And that purpose, Lincoln discerned, was the destruction of slavery. The war, which had begun over whether or not the Union should be saved, was allowed to continue and spread until it also became the decider of the fate of slavery. Lincoln (who was not an orthodox Christian; whole forests have been cut down to produce paper for books arguing about his religious convictions) came to believe that the war was serving a divine purpose for freedom. He actually told the Cabinet that he had made a vow "to his Maker" that he would see this purpose through. And so he did; this meditation became the foundation for Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (which historian Mark Noll says was the greatest piece of theological reflection not only of any U.S. president but nearly of any U.S. theologian). Lincoln was killed five days after the war ended, on Good Friday.
It has caused me to reflect—how often do I "meditate on the divine will"? What is it that God is doing in the world that I will either help or hinder? What is at stake in my faithfulness or faithlessness?
I will not be the Great Emancipator, or the Great Anything. But I believe that leadership requires grit, and the grit comes from God, from the conviction that God is doing something in this world and that I am, somehow, despite my inadequacies, a part of it.
So said another gritty leader, a long time ago: "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had" (Rom. 15:4-5).
John Ortberg is editor at large of Leadership Journal and pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California.
Copyright © 2013 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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