Effective leaders are consumed with a vision about the future that is different from today. Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela were all incredibly dissatisfied with the reality that they saw. They all envisioned, articulated and helped lead towards a different ending to the story. A leader has to learn to live in the tension of what is and what should be. Some define frustration as the gap between our expectations and reality.
Leading people towards a God-given destination is inherently frustrating. It seems that God many times chooses the dissatisfied because they see what He sees – things are not OK and they must change. Nehemiah wept when he saw the dilapidated state of Jerusalem’s wall and Jesus was burdened when he saw people with great problems and nowhere to go for help, like sheep without a shepherd. As a leader sets off with others towards the new destination, the road is littered with roadblocks, reluctant travelers and attacks from those who want to stop the journey.
The only way a leader can escape frustration is to stop being a leader. Yet for many, that is simply not an option. Since frustration will be a constant companion on this exciting trek, we must learn what to do with it. Some ignore these feelings while others try to medicate them with sins that provide short-term pleasure and long-term destruction. Leadership frustration can lead to good if we respond the right way. We have a Father who not only gave us a vision, but is our Guide for every step.
Moses was a leader with a great vision and who had great frustration. What he accomplished with God, multiplied by the degree of difficulty surely, puts him in the top ten of Biblical leaders. We can learn much from what he experienced — both the success and the failure.
When Moses saw a fellow Hebrew being oppressed, his response of anger was not wrong, but he chose to take matters in his own hands, not to God. His wrong action cost him years of his life, yet God knew he had found a leader with the seed of dissatisfaction. When God spoke from the burning bush, Moses must have been thrilled to know that God saw, knew and heard about the same sufferings that Moses saw years ago. It was perhaps the chief reason why God chose Moses. They were frustrated about the same thing.
After Moses submitted to his call, after the children of Israel walked on the dry ground of the Red Sea, Moses began to feel the weight of leadership. God consistently kept up his end of the bargain, yet the two million followers assigned to Moses simply did not want to follow. They were stiff-necked. They refused to turn. They have the distinction of being the only group in the Bible singled out four different times in different passages about what not to do. The Bible correctly describes them as idol worshippers, sexual deviants, complainers and those who resisted the very authority that God gave to lead them to a wonderful land. They were the Enron’s of followers – a case study of dysfunction. No wonder Moses was frustrated.
After another bout of complaining and false accusation against Moses in Numbers 20, Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Again, responding to frustration in the wrong way cost him. Israel should have been thankful that at least Moses hit the rock and not the sides of their hard heads. While Moses taught us what to avoid on more than one occasion, Numbers 11 shows us when he got it right. Here we see Moses speaking to God about his frustration instead of taking it out on a rock or an Egyptian.
Numbers 11:10-15 NLT
10 Moses heard all the families standing in the doorways of their tents whining, and the LORD became extremely angry. Moses was also very aggravated. 11 And Moses said to the LORD, “Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people? 12 Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world? Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a nursing baby? How can I carry them to the land you swore to give their ancestors? 13 Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep whining to me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! 15 If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!”
Moses was feeling the incredible pain of leading immature people. Again, they had forgotten about the scars on their back and wanted to go back to slavery instead of continuing with God and Moses to their new and better life. This was having toll on Moses. Interestingly, while God was angry at the people for their whining, Moses was angry at God for His assignment. Moses accused God of treating him harshly and giving him an overwhelming burden. While Moses’ pain was real, his analysis of God as the problem was faulty.
He thought that his pain was from God – “if this is how you intend to treat me.” The real source of Moses’ pain was his tendency to do leadership alone. Perhaps Moses isolated because of childhood abandonment issues or that he was mostly talking to sheep during his 40 year career as a shepherd. Moses was corrected by Jethro for the same thing in Exodus 18.
Most of us have a recurring internal issue that affects our leadership. We might not realize what it is, but we are certainly aware of the pain that it brings to our life. The good news is that if we talk to God about it, God will always have answer. He sees, He knows and He loves. As a recovering isolationist myself, I am encouraged and inspired by Moses to do the same thing. Talk to God honestly about what is hurting. As Moses remembered in verse 11, God is merciful and shows mercy towards His children. What is hurting does not have to stay that way.
When Moses prayed, God responded with an answer. He always does.
Numbers 11:16-17 NLT
16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather before me seventy men who are recognized as elders and leaders of Israel. Bring them to the Tabernacle to stand there with you. 17 I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone.
Do not be surprised that God’s answer for your leadership frustration will almost always include others. The Holy Spirit is God on the earth today, yet He does not live a temple or in the clouds. He makes His home in jars of clay – people. God has people that have the grace we need in them. But they have to found, connected to and deployed. Jesus said in Matthew 9 that the problems that people are facing will be helped when more heavenly-assigned workers are sent to meet them in the suffering.
Any leadership assignment that is not shared adequately becomes unbearable. Even though the assignment was unmistakably from God, our techniques and practices may not come from God. We may be doing the right thing the wrong way. Yet, there has to be relief. Going to heaven early or retiring before the finish line is not the answer. Hearing from God about the specific wisdom we need is the answer.
Instead of incorrectly assuming that God is the problem, we can pray out of frustration, yet in faith to God for the solution. Perhaps we should put down the sword and the rod in anger and turn to God in trust.
God has a solution. Perhaps a portion of the assignment you are frustrated with did not come from a burning bush but from a burning ego. Perhaps there are areas of personal dysfunction that make leadership difficult. James and John certainly had to get over some pretty sizeable delusions of grandeur before they could become effective and reach their potential.
God says, “Meet with Me again and I will talk to you again.” There will be instruction, wisdom and grace. Many times the solution is different form the last time He spoke, but it will be what you need to hear. You do not have to carry the heavy burden that seems to be crushing you. To paraphrase what David heard from God in Psalm 50, “Call upon me when you are in trouble (or frustration), and I will answer you and you will give me glory.”