Here’s a really well known verse:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” – Galatians 5:22-23
We often think of the fruit of the Spirit as personal qualities, but each one of them is a leadership quality too. A leader who has no love, no joy, no faithfulness… isn’t going to be leading for long.
But you’ll notice a highlighted word in the verse above – ‘self-control’. When it comes to leadership and longevity in a leadership position… I reckon this has to be one of the most important qualities that we can possess.
In fact if you think about it, pretty much every leader who has ‘taken a tumble’ has done so because they lacked self-control… be it with their wallets, their libido, or with the words they used. And it’s the area of our words that I want to look at today.
Cue another well-known verse:
We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check – James 3:2
What’s contained here is stunning when we think about it. James basically says, if we’re able to keep our tongues under control, we can keep our whole body in check. Could it be that self-control in the area of our speech is a key to unlock it’s power in the rest of our lives too? Hmmm.. thoughts to be explored another time.
One thing I love about King David is that he’s so brutally honest in the Psalms. And here in Psalm 39 we get an incredible behind-the-scenes insight into the heart of the man:
I said, “I will guard my ways
That I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth as with a muzzle
While the wicked are in my presence.”
I was mute and silent,
I refrained even from good,
And my sorrow grew worse.
My heart was hot within me,
While I was musing the fire burned;
Then I spoke with my tongue:
“ Lord, make me to know my end
And what is the extent of my days;
Let me know how transient I am.
“Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight;
Surely every man at his best is a mere breath.
– Psalm 39:1-4
David is clearly writing about an episode that’s taken place in his life. Because of some negative experience he’s had previously, he’s made the decision to be way more careful about what he says… especially around those he doesn’t trust (‘the wicked’).
Let’s break it down:
1) David Makes A Good Decision To Guard His Mouth
In life, it’s wise to reflect on situations that haven’t gone well, so that we can make adjustments for next time. Otherwise we can end up in cyclical patterns where history continues to repeat itself.
When we make decisions on how we’re going to react in a situation BEFORE it happens, it empowers us to stay on track WHEN it happens.
For leaders, there’s some good wisdom here that David shares – in that it’s smart to be careful with what you say around other people.
For me, I’m a natural extrovert, which means that I have a tendency to think out loud and come to conclusions while I’m speaking. But I’ve learnt over the years that it’s wise to be careful with situations and ideas that are still evolving because not everyone has the ability to process well what they hear you say. Some people get the wrong message or twist your words, some people tell others things they shouldn’t, some people gather ammunition that gets fired back later on.
David had been through all this and came to a wise conclusion. Be self-controlled when it comes to what you share.
We always have the opportunity to ADD to what has been said later, but we never have the chance to REMOVE something that has already escaped our lips.
2) David Takes His Decision A Step Too Far
“I was mute and silent… I refrained from even saying anything good..”
Uh oh. It seems like David got offended somehow and decided to give the difficult people around his life the silent treatment! It’s funny isn’t it – because we can start out to solve an issue with the right intentions but if we’re not careful we can actually overbalance the other way.
David went from shutting his mouth to actually shutting off his heart to those around him. I’m sure there’s times that every leader has been tempted to do that when you’re dealing with difficult people. BUT – he was their King. These people may have been hard work, but they still needed to hear from their King.
It’s really important for us as leaders to check our heart with those that we are leading. We can create huge problems for ourselves if we don’t deal cleanly and authentically with people. We can’t let the actions of other people change our value system or define the way that we will relate to them.
3) David Becomes Aware Of The Effect On His Heart
The thing with giving people the silent treatment… is that it doesn’t usually have the desired effect, and David discovers this firsthand. His silent treatment just ends up making him more and more angry with people.
Anytime you find your heart is getting hot and angry… then something is out of order. Something is going wrong!
Many times, silent treatments end up with explosions as all the emotions that have been held in inevitably find their way out. Fortunately though, this Psalm doesn’t end this way!
4) David Gets Heavenly Perspective
In the midst of it all, David goes to God. When he does this – David starts to get an eternal point of view – and realises… all of this is just so temporary.
It seems to me the secret to self-control is remind ourselves that ‘this too will pass’. In the moment we can feel like a problem or issue is our whole world. But if I deal with the emotion right, then it will pass, and I will win the victory.
1) Make the decision to be careful with what you say as a leader – your words carry weight
2) Be aware that great communication is needed – even with difficult people – so that you can stay in an effective place of leadership
3) When you’re heart is angry – something is wrong. Don’t proces out of the moment.
4) Eternal perspectives help us thorugh temporary troubles!