Tag Archives: leadership

Authentic :: Deborah & Jael

As a woman of the 21st century, I have a special place in my heart for strong, intelligent women who can take charge while at the same time maintaining respect for everyone around her. It’s a tightrope not many women walk gracefully. Personally, I am hanging on to the tightrope with my feet dangling beneath more more often than I balance there. 

Currently, in my Bible study, we are going through the book of Corinthians and 1 Corinthians 6 highlights the church’s responsibility to settle civil disputes among the body rather than taking one another to court and displaying dirty laundry for the world to see. The question we contemplated was whether or not we view ourselves as being equipped to solve disputes among others. After all, we have the spirit of truth dwelling in us (John 14:17), teaching us all things (John 14:26), with a promise from God to grant us ability and wisdom (James 1:5), and we have the scriptures that we study (Hebrews 4:12). So, yes we are given the equipment. But that is very different than feeling equipped to be a mediator or judge. As a teacher, I’ve had to employ these skills and sometimes I get it right, often I have to back peddle, follow up, and even ask for forgiveness because let’s face it: teaching is a learning process too.  Deborah, on the other hand, not only had these gifts, she used the gifts and had confidence that the gifts God had given her would be put to amazingly good use. 

A Woman in Charge in a Man’s World

Deborah is the woman in charge. She is the judge over the Israelite nation before the days of the Kings. Not only is she a judge (and a woman) she is also named as a prophet. Interestingly, most judges during this time weren’t arbiters as we see in today’s society, but rather commanders and military leaders. Deborah, on the other hand, is seen in the opening of Judges 4 as a more passive arbiter—sitting beneath a tree and passing judgment over the disputes of the people. If she wasn’t already unique enough, this sets her apart even more.


Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

Furthermore, Deborah is judge during a bad time for the Israelites. They had once again done evil in the site of the Lord and so had been sold into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan and the commander Sisera. The Canaanites were a highly advanced and technological society—with iron chariots and better weapons than the Israelites (Judges 4:1-3). Actually in a lot of ways this situation is very similar to the time the Israelites spent in Egypt. Fortunately, they didn’t have to wait quite as long for deliverance.

When we first meet Deborah in Judges 4:4-7, she is doing her job: sitting under her tree, giving out judgments. Then a prophecy comes to her. It’s time for the 20 years of oppression to come to an end! So she sends for Barak and gives him very specific instructions for how to defeat Sisera’s army and what the result would be. Actually, she confirms what the Lord has already told Barak: take 10,000 men and attack Jabin’s army and I will deliver them into your hand. 

Now, Barak had heard this direction from the Lord and then it is confirmed by Deborah. That’s some pretty amazing confirmation, so at that point, I would expect Barak to be like “Let’s do this.” Yet, his response in 
Judges 4: 8-10 is kind of odd for a man of war: “I’ll go if you go.” 

Now nothing in the prophecy stated that Deborah needed to be a part of the military campaign. And, in fact, she would probably have been somewhat of a distraction as the men would feel it was their duty to protect her rather than fight all out. So this is an odd request.

But I get it. 

I’ve had a similar conversation with God and godly people before: this is what I want you to do (says God). Um, okay (says me) but only if…


 Our hesitancy can often cause us to lose out on blessings 

This kind of negotiation sets the tone for the kind of deliverance. Deborah tells him that she’ll go, but it’ll change the outcome–all of Sisera will be delivered nto the hands of a woman. This response transitions her from a passive to an active role and we expect that the army will now follow her lead rather than Barak’s–after all he’s using her as a kind of good luck charm.

At any rate, they go to battle and the actual scene is pretty short: Judges 4: 12-16highlights that the Lord is given all the glory and Deborah is giving all the orders. Her faith spurs the men into action. 

The Song of Deborah and Barak in Judges 5: 4-5 details exactly how the Lord lead them into victory: a sudden storm causes these highly advanced ‘iron chariots’ to fail! Routed in the mud, the army flees and their military strategy is kaput.  That’s what you get when you rely too heavily on any one thing rather than in an all powerful God. The task before Barak seemed impossible…and yet Deborah knew the Lord would make a way. So, in the end, it is Deborah…and another young woman…who get the starring role next to God. Not the leader of the army. Because that is the thing about faith. Our hesitancy can often cause us to lose out on blessings God has in store for us. 

