Hurried leadership makes me think of a childhood toy called a Chinese finger trap. This long, narrow cylinder is often woven from bamboo strips. A child puts a finger from one hand into one end and a finger from the other hand in the other end and pulls. The trap tightens on each of the child’s fingers. Without thinking, the child’s instinct to get out of the trap is to pull harder. But the harder he pulls, the tighter the trap becomes. The child needs to do the opposite of what he assumes is right and instead push his fingers toward each other. Doing so will loosen the trap enough to extricate his little digits.
When we get into hurried, anxious places in our lives, how do we respond? Do we, like a child first experiencing a finger trap, try harder and go faster only to find that life gets even more hurried, worried, and cramped? What if we learned to do exactly the opposite of what we would do impulsively? We might experience what Isaiah described: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Is 30:15).
I’ve found those words from Isaiah especially helpful whenever I think about having a more unhurried approach to my leadership relationships and roles. To be specific, I see salvation and strength as leadership categories. Throughout Scripture, God’s people seek human leaders like judges or kings who will be strong on their behalf and get them out of the messes in which they find themselves. It’s not much different today. But, through Isaiah, God paints a very different picture of what true salvation and strength look like.
When we look for someone who will save us from our troubles, the qualifications at the top of the list are rarely repentance and rest. We tend to want leaders who will take charge and get moving. Repentance sounds, to the untrained ear, like a reversal or perhaps like a lack of confidence. And as for rest? We want leaders who are going to work until they solve our problem—or drop trying. And when we think of strong leaders, we don’t tend to look for someone who would best be described by the words quiet and trusting. At least in North America, we often seem to be drawn to bombastic, self-assured leaders who seem to know what they’re doing—and we hope like crazy they’ll get something, the right thing, done. But Isaiah said that we’ll find salvation—help, wholeness, or rescue—in repentance and rest. He said that we’ll find strength—power, influence, and energy—in quietness and trust. Unhurried leaders are different.
- Rather than fill their lives with noise, unhurried leaders make time for silence in which to listen (quietness).
- Rather than allow anxiety to drive them, unhurried leaders learn to depend on a reliable God who invites them to join a good kingdom work already well underway (trust).
- Rather than tackle self-initiated projects under the guise of doing them for God, unhurried leaders humbly orient themselves to the Leader of all, learning to take their cues from him (repentance).
- Unhurried leaders also learn to rest as hard as they work.
- Rather than measuring the productivity of their lives only in terms of what they do, unhurried leaders understand the importance of certain things they don’t
Quietness, trust, repentance, and rest are words that speak, at least in part, to those things. So what was Israel’s response to God’s invitation to repentance, rest, quietness, and trust? Isaiah described it:
But you would have none of it.
You said, “No, we will flee on horses.”
Therefore, you will flee!
You said, “We will ride off on swift horses.”
Therefore your pursuers will be swift! (Isaiah 30:15-16)
Unfortunately, Israel answered God with an unqualified no. Specifically, they said, “No, we will flee on horses.” They decided to rely on horsepower. To try harder. Do more. Work longer. Hard work and effort are good, God-given capacities, but when these become separated from a living communion with God, they can become destructive rather than constructive. We can find ourselves running past God rather than walking with God. And, unfortunately, Israel would use horsepower to run away rather than to engage or confront their enemies in the strength of God. And, sadly, if horsepower didn’t do the job, they said they would opt for more horsepower—not just horses but swift horses. In this case, Israel’s more horsepower was met with their enemy’s more horsepower (“Therefore your pursuers will be swift!”). Doesn’t it sound a lot like that child’s finger trap game, only with greater consequences?
Practically speaking, when I wake up to being in horsepower-only mode, I feel angry, or anxious, or drained. In such moments, I seek to take even a few minutes to be quiet and still, to allow my heart and mind to remember that God is with me. When anxious thoughts start to invade and rule that moment of silence, I allow myself to gently remember God’s gracious invitation: “Turn to face me. Relax in me. Let me quiet your heart. Trust me.” Then I remember that I’m not doing this work alone or for a God who is distant or disengaged. I let myself remember that I’m doing this work because of God’s invitation and in his loving and empowering presence.
-Adapted from chapter 1, “Becoming an Unhurried Leader”
Alan Fadling (MDiv, Fuller Theological Seminary) is president and founder of Unhurried Living, Inc. in Mission Viejo, California, inspiring people to rest deeper, live fuller, and lead better. He speaks and consults internationally with organizations such as Saddleback Church, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Cru, Halftime Institute, Apprentice Institute, and Open Doors International. He is the award-winning author of An Unhurried Life, honored with a Christianity Today Award of Merit in spirituality, and he is also a contributing author to Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard’s Teaching on Faith and Formation. Fadling is a certified spiritual director, and he lives in Mission Viejo, California, with his wife, Gem, and their three sons.