The Prayer of a Humble Leader, Part 2

By Mark D. Roberts

August 31, 2017

Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, Lord, you who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two camps. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

Genesis 32:9-12


A lion cub with an adult male lion.In the previous devotion, I focused on the first part of Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 32:10-12. There, he acknowledged before God that he was not worthy of the love and faithfulness that God had shown him (v. 10). The foundation of humility for a leader is an awareness that what we have has been given to us because of God’s grace.

The next sentence in Jacob’s prayer reveals a further dimension of humility in leadership. After confessing his unworthiness, Jacob prayed, “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children.” (32:11).

I am struck, first of all, by Jacob’s open admission of his fear. Though God had directed and protected him in the past, Jacob was afraid because, as far as he knew, his brother Esau still hated him, and was coming to confront him with 400 men. Jacob was afraid, not just for himself, but also for those whom he had led from Padan Aram to Canaan. They were in his care and their lives were apparently in danger.

While it’s true that the Bible frequently urges us not to be afraid, and while our culture idolizes the fearless leader, in truth, most leaders wrestle with fear. We may be afraid of the implications of an economic downturn. We may fear that our actions will bring criticism or opposition. We may worry that our best efforts to lead will turn out for naught. Or our fears might be personal. We are afraid about the safety of our children or about a pending report on a biopsy. Fear is normal (and sometimes even wise).

What should we do when we’re afraid? Jacob’s example answers this question. We should turn to the Lord, telling him honestly what we’re feeling and why. As we open our hearts to God, we experience his presence, and in his presence, his comfort. We are reminded, deep in our souls, that God is for us and that we belong to him. Then, we can join the psalm writer in celebrating God’s protection: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).


Can you think of times in your life when you were afraid? What did you do with your fear?

How easy is it for you to tell the Lord when you’re afraid? Can you even admit it to yourself? What would keep you from openly sharing your fear with God?

Have you experienced God’s comfort and reassurance when you were afraid? What do you think helped you to be open to receiving these gifts?


Gracious God, thank you for the example of Jacob and his prayer. Even as he freely confessed his fear to you, help me to do the same when I am afraid. Keep me from trying to pretend that I have it all together, as if I could fool you by my pretense of courage. Help me, by your Spirit, to be fully honest with you, to share my fears as well as my confidence. Draw near to me so that I might trust you more. Amen.


This post originally published on December 3, 2015.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary: The Sign of Blessing

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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