In an astonishing turnaround, Joseph is transformed from a forgotten prisoner of Egypt to its prime minister. Pretty intoxicating stuff for a young man who just turned thirty. Coming into power, at any age, can be dangerous. As Lord Acton’s famous adage reminds us, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Yet leadership invariably brings power with it. How do we wield power well? How do we resist the corrosive quality of power in our lives?
When we worship, we communicate with God. We thank God. We praise God. We express our love for God. God is the true receiver of our worship.But there are times when we might talk to ourselves when we worship. At least that’s what we see modeled in Psalm 103. This glorious psalm begins with what we might call “self-talk.” The psalm writer, identified here as David, speaks to himself: “Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”
What Joseph experiences under compulsion, Jesus chooses freely. And here is the crux of the matter: he invites us as lead servants to make the same choice, for love’s sake. We are called to freely and fully love even our enemies, including those closest to us, at home and at work. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Joseph to learn (and live!) this insight. I know it isn’t easy for me.
We pray. We ask for something we need. And we want God to answer right away. But our desire for God to respond quickly to our prayers isn’t simply a product of a technological age. In Psalm 102, for example, we read the prayer of an individual who badly needs God’s help. Verse 2 reads, “Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly” (102:2).
How easy it is for those of us who are in positions of leadership to squander our integrity at home. We appear to be people of high ethics in our workplace or public endeavors, but we may be altogether different when we’re with our family and friends or when we are alone. No matter how I live and lead in public, I ask myself what my wife and children really think of me. Do they see me as a person of integrity? Or do they know I major in hypocrisy?
Leadership formation, at least in the biblical sense, seems like a long, painful process. We live in an age of abundant, easy-to-consume leadership advice. But, as others have noted, learning about leadership is not the same as becoming a better leader… Rather, the story of Joseph reminds us that the formation of a leader’s character through suffering, often over long periods of time, is critical.
Psalm 100:3 reminds us that we belong to God: “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” We belong to God because he made us. He made each one of us individually. And he made us to be his people together… What difference does it make that we belong to God? A huge difference, really. The fact that we belong to God can transform our lives.
I had lunch the other day with a young business colleague. He has a good job for which he expressed gratitude. Nevertheless, he struggles with a lack of intrinsic meaning and purpose in his work. He believes that work should be an expression of God’s calling in his life. Still, he couldn’t reconcile that conviction with his own lack of personal connection to his work. If God has called him to his work, shouldn’t he find meaning and purpose in that work?
Today, we explore Psalm 98. Almost three centuries ago, this psalm inspired an English hymn writer who was working on a collection of compositions based on the Psalms. Most of Isaac Watts’s psalm-based hymns have been long forgotten. However, one of his compositions remains extremely popular today. In fact, I’ll bet you could sing at least one verse from memory. This hymn is based on Psalm 98.
I’m not quite sure how my parents, Bible-loving Christians, dealt with Psalm 97… I do wonder what they thought when they came to Psalm 97:10: “Let those who love the LORD hate evil.” What’s surprising about this verse is not just its unsettling use of “hate.” The context is equally or even more unnerving: “Let those who love the LORD hate evil.” Love and hate in one short sentence of one verse!