When Women Take the Lead

In Judges 4:17-22 we meet Jael, a second female character who, like Deborah, takes on a non-traditional female role. First, she appears to be quite welcoming to Sisera, inviting him in with sweet words and promises of protection. He enters because, after all, they are supposed to be allies. Instead of giving him water, she gives him milk. What a motherly thing she is doing here, nurturing this man and even lulling him to sleep. So cute! All the while, the audience here is building tension expecting what—Deborah to come in? But no, suddenly Jael picks up whatever is handy—a tent peg, and drives it through Sisera’s skull. YIKES! That is no easy task (in case you were wondering, that would have had to been a tremendous force to go all the way through the skull to the ground). Talk about subverting expectations for a climax. The prophecy came true, but certainly not in the way we—or even they (certainly not Sisera)—were expecting.


Sometimes we are called to a purpose we don’t quite understand. 


Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

We’re never told why Jael decides to murder Sisera. Her husband is his ally. All we know is that she fulfills God’s prophecy and is honored for this action. Sometimes we are called to a purpose we don’t quite understand. But, when we know we are following God’s will, we can rest in the knowledge that he will work it all out for our good (Romans 8:28). 

Judges 5 is perhaps one of the oldest poems in the Bible and relates the story in more detail. This song has a war driven tone and regales the history of Deborah’s people. 5: 24-27 relates Jael’s story and then we get to Judges 5: 28-30  where we see our final female character in this passage- Sisera’s mother who is waiting, in vain, for the return of her son.

Interestingly, all three female figures in Deborah’s story have motherly qualities, but both Deborah and Jael who are the protagonists are hero-ized for their non-traditional roles as they transition from passive to active participants in God’s story. To me this offers reminds me of the promise that God has equipped us ALL to do his work–not just the males. Females were not made to be minor characters, in a supporting role. They were made to help drive the plot forward, and God honors women who step into their purpose as much as he honors men. 

Leadership and Submission

The Bible tells us that females and wives are supposed to be submissive to male leadership and husbands. How do we reconcile the idea of ‘submissive’ with our own call to leadership roles like that of Deborah? Well I don’t have the answer to that, but I have some thoughts. 

The Trinity is made up of God, the father, Jesus, the son, and the Holy Spirit, helper. They are all three equally (one person, one God), and yet, they are 3 persons and each role is well-defined in a hierarchy. Jesus submits to his father (Luke 22:42), and the father sends the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). But Jesus still takes on a leadership role throughout his ministry and life. 

Submission doesn’t mean you are a doormat. It doesn’t even mean you can’t make your own decisions. Submission is merely a voluntary recognition that you are not the ulitmate authority on everything in your life. And since absolute power corrupts absolutely, being able and willing to submit is an important life skill for everyone. Therefore, women are not called to be men’s underlings, but rather to work alongside for a greater purpose: the highest authority, which is God’s. 


Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. 


Photo by Anita Austvika on Unsplash

Feminine doesn’t have to mean fragile. Deborah and Jael both had very feminine qualities and they used these to their advantage to gain both strength and honor in their communities. And we can too. 

Authentic :: Jonathan

When I was little I had a BFF. Or so I thought. As it turned out, she wasn’t so much of a BFF as she was a BF whenever it was convenient. And it was convenient when we were 7 and lived close to one another and had similar interests. But she became a cheerleader as soon as middle school hit—she was popular and beautiful and had no interest in me and my nerdy self, unless it was to toss me up in the air in a cheerleading stunt and hope I didn’t break on the way down. It wasn’t a wise choice, but sometimes when we really want to fit in and be like the “cool kids”, we’ll do anything short of throwing ourselves into lava pits. Sometimes though, I think the lava pit would be more forgiving.

Life may be hard, but building our legacy doesn’t have to be.

As I grew older, I learned what a real BFF looked like. Friendship is a lot like love, it’s patient, kind, giving (see I Corinthians 13, really not just for marriage!)—it’s not selfish and it certainly doesn’t value popularity over people. The most important lesson I have learned about friendship is that friends help you grow. And best friends help you work to improve your flaws rather than simply judging your imperfections. Life is short and hard, and God didn’t intend for us to live it on our own. He means for us to live in relationship with others, which is why Jesus had circles of friends. I mean, look at the trinity itself—we are made in God’s image and God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit work in tandem and in communion. We are meant to do the same. To build something that will far outlast the length of our days here on earth. Life may be hard, but building our legacy doesn’t have to be.

Losing a Legacy

We remember Jonathan not as a great ruler but as the best friend of David, future King of Israel. Jonathan is friendship, and if we pay attention we can learn to be (and have) great friends too.

