I am generally not given to visions or conversations with God. To be sure, I offer my own prayers pretty regularly, but I usually see the responses to these prayers in the interactions I have with my fellow men and women rather than in a burning bush or a vast sea that parts in front of me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel the least bit slighted by this reality; I look forward to my time with God and appreciate the responses no matter how small or subtle they may be.
However, this general pattern was altered about two months ago when, in the middle of the night after a two-day leadership retreat, I awoke with the following verses from Scripture flashing clearly in my mind: Matthew 4: 4-10. Now, I don’t know how you might react to a sudden vision from above, but I did what I thought was pretty natural . . . I tried to ignore it. That’s right, I rolled back over in my bed and tried to go back to sleep. But, you know the Lord does work in mysterious way, and in this instance the mystery was that I couldn’t really close my eyes, and I certainly couldn’t doze off.
So, I decided to get out my iPad—where I have a great Bible App, and I looked up Matthew 4:4-10, and here’s what it had to say (I will actually start with verse one so we have the whole story):
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a] by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]”5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me. 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]”
Wow, I thought to myself . . . Jesus being tempted in the desert. That’s pretty heavy. Naturally, I began to wonder what desert I was in that the Lord was warning me about and, of course, what the temptations in that desert were that I needed to resist. Needless to say, I couldn’t come up with any of this on my own, so I started to talk to people who might be able to help me out.
One of the first people I talked to was a good friend and pastor, who seemed pretty amazed by my story but was even more amazed to be able to walk over to his bookshelf, locate a very thin volume, and give it to me with this piece of advice: “Don’t try to avoid this anymore. Read this book, and let’s talk again.” The book is called In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership and takes as its text . . . are you ready for this . . . Matthew 4:4-10. Pretty amazing, I know.
As I read this book just a few weeks ago, it certainly made me think about my own role as a leader in this School, but it also made me think of other leaders I’ve met along the way in my life, particularly the veterans we honor today. Consider the three temptations laid out in the Scripture that the book identifies as the very same temptations that leaders today must face and then think about how veterans past and present likely respond to them.
Temptation One: BE RELEVANT . . . “Turn these stones to bread.”
As leaders, we all want to believe that we really mean something important to the world around us; that’s what “relevance” is. Well, Jesus responds to this temptation by saying to the devil that man doesn’t live on bread alone. In other words, Jesus risks irrelevance—in this case, hunger or even death—instead of taking the devil up on his offer. There are veterans among us who have responded to this temptation in the same way . . . the very idea of risking ones life for others is at the heart of the veteran’s commitment and is at the core of this temptation. If one is willing to risk his or her life for others, that person is willing to risk being irrelevant.
Temptation Two: BE SPECTACULAR . . . “Throw yourself down.”
The world wants its leaders to be handsome, beautiful, eloquent, photogenic, funny, capable, intelligent, caring, sensitive, and tough ALL THE TIME. In a word, we expect our leaders to be SPECTACULAR. I read an article from a presidential historian the other day that said some of our greatest presidents—like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln—wouldn’t even be nominated for office today because they either weren’t good public speakers, they weren’t very good looking, or they weren’t all that sociable. In other words, they weren’t spectacular all the time. At the heart of this temptation is the need to be “individually heroic”—to do it all ourselves so that we can get all the glory and all the credit. Jesus responds to this temptation by saying, “Don’t put the Lord your God to the test,” which means, I think, that we should spend more time relying on God and on others rather than on relying on ourselves as we test Him. Think of the veteran again who is quick to point out his or her reliance on “the Corps” or “the Country” or “the Code” instead of merely on him or herself.
Temptation Three: BE POWERFUL . . . “All this can be yours.”
To be sure, this is the temptation that resonates the most with us, isn’t it? We see leaders as powerful, and some folks even want to become leaders so that they can soak up that power and revel in its apparent privileges. Why wouldn’t a leader be or want to be powerful? We say very often here that leadership is about ACTION and not POSITION. My sense is that when leaders become more interested in their position, they are becoming more interested in power. They fall into the trap of thinking that “it’s all about them” rather than about the people they have been called to lead. In short, they fall into the trap of worshiping themselves and their positions rather than worshiping God THROUGH their positions. Notice Jesus responds to this temptation by saying, “Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” The best leaders are those who want to take action to solve problems or right wrongs. They don’t really care if they’re the lowliest Private or the loftiest General; they see a need and they answer the call. My sense is that there are many veterans among us who have done just this.
So, today we recognize those singular leaders who have stepped out of their comfort zones to resist the temptations to be relevant, spectacular, or powerful in favor of being honorable servant leaders who hear the small and quiet voice of God challenging them to listen with empathy, intelligence, and awareness; to conceptualize solutions with foresight, understanding, and persuasion; and to build communities by growing others with humility.
Choose groups to clone to: