Leadership Tests: No One Likes Them and We All Go Through Them

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"God tests leaders. In the scene from Jesus’ ministry to the multitudes in John 6:4-6, Jesus asks a seemingly innocuous question to test Philip.Later in the Gospels, we learn that Philip was most likely an accountant, a man who dealt in exact numbers and precise records. When Jesus tested Philip, if we listen carefully, we can hear an unwarranted response from Philip to Jesus: “We don’t have enough money to do this...we only have two hundred denarii and besides, this is not in our budget.” What Philip did not say is, “I trust you, Master.”

A leadership test is a crucible that, by its nature, is intended by God to be a transforming experience. God does not initiate every human situation that tests us, but He uses them all.

As a 21-year-old leader, I asked God one morning to teach me “His ways.” Earlier that morning, I had read these words from Psalm 103:7: “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.” I realized I knew little of God’s ways, especially His ways in developing leaders.

I have since discovered that there are indeed certain “ways” God works in and through leaders’ lives. To discern His ways is to ease the path of our service to God. Neglecting to discern His ways is to wander through life blindfolded, unable to see the path ahead. A leadership test is a crisis, big or small, that God uses to teach us to depend more deeply on Him. Testing is one of the least understood aspects of God’s ways. We often ignore God’s testing in our lives, to our great detriment. As leaders pass through tests, they discover God’s goodness in new dimensions. They gain confidence that He can and will meet them in the crisis experiences of life.

In his crucial leadership book, The Making of a Leader, Robert Clinton says, “Not only does God meet the leader in the situation, but He does so with a solution that is tailor-made for the leader. The overall effect is a more confident leader.” God-orchestrated tests in leaders’ lives usually produce one of two results: drawing them closer to God, or pushing them further from God. Identifying the nature and purpose of the tests can help us move toward God, instead of away from Him. But that is a choice we must make for ourselves - God will not force us to trust Him.

One way to view the Bible is as a collection of leadership biographies that narrate the various kinds of tests God takes leaders through. By identifying and naming the tests we go through, we recognize that we are not alone in our experience and that God has good reasons for allowing us to go through tests. Most importantly, it gives us perspective. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-10, Paul describes the lessons he learned from the difficult tests he passed through: “We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally - not a bad idea since He’s the God who raises the dead!” (The Message)

Below are the components of unique tests we go through as individuals and the common tests most leaders go through at some point.

Components Of God-Appointed Tests:Difficult Circumstances (A Crisis) – If it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be a test. • Desired Response – God wants us to seek Him. • Delight – God delights in our growth as we develop deeper dependence on Him. This is the reward He gives us for passing the test.

Common Test For Leaders:Rejection – Dismissal by friends, family, or trusted co-workers • Isolation – A wilderness time of loneliness or confusion • God’s Silence – When God does not speak • Integrity – To be true to our convictions no matter how hard • Hearing God’s Voice – Knowing it is God speaking • Obedience – Doing what God says, no matter the cost • Laying Down Our Rights – Not insisting on having our way • Word Test – Obeying God’s direction to us • Faith Test – Believing God in spite of overwhelming odds

All leaders are tested, but not all recognize the test and its importance for their development as wise and faithful leaders. It is hard enough to go through the test, but even more difficult to go through it and not have an understanding of what the test is.

At one point in my life, I went through an isolation test. I lived in a beautiful part of the United States, the Rocky Mountains, and was surrounded by close friends, yet it was a test of isolation nonetheless. I didn’t know what the test was at the time, but I sensed God was up to something. I often cried out to Him for understanding about the nature of my test. I knew about leadership testing, I understood God’s ways, but I lacked a personal, Holy Spirit revelation about the nature of my test. Many times I prayed: “Please Lord, just show me what the test is, Lord, and with your help, I will pass it.” Th
en one day a friend visited my wife and me. “I wondered what’s happening in your life, why you are stuck out here in the mountains, and now I know,” he stated emphatically. “You are isolated. God has isolated you!” In that moment it was like a light was turned on in my soul. I was going through an isolation test. I loved living in the mountains, but it was still a “wilderness” for me spiritually. I began to study the people in the Bible who experienced significant periods of isolation. I got perspective from the Bible as to why God tested leaders with the isolation test.

An isolation test occurs when a leader is separated from normal involvement with people, work, or ministry - often for extended periods of time - but life carries on. On a physical level, isolation can result from sickness, conflict with others, depression, or ministry or moral failure. Isolation can be a way of God cutting a person off from normal outlets of activity to put pressure on their soul. God uses periods of isolation to create new levels of dependency on Him. For some of us, we can continue in our normal place of service, but still experience a profound sense of isolation. Some periods of isolation are a result of God withdrawing His grace, and as a result, deep levels of frustration are experienced. God uses the “holy frustration” caused by isolation to draw us to Him. At times, He uses the frustration to prepare us for changes He wants to bring about in our lives. Some of those changes are internal in our character or identity, and in some instances, the change can be a career or geographical move.

