Saul’s Lament, John’s Delight

(This post was originally published on the Baptist Convention of New England’s blog on July 13, 2019. You can find it here.)

It’s startling how quickly anointing can become annoyance in ministry life.

The king groaned and closed his window to shut out the jubilant roars. Responsibility weighed heavy on his shoulders, and now heaps of ingratitude from those people—God’s people!—nearly drove him to his knees. Nearly. Here he had been faithfully serving (for the most part) a nation of unruly souls with no one to lean on but the God who seemed bent on taking away his crown.

Stupid David, he thought.

Flash forward a thousand years to a river in the wilderness. More ecstatic cheers from the masses. Another leader about to be displaced by the Lord’s anointed. Chagrined disciples complaining about the new guy. A choice to grasp power or release it.

Succession is the way of the world. We will all have to make space for the next person God has ordained behind us. It’s not a question of if we’ll be replaced; it’s a question of what kind of heart we’ll have when we’re replaced.

King Saul and John the Baptist found themselves in similar situations, bringing order to chaos on behalf of God’s people in a time of spiritual desperation. God hand-picked both men for their posts, and each enjoyed a fair amount of praise for a while. But when the time came for the next wave of leadership to take over, one was driven to madness while the other was driven to worship.

Saul’s heart was bent on self. The story in 1 Samuel 18 smacks of control, pride, resentment, and malice. The fact that “he eyed David from that day on” just about sums it up. Then there’s the vastly different tone of John 3. While others worried about Jesus winning the popularity contest, John honored Him. Self-forgetfulness, humility, joy, and faith mark his words with beauty. One gets the feeling that his heart expanded after walking away.

The last day of ministry will come. How will we meet it? Everything we do for the kingdom is worthwhile, and God will not let His mission end with us. Notice both the comfort and the challenge there: if the work we’ve sunk ourselves into really matters, it will need to be carried on. We’ve had the privilege of investing in something designed to outlast us—now we’ll “just” have to decide how to treat those designated to grab the baton.

Will we throw pity parties, waiting like Saul for a chance to snatch back our throne, or will we have the emotional maturity to graciously step aside as John did to make the transition as smooth as possible? Seasoned leaders have so much to offer the next round of up-and-comers and are situated to be either their biggest cheerleaders or their most cumbersome obstacles. Consider how different David’s life might have been had Saul poured into him generously instead of chasing him around the kingdom.

The choice to decrease so that God’s activity can increase is unnatural, painful, and… necessary. The work of starting well is crucial, but ending well matters just as much.

What new leaders has God positioned you to mentor and champion?

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