The Leader and Emotion: Vengeance

When someone has opposed your leadership, have you ever wished you could just hit them in the face? Or, knowing that action doesn’t sound very Christian, did you wish God would do the same?

Every leader has moments when the natural response is to take revenge and see someone else suffer. David certainly had these times in his life as he experienced opposition from many different places. Psalm 109 records one of these situations.  

1My God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, 2for people who are wicked and deceitful have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. 3With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause. 4In return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer. 5They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship. 6Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand.  When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. 8May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. 9May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. 10May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. 11May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor…. 27Let them know that it is your hand, that you, LORD, have done it. 28While they curse, may you bless; may those who attack me be put to shame, but may your servant rejoice. 29May my accusers be clothed with disgrace and wrapped in shame as in a cloak. 30With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD; in the great throng of worshippers I will praise him. 31For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them (Psalm 109:1-11; 27-31).

Vengeance should be recognized. David recognizes what he is feeling. He wants revenge! He wants those who oppose him to suffer! Vengeance is a strong emotion that stirs up intense feelings.

Many leaders would prefer not to acknowledge these kinds of feelings since they seem so wrong. But servant leaders learn to recognize vengeance. They acknowledge that it is better to recognize vengeance than to pretend it does not exist.

Vengeance should be revealed. David recognizes his emotion and writes it down for all of us to see! (There is more revealed if you take time to read the entire chapter!) Although David is a “leader after God’s own heart,” he is secure enough to be honest with what he feels and to share this with everyone.

Many Christian leaders find this emotion difficult to reveal since it seems so negative and so unlike Christ. What will others think about me if I reveal what I am feeling? Yet, until vengeance is revealed it cannot be redeemed. Servant leaders learn to reveal vengeance knowing that as they do, God will be able to direct them to deal with it in an appropriate way.

Vengeance should be restrained. While David revealed his desire for vengeance on his enemies, he fortunately did not act on his feelings! Instead, he goes to worship with others. As he worships, David understands that it is God who will “save their lives from those who would condemn them.”

Servant leaders learn to restrain their vengeance. They don’t allow their leadership position to become a place to attack their enemies. They learn to join with others in worship and turn their desire for revenge over to God. He is the only one that can save us from those who condemn us as He also saves us from the poison of revenge in our own hearts.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • When is the last time I was hurt and really wanted revenge? What situation produced this emotion? Did I acknowledge and reveal my emotion or pretend it wasn’t there? Did I take it to God and ask Him to deliver me from the poison of revenge in my own heart?
  • Reflect on Romans 12:17-21. What does it mean to “leave room for God’s wrath”? How can God change my heart so that I am able to bless my enemy? 
  • Is it possible for our desire for vengeance to be in line with God’s judgement of wickedness? How do we know when our hearts and His are aligned?       

The Leader and Emotion: Anxiety

What will happen to me tomorrow? Will I be able to pay the bills? Can I overcome the obstacles I am facing? What if I lose my job?

Every leader deals with questions like these about the future. These questions can easily lead to anxiety—a feeling of worry or nervousness about an imagined threat or future event.* In this issue, we’ll examine how David experienced the emotion of anxiety and what we can learn as servant leaders from his life.

16Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers? 17Unless the LORD had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. 18When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. 19When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. 20Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—a throne that brings on misery by its decrees? 21The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. 22But the LORD has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. 23He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the LORD our God will destroy them. (Psalm 94:16-23)

Anxiety should be recognized. David has many questions as he wrestles with God in this psalm. He questions whether there will be justice for those who oppose him. These questions troubled him to the extent that he felt that his “foot is slipping,” and could lead him to the “silence of death.” In the middle of his questions he recognizes that he has anxiety in his heart.

Anxiety is usually seen as a negative emotion, so it is more difficult for leaders to acknowledge. David might have paused to ask himself, “What am I feeling?” At least he recognized his emotion of anxiety.

Many leaders don’t stop to recognize what they are feeling and may not even be aware of the anxiety in their souls. But servant leaders learn to recognize anxiety and be honest about what they are feeling.

Anxiety should be revealed. David recognizes his anxiety and brings it to the surface. Because anxiety is not a healthy or positive emotion, many leaders try to ignore it, to pretend that it’s not there or to call it by another name! But David is honest enough to admit that he has a “great” amount of anxiety!

We can learn from David that anxiety thrives in secrecy but can be dealt with when it is revealed. Servant leaders learn to reveal their anxiety. They find a trusted friend or counselor with whom they can be completely honest. They are not afraid to say, “I’m filled with anxiety about….” Sometimes the honest confession is enough to break the grip of anxiety in the life of the leader.

Anxiety should be restrained. All leaders look towards the future and can be immobilized by anxiety and unanswered questions. But David’s response to his anxiety shows us that this emotion does not need to control our leadership. As he revealed his anxiety, he quickly came to a place of hope. God’s “consolation” brought him joy to replace the anxiety. In the final verses of this chapter, he acknowledges that God is his “fortress” and the One who will take care of his future.

David teaches us to focus on the One who controls the future, instead of the lies our enemy wants us to believe. Servant leaders learn to restrain their anxiety as they trust God for their future and then lead others with courage.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • What situations in my own life bring me the greatest temptation to be anxious? 
  • How aware am I that I feel anxious? Am I able to quickly recognize this emotion?
  • Are there fears that keep me from revealing to others that I am anxious about the future? What does this say about what is happening in my soul?
  • What is at the root of my anxiety? What lies am I believing about myself, this situation, or about God?
  • In what way does my anxiety represent a lack of trust in God?
  • Reflect on 1 Peter 5:7. What does this verse teach me about my anxiety?

*We have already examined how David responded to fear which relates to a known danger or event. Anxiety differs from fear as it focuses on a future imagined event.

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018. 

The Leader and Emotion: Fear

We all face situations that bring fear. Fear can be a very natural response to a situation that presents danger or harm to us. Our bodies react instinctively either to flee or fight. David also experienced fear.

1 Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; 2 hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught 3 because of what my enemy is saying, because of the threats of the wicked; for they bring down suffering on me and assail me in their anger. 4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. 5 Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me… 22 Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. 23 But you, God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of decay; the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days. But as for me, I trust in you (Psalm 55:1-5, 22-23).

David faced his fear and learned to overcome this powerful emotion and he guides servant leaders on their own journeys with fear.

Fear should be recognized. David recognizes his emotion. “Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.” David’s enemies are speaking against him and making threats. The natural response is to be afraid and David recognizes this fear which was overwhelming to him.

Leaders often believe the lie that strong people should not experience fear. So, they find it very difficult to identify the emotion of fear and may call it anger, worry or something else. But servant leaders learn to recognize fear and are not ashamed to admit, “I am afraid.” They know that they won’t correctly respond to fear until they can name it.

Fear should be revealed. As David recognizes his fear he reveals it to God. As for me, I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” David revealed his fear to God three times a day!

When servant leaders recognize their fear and reveal it, they can begin to process it more thoughtfully as David did. They can examine the fear to determine if it is a rational fear that will keep them from danger or they may find that it is an irrational fear that is crippling and harmful based on false or incomplete information.

Servant leaders learn to reveal fear, but they are careful to reveal it to the right persons. Certainly, as David did, it is appropriate to reveal the fear to God, not because He is unaware, but because we need to acknowledge it! But it is often helpful as well to reveal our fear to someone else. Servant leaders look for others who will help them deal correctly with their fear. They avoid revealing it to those who will only increase the fear.

Fear should be restrained. David shows leaders that fear does not need to control our leadership. He concludes this Psalm with hope. “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you… But as for me, I trust in you.” David learns to bring his fears to God and to learn to trust instead of fear.

