Imagine a man who defended his nation against all comers, failing sometimes but winning often. A man who knew he would be king from a young age but loyally served a hostile leader until he could claim the throne.
Now imagine another man who some 30 centuries later faced massive reversals of fortune until national leadership was offered to him. A man who faced down one of the worst villains in history. A man who exerted great personal courage and who valiantly led and developed the talents of those around him in the quest to win a life-or-death battle to save his nation.
We know these two great men as King David of ancient Israel and Sir Winston Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain during World War II. But let me reintroduce them to you as we draw some powerful lessons from their famous lives. We’ll consider the latter first.
A leader of men
Winston Churchill commanded the British military machine that nearly single-handedly held back the tsunami of Nazi power that during the earlier years of the Second World War threatened to swamp Britain and her allies. We hear him quoted often, but what do we really know about him?
Churchill was born into British high society in the late 1800s. His mother was Jennie Jerome, a wealthy American, and his father was Lord Randolph Churchill of the House of Marlborough. Young Winston grew up in the outwardly beautiful—and often inwardly warped—Victorian upper-crust society where children barely saw their parents, being raised by governesses in grand homes with extensive grounds.
A precocious child, Churchill was once trapped by playmates on a bridge during a game of chase. Rather than give up, he chose to jump off the bridge, a dangerous decision that nearly cost him his life. Later, as a young man, he summoned that bravery and risked his life to escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Once safe, he went right back into the war zone.
Finally, as prime minister during World War II, he courageously faced down Adolf Hitler and the Nazi war machine. His masterfully written and powerfully delivered speeches are famous for the way they galvanized the whole of Britain and later her allies into a fighting force that withstood all the violence Nazi Germany threw at them.
A leader under God
King David was a mighty ruler of the ancient Israelites, and we remember him as the slayer of the Philistine giant Goliath. But what else do we know about him?
David was the eighth-born son of Jesse, a prosperous landowner from Bethlehem in the tribal region of Judah—Judah being one of the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel. David came of age shortly after Israel had rejected the Eternal God as its supreme king. The people demanded a human king (1 Samuel 8), and so God gave them Saul, who turned out to be a deeply flawed man under whom David endured much hardship.
In his youth, David, who had shepherded his father’s flocks, was anointed by the prophet Samuel to replace Saul as king in the future. From that age he was uniquely blessed with God’s Spirit (1 Samuel 16:13 1 Samuel 16:13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the middle of his brothers: and the Spirit of the LORD came on David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.
American King James Version×). David demonstrated great courage even during what appear to be his teen years. His basic trust in God’s help along with his physical strength and cunning against marauding lions and bears while a young shepherd (1 Samuel 17:45-46 1 Samuel 17:45-46 45 Then said David to the Philistine, You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day will the LORD deliver you into my hand; and I will smite you, and take your head from you; and I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day to the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.
American King James Version×), as well as in vanquishing Goliath, served him well in later life as he led the armies of Israel and eluded enemies, both foreign and domestic.
Victory through courage of conviction
As king, David presided over the beginning of the Golden Age of Israelite history. God gave Israel many military victories at this time, greatly expanding the nation’s physical borders.
Today the true followers of Christ are spiritually not part of this world or its political-military establishment. As Jesus said: “My Kingdom is not of this world. If My Kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My Kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36 John 18:36Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
American King James Version×). Nevertheless, we can learn valuable lessons of character and leadership from great political and military figures.
King David and Winston Churchill were undeniably brave, and both led by example. So courage in standing up for what is just served them and their people well. Striving to stand for what is right is a lesson not just for physical soldiers, but for those who have dedicated their lives to God and to the example of Jesus Christ. Standing up for God’s truth takes a great deal of courage, especially when the world around us fails to value or respect God or His way of life.
Of course, bravery by itself is not enough. In military matters, courage without good planning is often futile. King David had 37 mighty men of valor who served him loyally. Their names and exploits are listed in the 2 Samuel 23. He organized their ranks to function for the benefit of all.
But David didn’t limit his organization to the army. He also structured the ranks of the tribe of Levi. These were men who were chosen of God to serve in the tabernacle and later the temple, conducting priestly sacrifices, performing music, teaching the people God’s laws and keeping the sanctuary in good repair.
There were a great many Levites, and to have them all serve at once in a disorganized mass would have been a waste of resources, causing confusion and frustration for everyone. King David organized the priesthood into divisions, sometimes called courses, which rotated into their appointed service times throughout each year. In fact, the priestly Levites, descendants of Aaron the first high priest, served in these same courses at the time of Jesus Christ, nearly 1,000 years later.
Churchill likewise brought increased order to his nation. He relied on the brilliance of others to find solutions to the military challenges Britain faced during World War II. As prime minister he surrounded himself with people of skill and expertise. He listened to their ideas and encouraged them to innovate. That innovation produced many devices and organized efforts that helped fight the war, among them the minesweeper machines of the invasion of Normandy and the covert code breakers at Bletchley Park.
Walking points of valor
What can we take away from all of this? Courage of conviction in the face of negative cultural pressure is vital in our or any age. In fact, Sir Winston put it this way: “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities . . . because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
Organization and motivational encouragement are sterling qualities to incorporate into our lives. Keeping things neat and organized in everything from sports equipment and homework assignments to setting up for church activities benefits everyone. We are less stressed when things are easy to locate and events follow a schedule. Organizing people is the greater challenge of course.
Respect for authority is essential to harmonious effort and progress, so leaders should strive to be worthy of respect. When you have an opportunity to lead, always remember what it feels like to be under authority and use your leadership kindly. Listen for the ideas of others, and don’t be afraid to give them credit. A leader who serves his followers is the greatest of all!