The global west is now on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19. The epicenter of the novel coronavirus has shifted from our distant shores to our communities. After a sudden two-week blitz in the United States of implementing extreme social distancing measures that included closing stadiums, canceling large events, shutting our borders, closing schools and offices, reducing restaurants to carry-out only, and preventing the doors of our church buildings from opening, we now enter a critical week.
This is the week we will come to terms with what we are facing. This is the week many will realize life has been forever transformed. This is the week where fear, discouragement, anger, and shock will set in. This is the week we will begin to be tested physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
However, this is also the week for courageous leadership — in our homes, our workplaces, and our communities. This week (and well beyond) we need leaders who will be rise above the challenges we face. We need leaders with humility, not arrogance. Leaders with moral obligation, not personal ambition. Leaders with faith-filled hope, not despair. We need strong and courageous leaders in every place and every vocation.
Timeless principles for courageous leaders
There is a story in the Old Testament of a newly established leader. His name was Joshua. He was the young and impressive assistant to Moses in the latter years of Israel’s wandering through the desert after the great exodus from slavery in Egypt. Joshua was tasked with leading Israel into the promised land of Palestine as a righteous wartime general after the death of Moses. In the book that bears his namesake, Joshua opens with the divine words of the Lord spoken to him. They are God’s instructions for Joshua as the newly minted leader of a nation that is well over 1 million people strong. The only thing that separated Israel from their destiny was the Jordan River and their willingness to follow a leader full of courage to point the way.
Just as Joshua had no control over the location of a river or the ability to change the hearts of the Israelites, neither can the leaders of our day change the reality of a pandemic already underway or how every person will choose to respond. But those were not the instructions given to Joshua from the Lord. Instead, Joshua was responsible for two things: to be full of courage and obey God. For Joshua, this is all that would be needed to successfully lead others. The rest was up to the mighty work of God who dried up the overfilled banks of the Jordan and graciously unified the hearts and minds of the people to press on.
From the instructions given from the Lord in Joshua 1:6-9, we can see three principles for courageous leaders today.
1. Courageous leaders follow a greater leader
“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them.” (Joshua 1:6, NLT)
Joshua was assigned by the Lord as the leader who would fulfill God’s promise to Israel. Joshua was a wartime leader and conquerer who led with weapons of brute strength and sharpened swords. Although Joshua was “a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites” (Joshua 4:14), he ultimately fell short of God’s plan of restoration that was left for his ancestors to fulfill. Generations later God’s plan would be revealed and made complete through Jesus Christ, a greater leader who leads not with war but acts of love, and not to a promised land but a promised Kingdom.
Courageous leaders don’t look to themselves, but to the One who “existed before anything else”, “holds all creation together”, and who has “made peace with everything in heaven and on earth” (Colossians 1:17,20). Courageous leaders are those who humbly follow Jesus Christ, are disciples of his ways, and live as ambassadors of the righteous Kingdom of God meant for today and eternity. Courageous leaders are those who look to a greater leader who is “making everything new” (Revelation 21:5) — a world free from sin, death, pain, and suffering — and are eager to participate in His global mission of redemption.
2. Courageous leaders live by a greater law
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them … Then you will be successful in everything you do.” (Joshua 1:7, NLT)
Joshua was instructed to obey, study, and mediate on the law given to Moses recorded in the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It was Israel’s theocratic governing constitution. “Meditate on it day and night,” the Lord said. “Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do” (Joshua 1:8). Although Joshua was bound to the Law of Moses, today Christians are bound to a greater law — the Law of Christ. Jesus clarifies the profound wholistic nature and simplicity of this law in Matthew 22:37-40, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two requirements.”
Courageous leaders are bound to the law of love — their love of God and their love for others. God’s love is expressed through the gracious provision of our welfare, justice, mercy, faith, peace, and our salvation. Courageous leaders who live by a greater law are committed to living and obeying the righteous attributes of God and His Kingdom that bring about salvation for the world.
3. Courageous leaders go with a greater confidence
“Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
The promise given to Joshua was the promise of God’s presence. God is not disconnected, absent, or silent in our lives. He is active. He is speaking. He is moving. He is present.
This is a sure foundation for hope and confidence. A leader may find some untapped inner strength, but the source of true courage in the significant and uncertain times of life comes from beyond ourselves. For the Christian, we rest in knowing that God is not simply with (in front, beside, or behind) us — he dwells inside of us. Believers have been given the very Spirit of God through their faith and trust (belief) in the living Christ who died and rose from the grave. The very Spirit of God no longer appears in smoke and fire as he did for Israel when Moses led them out of Egypt through the desert. His Spirit now resides in us, putting to death the old self by giving us a new life, a new spirit, and a new mission of faith and righteousness.
We need courageous leaders who go with a greater confidence, not because they have a supernatural faith or charismatic hope, but because they are filled with a supernatural power. Such leaders are influenced, directed, and led by the Holy Spirit with eyes set on the Kingdom of God in everything they do. We need leaders who embody the ways of Jesus Christ who instructs us to “Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13) These are the true courageous leaders that go with a greater confidence.
We should not be surprised at the challenges before us, nor should such challenges be taken lightly.
Courageous leaders fight a greater battle
As the world takes drastic steps to contain and mitigate a microscopic virus that shows no favoritism toward any individual or people group, courageous and faith-filled leaders are needed now more than ever. Leaders who represent the values of God’s Kingdom are those fighting on the front lines of an even greater battle — a spiritual one — that seeks to reduce humanity to our rawest inclinations of good or evil; of righteousness or sin.
We should not be surprised at the challenges before us, nor should such challenges be taken lightly. Instead, we must pay close attention to where the works of evil are present. We need spiritual eyes that allow us to see through the lies, deception, hostility, self-preservation, injustice, oppression, discrimination, and hatred that is and will be spread like a wildfire far worse than the coronavirus itself. Such evil and sin threatens our way of life well beyond a viral pandemic. It is for this reason that now more than ever, our world needs everyday courageous leaders among every people in every place who lead by following a greater leader, live by a greater law, and go with a greater confidence. Our humanity depends on it and the Kingdom of God requires it.