24 Mar '13
Spiritual depth and Christian leadership
King Saul, in the Old Testament is a great example of a leader who started well but neglected the practices of a deeply influential leader leading to a terrible finish. In his early years, he looked and acted like a king. He was described as “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others” (1 Samuel 9:2). In the early years of his reign he pulled off some impressive victories but early on there were signs that all was not well.
Saul started to believe that his leadership was about him rather than about a stewardship given him by God to us on His behalf. He ignored the prophet Samuel's instructions, and over time his leadership deteriorated, his heart showed the shallowness that it really was (even trying to kill David), until he himself lost his life on the battle field.
While Saul started impressively, it was the lack of depth in his spiritual life, the lack of wisdom in decision making that resulted in his long term decline in leadership effectiveness. He made poor decisions, took on bad advisers, displayed terrible emotional intelligence and undermined his own leadership as a result. Saul operated from a shallow rather than a deep place.
In an interesting comparison between the description on Saul an “an impressive young man,” when the prophet Samuel was instructed by God to go to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse (1 Samuel 16), he arrived and immediately assumed that Eliab must be the one (he looked like kingly material). “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’”(1 Samuel 16: 7). Instead of Eliab and the others, God had chosen the youngest, David, who was out tending sheep at the time which indicated his lowly position as the youngest.
God has an intriguing way of choosing leaders that would not be natural from the world’s point of view. Whether a Deborah during the time of the Judges, Paul, a former persecutor of the church, the disciples, many of whom would not be chosen to change the world, Joseph, a former convict, Moses, a “has been” who came into leadership with a felon record and from leading sheep for forty years, and the list could go on.
What God is looking for is depth of heart, faith, and wisdom that comes from the deep places in the inner self. The difference between Saul and David is startling and central to that difference is the deep inner well of spiritual depth that characterized David. This depth was evident even at an early age when it was he who took on Goliath (age 16 or so) but was deepened during the years between his anointing as King and the death of Saul when he became the leader of Judah and then Israel.
The books of 1 and 2nd Samuel are deeply instructive for those who want to lead well. Clearly David was a highly gifted leader. He engendered great loyalty from those he led, he was strategic in his leadership moves, undaunted by adversity and tenacious in reaching his goals. We know, however, from the Psalms that there was a rare inner depth which came from his relationship and dependence on God. One wonders where David found the time to go this deep spiritually when he was also the CEO of Israel but clearly he did. And the long term effectiveness of David when compared to Saul tells the story of why this matters.