that doesn’t belong to us. If we see ourselves first and foremost as a servant of God, then we won’t end up like Shebna, called out by God for our pride and self-serving stewardship.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Are you ever tempted to put your honor above God’s glory? When? Why?
Are you ever preoccupied with your legacy, rather than being preoccupied with the work of God’s kingdom?
What helps you to “keep your feet on the ground” when people praise you or when you achieve considerable success?
Gracious God, the story of Shebna encourages me to examine my motivations and desires. Am I like Shebna? Am I more eager to ensure my good reputation than to advance your kingdom? Does my passion for your glory exceed my desire for people to think I’m good? Am I building a “tomb” for myself, rather than offering myself as a living sacrifice to you?
Help me, dear Lord, to care so much about you, your work, and your glory that my self-centeredness dwindles. May I live my life in the freedom that comes from serving you completely. May I be deeply connected to a community in which I am truly myself. At the end of my days, may you be the one who receives the glory for my life. May it be obvious to all that you did a great work in me, not that I was great. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: Worship and Work (Isaiah 1ff.)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.