Fear can cripple a leader and make it difficult to move forward. The fear may be real when a serious threat is experienced. Or it may be an imagined fear of what others will think that keeps a leader from making a difficult decision. David teaches servant leaders that the solution to fear is trust! He chooses to focus on God during his fear and this frees him to trust in God. David realizes that God may not literally remove all the things he fears, but God will not let him be shaken.

Servant leaders learn to restrain their fear. They say to themselves and those they lead, “Our fear is with us, but our God is bigger than our fears.” Servant leaders turn fear into trust and lead on!

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler


For further reflection and discussion:

  • What do I fear most often? Is my fear a rational fear to keep me safe or is it irrational? If irrational, what is the reality?
  • When I am afraid, am I able to reveal this appropriately to others or do I try to hide it? Who is or could be a helpful person to whom I can reveal my fear?
  • How significantly is my leadership shaped by fear? Am I able to openly admit my fear as David did? Do I regularly choose to turn my fear into trust? How do I communicate this to others?


Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

The Leader and Emotion: Guilt

Leaders fail!

Paul’s declaration that “All have sinned….” (Romans 3:23) certainly includes leaders. And sin produces the emotion of guilt which is not a pleasant feeling!

David experienced guilt after committing adultery with Bathsheba. His sin was more public than most and David wrote openly about his guilt.

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. 14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness (Psalm 51:1-3; 12-14).

Guilt should be recognized. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” David recognized he needed cleansing because of his guilt. This recognition took a long time for David, coming only after a rebuke from the prophet Nathan, months after his sin.

His story illustrates the power of our minds to justify sin after we have done wrong. We want to avoid the emotion of guilt because when we recognize guilt, we must acknowledge our wrongdoing. Our minds will provide many reasons that we are not guilty or convince us that what we are feeling is not actually guilt.

But servant leaders learn to recognize guilt as a gift from God to lead them to repentance.

Guilt should be revealed. David revealed his guilt in writing and we still read it centuries after his sin! Guilt is not an easy emotion to reveal. The emotion of guilt brings a quick temptation to ignore it or hide it from self and others. To reveal the emotion of guilt is to admit wrong and no one enjoys confession. But the emotion of guilt carries a purpose, to bring repentance. Repentance can’t happen until guilt is revealed. Ignoring guilt only leads to greater guilt!

Leaders are tempted more than others to hide their guilt since their leadership reputation is at stake. Followers often expect leaders to be perfect and leaders who don’t reveal their guilt encourage this expectation. Leaders who won’t admit guilt often hypocritically point fingers at the mistakes others. They think that if others look guilty, they look better!

But servant leaders learn to reveal their guilt appropriately. Sometimes guilt needs to be acknowledged privately. But many times guilt needs to be shared with another person or a group. Servant leaders learn from David not to hide their guilt.

Guilt should be restrained. Unresolved guilt can cripple a leader. The enemy will whisper that we can’t lead when we have sinned. But David says, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways.” David confessed his sin and then allowed his guilt to open up more doors for influence. He recognized that a leader who has gone through the brokenness of confession and repentance becomes a stronger leader.

A leader’s repentance brings greater compassion and empathy for others who fail. Leaders who experience God’s grace can extend God’s grace to others. Servant leaders learn to restrain their guilt so that it does not hinder their leadership but enhances it. They recognize and reveal their mistakes and then move on, leading with greater compassion and grace.

May God enable each of us, like David, to lead with grace when we experience guilt.


Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler


For further reflection and discussion:

  • In what situation recently did I experience guilt? How did I respond and in what way was my response similar or different than David’s?
  • When I am guilty, in what ways does my mind justify what I have done? How can I be freed from this pattern of thinking?
  • In what situations do I need to reveal my guilt to others? What makes this difficult for me?
  • Are there times when I feel a “false” sense of guilt because of the expectations of others? What is God saying to me about how to respond to this guilt?
  • Are there situations in which a leader should stop leading, at least temporarily, because of guilt? What situations would call for this step and how can it be done with grace? Have I discussed this issue with key leaders on my team so that we are in agreement before this situation arises? If not, when can I initiate this conversation?

