May 4, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Though the LORD is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly.
I’ve had a life-long fascination with Israel’s King David. David was not a priest or a prophet. He did not have a “religious” vocation. In today’s language, David was a layman. And he was a leader. Scripture richly narrates his life and work in the history books of the Old Testament. His prayers (or at least prayers associated with him) provide the content of much of the book of Psalms. That’s good news for those of us who find ourselves in roles of leadership in the world. David was one of us.
For David faith, life and work were an integrated whole, like a seamless fabric. David’s life didn’t divide up into a series of distinct compartments, some of which were related to God and some of which were not. Instead, David dealt with God in all aspects of his life and work. That’s why his story and his prayers interest me so. That’s how I want to live my life.
This series of reflections will focus on the final series of eight psalms associated with David (Psalms 138 to 145). Like other “mini-collections” of Psalms (for example, the Psalms of Ascents, Psalms 120 to 134), they represent a microcosm of our experience of life. This set of eight psalms, I believe, provides particularly fertile ground for reflection for those of us in leadership. They teach us how to pray in the breadth and depth of our leadership experience, both public and private.
Psalm 138 begins the collection with a psalm of public thanksgiving, which gives witness to the psalmist’s faith in God before “the ‘gods’” (Psalm 138:1), “all the kings of the earth” (Psalm 138:4), and even “my foes” (Psalm 138:7). It seems likely that this psalm was prayed as part of the gathering of the community of faith. In the context of a congregation, the psalmist acknowledges that leadership is a vocation lived in all aspects of life: in the court of public opinion, among colleagues and competitors, and particularly in the presence of deadly adversaries, a life of faithful leadership plays out. Faith for the psalmist is neither tangential nor compartmentalized. It is central and integral to leadership, even a matter of life or death.
So, what does faithful leadership look like? What is the core of our witness? Today’s text provides a key hint. Israel’s leaders or kings were to rule just as God rules as the ultimate King. Faithful leaders represent God faithfully. And how does God rule? “Though the LORD is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly.” That’s a remarkable reversal of expectations for leaders, ancient and modern. Power brings prestige and privilege. Leaders naturally look to consolidate their power, to pay attention first to important people – to themselves, their administration, and to their constituencies. But to care about “the lowly” – who has time for that?
Yet that’s what God does. That’s how God reigns as King. Israel’s story is filled with reminders that God cares for those who are institutionally and culturally unimportant, including especially the aliens (those who were not Israelites). God reminded Israel that they too were once aliens in the land of Egypt, and asked them to never forget what that was like for them.
In the same way, those of us who have ascended to a role of leadership, which invariably carries with it power and prestige of some kind, need to remember that we once were, in that sense, “lowly.” More to the point, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, we should remember that “I (God) live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit” (Isaiah 57:15, emphasis mine). God dwells with the “lowly,” so if we want God to indwell our leadership, we have to be “lowly” too. As the apostle Peter, who knew something about being proud, writes, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5b)
Something to Think About:
Who are the “lowly” in your area of responsibility? How can you pay attention to them in your leadership?
Something to Do:
Take time in the coming week to have coffee or a meal with someone in your area of responsibility, someone you’ve identified in your reflection above.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You came as the lowliest among us. You took on a life on the margins of society just as you spoke through the prophet Isaiah. Help us to have that same mind and heart in us.
Forgive our hardness of heart when we ignore those who are on the margins in our work. Help us to live with them and care for them as you do. Look kindly on us so that we might look kindly on them.
We ask in your name, Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
God Will Work Out His Plans for My Life
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
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