08 Nov #197 – Don’t “Do an Ahaz”
ESSENCE: A faithful leader who wants to lead with faithful integrity in alignment with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities must avoid “doing an Ahaz”. You might be asking, “Who was Ahaz?” The better question is “What’s ‘doing an Ahaz’?” The best question is “How do I avoid ‘doing an Ahaz’?” Ahaz was one of those “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord” kind of Biblical kings. Ahaz made a lot of mistakes, but two mistakes relevant to a faithful leader trying to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way came when he was facing a significant challenge. Ahaz put his trust in the things of the world rather than God, and he failed to seek God’s wisdom and guidance through prayer. Business a better way is counter-cultural, rejecting the ways of the kingdom of the world for the ways of the Kingdom of God. That will bring challenges and a worldly temptation to “do an Ahaz”–misplace trust, abandon prayer and return to business as usual. A faithful leader pursuing faithful integrity must listen to God’s advice to Ahaz and remain “firm in faith”.
You might be asking, “Who was Ahaz?” The better question is “What’s ‘doing an Ahaz’?” The best question is “How do I avoid ‘doing an Ahaz’?”
Well, that’s the topic of this post.
Who Was Ahaz?
There seem to be two types of kings chronicled in the Biblical history of the Jewish people. One type “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord“, and the other type “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Ahaz was one of those “did not do” kings.
(It is worth mentioning that “did what was right” seems to be relative. Not all the “did what was right” kings finished well.)
• Ahaz was the king of Judah.
• Ahaz followed a string of “did what was right” kings (Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham), and he was succeeded by a “did what was right” king (Hezekiah).
• We learn in 2 Kings 15:37 that “the Lord began to send Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah against Judah“.
• Isaiah 7:2 tells us Ahaz was worried. “The heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.”
• God sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint. . . . If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” (Isaiah 7:4-9)
• God spoke to Ahaz and said, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God” but Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to a test.” (Isaiah 7:10-12)
• God turned Ahaz and Judah over to their enemies: “Therefore the Lord his God gave him into the hand of the king of Syria, who defeated him and took captive a great number of his people and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hand of the king of Israel, who struck him with great force.” (2 Chronicles 28:5)
• After this setback, Ahaz turns to the king of Assyria for help, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” (2 Kings 16:7)
• The king of Assyria came to his rescue and defeated the king of Syria (2 Kings 16:9), but “the king of Assyria came against him and afflicted him instead of strengthening him.” (2 Chronicles 28:20)
• To make matters worse, 2 Chronicles 28:22-23 tells us about Ahaz: “In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord—this same King Ahaz. For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, ‘Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me‘.”
What’s “Doing an Ahaz”?
Ahaz made a lot of mistakes, and he will always be remembered in the category of “did not do what was right” kings. We want to focus on two mistakes relevant to a faithful leader trying to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way–two mistakes that we are calling “doing an Ahaz”:
• Misplaced trust
• Absence of prayer
Misplaced Trust. God told Ahaz to trust him–not to have fear and not to let his heart be faint. He warned Ahaz “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” Instead of trusting God, Ahaz put his trust in a powerful worldly person–the king of Assyria.
Although the king of Assyria did help Ahaz with his immediate problem, that help had a big string attached that Ahaz didn’t anticipate which “afflicted him instead of strengthening him.”
Ahaz also made the mistake of seeing the worldly success of Syria and turning to their false gods instead of his true God, believing that they could help him too.
Absence of Prayer. Ahaz’s neglect of prayer was about as extreme as it gets. God told him to ask for a sign and Ahaz refused.
We can only imagine that Ahaz might have been remembered as a “did what was right” king if he had only prayed for the sign God had waiting and then been “firm in faith”.
If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all. (Isaiah 7:9)
How Do I Avoid “Doing an Ahaz”?
A faithful leader seeking to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way will be tempted to “do an Ahaz”. They will face challenges that test their faith, and they will be tempted to put their trust in the things that the world trusts. They will be tempted to go back to business as usual. It is not a question of “if”–it is a question of “when”. But the biggest question of all is how the faithful leader will respond.
