September 2, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Zephaniah 3:16-17 (NRSV)
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”
When we gaze into the familiar with uncertainty, we are trying to make sense of what we are seeing. Zephaniah prophesied during a time where destruction had come. But God’s word repeatedly reminds us by prescription and experience that regardless of the circumstances “the Lord is in your midst.”
I was quite young and my family attended a costume party. My mother and sister looked very similar, so they dressed up the same. They would not say a word—which obscured the one thing that made them distinct. I did not know this was their plan. When we got to the event they walked up to me and I remember the angst building. I could not make sense of what I was seeing. Who cares about my sister—which one is my mother?
By the time of Zephaniah’s prophecy, things had become so discombobulated for Israel that Jerusalem was unrecognizable. There was a line of evil leaders, there was national idolatry, and there was exploitation of all types of people. God was unrecognizable and his actions toward the nations conveyed a clear picture of his power. God’s actions were emphatic and strong; the response was harsh, but it is true that he only does what is right (Zephaniah 3:5) He causes widespread desolation (3:6) and all the nations fear him. (3:7)
On that day when God came there was destruction and nobody was without excuse. Yet, even then, he told Jerusalem “Do not fear” and again “Do not let your hands grow weak.” Why not fear when the walls are definitely coming down?
We have this propensity in leadership to lose the grip of certainty and trust when the situation becomes unrecognizable—where the path is less clear and we come to grips with the fact that our analogies have become dogmatic absolutes. Proverbial paths could be worn and cleared out in order to have space to walk, but sometimes that is not always the case. The narrow path through green pastures is the same narrow path through toppled walls and overturned stones in the shadow of death: where he leads you is the path.
We find ourselves gazing into the familiar uncertainty, trying to make sense of what we see—trying to hold onto something that transcends the circumstances we created or that were pressed upon us. Zephaniah prophesied during a time where destruction had come. But God’s word repeatedly reminds us by prescription and experience that regardless of the circumstances there is an objective hope. On that day, even in the midst of destruction, the redeemed should neither forget nor discourage the downtrodden around us because “the Lord is in your midst.”
Where are other places in scripture where you see the words “Do not fear?”
What are the implications of God’s presence? What does it mean for your strength as a leader?
When you think about your workplace and your family, where have you heard God say “Do not fear?” Do you notice that “the Lord is in your midst” at work as much as you do in your family? Why or why not? What might be the result of you recognizing God’s love in both places?
Lord, I am grateful for your word that shows us repeatedly just how serious you are about showing us who you are and how much you love all your people and creation. Please continue to teach us that we need not fear when we know what it means to have you present. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Can We Eat Together?
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DeLano J. Sheffield is the Business Resource Specialist for Goodwill of MoKan where he connects to people on the fringes, training them to reach their full potential through learning and the power of work; he also is on the frontlines of the advances of the fourth industrial revolution and coaches leaders on diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. He began his career as an architectural engineer then went on to attend seminary. In every part of his life he finds ways to infuse theology into vocation, and strengthen practical connections of faith and daily activity. DeLano lives in Kansas City, Missouri.