The Routine Absurdity of Leaders Growing Large (Part 3)

by Dave Harvey June 23, 2017

This is the third part of a three-part series. Click to read the previous posts: Part 1 | Part 2

Like the prodigal of Luke 15, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, came to his senses. He had fallen hard and far, but in a second marked from eternity past, God willed light to come. Nebuchadnezzar went from senseless to sensible; from cracked to clear; from whacked to worship.

The king had returned, and something far greater than his own image now filled his horizon. “My reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”  (Dan. 4:34-35)

Nebuchadnezzar shrank, and God’s greatness expanded to mind-numbing proportions. The fallen king wildly roaming the countryside chewing on grass, saw God clearly. He stood up like a man, but his heart stooped low like a servant.

Therein lies the paradox of a leader’s growth towards smallness.

The more we grow the smaller we become.  The smaller we are, the larger God becomes. It’s vividly portrayed when Lucy sees King Aslan again and exclaims, “Aslan, you’re bigger. The Lion-King responds, ”That is because you are older, little one.” Lucy says, “Not because you are?” “I am not,” says Aslan, “But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

To grow, leaders must stoop.

That’s what happened with Nebuchadnezzar. His final words in the book of Daniel are, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble”. (Dan. 4:37)

The end of the matter is this: God will be exalted and all leaders will be humbled. The only question is: will we humble ourselves, or wait for God to humble us?

Avoiding Absurdity Through Humility

How has this study touched your life or your leadership? Have you become aware of any attitudes of entitlement? Any areas where you are growing too big? When you look at Nebuchadnezzar, can you see beyond his lunacy to any of your own?

I sure do. Sometimes I can think too highly of myself. I’m realizing that the older I get, the easier it is to entrench in my perspective. I’m also aware of times when I have been way too impressed with my own achievements as if they say more about me than God. Sadly, there are other examples as well. I’m still very much a Christian-under-construction, as my wife and kids will attest.

What about you? Where do you sense the Spirit saying, ‘Thou art the man or woman! And what steps could you take right now to shrink-wrap your soul from getting too large?

Consider the interests of others. Leaders live in a dangerous place. What I mean is that we can easily sanitize our own interests by interpreting them as group interests. I’m sure Nebuchadnezzar convinced himself that by erecting his own image, he was ultimately serving the people. We need to be more self-suspicious. What can you do today that would break you from the shackles of your self-interest and act for the benefit of another?

Paul says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:4) Think simple. Write a note; do the dishes; pray for 3 additional people; give something to someone who can’t bless you back; offer to help someone with a home project. These are just modest ideas, but they move us in the right direction. When we look beyond our own interests, the preoccupying debris of our own self-interests is removed from our field of vision. We shrink and therefore see God a little more clearly.

Talk to others about where you are weak. Paul said, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Cor. 11:30). Our weakness is a daily link to our humanity. It’s a reminder that we are not worship-worthy, or ever-ascending, or infinitely brilliant. We are, on our best days, only a creature; in fact, a decaying one. Boasting in weakness reminds us of why we need the gospel – we can’t improve ourselves enough to be saved. Confession accomplishes this also. The other day I acknowledged an area of ongoing temptation to a friend. He sympathized with me but took the additional step of recommending a helpful tip. I was able to apply his counsel that very evening and experienced, almost immediately, a sense of grace. Because confession humbles us, it throws uncorks the fountain of grace. (James 4:6).

Open your heart to someone you know will speak the truth. For years I included one man in my accountability network who I felt would sometimes misunderstand me. But he was an unabashed truth-teller and could be counted on to say exactly what he thought. To keep him close to me, I had to risk feeling misunderstood and uncomfortable in order to benefit from his honesty. But it was well worth the risk. I’m no poster-child for humility, but I know his willingness to say what he thought helped in my fight to stay small.

Encourage other people. Leaders may be criticized, but they often get a disproportionate degree of encouragement. I know I do. A little criticism seems to me like God’s ‘market adjustment’ to my soul. I don’t think I’m alone.

Since leaders are often the objects of encouragement, we should be lavish dispensers of it too. Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess, 5:11). Encouragement, remember, is more than just sending out good vibes; it actually works through grace to fortify – to build up – other people. Thinking more about how to affirm another person is just another simple way to think less about ourselves.

Remember the gospel. The gospel reminds us that God has supplied us with the amazing gift of His interest and attention. God loves us, clothes us, feeds us, and is occupied with our lives down to the numbering of our particular hairs. God sent his Son, not that we might be narcissistically self-obsessed, but that he might serve the agenda of the Father and die in the interests of His people.

The cross, therefore, reveals the breathtaking love of God – a love that draws my heart away from my own head-swelling, inward-turning, me-centeredness. As I ponder what God accomplished for me, Christ appears more glorious and lovely. To quote Aslan, we find God bigger.

By now you probably get the point. You are Nebuchadnezzar. I am too. Nebuchadnezzar simply portrays how each of us, every single leader inside or outside the church, can sail to amazing heights of absurdity without the right gospel grounding. But the good news is that we have Jesus, the man of perfect humility. Because he experienced the ultimate humiliation (Phil. 2:1–11), he makes humility possible for us.

Leader, let’s behold the Lamb and humble ourselves. As we do, we will enjoy the Spirit-inspired exhilaration of seeing Aslan grow bigger.

We will grow small. We will grow up.

Editor's Note: This originally published at Am I Called?