Determination and Leadership Part 1: Determination as a spiritual exercise
(Material originally presented to the Liberty Roads Foundation Leadership Group, Oct. 6, 2020 via Zoom.)
A typical description of successful leaders recognizes their “determination.” Determination refers to firmness of purpose; resoluteness. A determined leader does not allow opposition or trouble or initial defeat or anything else to disrupt the course of action they have decided to pursue without making a total effort to succeed. Winston Churchill famously counseled determination to a group of schoolboys with the words: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
In thinking about determination, I reflected that the words “I am determined” grammatically resemble the passive voice, as though in becoming determined, one has surrendered one’s self to something. In Greek, the expression is conveyed by the verb boulomai, which is also passive (or technically “middle voice”). When I “am determined,” what am I determined by?
The Apostol Paul uses the verb boulomai in an illustrative way in 2 Corinthians 1:15-17: “And in this confidence I was determined to come to you before, that you might have a second benefit— to pass by way of you to Macedonia, to come again from Macedonia to you, and be helped by you on my way to Judea. Therefore, when I was determining [myself to] this, did I do it lightly? Or the things I determine (myself to), do I determine [myself to them] according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No?” In those verses, Paul contrasts determination “according to the flesh” with his own kind of determination, which is presumably “according to the spirit.” Determination according to the flesh apparently involves a more wishy-washy determination than spiritual determination.
Attempts to define the difference between the body, soul, and spirit falter on the radical oneness of the human person, but we do have a body, a soul, and a spirit. Considering the meaning of Paul’s contrast of “according to the flesh” and, “according to the spirit” does offer insights. Presumably, a fleshly determination would be subject to illness, fatigue, or injury. Similarly, emotional factors (sometimes called “soulish” but related to the flesh) like fear, desire, pity, discouragement, shame, inferiority, and self-doubt could interfere with one’s determination. In contrast, determination “according to the spirit” suggests that we have yielded our whole self to our will. Spiritual determination galvanizes the will by centering on purpose, conviction, and value rather than on negative considerations. In other words, Paul seems to suggest that true determination is a spiritual quality. Determining ourselves to do anything pushes us over into a spiritual exercise.
Christian leaders must exercise due care to yield the power of their determination to the Holy Spirit and God’s will. No one is ever praised for being “bull-headed”—which refers to misguided willfulness. Mere willfulness is not enough. As 1 Timothy 6:9 says, being determined to do the wrong thing can make us “fall into a trap” of “foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” So, yes, be determined. But never forget that determination is a spiritual exercise.