The Vulnerable Leader

April 15, 2023

This is the second of four devotionals based on II Chronicles 20: 1-30. King Jehoshaphat has gathered all the people of Judah in the temple courtyard for a prayer meeting in the face of a massive army coming to annihilate them all. 

Then Jehoshaphat stood up in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the temple of the Lord in the front of the new courtyard and said:

“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you….But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”  (II Chron. 20: 5-12, excerpts)

I’ve often imagined myself in this courtyard, holding my grandson’s hand. There’s a wild jumble of confusion and trust inside my heart.

On the one hand, I know the history of my people, shaped by the Lord’s miraculous deliverance through the parting of the Red Sea. On the other hand, I know military logic: we have no hope of defeating this enemy on the battlefield. I know the power of God and the limitations of human strength and wisdom. 

And I know that two factors have made this praying assembly possible. 

First, I have seen Jehoshaphat provide strong leadership. II Chron. 17 tells us that he took three significant steps: he fortified the country, he removed the false idols, and he sent officials throughout the land to teach people the book of the law of the Lord.

If Judah was a garden, you might say he built a fence around the garden, pulled the weeds, and nurtured the good plants with water, fertilizer, and tender, loving care. 

Those three steps prepared the country for this prayer service in the temple courtyard.  

We know that in times of crisis, anxious people are quick to turn to idols for a quick adrenalin fix.

  • Are we tormented by the confusion evoked by a global pandemic? We may turn to the idol of Googled certainties that give us permission to know better than our leaders.
  • Are we horrified by the sexual wasteland that appears to have taken over our culture? We may turn to the idol of imagined purity to push the mess under the carpet along with all the other messes we pushed there for centuries or we may turn to the idol of personal autonomy concerning every factor that shapes our identity. 

But Jehoshaphat has removed the idols from the land and schooled his people in God’s way. And they come, so strengthened, to pray together. 

Second, Jehoshaphat’s “gardening” work has grown a nation that has the capacity to be led by his vulnerability.

Picture the scene: a national crisis which appears to be headed toward a bloody massacre, and the king stands in the temple courtyard and prays,

“We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

No sense pretending when you’re awaiting a bloodbath. No sense playing the “King-card” with bravado-like “I” language. This is a “We” prayer; everyone from the King to the infant at her mother’s breast is powerless and unknowing. The action plan is prayer, and there is no plan B. 

I have frequently despaired of the church these past three years. I have longed for communities shaped by protection, idol-purging and God-shaping, led by our own Jehoshaphats boldly praying through helplessness and ignorance. We have seen glimpses both from afar and close to home of such leadership where public humility and surrender shaped the posture of entire communities. 

What glimpses have you seen? How does Jehoshaphat’s vulnerability inspire you?

May the good Lord of Jehoshaphat and the Lord of the church in 2023 equip us all to continue to lead through this unusual season. 

Written by Syd Hielema

Currently serving the CRCNA as a Regional Pastor

Former Director of Faith Formation Ministries and the Connections project 

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