Qualifications for Power

By Aaron Damiani. This is part of a series of posts on 1 Samuel, supplementing messages in our preaching series this fall.

I love to read political memoirs.  They are better than fiction.  What happens when two or more people grasp for the same trophy of power?   I read political memoirs to get my answer.

One of the best in the genre is All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos’ memoir from his time in the Clinton 1992 Presidential Campaign.  Stephanopoulos describes in great detail how Bill Clinton managed to lose both Iowa and New Hampshire to his more conventional rivals, but fought back with moxie, charm, and a “Comeback Kid” personal brand to win the Democratic nomination against all odds.  It’s a great story.

Political battles are a contest between would-be rulers who put forward their best credentials and their most attractive qualities in order to win.  Skirmishes like these happen every day in our city, in almost every office environment.  Wherever power and respect is at stake, you can find people leveraging their qualifications in order to get ahead.  Usually, the trophy of power goes to the strongest, smartest, and most vigorous candidate.

What if we read I Samuel as a political memoir?  After all, it is a story about strategy, qualifications, and winning.  The trophy of power changes hands every few chapters.  Despite Saul’s flaws in character, his political career is helped along by his physical height (9:1-2) and his foreign policy achievements (11:1-15).  For Saul and his supporters, external qualifications and credentials trump any serious attention to inner character.  And this short-sightedness put the entire nation of Israel at risk of decline and exile.

Thankfully, the Lord stymied Israel’s preoccupation with external qualifications.  Just as Samuel was about to anoint Eliab, another outwardly impressive man, the Lord confronted him:

“But the Lord said to Samuel: ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).

We are prone to anoint and follow a leader for superficial reasons.  In contrast, the Lord raises up leaders based upon their inner character.  Samuel is instructed to anoint David, the youngest child with no credentials to speak of.  Put simply, God saves his most important assignments for the candidates who share the internal character of his Son.

Listen to Isaiah’s description of Jesus, the ruler of all creation and the source of all power:

“He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3).

Jesus had few allies, very little credibility, almost no political influence, and at the time of his death he was a public scourge.  He emptied himself of power.  But God, who looks upon the heart, returned it to him.  As the Suffering Servant reigns, God invites us to honor him by laying down our obsession with majesty, beauty, and esteem.

God looks upon the heart, but what about you?  Here are some questions for reflection:

  • When I size people up, what are my criteria?  Do I judge the worth of others by their clothes, where they work, their accent, their alma matter, their Klout score, and how well they articulate themselves?
  • How I have I used smoke and mirrors to inflate my own credentials in the eyes of others?
  • Have I thrown my friends, values, or integrity under the bus in order to seize the trophy of power?
  • Have I neglected the formation of my character so I could achieve greatness in the eyes of the world?

We are in danger of having no regard for the criteria to which God pays the most attention.  We tend to fall the hardest for outward credentials, gravitas, and a winning streak.  But God invites us to shift our attention to what matters most: the character of the inner person.

A Prayer.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,

That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,

That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace
to desire it.