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

The Leader and Emotion: Gratitude

Emotions are often spontaneous and unplanned reactions to the circumstances of life. David seems to have experienced them all.

David also experienced gratitude, an emotion that can be chosen and cultivated by all leaders.  Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. 2Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100:1-5).

This Psalm is filled with thanksgiving and praise. David is clearly filled with gratitude and invites all of us to join him in being grateful leaders.

Gratitude should be recognized. David identifies his gratitude and chooses to focus his attention on this emotion. David recognizes God’s goodness in His creation and His faithfulness that “continues through all generations.” David is filled with gratitude and calls everyone who listens to be grateful.

While there is always much for which we can be grateful, many leaders choose instead to focus on the struggles and obstacles of their journey. They may focus on the pain of betrayal or the emotion of fear. Or they focus on their ‘to do list’ which seems much longer than the ‘done list.’ So they choose frustration instead of thanksgiving. David chooses to come to God with gratitude. He recognizes that no matter what the circumstances, he can see things for which he is grateful.

Servant leaders learn to recognize the power of gratitude in their leadership and choose to focus on things for which they are thankful. They recognize that those who lead with gratitude are a joy to follow!

Gratitude should be revealed. Like all his emotions, David does not keep gratitude a secret from himself or others. He cries out, “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.” David reveals his gratitude to anyone who will listen! He reveals the reasons he is grateful to the God who made him and the entire universe.

Leaders sometimes think of things for which they are grateful but fail to reveal their gratitude. But servant leaders serve those they lead by expressing gratitude openly. They may write it, say it, or sing it but they always find a way to reveal their gratitude to those around them. They tell their spouse how much they are blessed by their presence. They write a note of appreciation to someone on the team who has done a good job. They publically thank the person who serves even in menial tasks. They are grateful for the contributions of each of their team members and express their thanks openly.

Gratitude should be restrained. We have looked at many emotions that can hinder our leadership when they are not properly restrained. We are called to lead with emotion but not be led by emotions and servant leaders learn the proper balance. But it’s hard to imagine a leader being too grateful!

Perhaps some leaders focus so much on the positive that they are unable to address issues that need attention. Servant leaders do not allow gratitude to keep them from corrections that need to be made. But for more leaders, the danger is in leading without gratitude!

Servant leaders in this situation learn to cultivate and develop the emotion of gratitude. They refuse to allow their leadership to be defined by ingratitude no matter how difficult the challenges they are facing. Like David, they lead their emotions to a place of gratitude! And they serve those around them who are ungrateful with a gentle call to follow them to experience the emotion of gratitude.

Choose today to lead with an attitude of gratitude.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Find a blank piece of paper and list everything that comes to your mind for which you are grateful. Turn the list into a prayer of thanks to God. Then reflect on what this does to your soul and record your learnings here.
  • To whom should I express gratitude today? What is the best way to express my gratitude to this person or persons? (Verbally, in writing, publically or privately, etc.)
  • What steps is God inviting me to take to develop more deeply a grateful heart? (Be specific and then share your list with a trusted friend for accountability.)

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

The Leader and Emotion: Betrayal

Betrayal is a common experience in leadership which stirs up many emotions. Betrayal happens when a person close to us violates our trust. Betrayal itself is an action, not an emotion. But it often catches a leader by surprise and results in many different emotions such as anger, hurt, bewilderment, etc.

A church member may suddenly leave, taking some of your members to begin a new church. A business partner may take some of your customers and begin a rival business. A spouse may unexpectedly walk away from a marriage relationship. A close friend may reveal to someone else a private matter you shared in confidence. You find out that someone close to you has been lying. The pain from these kinds of betrayal feels like someone stabbed us in the back so ‘backstabbing’ is another word we use for betrayal.

