Follow to Lead

While it may be popular to talk about leadership and to dream about being in charge, the Bible paints a different picture of leadership. Christians who lead because a still, small voice* calls them to do so know the difference.

Why follow God’s leadership? Following God’s leadership works differently than planning our own future. It requires us to hear His voice. While some hear His voice daily, others have not positioned themselves to listen. Sometimes God has to get our attention so that we can hear Him. God often uses circumstances to bring us to a position to lead, and getting to that position may require a strange and unexpected journey.

On a journey, we usually experience some discomfort. Our muscles get tired. Our bodies ache. Our habits may change. We may find ourselves sleeping on uncomfortable pillows or eating foods that don’t taste quite the same as our home-cooked meals. These are small discomforts compared to what our Bible heroes experienced.

When the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt, they cried to God and begged Him to relieve them of their discomfort. Yet, when God began to lead them out of slavery, they were not ready to walk into God’s leadership role for them. God wanted them to conquer the promised land, but they did not yet possess the heart of leadership He desired. They did not follow His instructions, so they wandered on a wilderness journey for 40 years.

In Deuteronomy 8:2, it says, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” So before God could give the leadership responsibility to the Israelites, He led them to a place where they could experience testing until they were ready to walk in obedience to His commands. From the Israelites, we learn that we are ready to follow God’s leadership when we position ourselves to hear His voice and when we set our hearts to follow His commands.

Abram was ready to follow God’s leadership, but are we? In Genesis 12:1, “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’ ” The Bible does not explain how Abram heard God’s voice, but it is clear that God did speak to him. We can be sure that Abram experienced discomfort when he chose to leave his home and follow the voice of God. Yet, his obedience to God resulted in the birth of the nation of Israel. From Abram, we learn that when we do hear God’s voice, we lead by following God’s instructions.

Why should we follow God’s leadership rather than planning our own future? Isaiah 55:8–9 explains the difference: “ ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ ” While following our own plans might result in leading well, our earthly thinking does not begin to match God’s heavenly thinking. These verses in Isaiah teach us that following God’s leadership puts us on a higher plane.

How do we hear God’s voice? God compares our journey with Him to a shepherd calling His sheep. God calls us individually to follow Him.  He calls each of us to humble ourselves and to enter into His kingdom. It is here that we listen for His voice and follow Him. We are under His watch care and His protection. He does not leave us, but rather He instructs us in His plans for us.

The Bible paints this picture clearly in John 10:2–4 and 9:

            “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper

            opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep

            by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on

            ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. . . . I am

            the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out,

            and find pasture.”

We hear God’s voice through a personal relationship with Him. This includes reading the Bible, praying, meditating, and listening for His voice. Many of us know that we need to spend time listening for His voice, but we manage a busy lifestyle. Sometimes we put God on hold and forget that stopping to listen will result in higher, heavenly thinking.

Are we willing to listen for God’s voice, to follow His plan, and to lead according to His instructions? Perhaps we might avoid wandering in a wilderness for many years like the children of Israel. Better still, we may, like Abram, start something greater than we ever imagined. Whatever the result, our thinking will be heavenly.

If we want to lead, then let’s get ourselves ready by following the real leader.

*See 1 Kings 19:11–13.

—Claudia Johnson, leadership consultant, Christian Women’s Leadership Center; former IMB missionary to Southeast Asia.

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