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President’s Letter: Leadership Through Empathy

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President’s Letter

Leadership Through Empathy

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What more can we learn through hardship and setbacks beyond reliance on God and survival? In the midst of a trial, we can easily lament: Why is this happening to me? or I wish I wasn’t going through this! or What’s the point of this pain?

The trial could be related to health, finance, relationships, death of a loved one, marriage and children or persistent failure to overcome personal weaknesses. It could be due to matters involving our spiritual journey in fulfilling God’s will.

The apostle Paul related his horrific hardships to the Corinthian brethren while evangelizing in what is today Turkey. He told his story in such a way that this narrative has become a notable go-to scripture to understand why and how we must live through difficult trials. Note Paul’s story:

“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10, NLT). Through direct experience, Paul clearly relates how he learned to trust God for deliverance from mortal danger. His key point? God brought him through challenging trials again and again. Today, most of us have not even come close to facing such life and death situations. But we can certainly apply what Paul learned to the rocky road of life that we may be traveling on.

In this same chapter, Paul goes further to explain that life as a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t just about mere survival. Our trials elevate us to a higher level of thinking and conduct. Our trial is not just about us. Trials give us an opportunity to learn how to reach out to others. God’s rescue is a big part of the story—but not the only part. In the narrative quoted here in 2 Corinthians, the more complete story is revealed by Paul:

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 [3] Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; [4] Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God. [5] For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ. [6] And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. [7] And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so shall you be also of the consolation.
American King James Version×
, The Living Bible).

These passages first came to life in my Epistles of Paul class at Ambassador College. They made a vivid impression on me as a 20-year-old student. Over and over in my pastoral career these words repeatedly demonstrated where true leadership shines.

I have found that to be true leaders, we must step outside of ourselves and show ourselves exposed and humbled. A leader draws on his or her own pain as one sufferer among a common sea of sufferers. A leader uses his or her own experience to empathize with others. In my ministry over the years, my own personal tribulations helped me genuinely empathize with people in great pain.

Jesus Christ left us a sterling example of going through painful ordeals for the purpose of encouraging us: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16 Hebrews 4:15-16 [15] For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
American King James Version×
).