David, like many leaders, experienced betrayal by a friend. We can examine only a portion of what he expressed in Psalm 55, 12 “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. 13 But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, 14 with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers. 15 Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the realm of the dead, for evil finds lodging among them. 16 As for me, I call to God, and the LORD saves me. 17 Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. 18 He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me” (Psalm 55:12-18).

David’s experience shows all servant leaders how to deal with the inevitable times of betrayal.

Betrayal should be recognized. David pours out his heart to God and says that if the insults had come from an enemy he could have hidden it. But “…it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.” David recognized the emotions which were stirred up by this betrayal. He was angry, fearful, and he wanted revenge.

Many leaders who experience betrayal know they are in pain but don’t stop to identify what they are feeling. But David helps servant leaders to recognize betrayal and to name the emotions that come with the pain.

Betrayal should be revealed. David didn’t pretend that he was not in pain, he revealed his emotion first to God and now to all of us. He says, 16 “As for me, I call to God, and the LORD saves me. 17 Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” By writing these words, David revealed the pain of his betrayal and was able to process his reaction with God.

Too many leaders seek to bury the pain of betrayal by working harder or preaching louder. Or they reveal their pain in an angry outburst of harsh words which they later regret. Servant leaders, like David, expose the pain of their betrayal to God and ask Him for grace to walk through it.

Betrayal should be restrained. The way we respond to betrayal shapes our leadership. David declares at the end of this passage, 18 “He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.” He realized that God “rescues me unharmed” and called him to continue in his role as a leader. David learned to forgive and release the pain so that he could continue leading well.

Servant leaders learn from David to restrain betrayal so that it does not keep them from leading like Jesus. With God’s grace they allow the pain of betrayal to make them better instead of bitter.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler


For further reflection and discussion:

  • Read all of Psalm 55. What more does this teach me about betrayal?
  • Identify a time in the past when you experienced betrayal and then reflect on that experience by answering the following questions:
    • What was the situation in which I was betrayed?
    • What emotions did it stir in me?
    • Was I aware, at that time, of these emotions?
    • Did I appropriately reveal my emotions?
    • How did I respond to the person(s) who betrayed me and how did that impact my leadership?

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

The Leader and Emotion: Loneliness

With our entire world connected by social media it seems that none of us should be lonely. But the United Kingdom recently appointed a “minister of loneliness” to deal with the increased social and health issues associated with this emotion.

Loneliness is not a new emotion; it was keenly felt by David when he said to God, “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16).

In another Psalm he pours out his heart, feeling all alone and forsaken even by God. 1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises… 10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. 11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help… 19 But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. 20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. 22 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you” (Psalm 22:1-3, 10-11, 19-22).

Leaders experience loneliness like everyone else. In addition, leaders often face an increased loneliness that comes from their leadership position. Although leaders work closely with people, they often face leadership challenges of which followers are not even aware. A business leader may wrestle alone with a financial decision that will impact the lives of many people. A pastor carries alone the weight of a church member in a personal crisis.

As a leader David also experienced loneliness and helps servant leaders understand how to lead with loneliness.

Loneliness should be recognized. David cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He recognizes that he is feeling abandoned by God. He felt all alone. Loneliness may also produce other emotions such as depression or sorrow, but David properly recognized that his primary feeling was abandonment or loneliness.

When loneliness is not identified, the pain is still keenly felt. Leaders are tempted to temporarily relieve the pain by overeating, indulgence in sexual fantasies or other illegitimate pleasures, addictive behaviors, etc. Servant leaders recognize loneliness, and this helps them guard their heart against moving in these unhealthy directions.

Loneliness should be revealed. David not only recognizes his emotion, he shares it with all of us! Leaders who seek to keep their loneliness hidden often sink further into depression or despair. Leaders who are willing to reveal their feeling of loneliness are able to adjust as needed and to take steps to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above.

