At Work

Biblical Principles of Discernment for Developing Wise Leadership

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There’s a delightful account in 2 Kings 6:8-12 where Elisha gives the King of Israel divine warnings of where to travel and what routes to avoid.

Several times the king avoids ambushes and military traps set by the King of Syria. The Syrian King assumes there must be a spy for Israel in his ranks, until one of his officers explains about Elisha the prophet.

Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying “At such and such a place shall be my camp.” But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.” And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice. And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?” And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

The King of Israel had observable facts but needed divine guidance to avoid danger.

Navigating a World Awash with Data and Information

We live in a world awash with data and information, and the flood rises daily. Leaders have never had more data to work with than today, and tomorrow’s volume will dwarf today’s. Wisdom and insight are the most precious things in a world drowning in data.

Leading well requires going beyond the observable facts in a situation. We have timeless principles of biblical wisdom. We have trustworthy guidance on how to relate with God and with one another. God has designed the universe and ordered his kingdom so that living according to these principles is the best way to live.

Jesus has gone a step better and provided the Holy Spirit as an ever-present comforter, teacher, and guide. In John 16:7-15, Jesus tells the disciples,

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Biblical principles plus observable facts are not enough. We need divine insight to fulfill our leadership obligations and fully glorify God, especially when this insight (at first) appears to go against the observable facts.

We are commanded to trust even when we don’t understand:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. (Prov. 3:5-7)

God gives us commands in Scripture where we do not naturally do things from our immature, selfish nature. Trusting in the Lord with all your heart requires earnest effort.

Principles of Discernment for Wise Leadership

There are many voices in this world. Leaders hear all kinds of advice. How can we discern the whispers of the Holy Spirit and specific direction from the Lord? There is no formula, but there are principles of discernment.

First, the Holy Spirit will never contradict Scripture. Jesus characterized him as the Spirit of truth. Test every voice against the plain text of God’s Word.

Second, check the tone of the voice. “The wisdom of God is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17) One of the ways we learn to recognize the Lord’s instruction to us is by saturating our mind with Scripture. You know the voice of your family members and friends because you’ve heard them frequently, right? Reading God’s Word gives us an ear for the Lord’s voice.

Third, ask if this guidance glorifies God or you. Satan is not God’s equal, but he can use Scripture (Luke 4:3-13) and appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Be deeply suspicious of guidance which does not obviously lead to God getting the glory. “My glory I will not give to another.” (Isa. 48:11)

Your best leadership rests on biblical principles, correct interpretation of the facts of a situation, and following the specific guidance from our great and trustworthy God. Seek wisdom. Ask for insight. Be open to hearing from the Holy Spirit. And then obey.

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