Leadership and Weariness
Recently, the leaders of the Seattle-King County Prayer Breakfast met at Seattle’s Rainier Club to discuss the future of our work together. I confess that I had reached a point of such exhaustion that I really struggled to get out of bed and arrive there at 7:00 AM, despite the opportunity to see so many friends over a great breakfast at one of my favorite Seattle locations. Sitting at the table, I felt weary—not just tired, but feeling a bit of despair over the challenges I face as a leader at the dawn of what secular folks call “the higher education apocalypse.” We have worked hard to build strategies for facing an increasingly hostile future climate, but they will take years to fully work their power of rescue and lead us into the flourishing future of our vision. The feelings of frustration just overwhelmed me in weariness.
In the middle of that pity party, God spoke to me a word of revelation: “being weary doesn’t mean you have lost your desire. Just the opposite. It means you still have desire.” Then immediately, the words of Philippians 2:13 came to me: “. . . God who works in you both to will and to do.” The New Living Translation translates even more accurately: “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”
As I thought through what God had given me as an immediate download, I realized that being weary goes beyond merely being tired. Webster’s dictionary explains that it involves “having one’s patience, tolerance, or pleasure exhausted.” At the same time, weariness means that you haven’t given up your desire to work. Once people do that, they just move on to the next thing and abandon their former pursuits. The suffering that accompanies weariness descends upon visionaries and entrepreneurs when their efforts don’t seem to produce fruit or succeed fast enough. It is precisely the desire to see results that creates the suffering. Suffering weariness means the desire still lives in us.
In a blog last year, I predicted that leaders across the country would suffer a phenomenon I called COVID Insufficiency. I wrote, “Almost all have questioned at one time or another whether they should continue—whether their institution deserves a new leader with a fresh vision.” Within a few weeks, an article came out in Forbes magazine predicting “the Great COVID Job Churn.” In fact, everyone could see this current forming. Later, in May of 2021 when the phenomenon fully began to bloom, Anthony Klotz famously referred to it as “the Great Resignation.” First comes frustration, then comes weariness, then comes despair, then resignation, and possibly, new hope. Certainly, no shame should accrue to people who realize they hated their jobs and choose to make a change. But visionary leaders who really care about achieving their dream and accomplishing their mission must recognize when weariness is setting in and take steps to gain new energy.
So where should leaders go when they suffer weariness? Philippians 2:13 gives us clear direction. God works into us both the desire and the energy or power to please him. In the original Greek, the word of “works into” is energeo—the source of our English word “energy.” Work, of course, implies the deployment of energy. God is the one who works into us (think of working butter into dough or working water into cement mix) the desire to work for his good pleasure as well as the energy to work for it.
In Genesis 2:2, the Bible says God “rested from all his work” in the Creation, revealing God as the first worker and the source of all work. In Genesis 1:28, in the very first words God is reported to have spoken to humanity, God blessed us with a mission: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it and govern it.” In Genesis 2:15, the second creation story recounts that God put the man in the Garden of Eden “to tend and watch over it.” By commissioning humanity to build a sustainable world and a flourishing human race, God gave us a purpose to work for that would fulfill God’s good pleasure. Deep within us all, God placed a desire to work, power to work, and a reason to work.
Christian leaders in any form of endeavor do their work “as unto the Lord.” When we face weariness, God will always renew our strength and our desire so that we can please him. When God said over Jesus at his baptism, “this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”(Matthew 3:17), he basically used the same words as Philippians 2:13 uses in saying God empowers us to work for his good pleasure. Christian leaders work to hear God say the same thing to us in the end—like the master Jesus mentioned in a parable: “Well done, good and faithful servant.
The Great Resignation might offer a great opportunity to quit, and some people probably should quit their jobs if they cannot explain why that work brings “good pleasure” to God. But leaders who have received a vision from God must never let weariness serve as anything more than an alarm clock that wakes us up and sends us back to God for the desire and the power to please him.