Leadership can be a struggle. It is certainly not for the weak in heart. There are difficult decisions to be made. There are times when you have to choose between two difficult options, hence the phrase, “between a rock and a hard place.” Every leader encounters a situation where there is a choice between the easy way and the right way. Not only did Paul face this choice but he reminds us that we will too.
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
Paul faced a choice between retirement and the easy life or the difficulty of continued service. When he saw the need of those he loved his heart tugged at him to continue the work. When Paul wrote about his “friend” in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, we suspect that he was talking about himself. He had been to heaven. He had an understanding of what lay beyond deaths portals and was excited about it. He had suffered plenty for the cause and had no fear of death.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
There are times when a leader must decide between what is best for himself and what is best for those he leads. As a young leader, one of my mentors once told me that true duties never conflict. While that might be true, anyone who has ever been a leader knows that it doesn’t always feel true. The Philippians knew better than anyone that Paul had paid his dues. He suffered a cruel beating and imprisonment when he first came to their city (Acts 16). Yet it resulted in a flourishing church. Now imprisoned in Rome, Paul has no fear of the death penalty. He even welcomes it. But in his heart he knows that there are still those who depend upon his leadership.
This makes some of our conflicts seem trivial. The retirement we have in mind usually includes a 401k rather than an execution. We are probably looking at spending more time with our spouses and grandchildren than Christ in the flesh. However, the conflicts we do face are real. It’s not always about retirement. It may be family time, financial burdens or the choice between staying where you are or accepting another opportunity. There are countless variations on this choice.
You are not alone if you face these struggles. In fact, you are in good company. If these answers came easy, you wouldn’t stand out as a leader. Everyone would be doing it. Paul was sincerely ready for heaven but this wasn’t his time. His time would come later and when it did he held no reservations about it.
The key to Paul’s success was absolute surrender to the will of God. Don’t try to mold God around your plans but rather shape your plans around God’s will. For the moment, God’s will was for Paul to continue in the cause. But the day would come in another imprisonment when Paul had fulfilled his mission. Paul was still ready and his wish was fulfilled. The answer to your conflict lies within God’s timing which He will certainly make clear to you. Are you a leader capable of those choices?
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:6-8