February 22, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.
In my last reflection on Psalm 142, we explored what it’s like as leaders to experience the isolation and abandonment that result from the malice of others. Psalm 142 is set in the context of Saul’s murderous pursuit of David, despite David’s faithful service to Saul. Sometimes in leadership, people seem determined to undermine (or even destroy) us, even though we have done nothing wrong. Like Saul, there are people who are consumed with anxiety and envy, who fear the loss of their power and prestige. Like David, being forced into organizational exile (literally or figuratively) can be our lot, made even more challenging by our sense of the absence of God in the situation. Learning to pray honestly and faithfully in those circumstances is what Psalm 142 is about.
But what if our circumstances are due to our own failures? The ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew psalms provides a heading for Psalm 143: “When (David’s) son is pursuing him.” Evidently the rebellion of David’s son, Absalom, and David’s life “on the run” provides a useful backstory to the psalmist’s prayer. Absalom’s rebellion didn’t happen in a vacuum, but is intimately connected to David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. Unlike David’s interactions with Saul, here David’s sin contributes directly and catastrophically to his circumstances.
How then do we deal with the consequences of our own moral failures in leadership? How can we pray when our circumstances implicate us in our sin?
In the darkness of our failures, it is easy to despair. Leadership is meant to bring out the best in us, yet in times of personal failure we are confronted with our own brokenness and its devastating results. The voices around us and within accuse us like an enemy: “He crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed” (Psalm 143:3-4).
Yet in the darkness, there is hope. But hope begins by accepting responsibility, not with denial. As David and his men escape from Absalom, he is met by Shimei, who curses him, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! … You have come to ruin because you are a murderer” (2 Samuel 16:7). When David’s men want to kill Shimei, David refuses. Instead, David acknowledges the truth in Shimei’s curse. “Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to” (2 Samuel 16:11). In his darkest hour, David comes face to face with himself as a sinner, as each of us must as leaders – “for no one living is righteous before you.”
In the confession of my culpability, I begin to find my way back. I begin to recover my desire for God – “I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:6). I learn to put confidence in God rather than in myself – “Save me from my enemies, GOD – you’re my only hope!” (Psalm 143:9, MSG) Most importantly, I recover the humility of being a servant again – “Show me the way I should go … Teach me to do your will” (Psalm 143:8,10).
David doesn’t escape the consequences of his moral failings, and neither will we. Still, as David discovers, restoration of our work as leaders is possible, even after a near-fatal fall. Learning to face who we are in our failures is the turning point of that restoration. Learning to pray honestly and faithfully in such circumstances is what Psalm 143 teaches us to do.
Something to Think About:
How have you responded to moral failings in your leadership? Who will tell you the truth about them?
Something to Do:
Find someone you trust to pray with you about being able to hear about the blind spots in your character.
Lord Jesus Christ,
It is difficult for me to see myself as I really am. Without your grace and mercy, I know that I cannot face the darkness of my own heart and mind. By the light of your word and your Spirit, enable me to see you and thereby to see myself rightly.
Help me to hear those you send my way to tell me about myself in ways I do not wish to hear. While I may suspect their motives, I know that you intend it for my good. Use those circumstances to enable me to become more like you.
I ask in your name. Amen.
Artwork: Shimei Curses David, 1860 Woodcut by Julius Schnoor von Karolsfeld
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Why Should God Answer My Prayer?
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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