Recovery in a Day of Failure
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - Features of Spiritual Leadership

"Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves" (Judges 5:2).

When we speak of spiritual leadership we must keep out of our minds what we might call official leadership, appointment to position, and such like. We are concerned with leadership which is spiritual.

It does not require a very thorough searching of the Scriptures to discover that in all times the interests of the Lord have been very largely and very definitely bound up with the spirit of leadership, and that when that spirit was absent things were in a very bad way; the Lord's interests were not being advanced; there was barrenness and unfruitfulness. Weakness, defeat and dishonour prevailed always when there was an absence of spiritual leadership. When the Lord would have an increase, an advance, a development, or a fuller realisation of His end, He always moved anew in the matter of spiritual leadership.

We have already seen a correspondence between the times of the Judges and our own time, things being in a bad spiritual state. Perhaps the main good is a renewing, growing, strengthening cry for a fresh visitation of God. That is a good thing, but it declares a bad state, it represents that things are very much other than they should be.

In times such as the times of the Judges, and in our own time, recovery as to the Lord's full mind for His people is bound up with spiritual leadership, so that we can truly say that there is a very great need for this in our time. It is very difficult to find this thing in any real and commensurate way today. Everything is of a very low level and measure. We have all found a fairly general level, which is not very high. There is nothing which speaks definitely and strongly of the spirit of leadership.

If we recognise and accept that, there is the possibility of our coming to some profitable consideration of what the Lord would do, and how He would do it through a clearer understanding of what spiritual leadership is, to meet the Lord's need and the need of the Lord's people.

The Securing of a People to God's End

In the first place let us remember that spiritual leadership has always to do with the securing of a people to the end which God has willed. God has an end in view for His people; He is not just working haphazardly, moving without design. The end of God is, to Himself, clearly, fully and finally defined and settled, and He never departs from that and will accept nothing other or less. God has a full end in view, and He will make a full end, and will reach that full end.

Spiritual leadership is always related to securing a people to that end. There may be phases, or initial steps in the salvation or the deliverance of that people. After the initial stage all the other stages, right up to the final crowning stroke to bring them in at last, will call for the extra putting forth of power for such a people. Whatever the point is at which we take up this purpose of God, the spiritual leadership in it is related to the end, not to any particular phase at any time as something in itself.

We must not isolate any part or any stage of God's work and make it something in itself and an end in itself. The matter of the unsaved, for instance, is relative and not detached or exclusive, and must never be made so. The sanctifying of believers, the leading of them into a life of holiness, is not something round which you may put a hedge and call it by a title, or make it something that ends with itself. That is only a step, a stage. So it is with everything else. It is all related to the full end and must ever be maintained in that relatedness.

We must see, then, that spiritual leadership is the securing of a people to God's full end, to the end which God has willed for that people. We can never say that God intended to bring out a people and leave them a third of the way, or two-thirds of the way, or nine-tenths of the way. God intends that they should go right through, by successive stages, and every gift of the spirit of leadership was but to carry them forward to the full end. It is important to recognise that.

The End Will Never be Reached Here

Another thing in connection with spiritual leadership is this, that the end will never be reached here. It always relates ultimately to heaven and not to earth. It never has been, and never will be, complete here. That is shown very forcibly in the types. Abraham, with all the promises and sovereign movements of God in his life, with all the advance made (and there was tremendous advance of a spiritual kind made in his life from Ur of the Chaldees onward), came to the place where he realised that the end could never be reached here. He looked for "a city which had foundations, whose builder and maker was God" (Heb. 11:10). When we find a quotation to that effect in the New Testament we know that the context points out clearly that it was not an earthly thing at all but a heavenly. Then we know that Israel looked for a country, and the apostle tells us that it was "heavenly", which carries things beyond Canaan. Then when Israel came into the land they never fully possessed it, and if they had there would still have been something lacking. Again, in the letter to the Hebrews we are told that they did not enter fully into God's rest, that even Joshua could not bring them wholly into the rest. "There remains therefore a rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9). So wherever you look at the types you find there is a falling short, and they point to the fact that God's full end can never be reached here; it relates to heaven and not to earth. It is important to recognise that in spiritual leadership. You will see how that bears upon things as we go on.