Revealing loneliness also helps servant leaders seek help from God and others. David cried out to God, “Come quickly to help me.” Servant leaders learn to reveal their loneliness.

Loneliness should be restrained. David turns his focus from his own loneliness to say, “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.” David recognized that if he focused on his loneliness, it would take him in a wrong direction as a leader. He poured out his soul to God, but then moved on to acknowledge God’s strength and ability to help. He also knew that isolation would only increase his sense of loneliness and that God created “the assembly” as a community.

Servant leaders learn to restrain their loneliness so that it does not control their ability to lead. They don’t allow loneliness to keep them from others and, like David, deliberately seek relationships with others. They actively seek God’s presence in their lives and join with others in praise to God. In community, they learn to lead even when lonely.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Read all of Psalm 22 and reflect on how David experienced and expressed his loneliness. Jesus also quoted this Psalm of David when he was on the cross. How does this Psalm speak to me as a leader?
  • As a leader, what situations do I face that produce loneliness in me? What can I learn from David about how to lead with loneliness?
  • When I feel lonely, how can I express this to myself and others appropriately? What keeps me from expressing my loneliness?
  • When I feel lonely, what specific temptations do I face? In what way do these temporarily cover my pain? What are more healthy ways to respond to my loneliness?
  • Psalm 68:6 says that “God sets the lonely in families.” In what way do I find hope and connectedness with others? What do I need to do intentionally to strengthen my ‘family’ relationships?

Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

The Leader and Emotion: Depression

Can a servant leader experience depression? Consider David’s writing in Psalm 88.

LORD, you are the God who saves me; day and night I cry out to you. 2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. 3 I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength. 5 I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. 6 You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. 7 Your wrath lies heavily on me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. 8 You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; 9 my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you” (Psalm 88:1-9).

It is impossible to read this Psalm and not realize that David is in a very dark place. David, the “man after God’s own heart” is depressed! Depression is a state of sadness or grief that continues over time and impacts emotions, thinking and often actions. It is a very complex emotion because it can result from spiritual issues, painful life events, or other causes. But it can also be the result of chemical imbalances in the physical body which can be treated with medicine.

Servant leaders, as anyone else, can experience depression either temporarily or long-term. Servant leaders learn from David how to lead with depression.

Depression should be recognized. David admits that he is “in the darkest depths.” He feels like he will die soon and mentions his thoughts about the grave in several places. He feels that he has no friends and that even God is against him: “Your wrath lies heavily on me.” He cannot see a way out. This is one of the few psalms that does not end with a word of hope or a change of perspective.

Servant leaders learn to recognize when they experience depression. In themselves and others they learn to identify the signs of ongoing despair, a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness, and a fixation on death or suicidal thoughts.

Depression should be revealed. As with the other emotions David expressed, he is not afraid to reveal the depths of his despair as he cries out to God in this Psalm. But today, where can a leader, or even a follower, stand and say as David did, “I am overwhelmed with troubles”?

Depression is perhaps the most difficult of all emotions to reveal because of the stigma and shame usually associated with depression or other mental illnesses. The church, which should be the safest place for people who struggle, is often the first to condemn those who feel depressed. But depression can lead to suicide when it is not handled well and the worst thing a leader can do is to refuse to share it with God and others.

Servant leaders learn to reveal depression. They talk to God and with others revealing how they feel. They refuse to hide their condition.

Depression should be restrained. David, in this psalm, did not rise out of his depression and lead. But we know from his life story that he was able to restrain his depression so that it did not define his leadership.

Servant leaders also learn to not allow depression to become the controlling emotion of their leadership. When depression comes from chemical imbalances, servant leaders seek medical help and prayer as they would for any other sickness. If necessary, they step away from their leadership role for a time to find help and healing. And with God’s grace, they find ways to live and lead victoriously even with the heaviness of depression. There is hope for those who lead with depression!

