Freedom in life is a fickle thing within the human soul. We are desperate for freedom, yet too quickly squander it. The human life is paradoxical, both formidable and fragile. Every individual carries a duality of purpose. In the Bible, we find the duality of purpose as the basis for the two primary commands,
1. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” and
2. “Love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”
(Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37-40)
The glory of the self is to fulfill its full potential, a form of worship to the God whose imago Dei (image of God) it reflects. The role of the self is to benefit the collective spirit of humanity which begins with the family and extends into society. Both the individual “self” and the communal “self” require accountability and leadership. For the soul to experience the blessings of the natural principles of liberty, leadership must exist in its proper context.
Are you familiar with the quote from the famous football coach Vince Lombardi, “Leaders are made; they are not born.”? There is a lot of truth in this, but the prying question still hovers, “What makes the spirit of a leader?” Clever. Audacious. Stately. Charismatic. Decisive. Dynamic. Such characteristics mirror many of the iconic rulers of history. However, in a very real sense, these “leaders” become tethered by an obsession with their legacy and mark on the world. Like Augustus Caesar, when on his deathbed asked,
“Do you think that I have acted my part on the stage of life well?
If all be right, with joy your voices raise,
In loud applauses to the actor’s praise.”1
Leadership requires a person to rise above the norm and seize opportunity. There is no one-size fits all description. We find the good, the mediocre, the bad, and the terrible. We create grandiose myth-like stories to surround their pedestaled egos. We witness culture indulge itself with the theatric pageantry leaders bring to given periods within the “art of living.” Consequently, we transfer trust into their human practices, over the principles of natural rights and virtue. More than not, we discover leaders who betray the people’s trust with ideas and policies that often end in heartache.
Even if we cannot choose our “communal” leaders; we all have the ability to be self-governed by wisdom. Wisdom forces a quality onto the soul that elevates a common existence and thought. While we all have access to pursue wisdom, not all desire its instruction. Yet, in wisdom we realize the greatest equity of freedom. Wisdom is an ability to use knowledge, gain understanding, and exercise discernment in all relationships. The decisions in life are either wise or foolish. Our expectation for our self and leaders, should be to choose wisdom.
Choice is a beautiful mystery of the natural rights given to humanity. Any one of the core trifecta faculties of the human experience (intellect, willpower, emotion) is singularly extraordinary. Comprised together, the whole human experience requires a constant self-care. The mind will be indulged, either by the truth or a lie. The strength of character will be motivated by principle or impulse. The agility of emotions will be guided by information or assumption. Tensions arise in the soul’s vulnerability to wishes and wants getting the better of us, so discernment is critical to develop and never dismiss. For leaders, even more so, discernment is a form of self-care that establishes boundaries to their own position of authority.
There is a universal pattern in human civilization concerning the rarity of wise leaders. No matter the period of history, society has suffered from a short supply of them. The ability and aptitude to truly understand the order of time and place has historically, and presently, been reserved to an elite few. Thankfully, history has preserved the legacy of some leaders who are truly “exceptions to the rule.” We have an obligation to not overlook them. There is a remarkable solidarity in their character traits.
Courage and humility are two common pillars of wise leaders. Few understand how to balance, let alone flex, these distinct, yet powerful and effective strengths. The crowning jewel is a deep reverence for the natural principles of liberty, meant to be the standard for human life. Wisdom and self-control, motivated by the principles of liberty, understand the depth of human origin. The tendency to cling to power reflects weakness, not wisdom. Human beings are not made for the glory of another human. Humans are made for the glory of God. Though the ideals of a virtuous leader are praised in word, most positions of power are obtained by an amplification of individual human successes. The principles of liberty give direction for a leader to discern their purpose and responsibility. Too often we follow others too easily, while treating truth too skeptically.
The Holy Scriptures give simple qualifiers to be an “elite” leader worthy of respect (Exodus 18:21).
1. Fear God.
2. Embody Truth.
3. Hate dishonest profit.
Let us look at one ancient example.
Gideon became a military general who won victory over oppression. By military standards, it was a ludicrous strategy. At first Gideon declined God’s plan, essentially excusing himself as, “A nobody!” Only to then become one of the greatest examples of purpose over power. The book of Judges records how the Angel of the Lord saw Gideon as a “mighty man of valor.” Here God’s humor reveals a divinely appointed maturity that Gideon had no idea he possessed.
Judges 6 – an unlikely man
Gideon questioned God. (v 13)
Gideon sang of his weaknesses. (v 15)
Gideon boasted of his insignificance. (v 15)
Gideon begged for a sign. (v 17)
Gideon feared rejection. (v 27)
Gideon cut down the communities religious idols. (v 28-32)
Gideon tested God. (v 36-40)
Judges 7 – military leader
Gideon sent all cowards home, a total of 22,000. (v 3)
Gideon sent the careless home, a total of 9,700. (v 5-6)
Gideon kept 300 men for battle. (v 8)
Gideon used intelligence operations. (v 11)
Gideon eavesdropped on dreamers. (v 13-14)
Gideon worshipped. (v 15)
Gideon commanded. (v 17-20)
Gideon conquered. (v 11-12)
Gideon judged. (v 13-21)
Gideon’s life holds a measure of God’s humor and sovereign wisdom over even the most tragic and epic stories of his life. He became a war hero ready to take the stage of praise and acclaim. A man made for the hour; a dark hour that had been pressed upon his people. What lies behind the man, is courage mixed with humility. Gideon did not forget whose glory he had fought under, whose liberation he served for, and to whose authority he owed his life.
The people, weary and worn down by oppression, were the ripe pickings of any leader to seize “self-made” power. When life is surrounded by the seemingly insurmountable economic, political, and social depressions, the lure is to ignore the compassionate warning of God,
“Do not trust in princes, nor in a son of man (a mere mortal), who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3)
Gideon did not take the “golden apple,” presented to him by the people. The people’s plea “Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us…” He saw the fallacy of wanting a “ruler,” and discerned that the people were offering what was not their need, nor their right to do, “subject their future posterity” to hereditary rule. He was apprehensive enough of his own capabilities to remain dependent on God’s wisdom. Gideon resisted and echoed words that any wise leader ought to embrace,
“I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:23)
If those words were penned onto the soul of every man, women, and child, this world would know the peace of God and the divine gift of unity and freedom.
The reality is we all lead in some capacity. Maybe not on the grand stands for public display, but how we govern our thoughts and attitudes are indicative of how we lead our day to day lives. May we find a willingness, each in our own corners of this world, to become a leader. We must be willing to stand alone at times. We must possess courage to make tough decisions.
Remember, a wise leader understands the power of humility. A discerning leader extends genuine compassion and justice for all souls. The character of a great leader is marked by more than action, and motived by more than power. A worthy leader inspires others to cherish the freedom of their own soul and respect the liberties of the unborn generations yet to come.
1. (Source: Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 97)
Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; An English Translation, Augmented with the Biographies of Contemporary Statesmen, Orators, Poets, and Other Associates. Suetonius. Publishing Editor. J. Eugene Reed. Alexander Thomson. Philadelphia. Gebbie & Co. 1889.