The Prayer of a Humble Leader, Part 1

By Mark D. Roberts

August 30, 2017

And Jacob said,“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will do you good,” I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said,“I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.”

Genesis 32:9-12


A male peacock displaying it's plumage.

In Genesis, Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, became a wealthy man with a large family. He accomplished what men in his day yearned for: progeny, possessions, and honor.

We might imagine that Jacob was a proud man, one who attributed his successes to his own cleverness and perseverance, both of which Jacob had in abundance. Yet, Genesis 32 gives us a glimpse of Jacob’s heart, and what we see is striking. We see a successful leader who was humble before God, aware of how much he had needed God and how much he still did.

Genesis 32 begins with Jacob and his entourage making their way from Padan Aram back to Jacob’s homeland of Canaan. He was concerned about how his estranged brother, Esau, would receive him. Esau, as you may recall, hated his brother because Jacob had used deception to take Esau’s blessing for himself (27:41). Thus, when Jacob heard that Esau was approaching with four hundred men, Jacob was “greatly afraid and distressed” (32:7), fearing that Esau was planning to destroy him and all who were with him.

In his distress, Jacob prayed to the Lord. He acknowledged that he was “not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness” that God had shown him (32:10). Jacob did not deserve the goodness God had granted him throughout his life as well as in the recent past, when Jacob and his crew safely crossed the Jordan River. Jacob gives credit where credit is due, to the Lord and his grace.

I would suggest that humble leadership begins here, with a recognition that what we have accomplished in life is, first and foremost, a result of God’s love and faithfulness. Yes, we may have worked hard along the way, but God’s grace gave us the ability to work and the opportunity to flourish. God worked in us and through us, enabling our efforts to succeed.

Recognizing our unworthiness to receive God’s love and faithfulness will, indeed, keep us humble as leaders. It will fill us with gratitude as well as a desire to steward well what God has entrusted to us. Moreover, it will prepare us to rely on God in the future. I’ll say more about this tomorrow. For now, you might consider the following questions.


As you think about your life and leadership, how do you envision God’s activity?

Could you honestly say, with Jacob, that you are not worthy of God’s love and faithfulness?

What helps you to be humble as a leader?


Gracious God, thank you for the example of Jacob as he prays. Thank you for the reminder he gives us that we are not worthy of your love and faithfulness. Yet, in our unworthiness, you have chosen to act in mercy, to pour out your grace upon us. You have redeemed us, created us anew in Christ, and called us into your service. You have blessed us beyond measure.

Help us, Lord, as we remember all you have done, to be humble before you and before others, even those we have been called to lead. Amen.


This post originally published on December 2, 2015.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryJacob’s Transformation and Reconciliation with Esau (Genesis 32-33)

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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