February 23, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle… Blessed is the people whose God is the LORD.
The military imagery often found in Scripture (as in today’s psalm) unsettles me. I am drawn to Jesus’ call to peace and the non-violent resistance of evil. The Apostle Paul’s insight that our battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12) is helpful, as are Mark Roberts’ Life for Leaders reflections on how to “do battle” with these authorities. Also helpful is the insight that our battle is both outside us and within. A significant part of this series of Leadership Prayers has focused on external enemies (Psalm 140 and 142) and our interior response to them (Psalm 141 and 143). As Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, we need both deliverance from our enemies and the range of temptations that they bring. So, it is good that our text today reminds us as leaders that God “trains (our) hands for war, (our) fingers for battle.”
But Psalm 144 quickly shifts its focus from the battle of leadership to its purpose. The psalmist begins with echoes of Psalm 8 by reflecting on the extraordinary gift and calling of human leadership: “LORD, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them” (Psalm 144:3). Further, God not only created us to be human leaders, but remains dynamically engaged with us in our leadership work: “Part your heavens, LORD, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke” (Psalm 144:5),
God has called us to the work of leadership and is engaged with us as we do it, but to what end? What is the purpose of our being leaders in the first place? In contrast to seeing the leader as being the exclusive beneficiary of God’s attention and deliverance, the psalmist shifts the focus onto the people and places under the leader’s care. Using a rich set of imagery, the psalmist describes the flourishing of God’s people as “plants”, their function as architectural and artistic “pillars,” and the fruitfulness of the “provision” of the fields (Psalm 144:12-13). The purpose of leadership is to nurture and protect the people and the world God has made against the forces intent on their destruction (Psalm 144:14).
Before I became a Christian, I was keenly interested in environmental issues. I grew up reading Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, which described the pervasive toxic effects of pesticides on the ecology of the planet and which led to the ban of the use of the pesticide DDT. After I became a Christian, I lost interest in environmental issues, and instead focused primarily on developing my interior, “spiritual” life. In retrospect, that was misguided. As this psalm illustrates, God cares not just about the interior life of people, but also for their physical well-being. And, as the creation narrative of Genesis reminds us, human beings were created to embody God’s presence in the physical world and to cultivate the creation God loves and cares for. As my friend Canadian musician Steve Bell has said, “Those who love God, should love what God loves.”
When we fulfill our calling as leaders, we become a blessing to the people we lead and the world in which we find ourselves. An old German Lutheran pastor was once asked to reflect on the horrors of the Nazi Regime in World War II. He responded by saying, “Man is not man, when God is not God.” But the opposite is also true. When leaders allow God to be truly God of their lives, and thereby become truly human stewards of the earth, God’s blessing follows. As the psalmist writes at the end of Psalm 144, “Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people whose God is the LORD.”
Something to Think About:
How does your leadership contribute to the flourishing of the people you lead and the world in which you work?
Something to Do:
Make notes in the coming week of ways in which your work helps people to flourish, to function in their roles, and to bring good fruit in their results.
Lord Jesus Christ,
We are grateful that you are with us in our battles against forces that are committed to steal, kill and destroy. Thank you that your Spirit is at work in us and in the world, to delivers us from evil and to lead us away from and, if necessary, out of temptation.
We are amazed that you choose us to be your image bearers, to love and care for those entrusted into our care. Help us to be faithful in our stewardship.
We ask for your great glory and for the good of the world and creation that you love. Amen.
Artwork: Work in Alpine Fields, photograph by Steve Garber, used with permission.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
How Could God Be a Rock?
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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