We Pray for Prudence
Prudence is one of the most important character qualities or virtues for effective leaders. Without it, it is impossible to make good plans and decisions. The word prudence is used to characterize people who have the foresight to take everything into account. Prudent people think ahead, giving careful thought to the long-term implications of their decisions. It’s how they exercise good judgment, which is one of the great themes of the book of Proverbs. Here are just a few examples:
• The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways. (Proverbs 14:8a)
• Only simpletons believe everything they’re told! The prudent carefully consider their steps. (Proverbs 14:15 NLT)
• The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. (Proverbs 22:3)
Prudence has been called the “executive virtue,” meaning it enables us to think clearly and not be swept up by our impulses or emotions. Prudence is cautious and careful to provide for the future. Prudence asks, “Feelings aside, what is best in the long run?” It carefully considers all relevant factors, possibilities, difficulties and outcomes. Perhaps most importantly, prudence refuses to rush—it is willing to wait on God for as long as it takes and to give the decision making process the time it needs.
The Bible often contrasts those who are prudent with the simple, or foolish. They don’t want to do hard work of thinking things through and asking hard questions. Their decisions are often rushed, impulsive, and focused on short-term, quick-fix solutions. So, call me simple and foolish, because all of these things characterize my decisions in the early years of ministry. How many times did I appoint volunteers and staff too quickly without asking hard questions? How often did I add a new ministry without thinking through the support it would need? How many times did I say yes to a commitment without looking at my calendar? Asking God for prudence was not even on my prayer list. But I long ago learned my lesson, and asking God for prudence has become a constant refrain as I seek to do God’s will in leadership.
There remains one final characteristic of emotionally healthy planning and decision-making that we must talk about—finding God in our limits.
We Look for God in Our Limits
Our limits may well be the last place we look for God. We want to conquer limits, plan around limits, deny limits, fight limits and break through limits. In standard leadership practice, we might even consider it a mark of courage or stepping out in faith to rebel against limits. But when we fail to look for God in our limits, we simply bypass God.
New Life, like every church, is constrained by limits. Our small building, our under-resourced neighborhood and our humble people—are just a few. But if I look for God in these limitations, instead of trying to get around them, I begin to see something different. Our very limitations might well be transformed to become our greatest means of introducing others to Jesus. Remember the words of the apostle Paul? God’s power is made perfect in our weakness, not our strengths (2 Corinthians 12:7).
God reveals himself to us, and to the world, through limits in unique and powerful ways—if we have eyes to see. Consider these examples from Scripture:
• Moses was limited by the fact that he was slow of speech.
• Jeremiah was limited by a melancholic temperament.
• John the Baptist was limited by his simple, semi-monastic life in the desert.
• Abraham was limited by having only one son with Sarah.
• The 12 disciples were limited in feeding 5,000 men (15,000-20,000 people) with only five barley loaves and two fish.
Limits are often simply God’s gifts in disguise, which makes them one of the most counterintuitive, difficult truths in Scripture to embrace. It flies in the face of our natural tendency to want to play god and run the world. But it remains a steady truth, and one I have consistently experienced.
We see only a small part of God’s plan at any point in time. His ways are not our ways. But what he does in and through our limitations is more than we could ever accomplish in our own strength.
Take a few minutes to reflect on the four characteristics of emotionally healthy planning and decision making: defining success as radically doing God’s will, creating a space for heart preparation, praying for prudence, and looking for God in our limits. When you consider the challenges you face in your own leadership, which one speaks to you most? What fears or concerns do you have when you imagine implementing this into your leadership? What are the short-term costs of stopping, turning and doing something different? What might be the long-term implications if you don’t?
If you are willing to take the risks and live with some temporary disorientation, I can promise you that God is waiting for you there.