You're the king—you can make these hill people do what is best for them," said the generals to Thailand's King Bhumibol. "It may be best," replied the king, "but we must find a better way and not offend these people. Aren't there enough enemies?" That was the way the king related this story in a private conversation some years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. It was one of many conversations I had with him and his queen during a 12-year relationship, which I recently renewed after a 11-year rest from travel. Many pearls of wisdom came from these talks.
The Bible says the children of this world are often wiser than the children of light. Yet it doesn't say we shouldn't be wise. The Proverbs are full of wisdom we are implored to use. God wants us to keep our eyes open for pearls of wisdom that we can use. Indeed He says we should become "perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." This would imply building a great deal of wisdom.
The Thai king faced a dilemma. This hill tribe lived in a dry climate where water was unpredictable. Their meager farming methods meant clearing land, usually with destructive slash and burn methods, and then moving on to new land after a season or two. Even then the tribe often went hungry as streams dried up. The king had surveyed this land extensively and had decided to help the people. He was going to build a dam that would provide a steady source of water year round. It was a great plan, and this was one of the few places suited for a sizable dam. This tribe, unfortunately, had cleared its land exactly in the area that would be covered by water behind the dam! The chief was afraid and upset because the water would cover their fields. He didn't want a dam. He didn't want to move. Perhaps there were some superstitions involved regarding the gods, along with his own fear. The generals were right. The king's plan was best for the people. It would give them water year round. They could irrigate and not have to move so often. And, yes, the king did have the power to enforce his building plans. "I asked my aides to look upstream for another place," he told me. They found a place where a small dam could be built. "It wouldn't be as good, but the tribe could see how it worked," he explained. So they built the dam there and no fields were flooded and no one was afraid.
A year later the king went back. The tribe was at peace, and very appreciative of the dam. The tribal chief apologized for stopping the larger dam. "I was wrong," he said. "Could you build the bigger dam?" And the king did. At a time when the communists were trying to stir unrest in Thailand among these hill tribes, the king made an ally. Instead of allowing a seed of discord to be planted, he found another way and ended up building both trust and loyalty. This tribe could never be swayed against their trusted benefactor.
How often do we, when we are in a position of power, lack wisdom in using authority? How often do we make specific demands about the what, when and how of something that probably really does not need to be done? How do our children, our spouses or our employees react to our demands? Do the "dams" we build provide nourishment and trust to those we love, or do they "drown" the people we wish to help? How does Christ treat us in His leadership role? It is very rewarding to help people in a way that gently brings them along. As Christians, when we think of the power God has in store for us, it is our duty to do as this wise king did—that is to "find a better way," even when we know the answer and have the power.