Never let us think that we shall reach something here that is complete, perfect and final. We never shall, however far we go. However much we advance and progress we shall come at the end to realise that there is still a very great deal further to go, and that extra bit is not an earthly thing at all. As a matter of fact the spiritual consciousness of truly spiritual people is that the further they go with the Lord the more other-worldly do all their interests become. That is, the more they are separated from things here and attached to heaven. They find that it is essential to do that, because of the invariable and inevitable failure of anything in a creation which lies under a sentence of vanity and cannot reach its end until the manifestation of the sons in glory. That governs this matter. It should not be a discouragement, but it should be a reinforcement.

Spiritual Leadership Sometimes Bound up with a People

Spiritual leadership is not always bound up with individuals, it is sometimes bound up with a people. This again is set out in types. There were leaders in type who were individual. We stress the word "type" because so often this natural man gets hold of the Old Testament idea of leadership and tries to reproduce it in our time. God does not do that. In types we see spiritual leadership entrusted to individuals, but we also see it with peoples, with a tribe for instance. "Who shall set the battle in array?" "Who shall go before?" And the Lord said that Judah should set the battle in array, that Judah should lead the people. A whole tribe becomes endued with the spirit of leadership. We make that point at the moment as we work towards the application, in order that we might realise that God sometimes raises up a people as well as individuals for the purpose of spiritual leadership. He sometimes raises up a collective testimony to set a standard for the rest of His people, something expressed in a corporate body by which all His people shall see more of His thought, and be to them an advance guard in the purpose of God.

We have been speaking of the assembly at Thessalonica, and have seen how they were an example to all that believed, and that through them the Word went out into all the region, and that they were spoken of everywhere. Evidently spiritual leadership was there. You see at once the nature of leadership when you look at it. People did not set themselves up as a body in front of all the Lord's people to lead them on, but it was a spiritual influence, something emanating from a spiritual company, and it had the effect of leading the Lord's people on, and showing the way, showing what was possible through faith. The Lord would do that kind of thing as much today as ever for a collective testimony which serves Him in the capacity of spiritual leadership; but we must not allow our personal and our individual responsibility to be lost in the collective.

Bearing the Brunt of the Opposition

There is one more thing by way of introduction. Spiritual leadership always means the bearing of the brunt of the first line opposition. Quite obviously leaders must meet the first line of opposition, and in spiritual leadership it means that the brunt of things falls upon the leadership. Those who are in the position of spiritual leadership will know more of the fury, antagonism, hatred, malice and evil cunning of the oppressor than perhaps the average child of God, or people of God, will know. That explains a good deal. Remember that it is something to be expected.

Having said those things of a general nature, we come closer to the meaning of spiritual leadership.

Leadership from God's Standpoint: Always and Essentially Spiritual

That means several things:

a) Natural qualifications are not the governing factors

The book of Judges has already shown us that. These whom God raised up were, on the natural plane, anything but what the world would choose as its leaders. They suffered from various kinds of handicaps, and their handicaps are made perfectly clear. Ehud was a left-handed man, and that fact, in Scripture, is always intended to indicate human or natural weakness from God's standpoint. It is a type, but that is what it is intended to indicate. Deborah was a woman, indicating that again something out of the usual is in view from God's standpoint. Gideon was the least in his father's house. He was away in a corner, threshing wheat to hide it from the enemy, largely unknown, and not one in any prominent public position, not one about whom we have anything to say as to his natural qualifications. Jephthah was handicapped by the unfortunate birth, and driven out by the other members of his family because he was not a true member of the family. What a handicap for a man to be a leader among the Lord's people!

Natural qualifications are clearly not the governing factors here, and from God's standpoint they never are. Leadership is spiritual. Human personality, which counts so much with the world, is not the first consideration with God. There is personality which is produced by spirituality which is far more effective than the strongest personality among men. Real spirituality (in leadership) means discernment, perception, judgement, understanding and wisdom, insight and strength. It emerges spontaneously as the result of a secret history with God.

I remember once hearing something said of a certain man, that it did not matter where he was, whether in a board meeting, or committee meeting, (though he might only be invited to attend that meeting for a special purpose), if he was there even for a little while, spontaneously the whole meeting turned to him, and he became the unofficial chairman for the time being. That was because of his judgement and insight. It is an illustration that spiritual personality is something which is developed in a secret history with God while human personality is not a first consideration with Him.

