A leader that failed, and what we can learn from him

I was reading some quotes from a man named Joshua whose country was in conflict; I was intrigued by his approach to inspiring change, even though he was written off as a failure.

There was a tremendous amount of division around him. On one level, many of his fellow citizens did not trust those who were in power; while some benefited with unique rights and resources, many felt they faced daily oppression. In fact, when Joshua was young, he heard about rebellions that tried to force change; decades later, injustices still continued. There was another level of conflict around religion; generally, there was a lack of acceptance around different beliefs, and many religious leaders abused their power and influence. The average person felt burdened on multiple fronts, and wanted some kind of revolution.

Joshua wasn’t your normal revolutionary leader. Most of his life and work were quiet and behind the scenes, and those that knew him didn’t expect much from him. However, Joshua knew there was something within inviting him to utterly transform the world around him.

He knew how most leaders worked to effect change: they would do what was needed to gain influence and reputation, rally people to support them, and take seats of power, either in legitimate ways, or by force. In fact, as he started to step out, someone with influence tried to convince him to take this route; he had the means to get Joshua the reputation, followers, and power to effect change beyond his own country.

Joshua, though, knew this was short-sighted. He turned it down, and set out with what seemed an ineffective approach. Starting small, he began addressing small issues around him, often for just singular people; what made this particularly illogical is that he did not want any attention brought to it. Of course, the people he impacted were not interested in staying quite, and as they told people about Joshua, people travelled to see and hear him.

Joshua began to split his time between direct engagement and public speaking. Everywhere he went, there was no shortage of issues and injustices, and he was ready to get his hands dirty; there was also no shortage of people longing for hope, and his words awakened something that many had abandoned. Eventually, Joshua built a team, and began training them to go out for some of the direct support.

This team became convinced that Joshua was the leader they needed to change their country, so they backed him fully, quitting their jobs, travelling with him, and doing everything they could to stay on his inner circle as more people began to back him. A few tried to make arrangements to get high positions when he inevitably landed a powerful role; another took it upon himself to be a sort of “chief of staff” and tell Joshua what would or would not work. Several secretly hoped he would reveal a stash of weapons and lead a full-out takeover, because they didn’t see change happening any other way.

And they all grew increasingly frustrated as Joshua’s approach — and goal — became clearer. He was not going to lead a violent uprising, and he was not going to pursue a powerful position; in fact, he began to talk about losing.

And then, he did.

A member of his team sold him out to the opposition. A group grabbed Joshua in the middle of the night and roughed him up. They took advantage of the legal system to push him through a rushed trial — with fake eye witnesses — and managed to get him convicted. He got the death penalty. He was killed. And his team fled, both in fear they would be arrested, and in disappointment that their leader failed.

I am unable to choose a favorite of his quotes — there are so many — but this one captures how he actually didn’t lose, but won in a big way:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Joshua/Yeshua/Jesus

Jesus saw the state of not just his country, but the world, and knew two things: 1) God had equipped him to offer something greater — and more lasting — than “fixing the issues”, and 2) God would do it in a way that would seem like foolishness, but would be abundantly more than we could ask or imagine.

When he was tempted in the wilderness, the enemy tried to distort what his purpose and goal were, and in doing that, give “better” or “easier” ways to accomplish them. Jesus knew his goal was not power, or amassing followers, or even proving himself, but:

“[Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

Philippians 2:6-8

His path toward utterly changing the world was foolish to everyone that observed it. It was short sighted. It missed the point. It failed. Jesus faced the taunting of the enemy, the frustration of his disciples, and the opposition of those for whom he would eventually die.

Jesus knew what we often don’t: that God is God, and God is good. That He is all-powerful, and all-loving. That His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. That He has already won.

No, we consistently doubt God; we question His power and love. We trust our own ways and understanding, and mark a path towards what we believe is success. It will be short-sighted at best, but more likely disastrous

The disciples wanted Jesus to conquer the Romans; instead, he conquered death.

What do we want? What are we pursuing — right now — in the current state of our country and world? What do we believe needs to happen, or absolutely can’t happen?

What is the path we’ve mapped out?

And, more importantly, is Jesus on that path, and is he leading? If not, our stories may become more reflective of the followers who fled or the Pharisees who murdered, rather than the story that Jesus desires for us: that we may have life, and have it to the full.

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