Saul was a head above most men. David was ruddy and smaller in stature. Saul was driven by an evil spirit and died a crazed, God-forsaken man. David drove an evil spirit from Saul with the sound of his lyre. Saul hid out in his tent when Goliath taunted the Israelites. David stood up for his people and his God and defeated Goliath. The difference between bad and great leaders is not appearance or experience. God uses the unexpected, unimpressive, and inexperienced to accomplish remarkable things.
The ultimate contrast between these men was not their appearance or experience; it was their spirit. Their relationship with the Holy Spirit made all the difference in their leadership. The chronicler of Israel’s history points to this primary difference between these two leaders: “And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul . . .” (1 Sam 16:13-14). We’re told that the Spirit rushed upon David, while the Spirit departed from Saul. One man was Spirit-filled and led. The other was Spirit-devoid and distrusting. David pled with God to not take his Spirit (Ps 51:11) from him. God’s Spirit left Saul.
Consider three differences in leadership between David and Saul:
In the face of Philistine blasphemies, David was incited with zeal for the Lord: “He was stirred to the depths with concern for the glory of God.”
David’s zeal was not for personal success but for God’s glory. He wasn’t childishly driven by self-promotion. He was bent on promoting the reputation of God. What am I promoting? Am I stirred to depths for the glory of God? Every one of us can ask these questions. Are we hiding out in our tents, our libraries, our offices, or are we incited with zeal for the Lord to pursue his glory through leadership, work, discipleship and mission? Are we passionately pursuing God’s glory or our own glory in how we lead?
Management vs. Empowerment
Saul tried to manage and control everyone around him. He relied on bribes to get others to fight Goliath (17:25). Saul discouraged young leaders like David (to not fight Goliath) because he was threatened by their leadership. The problem wasn’t that Saul lacked vision for what David could become; it was that he feared what David could become. He sought to manage, not empower the leaders around him. David, on the other hand, was constantly surrounded by “mighty men.”
We can lead our company, church, and organizations through empowerment. Rather than insist on control, we can relinquish control to let other leaders rise up in faith. Often we are too doubtful about some and too confident about others.
Moved by Wisdom
David wasn’t all zeal and faith. His zeal was mature because it was guided by wisdom and marked by self-control. When mocked by his brothers, he did not pick a fight or defend his abilities. Instead, he channeled indignation towards his enemies (17:28-29). The Spirit produces leaders that are balanced and discerning, not merely zealous and faith-filled.
Instead of getting side-tracked by petty issues, comments, and complaints, we lead with “one blind eye and one deaf ear” as Spurgeon put it. Don’t linger over the negative. Instead, we try to wisely discern what voices to listen to and which ones to shut out. Don’t entertain every idea. Follow the Spirit through wisdom, not ambition.
May God make us zealous, empowering, and wise leaders. May he never take his Holy Spirit from us. May we lead well and finish strong, ever dependent upon the Spirit, glorifying our great Redeemer and King Jesus!
The Jesus of the Incarnation provides us with a more authentic leadership than “alpha males” in the wild or in politics, for in His differences He is Alpha and Omega.
Some of us learned a new term during the late and unlamented presidential campaign. Campaign observers, drawing on something learned from studies of animals in the wild, told us that one of the candidates was trying to learn to behave as an Alpha Male. An Alpha Male. What does that mean?
In the wild, certain creatures become leaders of the pack and exhibit the sort of behavior that makes others follow them instinctively. Gray wolves, for example, will travel in packs, and one male and his mate will emerge as leaders. A certain aggressiveness, a body endowed with powerful limbs, the ability to react swiftly to danger, a protective spirit – all of these things mark the alpha male among gray wolves. And similar behavior can be found in the animal kingdom in a variety of creatures, from chimpanzees to iguanas. The alpha male is the one who takes charge, asserts himself, makes things happen, and allows for no rivals. Every inch the leader of the pack. The one others follow. The one who keeps peace in the pack by the force of his leadership.
We need alphas. We human beings are not exempt from the need to have someone to follow. Today we might quarrel with the insistence on alpha males; there are, and must be, alpha females too. But we need alphas. We need someone we can follow. We need someone with a vision of peace, a strategy for peacemaking and peacekeeping. Most of us are not made of alpha stuff. We must have in front of us a leader whose strength is indisputable, whose intellect is powerful, whose spirit is indomitable, and whose character is unquestionable. We must have someone who is committed to creating a peace-filled and orderly world.
But where shall we find such a person? Who will give us that sort of leadership? Who can make peace and keep peace for us. Will we find such a leader in politics? Some of us quickly became accustomed to the idea of a presidential vacuum during the recent election crisis. Some of us felt that the nation had not so much chosen a leader as it had waffled on both of the candidates. They just did not seem to inspire great passion, one way or the other. No real alpha males there.