Moses was something when he left Egypt at the age of forty. When he left the wilderness forty years later he was nothing. Then it was that God could come in and give him spiritual leadership. He sought to assume leadership at the age of forty, on the basis of what he was in Egypt. Forty years later he was loath to accept spiritual leadership at all, and had to get it from God. Leadership is clearly a matter of the spirit.

Joshua and the judges give us the same lesson. Then in connection with David you will notice what Samuel was looking for: a man of personality, of stature, of manifest qualifications. The Lord made it clear that He was looking on the heart, and not on the outward appearance. When David entered in (the one who would never have been selected but rather left out of account) the Lord told Samuel to anoint him. Then there is Paul. While so much is made of Paul's natural qualifications and achievements, Paul would never stand on that ground himself. We know that it is the spiritual value of Paul that counts, not any natural ability. Enough has been said to prove that leadership is spiritual, that it is a matter of spiritual qualities and features being pre-eminent.

This word is for the one who may think himself or herself the very least, the one who might feel that leadership could never come their way. We are talking about spiritual leadership. All other ideas and considerations must be deliberately thrust aside, and we must remember this, that leadership is constituted by God, and is the result of His approbation of a life lived in secret with Him. There is no other qualifying, no other training; it is not taught in the schools; it is a life in secret with God, upon which God's eye is resting, and in due time, when that eye is satisfied, God moves and says: "This is My son, in whom is My delight!" and gives him to be a leader and commander to the people under anointing. We have used those words, not to apply them generally to everybody, but to apply the truth. I believe that there is far more in the thirty years of the hidden life of the Lord Jesus than we know. It is impossible to think for a moment that those thirty years were of no account, that they were not under the eye of God and had no meaning. I believe they had the greatest meaning. The declaration at the Jordan was not only to do with the Eternal Sonship; God was not recognising among men One who was other than the rest of men. I believe it was God's acknowledgment of what had been going on for thirty years. Those thirty years were hidden, silent, but the eye of God was upon them, and because of what had gone on in the thirty years the Father was able to say that in Him was His delight. Then He was anointed.

That is the law which holds good; therefore I believe that it is essential unto spiritual leadership that we should have a probation which is under the eye of God. Oh, this mechanical taking hold of the work of God, and taking hold of the lives of young men and women, bringing them out of business and putting them into responsible positions at home and abroad! What wreckage and loss there is by that false system of things! God chooses the workers, not men; God chooses the work, not men; and God brings the workers and the work together when He is able to say: "I am well pleased!" Until God can say that, there will be delay. In any case there will not be that full approbation of God, and that full effectiveness and fruitfulness that there should be, until God has put that life under probation and watched for faithfulness, watched for the relationship of that life to Himself under all the most difficult conditions. There is no royal road to spiritual usefulness. There is no quick way into a position of value.

God will put us into a place of business, and will make that very hot for us. Our inclination will be to get out of business into the Lord's service, and thus we are breaking with the very dispositions of God for our lives if we do, because God is there seeking to find that ground of approval which will lead to His choosing of us.

Let us be careful of our ideas of service and usefulness to God. Leadership is spiritual, it is not official; it is not by appointment, or by choice. It is the result of God's approbation. If God looked down upon that period of our lives which He intended to be the preparation time and saw us always shirking, refusing to take responsibility, wanting to get out of it to something else, trying to get round things as quickly and as easily as possible, then we should not be approved, and there would never be God's choosing.

A word like that is very necessary. It is governed by this word: "...the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). That truth governed David. That clearly indicates that the Lord had His eye on David all the time he was in the field with those few sheep, and when at last he came out it was in spite of the set-back which his brethren would have given him, in spite of the hatred of Saul, in spite of all powers set against him. He had to come through to spiritual leadership because he was approved of God. Wherefore Paul will exhort us to study to show ourselves approved. It is a strong position.

