I’ve written previously about the joys of leadership, Today I’m writing about the trials and tribulations leaders can experience either in preparing for leadership or in giving leadership. This post really applies to any believer, but it was written specifically for leaders.
How do you respond when people or circumstances are distressing you? When it seems the world is just not unfolding according to plan? Sometimes difficulties may cause leaders to feel they are up against supernatural forces, especially when there are several difficult issues all at once. Maybe they are being attacked by Satan, or perhaps even being crushed by God.
If you feel you are breaking under pressure, you need a better way of thinking about the difficulties. Sure, you need to do everything humanly possible to overcome the problems. Don’t ignore the obvious! But try switching from the “under attack – victim” mentality to the more profitable question, “What does God want me to learn through all this?”
Because the truth is, God wants broken leaders.
Life is full of ups and downs, and no one has written more realistically about life than David, the shepherd-king of Israel, who was utterly vulnerable and completely transparent in his psalms. He learned from his own painful life that being broken was crucial to developing his ability to serve God as a faithful king over God’s people.
A spirit that has been broken is a spirit that has faced selfish ambition, pride, opportunism, or any other negative traits, and rejected them. It is a spirit that has learned to do right no matter how painful it is, how unfair it is, and how hopeless the future seems to be. It is a spirit that truly has “let go in order to let God.”
A broken spirit is a formerly wild spirit that has been subdued and harnessed by the Holy Spirit. Having a broken spirit does not mean it needs fixing. It means that the person has submitted to God and given God first place over any personal aspirations, thoughts, or feelings that place self first. This is a person ready to serve God.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
There is no soft-pedalling what David meant in this verse. The verb translated as broken means exactly that – broken, shattered, destroyed. The adjective translated as contrite means crushed, broken in pieces. God wants people who make no excuses, who blame no other person, and who can only say honestly to God, “You’re right.”
We’ll never really know if we are broken and contrite until we have the opportunity to test ourselves. So God allows breaking experiences, either to help us become broken or to put our brokenness to the test.
By definition, a breaking experience is painful. I wish we could avoid it, but the fact is, as much as they are never enjoyable, I am glad when breaking experiences come because they are always times of transforming growth. Through them, we deepen our relationship with the Lord and discover profound insights into our innermost thoughts, attitudes, and traits. They make us better people.
Moses, Jeremiah, Paul, and many others had their breaking experiences which made them useful to God. And of course, Jesus is the model for how to get through a breaking experience, and we see him reaping his reward on the other side of the experience: being exalted by his Father and receiving a name that is above every other name (Phil 2:9-11).
Learning from breaking experiences
Before you realize you are in a breaking experience, your situation just seems very painful and life is hard.
The moment of transition from experiencing pain to learning from pain comes when you change your perception from one of being:
- assaulted on all sides
- a victim
- certain of your rightness
- blaming others, Satan, or circumstances for your problems
to an understanding that God is redeeming the situation by letting you grow from it. At this point, your focus turns inward as you explore parts of who you are that you may never have confronted before. When you go through a breaking experience, you emerge on the other side as a better person who is far more useful to God than ever before. You emerge as a true servant of God rather than master of yourself.
Brokenness and Leadership
To help you understand brokenness, there is a terrific little book I recommend just as highly to you as Pastor Bill Pipke recommended it to me when he gave it to me many years ago.
A Tale Of Three Kings is a short study in brokenness (it’s only 105 pages and it has fairly wide margins!). It tells the story of how David suffered so that he could be the great king God wanted him to be. Even though already anointed to be king by God’s prophet Samuel, David did nothing to bring himself to the throne. And later in life, he did the same in reverse, doing nothing to defend his throne from Absalom. He lived a hard-pressed life of danger, persecution, and discomfort, yet that is what made him a man with
- a broken and contrite heart, and
- a broken spirit
In short, it confirmed him as a man after God’s own heart.
Pastor Bill gave me A Tale of Three Kings back in 1993 when I was a deacon on a badly divided church board. My experience during my first two terms on this board was quite upsetting. A Tale of Three Kings was like balm for the soul. And just as Pastor Bill has done, so have I come back to this book many times over the years. It is the one book in my library that I have not highlighted because I don’t ever want to scan it.
I remember sitting in an airport departure lounge somewhere reading a book and highlighting it as I read. An elderly Sikh man came and sat beside me, watching me make the highlights. He finally asked why I was highlighting. “Because,” I responded, “the next time I will be able to quickly scan it for the key ideas.” He responded right away, saying, “I do not ever mark a book. The next time you open it, it will be a different book speaking something different to you because you yourself will be different.”
Food for thought!
I still highlight, but I have to admit he’s right. Sometimes I wonder why I thought something was important enough to highlight, and sometimes I wonder how it was I didn’t see the significance of something that I didn’t highlight.
A Tale of Three Kings is one of those books you shouldn’t highlight. It speaks fresh whispers from God’s heart to mine each time I read it. The book restores my peace and lifts me up again. I see myself more clearly than ever. It helps me remain a leader who can be useful to God.
When being crushed and broken, will you respond in the spirit of David, or in the spirit of Saul and Absalom?
The discipline of self-examination
As ministry leaders, we need to examine ourselves regularly with incisive questions that get to the heart of our soul, and we need to answer them with brutal honesty. We need to pick up a scalpel and lay bare our hearts, our inner thoughts, attitudes and motivations, for intense scrutiny in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Questions could include:
- What is the real reason I have made or propose to make this decision?
- Am I trusting God for my position in leadership, and am I willing to follow him away from leadership?
- Am I truly leaving my welfare in my leadership role to God rather than taking it into my own hands?
- Am I exercising good stewardship of my call to lead?
One of the best tools for self-examination is to write a case study about yourself. I dare you to try this!!!! It is the most powerful tool I know of for stepping outside of yourself, objectively analyzing your behaviour and innermost thoughts, and then finding the very best worldly and godly wisdom to help you move forward.
And of course, nothing replaces the very best thing you can do: ask the Holy Spirit to assess you, and then wait in silence and solitude for his response. Give God some quality time – a few hours at least – and you will be amazed at what you learn.
Please comment and add your own questions that you use to examine your heart!