How difficult is it for Christian leaders to end well? I will try not to be too cynical.
Many years ago, I attended a young adults retreat. The speaker shared with the ragtag group of college students gathered at Fort Huachuka army base that the odds are against finishing well as Christians. I don’t remember the statistics, but the warning was clear. Many Christians start their walks with the Lord with passion but the worries and cares of the world turn their hearts over the years.
Among leaders the statistics may be even more discouraging. How many leaders who start with godly desires to lead with integrity end up toxic? I am pretty good at making up statistics but won’t here.
Asa, King of Judah
Asa, the king of Judah around the turn of the 9th Century BCE, began with a noble commitment to leading Judah under the authority of Yahweh. It is written in 2 Chronicles 14:1-12 that, “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.”
Asa, with great zeal, cleared out the worship of false gods in the land. Even the “high places,” locations of worship not sanctioned by the Lord, were taken down despite often apparently justified by Judah’s leaders as places making the worship of Yahweh more accessible.
Then, more than a million fighting Ethiopians came up against Judah and Asa sought the Lord to save Judah. He knew his strategizing and smaller army could not possibly defeat such a great force.
And Asa cried to the Lord his God, “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.”
2 Chronicles 14:11
Asa recognized his need. He recognized he did not have the power. Asa recognized God was the One on Whom Judah needed to rely. He knew Yahweh in reality ruled Judah, not himself.
Those are not the responses of a toxic leader who must make all things about himself.
God, in response, saved Judah from the hand of Ethiopia. Scripture does not even tell us how. It simply states that “the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled.”
A chapter later in 2nd Chronicles, a prophet came to Asa and further encouraged him to stay the good course. The prophet explained that Asa was unique among Judah’s kings as he had turned the nation to the Lord. He had led Judah well. Azariah not only encouraged Asa in his past leadership but exhorted Asa to continue:
The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.
2 Chronicles 15:2
Keep it up, Asa. You can hear the tone of Azariah’s voice even. Go get ’em, Asa. Attaboy.
All that begins well…
But one chapter later, we see King Asa turning and the hand writing is on the wall.
The northern kingdom, Israel, determined to make Asa and his nation’s life miserable. Asa inexplicably turned elsewhere for help. He did not turn to the Lord despite Yahweh defeating the Ethiopian army, over a million strong, before his eyes.
What could have happened? Why did Asa turn to Syria when he had seen the Lord in action in a mighty way? Why did Asa not turn to the Lord who had proven Himself faithful when up against overwhelming odds before?
The words he would hear from a seer were not the encouraging words he heard before from Azariah.
Hanani, the seer, came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand.”
2 Chronicles 16:7-8
This was bad. Judah would now be at war constantly the seer told him. Many lives would be lost because Asa refused to rely on the Lord, instead turning to men. Maybe Asa had a moment of weakness. All of us do. We all rely on ourselves or other men (women) at some point…often many points.
But it appears worse than that. Asa’s heart would be laid bare as he responds to Hanani.
Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in the stocks in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this. And Asa inflicted cruelties upon some of the people at the same time.
2 Chronicles 16:10
Not only does he punish the seer for telling him the truth, he turned on his own people. Scripture does not tell us what exactly Asa did to “some of the people” but it should be evident that his faithlessness had a deep impact on his leadership.
He would become toxic as he rejected God’s “headship” over his reign.
As he failed to love God, not trusting Him with leadership, he would fail to love man. He would become an abusive leader. This is the way of the toxic leader.
In Asa’s final years as King, he got some form of disease in his feet. Chronicles tells us that it became “severe.” What should have been his response? Unfortunately, it was not that. He did not rely on the Lord as he had early in his reign.
And Asa died.
It did not end well.
What are the lessons for leaders? Leaders need several things to keep them strong. And all of them are seen as weaknesses by the world:
- Daily reliance on the Lord to mature and strengthen his leadership skills.
- Daily recognition that the Lord is the true Leader of the organization or business or church…not him.
- Reliance on subordinates to advise and challenge his failures.
Each of these requires humility. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and in His time He is the One who will exalt you.
And when exalted…remember where it came from.