So then leadership is not official, it is spiritual. Let us not think of leadership of a movement, for instance, or of some institution. Let us keep the spiritual always in our minds.

b) Walking with God and not with men

The thing which is required in this case is that those concerned walk with God in the first instance, and not with men. No one will misunderstand that. There are all the values of fellowship, all the values of counsel. The Lord would never have us brush aside the mature experience of any of His servants which can be placed to our help and good, but the Lord would have us have a life with Himself, so that within our own hearts the Holy Spirit can corroborate what others say, so that we know the voice of the Spirit. When we hear anything we know whether it is the voice of the Spirit; when we hear advice and counsel we know in our hearts whether it is the voice of the Spirit. It is an inward walk with God, a basic essential to spiritual leadership. It is a great thing to find young men and women walking with God, not apart from their fellows, and not showing superiority or independence in relation to available counsel and experience, but at the same time walking with God themselves. Nobody who has experience will expect the younger believer to accept what they say right away or come under their government, but will expect anyone who is spiritual to take the attitude that they will hold that before the Lord, and, given the Lord's witness, will follow in that way. That is walking with the Lord and this is an essential to spiritual leadership.

Features of Spiritual Leadership

We have said that spiritual leadership is marked by certain spiritual features. What are they?

a) Spiritual understanding

It need not be full, complete, mature understanding, but it is that faculty of the spiritually minded by which it is possible to discern between what is of the Spirit and what is otherwise. It is something which cannot be defined, which cannot be explained in words, but something which can be known. We can only say, as to our experience of it: "Well, the Lord gave me no assurance about that; I lacked that sense that it was of the Lord." It could be put in a thousand ways. Spiritual understanding is just being able to see the difference between what comes of man and what comes of the Spirit of God; what is of ourselves and what is of the Lord; the difference between even the best intention and motive in the interests of the Lord and that which the Lord really considers to be the best thing in His interests.

The Lord's mind is so completely other than our mind even about His own things and His own interests. Spiritual understanding is that power, that capacity and faculty for discerning, judging, registering differences. Sometimes that spiritual faculty will lead us to refuse a whole realm that would be argued for by the natural mind, even in the interests of the Lord, as being the course to be taken, the thing to be done, what would glorify God. It is brought home to us like that, and within us there is something which sets itself against that, which will not give us the confirmation that, after all, however good it may seem, and however right, we are not sure. We cannot tell why we are not sure, we cannot give an argument against these things, but in ourselves we know.

On the other hand, that faculty leads us to move out into realms which all the common sense of the natural mind would be set against, to do things which would be perfectly mad to the natural mind. No one can define or explain it, but it can be known, and it is basic and governmental to spiritual leadership. It is judgement of a spiritual kind. It is not our task to impose the results of it upon other people, nor for us to judge other people according to that. It is for us to walk with God and not be taken hold of by things or people, but be faithful to God because in our hearts we know! How we know we cannot tell, but we know, and that is all there is that can be said about it. We know that God says, No! and God says, Yes! and that brings us into conflict with every argument that man would bring to bear upon the situation. But to be true to God we cannot, or we must (as the case may be), and that by inward spiritual understanding. It is an essential, and every child of God can have it and should have it. It is the normal state of a life in the Spirit. It is just as natural to the new man as our own judgements are to our old man. We know in the natural what our inclinations and our disinclinations are. We ought to know just as truly in the new man, in the new creation, what the inclinations and the disinclinations of the Spirit are. Paul uses the term "spiritually-minded".

That does not mean that you have a kind of abstract ‘something' that you call a mind. In Scotland they have a way of expressing it which is a very good interpretation of Paul's language. They say about a matter, "I was minded to do" or, "Are you minded to do that?" Spiritual-mindedness is that you are minded in a positive way, in a certain direction; your inclination is that. This is natural to the spiritual, the new creation, if the life is lived in the Spirit. It is not something extra, but is born with the new child. Spiritual understanding is so important for spiritual leadership, and we should seek it from the Lord more and more, together with the development of it by the Holy Spirit in us, who is the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, or revelation.

b) The full assurance of spiritual understanding

Then there is this extra thing, the full assurance of understanding. How necessary that is to spiritual leadership! Where you find lack of that assurance you find the inability to give a lead, or to take a lead. Any kind of uncertainty, indefiniteness, or lack of assurance means paralysis. The apostle prays for believers that they may come to the full assurance of understanding. What a thing that is! It is being fully persuaded and fully assured on the matter. The Lord would have us like that. It is the positive side, or element, in understanding. It is one thing to have perception, it is another thing to believe your perception, to stand on your perception, to commit yourself to your perception, for that perception to be strong enough to govern your whole life and lead you to take risks. Full assurance of understanding is an essential to spiritual leadership.

