Our theme for this blog and our church this year is, “What’s next?”. Our theme for Advent season 2016 is, “Longing for What’s Next.” Most of us, when we think of longing for a word from God, think of longing for some message in human speech or language. While it’s true that we often need a verbal message from God, more often we want a relationship with God. The “Word” we want is the Word Made Flesh, Jesus. We need a person not just words. The longing we have is not just for information but for a personal relationship with a person (God) who can bring us to the next stage of life.
Because this year was an election year, most of us have thought about the subject of leadership. We long for a world in which we have better, more ethical, godlier, and more caring leadership. Of course, in the end our longing for better leaders cannot be fulfilled except by Christ. All human leaders fail. All human leaders fall short of our expectations. Only God can give us leadership we desire in the depths of our hearts. The frailty of our human leaders does not, however, mean we don’t need good and godly ones.
This blog is about the longing we all have to be led by leaders who truly care for us and lead is wisely. This longing is part of our human condition. Human beings have always longed for better leaders. This longing especially comes to the surface during election years or other times like the one our church is experiencing: times when we are thinking and looking for new leadership. It may help us to know that people have always longed for new leadership in times of transition and in troubled times.
A Prophetic Longing.
Our text for this blog is from the prophet Isaiah. The early church valued Isaiah more than any book of prophecy. They saw in Isaiah a foreshadowing of the birth, character, ministry, and sacrificial death of Jesus. As they read Isaiah, the first Christians saw revealed and understood in a deep way the life and ministry of Jesus. Isaiah foresaw that a virgin would conceive (7:14), that the Messiah would be hidden and not attractive to the wealthy and famous (53:2), and that he would sacrifice himself for the sins of his people (53:6-8). They also saw in Jesus fulfillment of the promise God had made to David that he would never fail to have a family on the throne of Israel (9:7; 11:10). Here is a part of what Isaiah prophesies on the subject of leadership:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them (Isaiah 11:1-6).
Let us Pray: Eternal God, King of Heaven, Lord of Hosts: Come to us by the power of your Holy Spirit so that we may understand the kind of leadership that pleases you and become such leaders in our families, businesses, schools, clubs, friendships, and other places we minister your grace. In Jesus Name, Amen.
We often complain about poor leadership in our culture—and for good reason. Recently, I went on the internet to look for a few examples of bad leadership. I found many, many examples from 2016 alone. Here are just a few examples of bad leadership from 2016:
- The CEO of a large internet company who was hired to turn the business around, became a celebrity, and proceeded to lose even more money than her predecessor.
- The leader of an emerging economic power who ran for office on an anti-corruption ticket and then proceeded to act in a corrupt manner.
- The CEO of a growing software company used dubious and illegal business practices to grow a company and his leadership style included highly inappropriate conduct by himself and his employees.
- The CEO of a drug company that bought a generic drug and then upped the price, hurting seriously ill people.
- Another CEO of a drug company who misstated the results of tests on a new company drug.
- The CEO of a car company ignored signs that certain tests required by the federal government were not accurately reported.
- The mayor of a major American city afflicted with crime flip flopped on an alleged act of police violence, losing the respect of voters, police and social activists alike.
- The governor of a state claimed not to know of a blatantly illegal and politically motivated action of two of his subordinates. 
Frankly, too often we settle for bad or incompetent or immoral or dishonest leadership not just in our government, but also in private industry and charitable organizations. If we do not think and work carefully to develop good leaders, we must live with the leaders we get. Therefore, it is a good idea to think about the kind of leadership we desire for the institutions of our society.
The Prophet Isaiah lived in the times of two of the best kings of Israel and two of the worst. The prophesy of the historical Isaiah covers the period from the reign of King Uzziah (791-740 B.C.), the reign of King Jotham (750-732 B.C.), King Ahaz (736-716 B.C.), and King Hezekiah (725-687 B.C.). Uzziah and Hezekiah were good kings, but Ahaz and Jotham were not. Isaiah 11, quoted above, was probably written sometime during the disappointing reign of Ahaz.  The prophet was understandably concerned about the future of his nation. The vision of granted Isaiah is a response of God to his longing and praying for a better kind of leader. He needed a word from God on the subject of leadership, and he received that word he needed.
As Isaiah prayed and thought about the situation, he recognized that what was needed was a new and different kind of leadership. Such leadership would be Spirit-filled, loving and caring for people, wise, knowledgeable about the world and about the ways of God, insightful about the motives of people and the potential of situations, just, and righteous.
From the time of Isaiah forward, the people of Israel longed for that kind of leadership. Over time, the visions of Isaiah and other prophets resulted in a hope for a Spirit-filled leader the prophets called, the “Messiah,” or “The Anointed One.”  In other words, what Israel hoped for was a leader filled with the Spirit of God, and so empowered to rule in a godly manner. By the time of Jesus, this hope was fully worked out in the minds of most Jews. Unfortunately, the way God’s people had worked it out was not accurate. The Jews made of the Messiah just another King David, only more moral and without some of David’s most serious shortcomings.
God had a different idea. In God’s mind, the Messiah was to be a totally different kind of leader. I have a doctorate, and my doctorate happens to be in leadership. In the beginning of my research for my degree, I was attracted to the study of some of the most successful and most popular leaders of the church of the 1990’s. By the time of my dissertation, I had come to realize that too often pastors, church professionals, sessions, and church members want church leaders who model the same leadership styles as their favorite leaders in business, government, the military, and other areas. The problem is that secular leaders almost always disappoint, and our search for church leaders who are just like secular leaders but nicer is also bound to disappoint. If we want the kind of leaders for which we long, then we need to pray for Spirit-filled leadership. Truly Christian leadership is leadership that emulates Christ before everything else.
