August 29, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Isaiah 42:1a,3-4,6,8a (NIV)
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight … A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.
I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles … I am the LORD.
Light is a biblical image not just for understanding and knowledge. It is also a metaphor for a flourishing life. Life and light are therefore deeply interconnected. We live in a season of flickering lights that seem to be on the verge of going dark. Institutions that we have counted on for dependable light and life have begun to flicker. What hope does Christian leadership offer in such a time?
One of my earliest memories as a child was the dazzle of lit candles at Christmas time. My mother’s German heritage required we use live individual candles, not strands of electrical lights. We spent many memorable evenings sitting in an otherwise unlit living room listening to German Christmas carols and watching the candles burn down. One by one, they flickered into darkness. That last image helps me imagine Isaiah’s “smoldering wick” metaphor about an oil lamp that flickers. Our family’s candles and Isaiah’s lamp both flickered because their lights were about to go out.
Light is a biblical image not just for understanding and knowledge; it is also a metaphor for a flourishing life. As was true for Jesus, so also for Isaiah; life and light are deeply interconnected.
We live in a season of flickering lights. For one, long-standing norms for good leadership character and behavior are regularly ignored, if not flouted outright. Even as Christians, some of us have embraced the coming darkness of leadership to advance our own political and economic interests. Flickering light is seen not as a warning but as an opportunity.
For another, our institutions – governments, businesses, schools, hospitals, churches, families – are all straining to cope with the seeming “perfect storm” of our time – a global pandemic colliding with a long overdue reckoning with the reality of structural racism. Institutions that we have counted on for life and light that are dependable and sustaining have begun to flicker.
What hope do we, as Christian leaders, have to offer at a time like this?
First, our text from Isaiah reminds us that our vocation as Christian leaders is to tend to “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks.” It’s easy to become discouraged and overwhelmed by the individual and institutional problems we face. It’s natural to want to move on to what appear to be more promising pastures. Of course, there are times when disruptive change requires us to move on. But, in my experience, more usually we are called to attend to the difficult challenges of the people and institutions where God has already placed us. So begin with the “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks” where you are.
Second, and more encouragingly, Isaiah tells us that what we bring to the world is not just our work, but God’s. Today’s text is striking in its focus and emphasis on God’s work in framing and enabling our work. In the last section of our text, the description of God’s calling of the servant is surrounded by God’s self-declaration, “I (am) the LORD.” This framing underscores God’s personal commitment to the work of the servant. Further, the four verbs used in describing the process by which God commissions the servant all point to God’s work in and through the servant. The LORD calls us, takes hold of our hands, keeps us, and makes us into a covenant for the sake of the world around us. In a world where the lights seem about to go out, it’s important to remember that God is powerfully at work keeping the lights on through us.
Finally, this text is fulfilled by Jesus’ own life and work, upon which our lives and work as Christian leaders are modeled. Given the scale and scope of the challenges we face, we easily falter and become discouraged. This text reminds us that Jesus didn’t succumb to either. It’s noteworthy that, in Hebrew, the words for “smoldering” and “discouraged” come from the same root, which can also be translated as “flicker.” Jesus did not “flicker” as he tended to the “flickering” lights in his day. By the Spirit, we can be empowered to do likewise. That should give us hope as we face the challenges of our day.
What are the “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks” in your personal and institutional life and work? Are you discouraged by them? Why or why not?
Take time this week to pay attention to one of the people or circumstances you identified in the above reflection. What might God be asking you to do?
Lord Jesus Christ,
You know this time and season in which we find ourselves. People we love are stressed; in some cases, they’ve become ill and are dying. We find ourselves alone and overwhelmed. Institutions we’ve counted on seem increasingly fragile. The lights of our lives are flickering.
Thank you that you are the Light of the world and that you do not flicker in tending to our flickering light. Give us grace to go and do likewise.
We ask in your Name. Amen.
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Servant at Work (Isaiah 40ff.)