How Does God Lead? Part 2: Empowering Direction and Gracious Prohibition

By Mark D. Roberts

July 3, 2015

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . . And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”

Genesis 1:1Genesis 2:25


Yesterday, I began considering the question “How does God lead?” as revealed in Genesis 1-2. Though the text doesn’t mention divine leadership specifically, we would be well served to consider how God’s activity in creation exemplifies an approach to leadership that can instruct and inspire us. So far, we’ve seen how God’s “leadership” is shaped by vision and exercised through delegation.

Empowering Direction. In Genesis 1-2, God tells the first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . .” (1:28). These are clear imperatives, given from a superior to those who operate under the superior’s authority. Yet, these directives are not limiting or demeaning, but expansive and honoring. They do not squelch creativity and innovation. Rather, they encourage it.

I expect you may have had a boss who issued directives that were anything but empowering. They tended to discourage you, to fence you in. Or, you may have worked for someone who was unclear about his or her expectations, leaving you wondering about whether you were performing adequately. Lack of direction can be just as debilitating as direction that doubts our capabilities. But, when a supervisor gives direction that is clear and empowering, it can set us free to flourish in our work. This was what God modeled in the beginning.

Gracious Prohibition. In my previous reflections on Genesis 2:16-17, I spoke of the “gracious prohibition” of God in saying that human beings should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (see devotions for 6/10/2015 and 6/11/2015). From the perspective of leadership, we can see that God not only offers empowering direction but also gracious prohibition. The Lord has no qualms about saying, “No. You musn’t do this.”

I expect that most leaders prefer to major in empowering direction rather than gracious prohibition. But, if we’re going to be effective leaders, then we mustn’t shy away from being clear with those we lead about what is inappropriate, unacceptable, or just plain wrong. Though this kind of leadership may not increase our likability, it will augment our impact and help those whom we lead to thrive. Moreover, it imitates the example of divine leadership we find in Genesis 2.


Can you think of times when someone in authority over you at work has given empowering direction? What made this empowering? How did you feel when you received it? How did you respond? How can you provide empowering direction to those whom you lead?

Similarly, can you think of times when you’ve received gracious prohibition? How did you respond to this?

Are there ways you can strengthen your leadership by following the divine example in giving empowering direction or gracious prohibition?


Gracious God, once again we thank you for leading us in ways that empower us and guide us. Thank you for giving us such an opportunity to make a difference in this world. Thank you for telling us what we ought not to do in our life and leadership.

Help us, Lord, to lead as you lead, to give empowering direction to those whom we lead. And, when it’s appropriate, may we offer gracious prohibition as well. May all we do as leaders glorify you and be one way we worship you. Amen.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

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,...

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