February 3, 2016 • Life for Leaders
It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do.”
So far this week we’ve seen in Joseph an example of someone who talked about God in the workplace. He did this in an honest, straightforward, and humble way. Moreover, Joseph acknowledged that he did not have a lock on God’s revelation. He stated that “God revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (41:25). In other words, God was also at work in Pharaoh, not just in Joseph.
When we talk about God, we must examine the motivations of our hearts, lest we try to use God to promote our own agendas rather than God’s own agenda.”
After interpreting Pharaoh’s dream with God’s help, Joseph again spoke of God’s revelation to the king: “God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (41:28). In this particular context, such language is not manipulative, since Joseph was hardly in a place to use his talk of God to force Pharaoh’s hand.
But, suppose the situation is different. Suppose that the one speaking of God’s revelation is a person of considerable authority, while the one hearing is subordinate to that person. It’s not hard to imagine how a person in power could use “God talk” to intimidate others. If, for example, a senior pastor of a megachurch says, “God told me to do this,” it would be difficult for anyone loyal to or subordinate to that pastor to disagree.
Again, we turn to Al Erisman for wisdom about this situation. In his book The Accidental Executive: Lessons on Business, Faith, and Calling from the Life of Joseph, Al writes: “Although Joseph was right to attribute his interpretations to God, we need to be careful not to let what should be an expression of humility turn into a way of boosting our own authority. There is a fine line between giving God credit and claiming special insight. The danger here is that we might be tempted to use the claim of having special insight from God to challenge any disagreement with our supposed special revelation. Too often we may want to credit God to win an argument, while God really has nothing to do with our position.”
Al’s caution is wise, though it may not be relevant to many secular work environments today. Still, we who speak of God must do so with utmost humility, rather than with the kind of swagger that marks the behavior of some Christians who are sure that God is always on their side. Moreover, when we talk about God, we must examine the motivations of our hearts, lest we try to use God to promote our own agendas rather than God’s own agenda.
In my own pastoral experience, there were times when I was convinced God had shown me how he wanted to guide the church I was leading. Yet, as I shared this with my elders, I did not usually say, “God told me to do this so we had better do it.” Rather, I tried to say something like, “As I have prayed about this, I have come to believe that this is what God wants for us. But I need your wisdom and discernment to know whether I have heard God correctly.” Often, in the ensuing discussion, my basic sense of God’s direction would be confirmed, but there would be crucial and valuable modifications that came from the input of others. Our church would have been weakened if I had been so strong in my claim about God’s guidance that I shut the door to corporate discernment.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Have you ever been in a conversation when someone used “God talk” to try and force an agenda or manipulate you? How did you respond?
Have you ever done something like this?
If you strongly believe God has spoken to you, how can you communicate your conviction in a way that respects the discernment responsibility of the body of Christ?
Gracious God, how thankful we are that you speak to your people, including us. Thank you for guiding us today through your Word and by your Spirit. Thank you for giving us members of your family who can help us discern what you are saying. Help us, Lord, not to use you or your name as a way of advancing our own personal agenda. Give us humility of heart and humility of speech. May all we do and say be for your glory, not our own. Amen.
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, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.