Seeing with spiritual eyes

What did you hear from God?

That’s the question I anticipate others wondering after I’ve taken a full day in solitude and prayer. It is no easy thing to take that much time in a busy period, and it’s painful to consider coming away with nothing tangible. When spiritual expectations are high, leaders have a strong temptation to make something up rather than admit they didn’t hear anything.

I wonder if the reason that no great prayer is recorded in Exodus 17 is that, up on that mountain, Moses is more focused on listening than speaking. In my experience, a day of prayer includes both sending and receiving. I would expect that, as a friend of God (Ex 33:11), any conversation between Moses and God would have been two-way. It’s possible the words aren’t recorded because they are not as important as what Moses is hearing and seeing.

Continuing the discussion of my last blog, in this post I want to consider a second line of thought:

B. What should I see that is not visible?

What does Moses see? When he reports back after his day on the mountain, it’s clear that he has seen some things that went way beyond what played out before him in the valley. When the battle is over, God tells Moses to write down a record, and recite it in the ears of Joshua, of what seems to be God’s plans over centuries (Ex 17:14,16). God has revealed His purposes, pulling Moses out of the present and into His mind for the nations and eras. This will prove to be merely the first battle with Amalek, and it will be a war that carries on from generation to generation. Eventually, someday, Amalek’s memory will be blotted out, but not before continual attempts to “wipe [Israel] out as a nation” (Ps 83:4)

It’s chilling to consider how this will come true in later passages of Scripture.

  • When the Israelites first listen to the ten spies instead of Caleb’s and Joshua’s advice, then change their minds and try to enter the promised land in their own strength, it’s Amalek who decisively defeats them (Num 14:45). Amalek relishes its role when Israel is at its weakest.
  • They will feature in almost every attempt to destroy David’s messianic line. For instance, it’s Amalek who kidnap David’s wives and children at Ziklag (1 Sam 30).
  • It should be no surprise that Haman, the man who led the most blatant effort at anti-Semitic genocide, was descended from an Amalekite king (1 Sam 15:7, Esther 9:24).
  • Moses’ reflection on this moment in Deuteronomy 25:19 takes on modern relevance when he says, “you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

In fact blotting out Amalek is exactly what Samuel commands King Saul to do in 1 Samuel 15:2-3. God tells him to devote the Amalekites to destruction and annihilate them because of the ambush of Israel in Exodus 17. When Saul lets some of them live, failing to carry out God’s “fierce wrath against Amalek” (1 Sam 28:18), God rejects Saul as king.

So this isn’t a run-of-the-mill, single, flesh-and-blood battle. Moses is tuned into an epic battle between the spiritual forces taking place behind the scenes. None of it was visible to anyone else.

In my last post, I mentioned three responsibilities of a leader in his or her intercession:

1. Gaps

2. Traps

3. Opps

To that list, I want to add another:

4. Insights

Seeing the invisible

A leader can gain several levels of insight as he prays. It may be long-term perspective, or spiritual underpinnings, or prophetic revelation. A key factor is the leader’s practiced sensitivity to God’s voice—which largely comes from personal spiritual disciplines such as solitude and silence, reflective practices like examen, and discernment practices such as consolation and desolation. It also comes from a commitment to courageous responsiveness to any direction received from God.

How does a leader develop that kind of sensitivity? For most of us, it doesn’t come easily. Some leaders have more of a prophetic or priestly approach to leadership; I have more of an kingly bent. What’s more, I didn’t have much practice in these disciplines before I stepped into the top job at Wycliffe Canada. Motivated by an overwhelming hunger for God’s presence, knowing that a large organization was too heavy a load for me to carry (Num 11:14), and a longing for the wisdom that comes from God (James 1:5), I was grateful when a board member introduced me to Ruth Haley Barton. Her book, Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership, drew out lessons from Moses’ life—how his own 40 years in the wilderness prepared him to lead a nation through the wilderness for 40 years. Encouraged by her prior book, Sacred Rhythms, I began to try to put into practice Moses’ rhythms of seeking God, spending time with Him and turning to Him in frustration, weariness, and anguish.

Her next book, Pursuing God’s Will Together, led me in leading a team to sharpen our ability together to listen and pay attention to how God speaks: as Scripture comes alive; as we notice His activity and presence; as we sense His peace and consolation in a decision; as He draws our attention to facts we might have missed; or as we examine a check in our spirit, a sense of desolation.

I’m still not great at it. If I’m not in practice, I lose the ability to receive from the Lord. But I’m committed to listening for God’s voice and insights. It’s a discipline that’s critical for my spiritual authority as a leader. I’m only worth following as I follow Him.

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Moses on the Mountain series:

One year reflection

One of my colleagues recently asked me if I’d taken the time to reflect on my first year in the job. I did some quick, on-the-fly verbal processing with her and then began a longer personal reflection. My basis was the idea of examen and the specific questions, “In what areas did you experience consolation?” and “In what areas did you experience desolation?” I am trying to incorporate those questions into my quarterly days of prayer and an annual retreat. But if I’m to incorporate reflection into my weekly or daily practices, I’ve finally concluded I need to condense to one question. Two questions decreases the likelihood of follow-through. So it comes down to this: “Where did I see God at work in either the positive or negative events I experienced?”

I know you’re interested in my answers to those questions, but they’re more personal than I want to get into in this public a forum. Instead, this forum warrants a different question that you may find relevant: “After a year of leading an organization at the highest level, do I still stand by the leadership theories I espoused here in this blog?”

In general, I still feel strongly about the philosophy I articulated here. Of course, there are a few posts that show some naiveté, but surprisingly few that I would take back. While the purposes of my two and a half years in leadership development were to invest in others and initiate leadership development and succession planning programs for the organization, I was the one who benefitted the most. I used that period as a self-study masters in leadership.

Bobby Clinton talks about the phases in the life of a leader. To really digest his material requires extended reflection on a leader’s experiences, beliefs and practices. Those years afforded me the time to reflect and articulate a leadership philosophy that has allowed me to feel slightly less like I’m flying by the seat of my pants. Believe me: I am no MBA grad or Six Sigma consultant, plugging in formulas and templates for every challenge. My leadership philosophy and practice is much more reactive and organic; it’s centred around critical thinking, brainstorming and art direction. Yes, I am a design thinker who leads on the canvas of reality rather than idealism. I love to incorporate the creativity of others in my solutions. And I’ll compromise on specific ideas to get 80-90% of my goal.

I’ve found that philosophy to be well-suited to the circumstances I inherited at Wycliffe Canada.

Stay tuned. No doubt I have plenty of time to eat my words. But that’s part of my philosophy as well: sometimes ready-fire-aim and then fire again is more appropriate than the ideal alternative. You just have to be quick to apologize when you get it wrong, and try again.