As Russ Bowman stated in his article, “Natural Born Leaders,” the study of what makes a leader is “curious.” To me, one of the curiosities is the very fact that people need leaders. Why can’t everyone just do the right thing? Why did Barak need a Deborah? Why were the walls of Jerusalem in ruins for 90 years without anyone saying, “Let us rise up and build?” Why didn’t Nehemiah’s brother who lived in Jerusalem, lead the building? Why couldn’t Moses’ own brother, Aaron, keep the people from idolatry for just 40 days? Why did Timothy need to be at Ephesus even when elders were already present? How could people who served the Lord for years because of the leadership of a good king, happily follow a new king into idolatry? Baffling! Leaders, both good and bad, wield amazing power.
There are many reasons we need good leaders and reasons some lead and some do not. But the foundational reason certain men and women step up and lead is because they have adopted the heart of Jesus. Matthew records, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’” (Matt. 9:36-37). What kind of laborers does the Lord desire? Shepherd-like people whose hearts are broken for the spiritual condition of the harassed and helpless. Compassionate people who desire to rescue souls are so few that the Lord urged the disciples to pray earnestly that the Lord would send them into his harvest. This was the heart of Nehemiah, who when he heard of the condition of Jerusalem, wept, mourned, fasted, prayed, and then spent four months planning how he could convince the king to give him leave to rebuild.
Learning from the Heart of Moses
In order to see this principle more clearly, consider the example of Moses in the incident of the golden calf (Exodus 32-34). When God informed Moses of the people’s idolatry and his plan to destroy the nation and raise up a new one from Moses, he was essentially inviting Moses to intercede. I wonder how many of us might have thought that a new nation was a good idea? But not Moses. As evil as the people were, Moses immediately pleaded with God to relent. Later, after coming down from the mountain and seeing the idolatry, Moses went back before the Lord and actually offered himself to be blotted out of God’s book if he would save the people. Only Jesus would have a greater heart.
But that is not all. In chapter 33, God informed Moses that he would send his angel to bring them to the land, “but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people” (33:3). However, Moses could not bear the thought of going to the Promised Land without the Lord. So Moses took the next step: “If I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people” (33:13). Notice that Moses asked to understand God’s ways in order to know him. If Moses could better know God, he could find a way to find favor with him.
The Lord’s answer was, “My presence will go with you [singular] and I will give you [singular] rest.” What a test for Moses! Would he be content with God being with him but not with the people? Absolutely not! Moses replied, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people…” (33:15-16). Moses refused to think only of himself and would not consider a journey to the Promised Land without the Lord.
Moses still pressed the Lord for more: “Please show me your glory.” Moses was not simply asking to get a glimpse of God, which is evident by the Lord’s response: “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name.” Moses was still pursuing a deeper knowledge of God so he could know how to find favor in his sight. Moses, the shepherd and intercessor, could not plead for the people unless he truly understood God’s nature. The Lord further displayed this truth in 34:6-7, when he passed by Moses and proclaimed his name: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…”
This revelation of the Lord’s nature should make a striking impact on all of us. Up to this point, Moses had primarily seen the judgment of God in regard to Israel’s sin. He had threatened to destroy the people. He had plagued the people and promised a day of reckoning. He had refused to dwell in the midst of the people lest he consume them. But when Moses pursued God so that he and the people could find favor in his sight, God’s revelation of himself gave Moses a hope he would never forget. If the Lord was abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, then Moses understood the key to God’s heart. The very next words from Moses were, “O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” Done! God responded with renewing the covenant, and from that time forward, every time Moses interceded he appealed to God’s steadfast love and mercy (Cf. Numbers 14:11-19).
This is the heart of a leader! Just as in the parable of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost sons, no one can call himself or herself a leader without a heart that breaks for the spiritual needs of those both in and out of the body. We must rid ourselves of any hint that being a shepherd means simply making decisions or making sure false doctrine isn’t taught. How else could we describe God, God’s passion, and God’s leaders but by a deep love and desire for the souls of those who are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” A true leader and shepherd has the same heart and will pursue the compassion of the Lord and the restoration of the people under his care.