There are instances when the personal or ministry dreams of all believers (including ministry leaders) drastically change or die. The prophet Samuel experienced several such situations.
As an old man who had judged and prophesied faithfully, Samuel set his sons as judges over Israel. However, the responsibility was too excellent for them. Samuel’s sons showed themselves fraudulent as they procured bribes, and perverted justice (1 Sam. 8:1-3). Israel realized the sons did not fear God like their father. “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah.5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations” (1 Sam. 8:4-5).
Samuel was profoundly disturbed by their request and unloaded his burden on the Lord. The Lord understood Samuel’s pain and replied empathetically, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their king. 8 They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning me and worshiping other gods” (1 Sam. 8:7-8).
In one moment, Samuel’s dreams for his family and ministry die (or dramatically change). How does one pick up the pieces at such a moment?
Samuel exemplifies a God-honoring response that ministry leaders can emulate when their dream (or God-forbid, coinciding dreams) die. Leaders’ responses have a major impact on discovering the subsequent dream God wants to raise out of the ashes. The Lord wasn’t finished with Samuel’s leadership. He would call Samuel to do something beyond his wildest dreams, anoint David, the father of the Messiah’s dynasty!
How did Samuel honor God in such a negative season of life? How did he keep from becoming emotionally crippled and spiritually darkened by his personal and ministry circumstances? What did he do to rediscover his role as a ministry leader?
First, Samuel was rooted in reality. He did not allow his emotions to ruin his leadership platform. “Fight or flight” instincts rule when people “lose their heads.” If Samuel took flight into denial, or lost control and fought, what would have happened to Israel? Mature leaders climb to the overlook, brave the emotional winds, and assess the situation in reality. Sometimes it hurts, but leaders must get an accurate assessment of those they lead.
Second, Samuel differentiated himself out of his family’s and Israel’s emotional mess and into his God-ordained role as leader. Samuel did not ignore the situation. Rather, he determined that his best chance to create God-honoring change was to assume his role as leader. This ability takes place when a person has a firm grasp of his call and trusts God to work through him. In our biblical situation, Samuel retreated to a time of prayer and allowed God to reorient his leadership role to the next step of God’s relationship with Israel.
Third, Samuel gained counsel from God. Samuel had an opinion about the situation (the correct one), but he trusted God to lead the way. Samuel could have leaned on his own understanding and made an executive decision. This seasoned servant-leader knew that even his best judgment in this situation could not compare to the wise leadership God would give him as he humbly sought God.
Fourth, as Samuel pursued God, he discovered God’s new dream for Israel. It was found in the monarchy. Samuel could have lived in sentimental grief and longing for Israel’s past. However, he embraced God’s new dream for Israel and received a role in the unfolding drama to redeem Israel and all humanity to God. Samuel anointed David, the ancestor of Jesus Christ, to be Israel’s king. God has a new dream for you to follow too!
Fifth, despite the negative context of his family and the nation, Samuel continued to lead. How easy it would have been to retire, or at least lead from a hardened heart that was emotionally cut-off from the people. Samuel faithfully obeyed God, stayed connected to those to whom he was called, and communicated the word of God to them.
Leadership is not easy: our families are not perfect, those we lead make disastrous decisions, and sometimes our dreams die. As one seasoned and skilled leader told me, “Leadership is not for sissies… If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
Everyone is not leading, but if you have been called, lead on! God has Great-Commission-sized dreams waiting for you!
For further encouragement read, All In! by Mark Batterson, and The Painful Side of Leadership by Jeff Iorg.