We learn an imperative lesson from Jesus about passing our tests. No one has ever been tested to the degree Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is our supreme example of passing tests by being in total dependence on the Father. He prayed in the garden, “Father, let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Are you prepared to pray this same prayer of surrender that Jesus prayed in the garden?

What major tests has God taken you through in your life? Take time to make a list of those tests. Put names on them, such as “isolation” test, or “rejection” test, “forgiveness” test, etc., and then write the significant life lessons you learned (or did not learn) as a result of the tests. 
I suggest you read the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis as another example of a leader who was tested and what God accomplished in his life as a result."

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Leadership Tests

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“God does not initiate every human situation that tests us, but he uses them all.

A leadership test is a crisis, big or small, that God uses to teach us to depend more deeply on Him. Testing is one of the least understood aspects of God’s ways. We often ignore God’s testing in our lives, to our great detriment.

God-orchestrated tests in leaders’ lives usually produce one or two results: drawing them closer to God, or pushing them further from God. That is a choice we must make for ourselves - God will not force us to trust Him.

Below are the components of unique tests we go through as individuals and the common tests most leaders go through at some point.

Components of God-appointed Tests:

  • Difficult Circumstances (or a crisis) - If it wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t be a test.
  • Desired Response - God wants us to seek Him
  • Delight - God delights in our growth as we develop deeper dependence on Him. This is the reward He gives us for passing the test.

Common Tests for Leaders:

  • Rejection - Dismissal by friends, family, or trusted co-workers
  • Isolation - A wilderness time of loneliness or confusion
  • God’s Silence - When God does not speak
  • Integrity - To be true to our convictions no matter how hard
  • Hearing God’s Voice - Knowing it is God speaking
  • Obedience - Doing what God says, no matter the cost.
  • Laying Down our Rights - Not insisting on having our way
  • Word Test - Obeying God’s direction to us
  • Faith Test - Believing God in spite of overwhelming odds

All leaders are tested and we will do well to recognize the test and its importance for our development as wise and faithful leaders.”

 

The Gift of Rejection

God uses rejection to shape our inner world. John 6:60-71 records a time when some of the disciples of Jesus rejected him: "Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” 61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. 65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father. 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. 67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?

68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” 71 He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve."

Rejection creates two character strengths when we respond correctly:

  1. Toughness
  2. Tenderness

Leaders cannot lead in the fear of the Lord without toughness to keep going when people turn away from them, and tenderness to those who reject them as they leave. Rejection is so important in the development of leader’s lives, that if we do not bring about our own rejection through bad choices and lack of wisdom, God will bring it about for us. Regardless, God uses rejection to shape our character and prepare us to be the men and women He wants us to be.

Has someone important to you rejected or betrayed you? Have you considered the possibility that this is God’s doing? Jesus suffered rejection. Should we expect anything less as his followers?

Why Jesus' followers rejected him – looking deeper in verses 60-71 in John 6:

  1. hard sayings of Jesus - vs 60
  2. they didn't understand him - vs 60
  3. complaining by some infected the hearts of others - vs 61
  4. they took up offenses - vs 61
  5. seeing in the natural what they could not see in the Spirit - vs 62
  6. flesh cannot understand the spirit - vs 62
  7. unbelief - vs 64
  8. betrayal - vs 64
  9. the spirit was not drawing them - vs 65
  10. the devil was at work - vs 70

Fallen, broken human beings reject one another. The pain of rejection goes deep. The lie of rejection is that we have to withdraw from others to protect ourselves. But God has a different purpose for rejection. He uses it. At times he may even cause it. Does this shock you? Do not be surprised that God will orchestrate relationships that are painful in order to test you and teach you and mold your character.

Why?

To toughen us. To turn us to himself. To produce godly determination in our character. To teach us not to fear what people say or do, to impart to us a godly backbone of steel. God needs men and women who will not give up when things are hard, who will not sulk and whine and turn back when others do. God uses human rejection to produce divine desire and determination in our character.

To soften us. If we respond right to those who reject us, we do two things at once: we forgive them and we keep going. We learn to forgive as we forge ahead. Toughness without tenderness is rude and uncaring. It is harshness. It is rejection in response to rejection. But those who embrace rejection as the gift of God, learn to forgive those who reject them and to continue to obey God 

One of the greatest pictures of rejection and resulting tenderness and toughness in the Bible is when Joseph forgave his brothers, the very brothers who plotted to kill him, who sold him into slavery, who were jealous of their father's blessing in his life. When Joseph met his brothers again after many years, he was able to forgive them. And lead them without fear or favor – all while maintaining a tender and forgiving spirit.

Are you in the midst of a rejection test orchestrated by God? Have you blamed it on people but failed to see what God was up to? Perhaps your test of rejection took place many years ago – it is not too late to go back to the point of pain, to forgive and to take hold once again of God’s purposes in your life. It is never too hard and never too late with God.