At Israel’s request for a king, Saul was appointed and anointed as their first, by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 10). When Samuel gathered the people together to confirm the new king, he couldn’t be found. God had to reveal to Samuel where Saul was and Samuel may have had doubts about God’s choice when he discovered the new king was hiding among the supplies. This man, though tall and handsome, had major confidence issues.
Can you imagine a president of the United States so insecure that he hides in a White House closet on Inauguration Day and someone has to find and convince him to show up for the ceremony? That was Saul!
Fast forward five chapters and several years and we find Saul a very different man. He has now disobeyed God’s battle orders in several wars against neighboring nations, and has gone so far as to set up a monument to himself (1 Samuel 12:15). King Saul is so confidently full of himself, he actually believes he has done God a favor in his disobedience, and when he is confronted by Samuel, Saul is more worried about what the people will think (verse 30) than what he has done.
Centuries later, another Saul, highly educated and convinced of his own righteousness in Pharisee law, persecutes and kills those following the way of Jesus, who claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God. In the early days of the church, Saul, becomes a believer and is called to preach the Gospel after a dramatic and personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 9). Saul, renamed Paul, is given great revelation from God and becomes a man of incredible influence, an Apostle and a leader among leaders – traveling, establishing churches, speaking and writing. His revelations from God comprise a significant amount of the Bible’s New Testament.
Paul was a very prideful man before his conversion. It would have been easy for him to transfer this pride to the new authority and knowledge he was given, but to prevent him from becoming haughty and conceited, Paul admits, “lest I be exalted above measure by the abundance of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me,” something that continuously troubled and battered him. Scholars differ about what that thorn might have been, but Paul states clearly its purpose was to keep him humble, his feet firmly planted on solid ground, his heart continuously searched and surrendered before God (2 Corinthians 12:6-10).
There’s a huge lesson in the account of these two Sauls for those who are in leader roles. Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Whether you lead a family, a classroom, a committee, a boardroom, a business, platoon, army, ministry, church, city, state or country – beware! Pride and power NEVER mix.
It’s easy to lose perspective in a place of authority, a few accolades and victories, several successes under our belt and we gradually forget our humble beginnings and what God has brought us from. We start building monuments to our self and our accomplishments, using position for selfish gain and putting power ahead of serving people. Sometimes it’s such a subtle slide we don’t even see it happening until we’ve gone too far. Always be on the alert for the danger of leader pride!
Paul pleaded with God for his “thorn” to be removed and God said no. If you are a leader and have a thorn in the flesh, some circumstance, trouble, irritation, frustration, that keeps you planted and rooted in the reality of who you are without Christ, be thankful for it! If you don’t…well…you might want to ask for one.
It could be the thing that saves your heart, life, reputation and the people you are called to help and serve.
Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6 “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself. ~Elie Wiesel~