Shall we find such a leader in the business world? An alpha male among the megamillions of the dotcom pioneers or the inventors of new biotechnologies? Will wealth make peace?
Shall we find an alpha in the academic world? A philosopher who can put all wisdom together and create peace?
Or in the military world? An alpha general who can marshal military muscle sufficient to hold the field for peace?
In a world of change and conflict, in a time of suspicion and terror, if we are to have peace, we must follow a leader who is an unquestioned alpha. Someone who stands without blemish at the head of the pack. Someone whose life, whose heart, whose mind, whose spirit we may trust.
Two thousand years ago, all of the same pursuits toward peace we use today had been tried and found wanting. The world had tried politics and there was no peace. Augustus Caesar on his throne in far-off Rome held that throne through intrigue and terror, not trust. Men followed Augustus because they had to, not because they wanted to. And there was no peace. There was no alpha.
Wealth had not created peace either. In fact the pursuit of wealth had wreaked havoc on humanity, for slavery was everywhere, and the unbridled pursuit of wealth made life miserable. Everywhere there were thieves and highway robbers. Decent people could not be safe, even in their own homes, when the publicans came around. King Herod, a small-minded man with a penchant for a pretty face and an appetite for self-indulgence, could have cared less about his people. No peace, no alpha there to guard the public trust.
Nor had military might made peace. Oh, Rome had imposed its own understanding of peace on the empire, but it was bought with a great price. Someone quipped that the Romans entered your land, destroyed it, made it a desert, and then called that “peace”. They came to destroy and not to build. And they governed with self-centered little men like Pontius Pilate, more concerned about being noticed by Rome so that a promotion would come than about building up the people. No alphas there, no leaders to be trusted.
Two thousand years ago, as now, the world was hungry for true peace. And needed someone to bring it peace. Needed an alpha leader to follow. The wonder of it all, that on a starlit night on a Judean hillside, heaven and earth saw Him born. A babe, but not just any babe. The prince of peace. A child, but not just any child. The alpha, the word made flesh.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
I submit to you tonight that Jesus the Christ, the child of Bethlehem, is the world’s alpha male. He is the one we must follow if there is to be peace. He is the one who can be trusted. He is the one who knows the secrets of our hearts and can bring us to authentic peace. He is our alpha.
Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads out of poverty and humility, not out of wealth and pompous prestige. Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He shows us that whoever is worth following is worthy because of the qualities of character he has, not because of the trappings of power around him. Leadership is not what you have, it is what you are. Leadership is not what stuff you have accumulated, it is the stuff you are made of. Jesus is our alpha because He leads us not with wealth or political power or military muscle, but with the force of His character.
Gardner Taylor is known as a prince of preachers. Many have tried to imitate his inimitable preaching style. The story is that years ago, one young preacher, noticing that Gardner Taylor often preaches with his pulpit robe hanging open, decided that would be his style too. He went to his pulpit, opened his robe, then opened his mouth, and quickly demonstrated that it’s not the robe on the outside of the man, it’s what’s inside the man inside the robe that makes a preacher. Jesus is our alpha, for he leads from a lowly stable, dressed in swaddling clothes, with nothing to persuade us of His importance. But He is our alpha by the force of His character.
Martin Luther King taught us a few years ago to be sure to measure others not by externals, like the color of their skin or the size of their bank account. He reminded us to measure others by the content of their character. Jesus Christ is without spot or blemish, without failure or flaw. He is our alpha, for He leads us not by the stuff He has, but by the stuff He is.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Further, Jesus Christ is our alpha, for He leads by identifying with us. Not by lording it over us, but by identifying with us. By living among us, feeling what we feel, seeing what we see, tasting what we taste, suffering what we suffer. He is no lofty philosophical ideal, above it all, untouched by the human predicament. He is the word made flesh, right here, getting his hands dirty, with us. With us. Immanuel, God with us. He identifies with us, just as we are.
If you travel around the world and see the images of Jesus as they are presented in various cultures, you will see a remarkable thing. You will see Jesus’ face taking on the characteristics of all the peoples who worship Him. In Japan, His almond-shaped eyes look out at you from rice paper paintings. In Peru, His high cheekbones are those of an Inca noble. In Poland, His features are unmistakably Slavic. In northern Europe, His image looks a bit like mine. In Africa, His image looks like many of you. It’s not that any of these images are historically and literally correct. Very likely Jesus the man looked something like your Jewish or your Arab neighbors. It’s not that these images are historically correct; they’re not. But they are spiritually correct. They are spiritually true.
