When Your Leadership Seems to Be Fruitless

By Mark D. Roberts

August 18, 2017

Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD; and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the Plain and saw the smoke of the land going up like the smoke of a furnace.

Genesis 19:27-28


Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1929-30, High Museum of Art

If you’ve been in a position of leadership for a while, whether in your business, school, church, or family, I expect you’ve been able to enjoy the fruits of your labors. You can see how you’ve made a difference and you can take delight in your success, even if you know that it comes not just from your hard work but also from God’s grace.

Yet, if you’ve been in a position of leadership for a while, you probably know how it feels when your efforts appear to be fruitless. You used all of your ingenuity and energy to move things along in a certain direction, but they just didn’t turn out as you had hoped.

Abraham knew both the joys and the sorrows of leadership. In a previous devotion, we saw how he boldly conversed with God, standing up for the city of Sodom. In the end, Abraham got the Lord to agree not to destroy the city if there were ten righteous people living within it. I expect Abraham felt pleased with this result because not only would it seem to him to be just but it would also guarantee the safety of his nephew Lot and Lot’s family, who lived in Sodom.

But, the next morning, Abraham arose and returned to the very place where he had apparently persuaded the Lord to be merciful to Sodom (and Gomorrah). When he looked out upon the plain, he “saw the smoke of the land going up like the smoke of a furnace” (19:28). In a moment, Abraham knew that God had destroyed the cities. His effort at intercession appeared to have failed. (Abraham would not yet have known that God had delivered Lot and his family from Sodom before its destruction.)

Genesis doesn’t describe Abraham’s feelings as he looked upon the destruction before him. Yet, it’s not hard to imagine how he felt: terribly worried about Lot and his family, fearful that they had died; disappointed that his boldness before God hadn’t born the fruit he had hoped; sad for the destruction of the cities and people who were Abraham’s neighbors. Perhaps he even felt angry with the Lord for his harsh judgment. Surely, Abraham might have thought, there were at least ten righteous people somewhere in those cities.

Genesis also doesn’t tell us what Abraham did or said as he saw the smoke rising from the plain. Perhaps he prayed. Perhaps he was too distressed to pray. We don’t know. But what I do know, from elsewhere in Scripture and from my own experience as a leader, is that in times of discouragement and disappointment – even disappointment in God – all I can do is to open my heart to the Lord, whether in words or in silence.


How might you have felt if you were Abraham looking upon the destruction of the cities of the plain?

When have you experienced fruitlessness in your leadership?

What did you do with this experience? Did you bring yourself before the Lord? If so, what happened? If not, why not?


Gracious God, sometimes we get to enjoy the fruit of our labors, thanks be to you. Yet, sometimes our efforts appear to be fruitless. We’ve done our best to persuade others, yet they don’t follow. Or maybe, like Abraham, we’ve done our best to persuade you, but it seems as if our prayers have been for naught. In these times, Lord, may our hearts be open before you. May we tell you exactly what we’re thinking and feeling. May we be ready to receive whatever you have for us, whether it be comfort or correction, peace or passion.

Today, Lord, I pray especially for those who are reading this devotion and feeling rather like Abraham. Pour out your grace and mercy upon them. Amen.


Image Credit: “Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1929-30, High Museum of Art” by Henry Ossawa Tanner – High Museum of Art. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.


This post originally published on October 11, 2015.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentarySodom and Gomorrah Destroyed

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,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn