Steven Spielberg's new movie examines the life and accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln. What was it that made him an effective and inspirational leader?
President Lincoln had a lot of critics in his push for abolishing slavery in the South. But he had the courage to stand up for what he thought was right. He wanted to finish the work of freeing the slaves and preserving the nation that would be one nation, free, under God. He was willing to risk his political life, and he bravely stood up to be a champion of freedom.
One historian’s list of what he believes are important characteristics of true leadership includes one characteristic that Lincoln clearly demonstrated. That is “the ability to see the world clearly, and to draw the right conclusions from what is seen…
“Abraham Lincoln felt all else had to be sacrificed to the overwhelming necessity of holding the Union together, behind the principles of 1776…Such concentration of effort is itself a product of clarity of vision which includes a strong sense of proportion” (quoted by William Bennett, The Book Of Man, 2011, p. 321).
Where are the great leaders?
When we look at the world scene today it’s natural to wonder why we don’t see any great leaders like Abraham Lincoln.
One obvious problem is that many leaders let the power of their office go to their heads. It would be tough to maintain a humble attitude if so many of your supporters almost deify you, as is often the case.
Another problem, specifically for presidents of America, is a toothless modern church. As Marvin Olasky recently observed in World Magazine : “A half century ago America’s leaders typically attended church regularly and had a better sense of what was unseemly, but that sense became unsustainable as mainline Protestantism turned into a hollow, doughnut faith. When people make lifestyle decisions without the sense of humility and modesty engendered by belief in an almighty God, unseemliness is the result” (“Not Classy,” Nov. 3, 2012).
It’s one thing to profess faith in the Almighty but another to truly humble yourself in your daily life. Leaders need to be willing to put the national good as based on biblical principles ahead their personal goals.
It’s what’s inside that counts
A true leader needs godly characteristics more than anything. Leaders should follow biblical commands. Abraham Lincoln was not officially a member of any church, but he tried to live by what the Bible says.
Historian Michael Beschloss tells us about Lincoln’s personal conviction about the Bible. “Marching into the chasm of the Civil War, Lincoln immersed himself in the Bible, which he called ‘the best gift God has given to man.’”
But Lincoln wasn’t always such an avid reader of the Word. Beschloss continues: “During the summer of 1864, Lincoln’s old Springfield roommate Joshua Speed stayed overnight at the Soldiers’ Home…Recalling Lincoln’s old complaints about religion, Speed was now startled to find the President in his bedroom, absorbed in his Bible. He told Lincoln, ‘If you have recovered from your skepticism, I am sorry to say that I have not.’
“‘You are wrong, Speed,’ replied Lincoln. ‘Take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man’” (pp. 121-122).
Lincoln never joined a church. He had his reasons. Lincoln answered a congressman from Connecticut in a letter as to why he didn’t join a church:
“When any church will inscribe over its altars, as its sole qualification for membership, the Savior’s condensed statement of the substance of both the law and the Gospel, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself,’—that church will I join with all my heart and soul” (David Gelernter, Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion, 2007, p. 33).
This is what Jesus Christ told a man who asked Him which was the greatest commandment in the law (Matthew 22:36-40). Abraham Lincoln apparently knew and understood that what it’s all about is simply love of God and love of fellow man.
What a guy! He seemed to believe those words with his whole heart and soul. Pray that today’s leaders turn to God with the same serving heart!