Jesus is our alpha because He identifies with us. It is He, not Santa Claus, who knows what you’ve been thinking, for He knows who we are and what we face. He has been here. He has walked among us. He is like us and yet unlike us. Not a God a way out somewhere in the stratosphere, remote and untouchable. But with us. Among us. Like us. Jesus is our alpha, our prince of peace, for He identifies with us.
Further, Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life, a way of life which, if we take it seriously, will lead to peace. Jesus is our alpha, our pioneer, for He teaches a way of life like no other teacher who has ever lived.
I am persuaded that the sickness of modern Christianity is that we have not taken seriously the radical demands of our master. When Jesus tells us that if someone strikes us on one cheek, we are to turn the other, we dismiss that as unrealistic idealism. When Jesus teaches us that when that person who is so demanding, so insistent, and we’ve already given him as much as we think he deserves — when he asks for even more, we can’t handle it. We don’t like it. We won’t do it. But Jesus teaches that if any one asks of you your coat, give him your cloak as well. What a radical teacher He is! And we have never really taken Him seriously.
This coming year I hope to lead an outreach that will be second to none into a year of rediscovering Jesus. I want to gain buy-in of all denominations to form a coalition to push the initiatives of the gospel to a degree that gang-bangers and addicts alike would receive the essential Jesus. I hope we will conclude, as did the Temple officers reported in John’s Gospel, “Never man spake like this man.” How true that is! With what matchless insight He probes us and instructs us and leads us! Jesus is our alpha, for He teaches a radical new way of life.
A challenge: Dream a dream so big only God can fulfill it.
Dreams are not merely the nightly thoughts you experience as the brain sorts out the day’s events. They are the goals and visions that fire your heart and saturate your soul with joy at the very thought of them. They are those continuing visions of what you want your life to be at its highest level of fulfillment–what you want to do, how you want to do it, what kind of person you want to become in the process.
Your destiny and reason for living are wrapped up tightly in your dreams and desires, like the genetic information inside a seed. That dream in your heart contains your spiritual “DNA,” the very blueprint for who you are. Your dream is that idea, that vision for your life that burns inside of you–something you can’t ignore for long. It keeps coming back to your mind because it is part of who you are; it will never leave you alone.
A dream doesn’t drive you; it draws you. It is like a big magnet that pulls you toward itself. I don’t believe that there is a man or woman without a dream, because God designed every member of the human race to have dreams. Without a dream, a person will be frustrated in the present and will miss his or her future.
Your dream did not even originate with you. It resides within you, but God put it there. He is the source of your dream. When people dream without God, they find it hollow and unsatisfying. Every person must come to Jesus for his or her dream to make sense. In fact, without Jesus, you might follow a dream for your life that God never put in your heart.
Not every dream is from God. There is such a thing as godless dreams. But when your dream is God’s dream, it’s unstoppable.
Jesus said that apart from Him we can’t do anything and that all our dreams will be frustrated. The power, energy and creativity needed to fulfill our dreams must flow from Jesus.
The most common and most crucial question is, “How do I know which dreams in my heart are from God?” Here is the answer. You will know it’s God’s dream if:
1. It is bigger than you.
2. You can’t let it go.
3. You would be willing to give everything for it.
4. It will last forever.
5. It meets a need nobody else has met.
6. It brings glory to God.
Let’s unpack each of these. First, any dream God put in your heart will be much bigger than you. Most children start out with big dreams of being a major league baseball player or the first woman president of the United States. But people and circumstances whittle those dreams down to size. We reach adulthood, and we voluntarily trim our dreams to manageable proportions so we won’t be disappointed.
That’s the opposite of what we should do. We should set higher goals, not lower ones. God is the author of bigness, not smallness. We may not reach the highest dream, but we will go a lot farther by aiming high than aiming low.
The first test you can apply to your dream is: “Is it too big for me to fulfill without God’s help?” If you can do it without His help, you are not dreaming big enough. If it’s much bigger than you, you are on the right track. The Bible promises that all things are possible with God. Is your dream impossible enough? Does it go beyond you enough to qualify for God’s help? Your dream should be so big that it takes your breath away, makes you temporarily weak in the knees, and makes you cry out to God for help and guidance.
Next, are you able to let this dream go, or does it keep bugging you? A God-given dream is a bothersome thing: it won’t leave you alone! It keeps bobbing to the surface of your heart, clamoring for your mind’s attention. If that’s how your dream behaves, then it is probably from God. You also know it’s a God-given dream if you are willing to devote every ounce of energy and every minute of your days to it. A dream inspires devotion like the devotion a parent has for a child: you would give your very life just to see it grow and find fulfillment.
Will your dream last forever? Many people pursue dreams built on things that will fade away. They dream of fame, but fame never lasts. Others build dreams on wealth, health or power, but none of these last more than a few decades at most. A dream cannot be built on ego. It cannot be built on tradition–because the company expects it or your family expects it. None of these foundations will support your dream.
