Read Psalm 99.
I remember, years ago, sitting in a conference room, discussing John Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. It was one of those lunch-and-learn experiences my boss strongly suggested people sign up for. Contrary to what you may be thinking, it wasn’t a complete waste of time—they sometimes gave us cookies.
While the book had some helpful nuggets, it was mostly common sense. But I’ll give Maxwell credit—he was writing listicles before they were popular. The thing about the book I just couldn’t get over was that several of the so-called “irrefutable” laws were refuted by Maxwell himself every time there was a new edition of the book. He would replace some old laws with a few new gems. From where I sat in the corner of that drab conference room, that should have been enough for anyone to take what he had to say in those pages with a grain of salt.
Leadership gurus and their principles are foreign to the world of the Bible. It’s long seemed to me that the cult of Christian leadership conferences and books has more to do with putting a Jesus stamp on climbing the ladder of worldly success than it does with being a disciple.
In Psalm 99, we read about three of Israel’s most distinguished leaders: Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. I’m sure if someone wanted to, they could study their stories and come up with a list of timeless leadership principles drawn from their lives—or, more profitably, they could make a series of books based on different biblical figures—but that’s not what the psalmist does. Instead, he tells us the most important thing about their lives: “they called on the LORD and he answered them” (v. 6).
It’s the beginning of everything that matters. Before any of us can be great in God’s kingdom—in fact, before we can enter God’s kingdom—we have to call on the Lord. The work of God in the world begins with the work of God in our hearts, and so it all starts with humbling ourselves before Him. It’s always been this way. Just flip the pages of your Bible all the way back to those first few pages of Genesis. After Adam’s grandson Enosh was born, we read, “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 4:26).
These phrases are the sort that most of us just read right on past. And yada, yada, yada, they called on the Lord. But calling on the Lord is anything but mundane. Think about it for a minute. God’s revelation of Himself in creation and in the pages of Scripture is an open invitation to reach out to Him. It’s an incredible privilege He’s laid at the feet of people who don’t deserve any such welcome. Not only that, but we’re invited—nay, urged—to call on Him, not just once or when we really, really need the help, but every moment of every day. It’s like the old hymn says, “I need Thee every hour.”
Calling on the Lord isn’t just a privilege or a necessity for an abundant life; it’s also the secret to true greatness. No one will stand before God and hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” without having a history of calling upon the Lord. I guess I found something true in all those leadership books after all: It’s not what you know but who you know.