The Conviction of a Leader

By Mark D. Roberts

October 27, 2015

Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, ‘Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.’”

Genesis 24:2-4

Photo of senior businessperson with grey beard and hair in a decisive stance
We often think of leaders as those who take charge, who set the course, who boldly establish direction and call others to follow. Yet, research on leadership has found that effective leaders are also good listeners, people who solicit and receive input from others and who are willing to change course on the basis of new evidence or wisdom. We who lead, therefore, must determine what kind of leadership is required at any given moment.

Genesis 24 provides a compelling example of a leader who is clear about his convictions and is not, in this particular case, open to compromise. Abraham, as he came to the end of his life, recognized that his son Isaac needed a wife. Since Abraham and his family were living in Canaan, it would have been easy for Isaac’s wife to come from the local people, especially given the high esteem Abraham had among them. But Abraham was convinced that Isaac’s wife must come from Abraham’s own people. So he gave his servant clear instructions to get a wife for Isaac not from the Canaanites but rather from Abraham’s own kindred. This would require considerable effort and expense, but Abraham was willing to make the required investment.

Genesis does not tell us why Abraham felt so strongly that Isaac’s wife must be from his own people and not from the Canaanites. Given what happens in the future when God’s people get in bed with their pagan neighbors, it’s not hard to imagine at least part of Abraham’s rationale. If his son were married to a Canaanite woman, he would be tempted to abandon his distinctive calling and even his distinctive God.

How will we know when it’s right to listen and when we should stick to our convictions no matter what? There is no easy answer to this question. When I’m faced with such difficult situations, I turn to the Lord for guidance and courage, often waiting on him for clarity. I may very well decide to seek wisdom from godly and discerning brothers and sisters in Christ. You might have other practices that help you to become clear on what is best. When that clarity comes and we need to stand our ground, may God grant us the courage to do so in his strength and for his purposes.


Can you think of times in your experience of leadership when you needed to stand strong? What helped you to know what was needed?

How does the example of Abraham in Genesis 24 inspire you?


Gracious God, thank you for the example of Abraham, who had such clarity about the need for Isaac to marry one of Abraham’s own kindred. Help me, Lord, to know when to stand my ground and when to compromise. Help me to know when more listening is required and when it’s time for me to make a decision. Give me wisdom in those times and courage to stand for what I believe.

Yet, even when I am resolute, may I be gracious and humble, clear without being confrontational. May my decisions reflect your purposes and my communication of those decisions reflect your grace. 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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