You must build your dreams on something that will last. Only two things in the entire world will last forever: truth and people. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word will never pass away. You have to build your dream on that never-changing foundation.
The second thing that lasts forever is people. God made human beings to last forever. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost, to die for people. That’s how we should spend our lives, too. If God Himself thought people were worth dying for, shouldn’t we follow His example? In fact, the only way to minister to God is to minister to people, as He said, “When you’ve done it to the least of them, you’ve done it to Me” (see Matt. 25:40).
Your dream must be built on human need. Will it help people? Improve lives? Alleviate human suffering? Does it fill a need nobody else is filling? If so, you can be sure that dream is from God. The secret to happiness in life is pouring into other people, giving without expecting anything in return.
Finally, your dream should bring glory to God. The most horrible thing in life is to realize you have wasted months, years or decades following the wrong dream. Life is too precious to fritter away by building on a crumbling foundation. Many people lose their lives, not by dying, but by squandering their time.
So, you’ve identified your dream. If fills all the criteria of a dream from God Himself. How do you bring that dream to fruition? It’s not about brute force, mindless energy or human calculation. Here are some steps that I have noticed people take on the road to reaching their dreams:
1. Get alone with God.
One reason people never discover their dream and purpose in life is that they never stop long enough to listen. They are like the World War II pilot who became lost over the ocean and radioed back, “I have no idea where I am or where I’m heading, but I’m making record time.” Someone else said, “It’s an ironic habit of the human race that we double our speed when we’ve lost our way.”
We have to get alone with God and listen. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” To get a vision from God, turn off the television. Get quiet. Let God talk to you. An Indian tribe in Oregon used to send young men out, when they came of age, with the instruction, “Don’t come back until you have a vision.” Those who got discouraged came back early. Those who stayed until they had a vision became the leaders of the tribe.
Paul spent three years in the desert listening to God before he began his ministry. That was his seminary education. He said: “God, what is the overarching, all-consuming passion of my life? What will I do until I die?” Once he discovered his dream, he lived an extraordinary life.
2. Review your gifts and talents.
Romans 12:6 says we each have gifts. God gave you the gifts you have; you didn’t choose them. Fulfillment comes when you use those gifts for Him in service of your dream. Your gifts are the key to discovering God’s will in your life.
Desire points us to our dreams. God uses desire to accomplish what He wants on this earth. How did He make sure the world was populated? He gave men and women a desire for each other to produce children. How did He make sure we cared for our bodies? He made us thirsty and made two-thirds of the planet water. He made us hungry and caused food to grow all around us.
God speaks to us through desires. Many Christians have come to think that their motives and desires are corrupt and untrustworthy, but the Bible says that if any man is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature. Old things pass away, and all things become new (see 2 Cor. 5:17). That includes our desires! The Bible says you can have the mind of Christ within you. So what does it say about your desires? It says your desires, when you become a new creature, are changed. That’s why God can say, “I want to give you the desires of your heart.”
3. Review your experience.
We pay attention not only to our desires and talents, but also to our past history. This is a powerful thing. Romans 8:28 says, ” … All things work together for good. … ” God uses all things.
God can use your desires and talents to serve your larger goals. Even if it’s a skill you don’t particularly enjoy, you may find it opens doors for you at key times. Not everything in our past is bound to be good. Some people reading this may have lingering pain in their lives. Some went through a divorce, grew up with angry parents or struggled with alcohol. Some had abortions, filed for bankruptcy or endured hurts that cannot be easily explained.
But each of these problems falls into the category of “all things.” God wants to integrate your hurts and difficulties into your life message. He never wastes circumstances, even bad ones. Before you became a believer, God was working to redeem the problems you faced. Not all things are good, but all things will work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Rom. 8:28).
Second Corinthians 1:4 says God helps us in our troubles so we can help others who have troubles, using the same help we ourselves have received from God. When you grasp that, it will change the way you view your life circumstances, and it will help you discover your dream.
5. Begin to explore different avenues.
6. Journal your dream.
Once you are able to define your dream, write it down. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.'” If you want to move ahead in your dream, you must write it down–inscribe it indelibly.
That shows resolve, definition and form. It is not enough to have an idea of what you want to do; you must have a plan for implementing it. Dreams do not come true by fantasizing–you have to write them down and let them become a guiding force in your life.
It has been said, “No individual has the right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.” But most people have lost their dream.
It seems impractical in this world to believe you were born for something great. Somehow it becomes more important to have a steady job, pay the mortgage, keep things moving forward with the least amount of disruption and the highest possibility for what our society calls “success.” But the fulfillment of your dream has little to do with what our society considers success–it’s much bigger than that. Are you dreaming big enough?