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The Road to Leadership

August 20, 2015

The Road to Leadership

So now, the first debates are upon us, and the road to White House is crowded with presidential hopefuls. It’s a road that will be long, tenuous, and likely at times vicious.

With so many candidates, facing such huge challenges, and with such partisan rivalry, who will be chosen? Who is truly qualified to lead us in times like these?

This search for leadership draws my mind back to the biblical story of Joseph in Egypt around 2000 B.C. Egypt was a world power, but Pharoah, the ruler, was troubled by dreams of cows rising out of the Nile River, some fat, some scrawny. None of his wise men could tell him what these dreams meant.

Then he heard about a young Jew, held in prison, accused (falsely) of attempted rape, who could interpret dreams. Pharaoh called for him, and Joseph told him that he could not explain the dreams, but God could. Then he told Pharaoh that the dreams forecast seven years of bumper crops, followed by seven years of famine.

“God will bring this about,” Joseph told the king, and advised him to appoint a wise man, a kind of economic czar, to build reserves against the famine to come.

Pharaoh asked his advisors, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the Spirit of God?” Then turning to Joseph told him, “You shall be in charge of Egypt, second only to me.”

Imagine! An ex-prisoner, only thirty years old, Joseph was able to change the direction of the nation, to bring about the restraint and self-sacrifice needed to save Egypt and the world of that time.

He came from a dysfunctional family. His father had in his own youth been a scoundrel and liar. His older brothers had turned on him and sold him to slave traders. They in turn sold him to Potiphar, captain of the royal guard who put Joseph in charge of his household. Potiphar’s wife was besotted with the handsome young Jew and asked him to lie with her. When he refused she accused him of rape and he was tossed into prison. There he interpreted the dreams of the fellow prisoner who told Pharaoh about him.

Can you imagine how his story would go viral today: Accused Sex Offender Becomes Second Most Powerful Man in the World!

And this man was the answer to Pharaoh’s question: “Where can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the Spirit of God?”

I wish every presidential candidate would read NewYorkTimes columnist David Brooks’ The Road to Character. Brooks profiles leaders, all flawed, yet who through struggle and adversity built strong inner character, and deepened their souls. “These,” he suggests, “are the people we are looking for.”

And that makes me think of Joseph. What set him apart were the qualities of character – a sense of destiny, an unshakeable integrity, a resilience that kept him going through adversity.

During the predicted great famine the brothers who sold him down the river came to Egypt desperate for food. When they found their “lost” brother was in charge they panicked. But Joseph told them “It was not you who sent me here, but God … You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Where did this conviction come from, if not the sense that God was with him through the hard times? As David Brooks writes, “Suffering simultaneously reminds us of our finitude and pushes us to see life in the wider possible connections, which is where holiness dwells.”

I know we can’t peer into the souls of the presidential candidates. But I want to sense that they have peered into their own souls, have learned to know their limitations through their mistakes, have found resilience in their own hard times, and that they give God life-service, not lip-service.

Joseph’s story is not just about a remarkable young man. It tells us that God can prepare and raise up leaders in the most unexpected ways.

God may have another surprise for us. Let’s pray so!

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