In 1 Samuel 14: 49 & 13:1-3 we see Jonathan establishing his legacy as a military leader under his father’s command. The text tells us Saul is a young man (between 30-40 years old) at the time of this raid, so Jonathan must be in his teens, probably no more than 15-18, yet he is already in charge of a military unit.

While it was customary for young men to be a part of the military during their teenage years, in order to be established as a respected leader, they would have to have been born with significant charismatic qualities. Even a prince had to prove himself worthy of such a role among a militant culture. 

Right after this raid, Saul makes a big boo-boo. He gets impatient when waiting for Samuel, a prophet of the Lord, and offers up the burnt sacrifice to the Lord, which sounds great. He’s super religious, right? Well, not exactly. According to God’s law, Saul, a Benjaminite, should have waited for a Levite, Samuel, to offer these burnt sacrifices up. Take a look at Leviticus 1 for more of the law regarding this. Beyond this break of protocol, Saul’s heart was not really in the right place. He offered the sacrifices, not because he believed the Lord was on their side and would provide. Not as a way to thank the Lord for his graciousness and favor. And not even as a way to appease the Lord. No, Saul saw his army scatter and realized they would see him as a weak leader. So he offered these sacrifices as a way to make himself look better and convince the men to continue to follow him

Photo by Andrii Podilnyk on Unsplash

1 Samuel 13:22-14:23 returns to Jonathan, who must have heard the proclamation of Samuel who has just informed Saul his kingdom will not last. As such, his father’s mistakes have cost Jonathan the throne. One day he knew the exact direction his life was headed, and the next moment everything is completely up in the air. 

But that doesn’t stop him. Jonathan has a job to do. They are in the midst of a war and they are severely outnumbered. The army is weaponless. and yet, he confidently asserts that the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel (vs. 12b). With only his brave armor bearer as back up (and this armor bearer actually follows him. Definitely seeing some of the charisma) he goes into the Philistine camp and kills some twenty men in an area of about half an acre (v. 14)–totally William Wallacing the whole lot of them. 

Saul sees the apparent chaos caused by God and led by his son, and first tries to hide behind the ark, then rallies the troops and goes into battle. Confidence shaken, we can already see how leadership is transferring out of his hand and into those who have more faith–his son and then later, David. 

Questioning Leadership

1 Samuel 14:24-43  reveals a lot of family dynamics and motivation. Saul pronounces a curse on whoever should break his, rather stupid, oath. Curses have real power and are directly connected to the actions of people. Well, okay, but what is a curse? According to GraceLife Church’s Grow Spirit Life, “A curse is a binding agreement [contract] in the spiritual realm which results from some form of disobedience to God’s word. The EFFECT or FRUIT of that agreement in our lives is called a CURSE. The curse will function like a barrier or limitation” (49). The results of Saul’s impulsive declarations are clear throughout the text, all the way to Jonathan and Saul’s deaths in 1 Samuel 31. Curses are real, but thanks to Jesus and God’s grace, they can be broken. Consider this:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. 

Galatians 3:13-14

There are 5 main sources of curse: Generational sin/curses, occult involvement, disobedience, unholy/symbolic things, spoken curses (if you are interested in learning more, I recommend participating in the Grow Spirit Life group led by Pastor Jimmy at GraceLife). So Saul’s pronunciation is no joke and shouldn’t be taken lightly, by anyone in his army. 

While Saul does not make a particularly wise decision in bounding his men to an oath not to eat all day before an important battle, Jonathan also makes a mistake. First, he does not communicate well with his father, who is also his commander. This lack of communication leads to his tasting the honey and bring the curse down upon himself and the men. Second, he questions his commander/father’s decisions in verse 29. Although I agree with Jonathan’s assertion and judgment of his father’s decisions, making the comment to his men–who are also under Saul’s authority–shows a lack of wisdom on Jonathan’s part. Where he should be helping to build unity among the men, his comments breed disunity and the discord can be poisonous should it start to spread.

Like most teenagers, Jonathan doesn’t always agree with the decisions his father makes. Interestingly, we don’t see him openly rebel against his father, but we do see him question his father’s choices. There is a time and a place for us to question people who have been placed in authority over our lives. It’s not always wrong to question a leader’s decisions, but we have to be careful in how we go about this process. Talking to others, gossiping and grumbling only brings discord whereas open and honest communication with our leaders can sometimes bring about change. God wants us to stand up for what is right and good, but he wants us to do it the right way, not our own way. 

