There’s about a foot of distance between our head and our heart. And there’s only about four to six feet between our heads and our feet. But it takes so long for obedience to go that distance! Too often I understand God’s commands and priorities in my head, but I fail to feel their importance. I may know what God has spoken, but I’m slow to put it into practice.
Sometimes this is a problem with the way I think about leadership too. I can wrongly think that the person who is the most articulate—the one who seems to hear God’s voice most clearly—is a great leader. But true leadership doesn’t just hear and speak; it puts words and faith into action (James 2:14–26). Barak didn’t have any issues with understanding God’s command to deploy Israel’s troops. He and Deborah both heard God speak (Judges 4:6). But what held Barak back from true leadership was his lack of courage. He wasn’t brave enough to act.
I have sympathy for Barak. It’s hard to step out in faith when circumstances are stacked against us. From a merely human perspective, Barak’s mission was doomed to failure. God told Barak to deploy his troops on Mount Tabor, but the mount was exposed, bordered only by the Kishon River basin, which was dried up most of the year. If he’d deployed his army there, Sisera’s chariots could easily surround them and cut off their escape. This was a suicide mission. No wonder Barak found God’s command so hard to obey! But despite the odds, Deborah and Jael boldly trusted God. Their courageous leadership succeeded where Barak’s petered out (v.9).
Deborah boldly summoned Barak. She reminded him of God’s promise of victory. And when he continued to cower, she bravely went into battle with him (vv.6–10). God honored her faith and fought for the Israelites. From chapter 5, we learn that the Lord poured down rain, causing flash floods that trapped the enemy chariots (5:4). As a result, God threw Sisera and all his charioteers into a panic before Barak’s assault (4:15–16).
Then, as the enemy Sisera fled on foot, Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, offered him a place to rest. Inviting the general into her tent was a risk. Sisera had hoped to carry off Israelite women after the battle— “a girl or two for each warrior” (5:30). He could have easily taken advantage of Jael sexually before he fell asleep. But God honored Jael’s courage (and quick thinking!) by delivering Sisera’s life into her hands (4:17–22; 5:24–27).
Where can we find courage like Deborah’s and Jael’s? Where do we find the kind of obedient faith that is willing to go to risky, vulnerable places in obedience to God’s call? This kind of leadership only comes from looking to the invulnerable God who made Himself vulnerable for us.
God’s own courageous mission teaches us courageous leadership. The Father loved the world and sent the Son. The Father and the Son sent the Spirit. The Spirit forms us as His church and calls us to courageously participate in His mission to the world. Even when we languish in courage, God promises to send His Holy Spirit like abundant rain. He revives us, so that we can leave behind what hinders, step out, and boldly obey His Word (Psalm 68:9).
Written by Jared Kennedy