If you, or someone you know, faces an ongoing battle with depression, I encourage you to learn more than space allows here. My wife’s story* is a good place to start.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler


For further reflection and discussion:

  • How does my culture view depression? In what ways has this impacted the way I see this emotion? How does the life of David challenge my views?
  • Am I aware of the signs of depression in my own life or in those I serve?
  • When in my life have I experienced depression? Was I able to recognize it at the time? Later?
  • In what way can I reveal depression appropriately? Are there inappropriate ways of revealing my depression?
  • How can I restrain my depression so that it does not control my leadership?
  • Among those I serve, who struggles with depression? How do I respond to them as a leader? How aware am I of their struggle? Have I encouraged them to seek professional help?


*The emotion of depression is one that I have not struggled with personally, but it has touched my life deeply in walking closely with my wife, Loice, who has struggled with depression and anxiety for over 20 years. She has courageously refused to give in to the darkness and through prayer, medical help, and the support of many around her, continues to live and lead victoriously even with depression. She speaks openly on mental health and wrote a book about her journey, Living Victoriously with Anxiety and Depression.

You can purchase a hard copy for yourself or others by clicking this link. You may contact her through her website,

We cannot, in this short space, begin to explain the mental health issues surrounding depression. For information, I encourage you to visit This site was developed by Kay Warren. She and her husband Rick Warren had a son who committed suicide and through that pain they seek to help others who struggle.


Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

The Leader and Emotion: Sorrow

From joy to sorrow, all leaders experience a broad range of emotions. Often they are mixed together as they were for David in Psalm 31. In the first verses he expresses his joy in God’s love but then he quickly reveals his sorrow.

 9 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. 10 My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. 11 Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors and an object of dread to my closest friends— those who see me on the street flee from me. 12 I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. 13 For I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side!” They conspire against me and plot to take my life. 14 But I trust in you, LORD; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. 16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. (Psalm 31:9-16)

Servant leaders learn from David how to lead with sorrow!

Sorrow should be recognized. The emotion of sadness or sorrow is one which we often view as a negative emotion. So many leaders try to ignore their sorrow and find it difficult to say, “I feel sad.” Instead they may choose to speak a “positive confession” to convince themselves and others that they are happy.

But David made no attempt to ignore his emotion: “My eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.” He recognizes exactly where he is emotionally. He recognizes that this emotion impacts his body, specifically his eyes, soul, body and bones. He is not deciding if his sorrow is right or wrong, he simply acknowledges what he is feeling in the moment.

Servant leaders learn to recognize their sorrow. They refuse to pretend that they are not sad. They pay attention to what is happening to their physical body in response to this emotion.  

Sorrow should be revealed. David doesn’t try to keep his sorrow hidden. He summarizes his situation, “I am in distress.” He continues his conversation with God, revealing deep emotion.

Even when sorrow is recognized, many leaders try to keep it hidden. For some, this comes from a desire to be seen as a ‘strong’ or ‘positive’ leader. They believe the lie that real leaders are always positive and victorious. Perhaps their culture does not allow “real men” to be sad or to shed tears.

But servant leaders learn that sadness is a part of being a real human. They find appropriate ways to express their sorrow. They might verbally admit that they are filled with sorrow in a certain situation. Or, as David did here, they might write a psalm of lament to God to reveal their feelings. Servant leaders do not need to apologize when a tear rolls down their cheek. They serve others by revealing their humanity.

Sorrow should be restrained. David recognized and revealed his sorrow but then he turns back to God. “But I trust in you, LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’” He asks God to help him change the situation with his enemies.

David recognizes that he is still a leader in the midst of his sorrow and that his sorrow will not last forever. He wrote in the previous chapter, …weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). So, he was able to lead in the midst of sorrow, but would not allow sorrow to control his leadership.

