Yesterday was one of those bad news days for me as a leader. Without going into the details, I found myself overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and anger along with a good dose of self-pity. The incident came in the middle of some other tough things I’m dealing with. I feel like the football player at the bottom of the mound of tacklers — it seems like people keep piling on. At times like this, my default response is to withdraw into self-protective mode.
Thankfully, the Lord came to my rescue this morning through His Word. In II Samuel 18, King David has just received the news that his rebellious son Absalom was slain in battle. Overcome with grief and regret, David withdraws into his royal chamber yet weeps so loudly he can be heard for blocks away: “O my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you–O Absalom, my son, my son!“ The army that has just squelched Absalom’s attempted coup steals quietly into the city, unsure what their emotional leader is going to do next.
Enter David’s military commander Joab. He goes to the king and says, “You have humiliated the men who put their lives on the line for you. While you are grieving the loss of your son, it appears to them that you care more about your enemy than your own people. If you stay in withdrawal mode, your army will quickly abandon you. You’re the leader, even if you don’t feel like leading right now. Get up and go encourage your men.” David accepts Joab’s wise counsel: “So the king got up and took his seat in the gateway (the visible position of authority). When the men were told, ‘The king is sitting in the gateway,’ they all came before him.”
What an important lesson for those of us God has called into leadership. There is no question that things are going to affect us deeply. When I face threatening pastoral challenges, I want to flee to some isolation chamber. But here’s what I learn from David’s story: leaders need to keep on leading, even when they don’t feel like it. Regardless of the internal pain I may feel, there are people looking to me for guidance, comfort, instruction, or challenge. At those times I need to get up from my isolation chamber and “take my seat in the gateway.”
Leaders don’t just lead when they feel up to the task. The best ones know how to lead precisely when they don’t feel up to the task. I need to remember not to exhaust too much of my emotional resources on my “enemies” — there are many more people waiting to be led than there are resisting my leadership. So today I choose to get up in the strength of God’s Spirit and take my seat in the gateway.