Week of October 10

God’s Good Leaders are Active “Waiters”

Read: Ezra 7-8; Luke 20
“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods.”
Ezra 8:21, ESV


How long are you prepared to actively wait when tasked to lead? Preparation to be God’s effective leader will require us to learn to wait upon Him. This “prepare-wait” approach to leadership may seem to be counterintuitive, but Ezra demonstrates why this is so important. Max Dupree once said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define responsibility. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Ezra embodied this description, and he found success. God defined what Ezra’s responsibility was to be, the priest served his God, and when all ended successfully, he thanked Him. We may learn an important leadership lesson from Ezra’s example!

Let's See What the Bible Says

Background to Ezra’s Life and Ministry
Ezra is named after its main character who was a scribe that revived the Mosaic law as a foundation for Jewish religious and social life during the period of restoration after the Babylonian exile came to an end (538 B.C.). Ezra-Nehemiah is one book in the Hebrew Bible. The two are separated in our English Bibles. Ezra’s firsthand account appears in 7:1-9:15. The theme and theological focus of the Book of Ezra is God’s use of pagan kings and godly leaders to restore His people through their worship in the temple and a revival of the Law of Moses. [HCBC]
The Person God Uses
Ezra had the credentials to do the job. His qualifications included a call from God (7:27-28; “hand of God was upon me”), his priestly genealogy (cf. 2:62), his knowledge of God’s word (7:6; the Law), and his devotion to practice and teach the word of God (7:10; cf. HCBC). King Artaxerxes, himself not a Jew, recognized Ezra’s qualifications and issued a decree that he was to lead a company of volunteers to provide oversight of religious life in Jerusalem according to God’s law (cf. 7:11ff., esp. 27).

God remains in charge. There are indeed differences between the priestly office in Ezra’s day and ministerial leadership in ours, but there are several ingredients that do not change. Each one will help to clarify the need in our present generation for godly, successful leaders. First, God issues the call. There is no such thing as a “self-call.” Secondly, God’s word serves as both the rule and guide for moral living. Moral authority for ministry leadership originates from God Himself (cf. Luke 20:1-8). Thirdly, effective leadership requires the priest/minister to practice what is taught.
The Essential Ingredient of Active Patience
Here is my Ashlock-ism for today! Moving forward in faith often requires sitting still before the Lord. The tendency for leaders in any generation is to advance ahead of God’s command. This would be like an army getting ahead of its supply chain of munitions in a critical battle or like launching into a building effort without the necessary materials needed to complete the project.

Notice, however, that Ezra sat still and waited worshipfully upon the Lord prior to departing for Jerusalem (8:21; cf. Acts 1:4, “wait for the promise”). He knew that this wait was a part of the journey (cf. King Saul’s impatience in 1 Samuel 13:8-13)! Ezra asks God for a “safe journey,” which literally means “a straight way” that would be unhindered by obstacles and dangers (8:21; cf. Proverbs 3:5-6). In Ashlock speak, “Always take the longer faith-view even if you only have a short journey.” God’s mercies are needed for every breath we take, and move we make, no matter the expedition!

Allow me to amplify the previous idea. The greater witness is often found in what God’s people do not do; that is, to work outside of His provision and protection (cf. Matthew 4:5-7). Ezra states that he was “ashamed” to ask the king for protection, since he had indicated that God was sufficient for the evil that they might face (cf. Matthew 6:13, “deliver us from evil”; Luke 11:4; “lead us not into temptation”). The priest had gone out on a limb stating that his God was big enough to handle the need, so he needed to demonstrate his dependence upon this God! Notice the means to that end. The irony of strength for the ministry is that Ezra fasts from food that provides physical strength in order to travel in the full spiritual strength that God provides (Ephesians 6:10, 18-20). This prayerful dependence upon God is always the heart of success in biblical terms (Nehemiah 1:4; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 17:21; Acts 14:23). It has been said that “good leaders care about what is right.” The road to success is paved with following God’s “right” even as we wait on Him (cf. Matthew 5:6).

Let's Deepen Our Walk

We were dining with some friends some time ago when I could not help but notice that our waiter was highly active but almost unnoticeable! He did not interrupt our mealtime conversation but always managed the flow of the dining experience. He obviously knew how to “wait” tables. Do you see my intended double meaning? He served by pausing when it was needed to move the entire experience forward to a good close.

Here is a thought for our spiritual growth. Are you that type of leader who is over-equipped (credentialed) but under-led by God? Let me address our spiritual leaders, but the point has application at home and on the job. I have come to the settled belief that a common definition of leadership, “leaders lead,” may be misleading and even hurtful to Christian leaders and their followers. While it is true that Christian leaders do lead, there also is one essential phrase that a secular definition does not have. Leaders lead under the orders and empowerment of their Supreme Commander, the Lord Himself. The subtle temptation to take charge and do good things for God carries with it the real possibility that God will be left behind or out of the process all together.

Keep in mind that God’s people had been in exile for four decades and the temptation to race to return home would have been great. Ezra, however, moved only when God gave directions to move. First, he had a decree from a king (God used Artaxerxes to accomplish His will). I wonder what that king thought when he received word that the people had been set free to return to their homes, but they were sitting still to seek God’s aid with their journey! What a witness that must have been. Secondly, they were grounded in God’s word. Thirdly, they did not depart until he had made proper spiritual preparation—centering the group under God’s leadership.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. What’s your plan at church, on the job, and at home? Where did it originate? In other words, how does God’s will factor into “the plan”? Take time to consider the leadership role that you exert at church, in the home, and on the job. What may be causing you to get ahead of God? Stop now and decide to build patient trust in God into your leadership style.

2. For Families: To have fun while emphasizing this biblical passage and truth from Ezra’s book, play a game of “Red Light, Green Light” with your children. The person who is “It,” stands at the finish line, while everyone else stands in a row at the start line, some distance away, facing the person who is “It.” When “It” calls out “Green Light,” everyone runs toward the finish line. When “It” calls out “Red Light,” everyone must stop and freeze, without moving. If anyone moves, he or she is declared to be out of the game. The goal is to stay in the game and to cross the finish line first.

After the game is over, encourage your children by relating their lives to the game they just played. When God says to move forward, we move. When God says to wait on Him, we wait. How do we know what God is saying? The answer is that we read our Bibles, we pray, and we learn to hear God speak to us. We can pray to God all day long inside our hearts. As we become more like Jesus every day, we will hear God’s voice speaking to us and guiding us. “Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude” (Colossians 4:2; The Message).

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock