Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
“What have you done?” asked Samuel.
1 Samuel 13:7b-11 (NIV)
Early in my career, our company’s founder and CEO was accompanying me on a business trip. For a week I was presenting a very long and intense multi-media training event for all the Customer Service agents in our client’s contact center. Because there were hundreds of agents and they could only take them off the floor a handful at a time, I was doing multiple sessions each day from early morning until late night to make sure we even got all the third-shift reps trained. It was grueling, which is why my boss had come along to encourage and assist.
Towards the middle of the week, the head of our client’s contact center informed us that the conference room we were using was needed by their executive team. We would have to move all of our equipment to the only other room they could find for us. It was not ideal. The room they were sending us to was not a great space for what we were doing. And, we were already weary from the grinding schedule. It would take us a couple of hours to move rooms and set up for the next morning when we really needed to get some sleep.
I was surprised to watch my boss dig in his heels. I was young and relatively inexperienced in these types of situations, but it seemed clear to me that my boss seemed to think this was some kind of power play on the part of the Contact Center manager. He refused. A heated argument followed, which was followed by angry phone calls. The entire thing threatened to destroy a very good and profitable relationship we’d built with a large national corporation. I was watching a heady cocktail of pride, anger, and stubbornness drive my boss to dangerous and irrational behavior.
Tense situations in times of weakness or weariness often reveal a leader’s true mettle.
In yesterday’s chapter, God through Samuel established a new org chart for the monarchy. The King would handle political and military affairs while God’s prophet would handle spiritual matters and communicate with God who was still above the King on the org chart.
In today’s chapter, the first thing Saul does is cross the boundaries of the org chart. Fearful of the Philistines, anxious that Samuel has not arrived on time, and nervous about the fact that his troopers were rapidly going AWOL, Saul takes it upon himself to do Samuel’s job for him. It was presumptuous on Saul’s part to think he had the authority to do his prophet’s job, and it was directly disobedient to the system God had put in place. Perhaps, most importantly, Saul’s actions were motivated by fear, not faith.
I couldn’t help but think of a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V in which a tired, sick, and rain-drenched English army is on the march. The French Herald arrives to announce that a freshly assembled French army is ready to confront the weary English soldiers. The Herald then offers Harry “ransom.” In other words, “You surrender and become our prisoner, and you won’t be hurt in battle. We’ll charge England ransom for your return while we destroy your army on the field.”
Harry refuses the offer to the encouragement of his men, but he and all his men know that to face the French in their present state would be disastrous. One of the King’s nobles confesses to Henry what everyone in the English army is thinking: “I hope they don’t attack us right now.”
King Henry replies, “We are in God’s hands, brother. Not in theirs.”
That’s faith and courage to press on despite fear. By contrast, Saul’s actions reveal a lack of faith and a penchant for acting rashly out of fear.
This brings me back to that tense stand-off in our client’s contact center. I got frantic phone calls from a colleague asking what was going on because they’d gotten frantic calls from our client asking them to do something about our boss. I had quietly watched this intense escalation, trying to respect the boundaries between myself and my boss. He had basically ignored me through the entire battle of egos in which he’d been intensely engaged. Finally, he turned to me and asked me what we should do.
I reminded him that our company’s mission statement (the one he wrote) said that we strive to be examples of “servant-leadership.” I quietly suggested that to serve our client well, we should bite the bullet and humbly move as requested. Thankfully, he agreed. A crisis was averted, though I’m not sure our company’s reputation remained unscathed. It became a good lesson for me.
In the quiet this morning, my heart and mind ponder my own positions of leadership in family, community, and business. I have my own natural human responses in times of fear and anxiety, and I confess that not all of them are positive. I have a natural bent toward pessimism that tends to choke my faith like the seed that fell among the thorns in Jesus’ parable of the Sower. And yet, I have yet to give up in uncertain times and circumstances. When they come along, I try to remind myself of two passages I have memorized (over and over and over and over):
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
[Those who fear the LORD] will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
Psalm 112:7-8 (NIV)
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.