Building a new Legacy

In 1 Samuel 15 Saul makes his biggest boo-boo of all. God gives him a command: Now go up, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them […] (vs.3). But Saul doesn’t listen; he kept the King alive, he kept some sheep and cattle, and he set up a monument to himself. And, he doesn’t even realize what a major jerkface he is being! 1 Samuel 15: 22-23 spells out the real problem: Saul thought he knew better (and was better) than God. His punishment: God rejects him as king, His spirit left him, and he would live a troubled life from here on out. Furthermore, his legacy would end and be given over to a new dynasty. Unfortunately, that is bad news for Jonathan too, because home slice just officially and irrevocably lost his claim to the throne.

As we continue to read, in 1 Samuel 18: 1-4 Saul’s been rejected by the Lord, which unfortunately means Jonathan has too.  There is some debate about exact ages of these men at this point, but after doing a lot of research, I pitch my tent in the theological camp that suggests David was about 18 when he met Jonathan, who was about 29.

Why? Because of the way Jonathan reacts to this young man who is taking the place he always thought would be his. He saw David slay Goliath, and perhaps it reminds him of a time when he believed he could do the same. Perhaps he remembers the time he pulled a Braveheart on the Philistines and trusted in the Lord. He sees himself in this young David, but even more, he does not see his father with whom he has been at odds since his own youth. He looks at this man anointed by God and became one in spirit with David and loved him as himself (vs. 1). It takes maturity and an awful lot of life experience and faith to allow someone to take your place and to do it with a gracious heart and a thankful spirit. 

Instead of being bitter and resentful, Jonathan chooses to embrace this shift and pour his heart into helping young David be the man God wants him to be. He chooses to listen to God and believe God knows what is best, even if it is a disappointment to himself. 

Unfortunately at this point, it becomes painfully obvious that Jonathan has to pick a side: his father or his friend. And we see that it wasn’t much of a choice. 1 Samuel 19-20 develops the relationship and shows that Jonathan chooses David–he chooses faith and God and life over the death and destruction that now seems to follow and plague his father. 

Jonathan is proof that even the strongest human needs good friends. In David’s case, Jonathan literally saved his life at least twice, but our friends can be lifesavers too if they are operating within the God-given purpose of community. Friends bring accountability and encouragement–both of which help us to function in the purpose God has set for us. In Genesis 2:18 God declared that it was not good for man to be alone, clearly, we are made for community. Yes, this pronunciation was made before God created his helper, Eve, but I think it is applicable to friendship too. Spouses offer one kind of encouragement and accountability, but friends offer another level. Even Jesus had friends. Same-gendered, multi-generational friends offer different kinds of support that help us seek and pursue God’s purpose for our lives. But it works both ways; to have good friends, you must be a good friend and once you find your people, you know. Friendship is active. So, get going. 

Initiate and Practice

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Day 3 in this challenge was about initiative. Just write. I got up at 4 am to just write for 2 hours. Not ideal, but I didn’t suffer too terribly the rest of the day for it. I got a lot of writing in, and enjoyed the time to just sit and think in the morning, cogitating on my characters plights instead of my own. It was a refreshing way to start the day. I can’t do that every day but if I continue with my spreadsheet, the concept remains the same: habitual writing. On his blog Goins writes, “Every day, you have a decision: to start or stop the things worth doing.” I can appreciate this on multiple levels, but first and foremost with my writing. I have been focusing myself since October, and hope to continue indefinitely, because as Goins says these types of habits help “make you more of your truest self.”

Day four builds on this concept. I do not enjoy the limelight. I enjoy praise (who doesn’t?) and I like the concept of building an audience, but the process by which I must travel to get there is, let’s face it, terrifying to the introverted.

I have been in many leadership roles throughout my life, some voluntary, some not so voluntary, but each time I was relieved to finally step down and let someone else take over. Why? Because it is more work to put myself out there than it is to work diligently behind the scenes or passively observe and work. But writing is active. Most things worth learning from are. The challenge is to become more active with my writing.

Honestly, I’ve already accepted this challenge. I sent out a book proposal and signed a contract. Now I have to keep up that habit and continually search for ways to practice publically. I am not scared to fail; in a lot of ways I am scared to succeed because I know success will thrust me into a spotlight I wonder if I’m ready for. Failure in this industry is what I’ve come to expect, perhaps prematurely, but there is a reason artists are ‘starving’. Success is often more troubling, so practicing is the only cure.