When I have some time to myself to do whatever I want, I am usually in one of two places -– in my garage woodworking or on a lake fishing. In one corner of my garage is a pile of boards. They are all different sizes and lengths. You’ll see oak, walnut, cherry, birch and maple. At first glance, it appears to be just a pile of boards. However, in time they become a cabinet, desk, table, clock or decorative box. It seems to me that the process of turning a non-descript board into a useful object has some insight into how God turns ordinary people into leaders.
Each piece of wood is as unique as we are. Some begin in God’s hand as straight and symmetrical, others may be curved or twisted. Some are smooth and others are rough. Regardless of what kind of stock we begin as, God knows what he is working with and he sees the potential in us. God often sees something in us that we can’t see in ourselves. Sometimes others see our leadership potential, sometimes they don’t. What is important for us to realize is that in God’s hand we can become more than we think. By submitting to him, he begins to develop us, transform us and reveal the leaders that are within us.
God raises up men and women for leadership from many different backgrounds. God does not choose on the basis of nobility or notoriety, beauty or brawn. This is not a popularity contest. When Samuel was looking for God's choice for the new King of Israel, he was told, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7).
None of the externals of who you are matter–your height, your weight, your race or ethnic heritage, your income or class, your gender, your physical abilities or your possessions. None of these things, or a lack of them, will cause God to cast you into the discard pile when he looks for someone to be a leader for his glory and his Kingdom. Great and godly leaders come from both good and difficult upbringings. They come from favorable and unfavorable circumstances. They often arise from unjust treatment and suffering. None of the circumstances of your life will cause God to cast you aside either. It does not matter what you have done in your life that you may be ashamed of or embarrassed about. If it has been confessed, it is forgiven. All of the events and circumstances of your life are part of God’s preparation for leadership. What matters to God is what he sees in you and what he knows you can become.
After I select the boards I want for a project I begin to measure, cut, smooth and shape them. Sometimes the board requires me to do extensive work to get it to the condition I need for the project I am creating. There are defects to remove and imperfections to work around. Often there are grain patterns of beauty that I want to highlight and emphasize. It takes time and requires effort.
In a similar way, when God makes a leader he measures, cuts and smooths slowly and purposefully so that we become godly leaders for his glory and his Kingdom.God has been involved in this process in your life even when you didn’t know he existed, even when you didn’t know that he loved you, and even when you didn’t care about him at all. The key for us is to realize that time, pain, pressure and even failure are among God’s primary tools in shaping leaders.Many times the history of our lives has been the knife that God has used to carve and shape us so that we are sensitive to others and submissive to him. These difficulties force us to focus on God alone and learn to find our full sufficiency in him.Thus, Paul the Apostle can say that the difficult thorn in his flesh is actually a blessing of good (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).The hardships of life protected him from pride that would lead to his failure as a disciple and a leader.
When I shape a piece of wood it involves cutting and planning. The saw and the plane slice away unwanted or unneeded wood. Sometimes I hit a knot that takes extra effort or more strenuous work to remove. Yet in the end the result will be exactly what I envision. The knots are not wrong in and of themselves unless they are in the way of what I want to create. A careful look at ourselves will reveal unwanted or unneeded aspects that need to be cut away. Cutting can be painful. It can be difficult. Some of these things will be like a knot and God will have to be a little more aggressive in ridding our lives of them. They’re stubborn and he will need to dig them out with more vigorous effort. But if we want to become effective leaders for God, we must be willing to allow him to do this kind of carving in our lives. God knows what he is creating and his vision of what he wants to do in our lives is clear.
In a different corner of my workshop is a scrap pile of unusable wood. No matter how I have tried to use these pieces in a project I can’t. It reminds me that history is littered with people who had great leadership potential but they ended up in a scrap pile. They rebelled against what God was trying to create in them. They may have started out cooperative and full of promise, but in the midst of the preparation they became proud, stubborn or consistently resistant to the will and work of God. Like King Saul, these people may have been leaders for a while but then they disqualified themselves because of their values, attitudes or behaviors. So, God looks for others who will respond to his cutting, smoothing and shaping with cooperation, trust and love.
God’s hand is ready to work in hearts that are open, wounded but healing and hungry to change. So what will you choose? Will you welcome the work of God in your life? Do you long to be shaped by him? Are you open to hearing his call?