Servant leaders learn to restrain their sorrow. They cry out to God with their pain and then choose to focus on Him instead of their sorrow.  They lead on in the midst of sorrow.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler


For further reflection and discussion:

  • What does my culture teach me about expressing sorrow or sadness? How have I allowed that to influence my leadership?
  • How can I balance the need to be a positive and optimistic leader with the need to be honest with my emotions?
  • Read Genesis 33:4; 43:30; Ezra 3:12; 10:1; Nehemiah 1:4; Jeremiah 9:1; Luke 22:62; John 11:35; Acts 20:37; and Revelation 5:4. What do these passages teach me about leadership and tears?
  • In what ways can I appropriately express my emotion of sorrow? Are there ways of expressing this emotion which would not be appropriate?
  • How do I need to restrain my sorrow so that it does not control my leadership?


Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.

The Leader and Emotion: Joy

David experienced much pain and difficulty in his life, but he also experienced deep and sustaining joy, some of which he expressed in Psalm 33. Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. 20 We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you (Psalm 33:1-3; 20-22).

All servant leaders can learn to lead with joy from David’s instruction.

Joy should be recognized. David recognized his joy and invited others to join him with singing! The emotion of joy is easier to recognize since it is not usually considered a ‘negative’ or bad emotion. Most people do not struggle to know that they are feeling good!

But David helps servant leaders understand that joy is more than having a good day. He recognizes that joy does not come because of outward circumstances but from a conscious decision to focus on God’s goodness. He says, “In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.” This helps servant leaders recognize that joy can be experienced in any stage of the journey, even in the midst of other conflicting emotions.

Servant leaders learn to experience joy by focusing on God’s goodness in their lives and leadership.

Joy should be revealed. David’s instruction is for everyone to sing and “shout for joy.” Joy is to be expressed, not hidden! Some personalities have no trouble revealing their joy, it is part of their expressive nature. But other personalities are so restrained that even when they are joyful, no one else knows about it!

David invites all leaders to reveal their joy in singing! Songs of praise reveal joy and servant leaders express their joy with singing. But singing also produces joy. So when servant leaders need more joy they also sing!

Servant leaders learn to stop and celebrate, expressing joy and inviting others to join them. Like David, they lead by calling people to sing with joy.

Joy should be restrained. In the midst of David’s expressions of joy he acknowledged that he was waiting on the Lord and requested God to bless them with His “unfailing love.” His expression of joy did not mean denial of the needs which were also present. He did not allow his emotion to overlook reality. Some leaders focus so much on being positive that they do not admit realities.

David showed restraint. Servant leaders recognize the need for self-control in how they allow emotions to impact their leadership. They learn to be vulnerable and express emotions like joy. This allows them to be fully human as they lead, and emotion influences their leadership. But they don’t allow their emotion to control their leadership. They learn to balance feeling and thinking. Before making a decision, they seek to acknowledge their emotions, but they also separate facts from feelings.

Servant leaders are also able to restrain their own joy in order to connect with the emotion of those who are hurting. Servant leaders are aware of and sensitive to the needs of others around them, especially those who may be going through pain or struggle. This may call for some restraint in how they express their joy. But they also serve those who hurt by appropriately expressing their joy and inviting others to sing even in their pain. Gently, by their example of expression and restraint, they invite others to experience joy that is greater than the challenges of life.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Read David’s entire chapter, Psalm 33. What additional insights does this give me on the emotion of joy?
  • If I am not experiencing joy, is it because I am focused on my circumstances instead of God’s goodness? How can I learn from this Psalm to change my focus?
  • Do I easily express my joy or do I find it difficult to reveal this emotion?
  • Am I aware of and sensitive to the needs of those I lead who are experiencing pain? Am I most likely to ignore their pain and keep rejoicing, or to silence my own joy?
  • If I lead in an environment where singing is not an appropriate or accepted expression of joy, how can I invite the people to express joy?