Image can actually carry us for a while, even in ministry, it appears (the Apostle Paul even talked about this). However, sooner or later our character will surface and declare who we really are. Last week we looked at Proverbs 4:23 which states: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). Character is the quality of our heart and character absolutely defines our influence – our leadership influence. Character then gives us credibility.
Credibility is a commodity. Credibility is a currency. And credibility leads to influence. Managers can put pressure on employees. Military leaders can give orders. Positional leaders have leverage. They have the proverbial “big stick.” But if we are trusted, we have credibility, and people will go so much further than minimal expectations (or fear of the “big stick”) if they trust the credibility of the leader. People give their time, energy and even their lives for leaders they trust. Credibility is the building-block for leadership. This is an absolute must for leaders. Think of the qualifications of an elder (see Titus 1 or 1 Timothy 3). There are some 15 qualifications here. Only two are skill-related. These are “apt to teach” and “able to manage his family”. The remaining qualities are internal qualities, which build trust and shout: This person is a credible person! This person can be trusted! This is why our best leadership builds over time. People have seen the fruit of our heart. They now know us and trust us. They will now follow us because they know that we really love God, that we really love them and that we are truly and relentlessly committed to the purposes of God. Do not expect someone to follow you into battle who does not yet know you and who does not yet trust the integrity of your heart. Conversely, this is why some of us are not seeing our leadership influence expand. When we do not return phone calls (or emails), do not say thank you, do not demonstrate real authentic care for the weak or are prone to being curt with people or losing our temper, we hurt our credibility.
Character is shaped. We are impacted by our family of origin, by pain, by our environment, by our education, and by various additional kinds of input, both good and bad. While we cannot control many of life’s inputs, we can control our response to those inputs and learn from them. This further shapes and defines our character. This deserves our reflection.
A frightening reality is that character is also defective and deceiving. Motive is a Pandora’s Box. We often prefer not to even ask what our motivation is for fear of what we might discover. James Thurber has observed that “All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.” This is an exceedingly penetrating question that rocked my world over 20 years ago. What drives you? What motivates you? What are you fleeing from? What are you running towards? What are you passionate about? How might you keep your passion alive for God? God does use people with ill-motives. However, how much better if we serve well and with honourable motives. Some people are pleasers and some are ambitious for mixed reasons. Often times, the very thing that we are most praised for and most effective at, is an initiative that is done with mixed motives. What is the answer to this dilemma? Understanding and acknowledging this reality is essential and a critical step which will move us towards spiritual health and ongoing maturity.
Thankfully character is forgivable and redeemable. This is wonderfully illustrated by the life of David. It is often probed - Why is David so highly revered and honoured when his life reflected several abysmal failures? These include: adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11); the murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11); his passivity with internal family conflict; his son Amnon raping his daughter, Tamar; his other son, Absalom murdering Amnon; Absalom initiating a revolt and being finally killed (2 Samuel 13-18); and his pride inspired census (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21). Surely, these horrible behaviours take away from the glow, and leave David as tarnished as the rest of us. I want to suggest that the reason for David’s larger-than-life reputation has less to do with his leadership in good days, and more to do with his response in difficult and dark days. David’s response after his sin was one of absolute brokenness. When Nathan confronted David with his sin, David was instantly broken. When David witnessed the fallout in his family, his heart ached at an unimaginable level of regret and pain. When David awoke to his pride at the census, he was again, grief-stricken and he confessed his sin. He agreed with God that his actions were sinful. David was said to be a man after God’s own heart. This was because David had a sensitive heart that was humble before God. This is what distinguished David before God, before the leaders of old, and compared many of the leaders of today. Today, when we are confronted with our wrongdoings, we may excuse, we may blame, we may explain, or we may defend. David “agreed” (this is the essence of confession). He grieved regretfully, and corrected his behaviour. Our character is defective and deceiving. Know this. Own this. But, thank God, your character is forgivable and redeemable. So, whatever sinful things that may be driving you, confess them. Understand them. Bring them under the control of the Lordship of Christ. Continue to cultivate your character – to honour God and extend your influence for the purposes of God. In so doing, “’guard your heart”.