We will close there for the moment, so far as points are concerned, and conclude with one further general word as to spiritual leadership.

We have sought to strip this whole matter of all ideas of the official, of appointment, of headship in movements, and such things, and to recognise that it comes down to this: here are multitudes of the Lord's people who hardly know their right hand from their left, groping in mists and shadows; multitudes of the Lord's people who are remaining babes spiritually, far beyond the time when they ought to have moved from the infant stage. There is a great need for an increase of the knowledge of the Lord among His people. There is a tremendous need for a voice of authority and assurance coming from directions where the Lord is known.

You and I can come into such a relationship with the Lord that would result in that need being met in some measure. If you can help another child of God out of your knowledge of the Lord into a fuller knowledge of the Lord, then you are a spiritual leader, you have got spiritual leadership in principle, you have leadership in spirit. The urge of the Lord at this time is that He wants His people to come up out of that general state, out of that latent spiritual life, to represent something more for Him of a positive character.

No one will stand up and begin to throw their weight about as an assumed leader. They will soon meet the judgement of the Lord if they assume to follow Abimelech. The Lord wants something more positive in His people, that positive element which can be an adding of Him to others, a real leading of His people into some greater fulness. He needs leadership of a spiritual kind, and He challenges us all as to where we are by asking, "Are you a passive one? Are you one who is always deriving and never contributing? Are you just a passenger being carried? Are you all the time waiting for things to come to you?" That will be one realm to which He will speak. Then in other realms He will speak also. He will seek, even where there is responsibility being carried and a measure of leadership being expressed and fulfilled, to bring back the necessity for recognising that we must not surrender ourselves to men or systems or order or organisations. The thing that is needed is spiritual leadership.

So many put the machine in the place of the man, allow that real spiritual value which is related to a man who knows God to be lost in a great organisation. You would not believe how many men are lost in an organisation, how much spiritual value is lost in the institution. It is the thing that is carried on, and it is not the knowledge of God in a man that is the supreme value.

How often things have changed like that! God raised up a man who walked with Him, who was approved of God, and drawn into spiritual leadership. Then the Lord's people became tremendously enriched through that man who knew God. He led the Lord's people into a new spiritual place. Then either towards the end of his life or after he was gone, people took hold of his life work and turned it into an organisation, an institution, a movement, and it is now being run on that line, with a great administrative department, and it is no longer acknowledged of God; it is carried on as ‘a piece of work'. What is the result? It is not really the increase of the Lord, but it is an extension of a kind of work for God. The judgement is not intended to fall upon the work, the judgement is intended to fall upon this terrible loss to the Lord's people as well as to the Lord. God does not want Philistine carts, but living Levites to carry the testimony - men who walk with Him.

It is not enough for us to have a secret, quiet life with the Lord, but to recognise that that involves us in responsibility to the Lord's people, a responsibility which we must take. If you are passive God will leave you there, and you will be in a backwater. You may be a leader in spiritual qualification by your knowledge of the Lord, but you are not recognising the fact that that involves you in something quite active for the Lord, to give what you know of the Lord. The leader must take the lead, not assume a position, not be self-assertive, but seek to be active in the interests of the spiritual life of the Lord's people, and by that means you will find the Lord moves you into an adequate occupation. You may be waiting for someone to give you a job. The Lord will not give you a job while you wait. Move out in a positive way to give what you have of the Lord where you see the need as the Lord gives you liberty, and you will find your time becoming more and more occupied, and you will have the job without any official appointment. If that is so, you can take it that the Lord will take responsibility and look after you.

This touches us in the ordinary spheres of the home and the office, and anywhere else. Leadership is not a matter of coming out of all else and taking up the work of God. It is the expression of our knowledge of God in a positive way. What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for something to happen? Are you waiting for the Lord to come and put you into an experience of a testimony? Have you a knowledge of the Lord? Have you been shown that there is a greater fulness of the Lord? Has that been presented by you? Take a step of faith in relation to it, and if it is God's will for you, believe that you have it. Your belief will not make that thing, but your faith will bring you into the enjoyment of it. Perhaps it is just passivity that is keeping you out of things. When the Lord says there is water, step out. You will make the discovery when you step out that there is something more solid than water there.

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