All human leaders human institutions must in some way adapt their style to the culture in which they lead. All leaders must adapt their leadership to the realities of the challenges they face and to human nature. However, we cannot make progress, real progress in leadership unless and until the transcendent example of Christ forms in our hearts an ideal for which we strive.
Getting There from Here.
This blog has been scheduled for almost all this year. When it was scheduled, I had no idea that the election would be so divisive or that there would be so much ill-feelings about the candidates. A few days ago, I wrote the meditation for last week. It was as follows:
This year has been an election year. Therefore, most of us have thought about leadership at least once or twice. One thing most of us long for is a world in which we have better, wiser, more ethical, godlier, and more caring leadership. This longing for better leaders cannot be completely fulfilled except by Christ. All human leaders fail. All human leaders fall short of our expectations. All human leaders are like us: they are flawed, finite human beings. Therefore, we can come to expect too much from them. Only God can give us the leadership we desire in the depths of our hearts. Only Christ can give us the self-giving, servant leadership for which our spirits made in the image of God long. Only the Spirit can help us come closer to being such leaders.
Christians can and should be in the forefront of demanding and seeking good leadership from ourselves and from those who lead us. One of the strengths of our faith is that it gives us an eternal and humanly unreachable spiritual and moral ideal to guide us in all our striving, including our striving to be good leaders.
Our culture is chronically disappointed in its leaders because we do not have a clear and realistic moral ideal of the kind of leader we want. As we have become a secular culture, the ideal of a servant leadership has been cut off from its roots in Christ, the revelation of the Word Made Flesh. The Bible, however, reveals such a vision and ideal—a vision and ideal first set out in Isaiah and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.
During the most recent election, I had an experience I want to share. For whatever reason, beginning I did not initially feel called to pray for the victory of any candidate. I did feel called to pray for the character of the candidates. I felt called to pray that one particular candidate, win or lose, would become a better person. Interestingly, I feel my prayers were answered! As Christians, we know that we will never fully achieve the kingdom of God on this earth. We know that our leaders will to some degree fail us. In fact, the attempt to seek a merely human messiah always ends in failure, as Hitler, Lenin, and Mao among others abundantly proved. We cannot have perfect politicians. We can and must, however, pray and work for better political climate and better politicians.
What would better leadership look like? Our passage from Isaiah gives us some clues of what we should pray for:
- First, we should pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and upon our leaders. The book of Isaiah speaks of King Cyrus of Persia (see, Isaiah 41:2-4). Cyrus, was not a Jew, was not a Christian (of course), and in so far as we know, died a pagan. Nevertheless, Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as anointed with the Holy Spirit in the decisions he made, giving religious freedom to the Jews.
- Second, we can pray for our leaders, whether or not they are Christians, in such a way that we can live quiet and peaceful lives. Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy urges us to do exactly that when he says, “I urge, then, first, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2 Timothy 2:1-2). Many Christians only pray for those leaders they like or voted for. This is a mistake. We must pray for all those in authority.
- Third, we can pray that our leaders will make good decisions inspired by the Holy Spirit. Isaiah envisions a king who will decide wisely and with true understanding of people, situations, and the options available (11:2). Such a leader will have a kind of wisdom that begins with deep respect for God and humility, a quality that is necessary for true godliness (Proverbs 1:7; 10:9; and 15:33; Isaiah 112-3). One characteristic of such leaders is that they do not merely judge on the exterior, but look deep into reality with a mind attuned to invisible moral and spiritual realities of a situation (Isaiah 11:3). Such leaders will especially care for the poor, the oppressed, and the forgotten (v. 4).
- Finally, we can pray that our leaders, Christian or not, be filled with the love of God, and will be selfless, servant leaders. Cyrus, as mentioned earlier, was not a Jew nor did he necessarily believe in the God of Israel. He supported all possible god’s and let people worship as they pleased. Nevertheless, Isaiah sensed that Cyrus was, in many ways, a godly leader and a servant of God’s people and God’s intentions in history (Isaiah 44:24-28; 54:1-13).
As Christians, we can and should pray that our leaders will have that hidden wisdom of which the apostle Paul speaks (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). We can pray that they will be wise in such a way that they can see beneath the surface to the true, hidden causes of things (Isaiah 3-4). Finally, we can pray that they will be righteous and do justice, especially toward the poor and the oppressed (vv. 4). We can pray that our leaders will serve us with a humble spirit of service, and not simply with a desire for more and more power. We cannot achieve a kind of leadership that promotes the healing of the world by our own powers. If lions are to ly down with lambs, we need the power of God, the power shown on the Cross, to allow that to happen.
Copyright 2016, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 See, Fortune Editors, “The World’s 19 Most Disappointing Leaders” Fortune Magazine (March 30, 2016) downloaded November 16, 2016. I could go on and on with examples. Originally, I was going to use Enron as an example, but it seemed outdated. When I went on the internet I found so many contemporary examples I could not believe it.
 See, Gary V. Smith, “Isaiah 1-39” in The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2007), 233ff. Most likely this section is related to the time period of Isaiah 7:14 (“A virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son”). The reign of Ahaz had been disappointing to the prophet and many other religious Jews. In such times, there is a longing for wholesome, renewing leadership.
 The Hebrew term “Messiah” is “Christ” in Greek. In English, the translation for Christ is “Anointed One.”