The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb. The lion shall lie down with the young goat. The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6).
I’d read that verse numerous times before, but one day what really caught my attention was what it didn’t say.
It didn’t say the child would be dragging the reluctant animals along behind.
Why is that important? Because it can teach us a lot about God’s perspective on leadership.
Over the years, I have seen many a frustrated person tug futilely on the lead rope of a 1,200-pound horse that preferred to contentedly munch grass rather than follow the person. I have also watched children saddle their horses for a riding lesson only to have at least one horse plant all four feet when a child tried to lead it to the arena.
On the other hand, I have watched internationally-known trainers such as Monty Roberts lead various horses onto trailers in minutes—a task that often took the horses’ owners hours to accomplish. Whereas the owners had resorted to shoving the animal into the trailer or smacking it on the rump with a broom, Roberts would quietly stand inside the trailer while his assistant would lead the horse away. In each instance, the horse would immediately head toward the trailer when it was released and load itself of its own free will.
Why were the various horses willing to follow a stranger into a strange trailer, in front of an audience but their owners had fought to get them into a trailer?
The answer lies in the underlying spirit conveyed by the actions of the person in the leadership role.
Human Nature’s Desire For Authority
The natural human mind seeks positions of authority to fulfill its personal desires and needs—me first, you second. That inward desire sometimes manifests itself as physically forcing someone or something to do what we want—such as trying to push or pull a 1,200-pound animal to do what we want. But oftentimes it is more subtle. For example, a child may whine when he doesn’t get his way. The whining annoys the parent, and the parent gives in to the child’s whining, thus empowering the child. An adult may complain about someone being inept in order to discredit that person, thereby gaining support for and empowering himself.
Even Christ’s own disciples tended to see authority as a personal badge of prestige. One time when they were debating among themselves who would be greatest in God’s Kingdom (Mark 9:34), Christ set a child before them and told them if they wanted to be great they needed to be humble and teachable like a child.
In Matthew 20:20-21, the mother of James and John asked Christ to show favor to her sons and to place one at His right hand and the other at His left in God’s Kingdom. When the other 10 disciples heard James and John had requested the choicest positions of authority in God’s Kingdom, they were upset (verse 24).
Christ told His disciples their idea of leadership was not the same as God’s. In Matthew 20:25-27, He told them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you.”
Christ explained the godly perspective sees the leadership position as a means to serve others more effectively. He told His disciples in verses 27-28, “Whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant … just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”
Why would Christ say that?
Christ’s Example of Power and Authority
By John 1:1, 14 and Philippians 2:6-8, we know that Christ was a member of the God family known as the Word and that He had existed with God prior to the physical creation. We know through John 1:3 and Genesis 1:24-25, the Word was the One who performed the act of creating of the physical realm. Through these scriptures, we also know this same being was the One who willingly stepped aside from the power and glory He had possessed for all eternity to come to earth to be born a physical human being, live among His creation for 33 years and die a criminal’s death in order to give His lawbreaking mortal creation a chance for eternal life.
What does that tell us about the way the One who actually does possess all power and authority views the leadership role?
Let’s go back and consider the horse.
God brought the power and majesty of the horse to Job’s attention in Job 39:19-25. His first two questions to Job were, “Have you given the horse strength? Have you clothed his neck with thunder?”
The Creator God did indeed clothe the horse’s neck with thunder. When getting to its feet after lying down, the horse must use the thrusting power of its neck muscles to propel its 1,000 plus pound body from a sitting position to a standing position. The horse also uses its powerful neck to balance itself in full stride around a racetrack or in mid-flight over a large obstacle in a jumping competition. The power from the horse’s neck muscles alone can knock a person off his or her feet if the horse swings its head into the person.
Yet with all the physical power that the horse possesses, God created it to be a willing servant to man. He designed the horse to mirror His own approach to leadership—an approach based on using one’s power to humbly serve others.
In the western riding style called reining, I have watched riders such as Stacy Westfall perform spins, sliding stops and other maneuvers without the aid of a bridle or a saddle. In the English riding style called dressage, I have watched international-level horses perform moves ranging from ground-covering extended trots to ballerina-like canter pirouettes. The horses appeared to be choreographing a dance of their own while their riders were merely passengers along for the ride.
In both cases, there was a harmonious partnership between the leader and the follower. There was no resistance, no strife, no conflict. The performances were powerful and graceful to behold.
Freedom to Choose
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, God admonishes us to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
Godly leadership begins by first learning how to rule over one’s own thoughts. Actions begin as thoughts and the mind is the nursery of future actions.
Going back to the earlier example of Monty Roberts, Roberts grew up in a family where the use of physical domination was the accepted way to raise children and to break horses to saddle.
As a youth, Roberts thought there must be a better way, and he would often ride into the high ranges of Nevada to study the way the wild mustangs interacted with each other. Eventually, he befriended one of the mustangs.
When Roberts rode the mustang back to his house to show his friends and family what he had accomplished, everyone thought it was a stunt. They claimed nobody could tame and ride a genuinely wild mustang in the wild. They believed wild horses had to be broken—bucked out—first. In their minds, an animal as powerful as the horse must likewise be dominated by power.
He named that mustang Shy Boy.
Roberts released Shy Boy back into his own herd a few months later. The herd accepted him as if he’d never been gone, but Shy Boy didn’t stay. The next morning he returned to Roberts’ campsite of his own free will, and Roberts took Shy Boy home with him to stay.
Micah 4:2 says, “Many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His path.” The previous verse says many peoples will flow to the mountain of the Lord.
Zechariah 8:21-22 also talks about the inhabitants of many cities seeking out the Lord. At that time, Christ will be the ruling King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but He won’t be lording it over the people He rules. Instead, He says of Himself in Matthew 11:29-30, “I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Although Christ will have to put down a large-scale rebellion when He initially returns, these people ultimately will be drawn to Christ by what He has to offer them, just as the horses were drawn to what Roberts offered them.
God leads by giving us the freedom to choose whether or not we will follow Him. He says in John 16:13 the power of the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all truth.” God won’t use His power to drag anyone along unwillingly.
In Hebrews 8:10, God says He eventually will write His laws in the hearts and minds of mankind. It’s the only way humans will ever be able to rule over their own spirit and use their authority to lead others in the same manner that God Himself does.
God ultimately wants His children to inherit the world with His Son. That’s a lot of power. God’s not going to give us that authority so we can bask in the glory of that power to fulfill our own desires. We won’t be given power for sake of being given power. We’ll have greater authority so we can serve and lead others in an even greater capacity, just as Christ and the Father have served and led us.