Leading from weakness

Jacob was a deceiver. He deceived Esau and took his birthright. He deceived his father and received the blessing from Isaac instead of Esau. He deceived his father-in-law Laban to accumulate wealth. All his life he deceived people to get what he wanted.

But something changed one fateful day. Years after running away from Esau, he packs up everything he has and sets off toward Esau, hoping for restoration. The night before he meets Esau, with his family and possessions already sent on ahead, Jacob wrestles a mysterious visitor. During the course of their wrestling match we read, “When the man saw that he could not overpower him [Jacob], he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man” (Gen. 32:25).

Something changed that night for Jacob. And it was not just his name (which became Israel). As a tennis coach, I constantly am teaching people about rotating their hips and using their core to produce more power, precisely because the hips and core are the strongest part of your body. But not so anymore for Jacob, for the man dislocated his hip.

He couldn’t hide his weakness. That he was limping was obvious to all who saw him. That his hip was dislocated was a powerful, daily reminder that his strength and pride were gone. The prideful arrogant deceiver was gone. In his place stood a new man, Israel, whose limp would serve as the basis of his leadership. His leadership became, in the words of Dan Allender, “leading with a limp.”

The leadership principle is powerful. We all have flaws and weaknesses. Yet we all, leaders especially, spend so much of our time trying to hide our weaknesses. We don’t want people to know that we can’t do it all and that we’re not good at everything. We only accept responsibilities that will highlight our strengths and skills, wanting to make sure that we always look good.

Like Jacob, each of us called to be a leader must do so with a limp. All of us have something that requires dependence upon God’s strength when we are too weak, and if you don’t, just wait. God will send something to break you of your strength and pride. Even Paul, the great apostle, had a thorn in his side that followed him till the end of his days (2 Cor. 12). But Paul found his hope in the promise that “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (vs 9).

There is a tendency to want to control everything. We want to look good all the time. Yet that is not the way of Biblical leadership. Rather, Biblical leadership is the way of weakness, humility and authenticity. Imagine what it must have been like when Israel met up with his family later that day. They saw him limping and must have been worried. But he knew that limp came on the night he encountered God face to face. Like Jacob, when we embrace our weakness and share the story of encountering God in the midst of it, we allow people to see that we are flawed and in need of God’s grace and we give them permission to need God’s grace too. And that is what Christian leadership is all about – helping people see their need for grace and a God so anxious to entend it.

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