All leaders have power, but not all leaders handle power the same way. David and Absalom demonstrated two very different ways that leaders gain and use power. They saw the power of the kingship in very different ways.
David accepted power; Absalom sought power. The difference between how David and Absalom came to power could not be more distinct. David was a shepherd who was busy tending his sheep when he was anointed to be the next king. He accepted the call of God to leadership, but he never sought power. When he was in power, he marveled that God chose him for that position. Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: “Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18)
Absalom’s intention from the beginning was to get power at any cost. He grew up in the palace as a child of the king. But he wanted to do more than be close to power; he wanted to be the king!
Leaders who humbly accept power can use their influence for the good of others. They can identify with the powerless and those with no voice. Leaders who are in positions of authority because they want to have power tend to abuse those they lead. They take advantage of the poor and weak. It is not wrong to desire to have influence or lead. But servant leaders guard their hearts against the temptation to be motivated by a desire for power. Servant leaders accept power; subversive* leaders seek power.
David waited for power in God’s timing; Absalom wanted power in his own timing. David waited for years on God’s timing to become the king. He was anointed as a young man and knew his destiny. But for years King Saul sought to kill him. Twice David had a chance to kill Saul and gain power quickly. Both times, David refused. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish (1 Samuel 26:10). As David waited, God developed his character so that he became a man after God’s own heart.
In contrast, Absalom couldn’t wait to become king. He didn’t wait for his father to hand over power or die; he wanted power now! Absalom waited only for as long as it took to build enough influence to overthrow his father’s authority. Instead of using this time to develop his gifts and relationship with God, Absalom used the time to develop a following.
Leaders who wait for God’s timing to bring them to positions of power develop character that shapes their leadership. As they wait, they also develop skills which they can later use to influence those they lead. Those who are in a hurry to become leaders substitute charisma** for character. They desire power over others before they have learned to lead themselves. Servant leaders wait for God’s timing to gain power; subversive leaders work to get power as quickly as possible.
David shared power with others; Absalom seized power for himself. David saw himself as a steward of power. As king, he recognized that God gave him a position of influence to use for God’s purpose. His power was a gift to share, not something to keep for himself. So David developed other leaders. He raised up many giant killers (2 Samuel 21:18-21). David developed a team around him to accomplish God’s purposes for the nation.
Absalom desired power for himself. He used people to make himself look good, not for the good of the nation. “In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him” (2 Samuel 15:1). He used people only to increase his power, and those who did not help him accomplish his dreams received his wrath. When Joab would not respond to his request, Absalom burned his fields (2 Samuel 14:29-33).
Leaders who seize power for themselves see their position for their own advantage. They focus on what they will get by being a leader and they use others for their own goals. But godly leaders recognize that their position is a gift from God, given to be shared with others. They focus on what they can give to those they serve. They develop others for the common good. Servant leaders share power; subversive leaders seize power.
Servant leaders learn from the examples of David and Absalom to handle power carefully, as a gift given to them by God to serve the good of others. There is power in your leadership, use it well!
Until next time, yours on the journey,
*Subversive means to seek to undermine or destroy an established system. A leader who is subversive intends to overthrow the established authority to take power for themselves.
**Charisma is focusing on personal giftedness to win favor with others.
For further reflection and discussion:
• Did I come to my current role as a leader because I was seeking power or because I accepted the call of God and others to lead? How does that shape my leadership?
• Did I wait for God’s timing on my own leadership journey, or did I rely on my own plans to gain power? Am I currently willing to wait on God’s timing to have more influence, or do I seek to make it happen on my own?
• Do I primarily see my position as an opportunity to share power with others or as a way to gain power for myself? What leadership decision have I made in the past week that illustrates this? What leadership action should I take to share power with others?
In the next issue, we’ll examine how David and Absalom used influence differently in their leadership.
Copyright, Global Disciples 2018.