The Assurance of Challenges
John 16:33 says “In the world you will have tribulation.” A faithful leader of an organization committed to leading with faithful integrity through business a better way will face challenges, because that leader is seeking the BIGGER Kingdom but doing it in a broken world. Hopefully it is not being attacked by two foreign powers like Ahaz, but the challenges will be real.
In his book To Change the World, James Hunter warns: “To enact a vision of human flourishing based in the qualities of life that Jesus modeled will invariably challenge the given structures of the social order. In this light, there is no true leadership without putting at risk one’s time, wealth, reputation, and position.”
Although these challenges may come in the form of human resistance and resistance from worldly systems, the Bible tells us that these challenges are spiritual:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Back in post #091 (Trust in God), we identified these challenges as resistance, dilemmas and risks.
• Resistance is certain when challenging “the given structures of the social order” in a fallen world. The Bible warns that those following God’s commands will have trouble (John 16:33), be persecuted (Romans 12:14), suffer affliction (Romans 12:12), be accused of wrongdoing (1 Peter 2:12) and suffer unjustly (1 Peter 2:19). Resistance may come from employees, customers, vendors, owners, regulators and communities.
• “Dilemmas” are likely. Because an organization is operating in a fallen world, there may not be “easy answers” to organizational challenges–leaders are likely to be faced with choices that involve two imperfect alternatives. There may be times when the best stewardship will require difficult decisions that seem at odds with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities. For example, in a perfect world, an organization would never have to lay-off good workers, but it may be necessary for the organization to be sustainable.
• Risks are necessary when facing resistance and resolving dilemmas in line with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.
Avoiding Misplaced Trust
To be clear, trusting as a concept isn’t our problem. We trust a chair every time we sit down without testing its integrity. We trust pilots with our lives every time we get in a plane. We trust taxi drivers and Uber/Lyft drivers with our lives every time we get into a car. It is a question of the things in which we are willing to put our trust when times are challenging.
Faced with the attack of two foreign powers, Ahaz rejected God’s direct instruction to trust Him. Instead, Ahaz turned to the powerful king of Assyria. Then he turned to the false gods of Syria because they seemed to be working for Syria.
We believe the world–and business as usual–teaches organizational leaders to trust principally in two things—“impressive” people and “secure” money, particularly when they are feeling anxious like Ahaz.
• “Impressive” People. When you have an important transaction, hire the big-name/most-expensive advisors. When you have a problem, hire the big-name/most-expensive lawyers or consultants. Often this is driven by the anxiety of being second-guessed with 20/20 hindsight–even if things go wrong, no one can fault you for hiring the “best”. In recent years we have also witnessed what some call the “Cult” of CEO “Rock Stars”. Organizational boards pay exorbitant amounts to secure the leadership of “hot” CEO’s–usually leaders with BIG personalities. One commentator observed “They are usually the quick-fix answer for a Board motivated by anxiety to fill an important, if not critical, position at the company”. You may want to look at our most recent post #196 (First Things-Humility) to recall what Jim Collins and James Hunter had to say about “big personality”, “celebrity” leaders (not good things–Collins said they lack the humility to take an organization from “good to great” and Hunter even called such leadership “artificial, unbiblical, organizationally unhealthy, inherently corrupting“).
• “Secure” Money. Business consultants, particularly those advising organizations in difficult times, sum it up in the phrase “Cash is King” (and who can forget Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey in Cabaret assuring us that “Money makes the world go around“). It is much easier to trust God, personally or organizationally, when you have large cash reserves (just in case God isn’t trustworthy and shows up late, shows up the wrong way or doesn’t show up at all). It is ironic that the declaration “In God We Trust” appears on the very money we trust in lieu of God. (Perhaps our currency should be re-minted with a question mark.) Of course, trusting in “secure” money is a misplaced Trust, because no worldly asset is truly “secure”–just ask investors in businesses that were “too big to fail” (think Enron, General Motors, Chrysler, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Long-Term Capital, Continental Illinois) or start-ups “too hot to fail” (think Theranos, WeWork or FTX), customers of “Ponzi-schemes” “too good to pass-up” (think Madoff or Stanford Financial) and people living through hyperinflation (think Venezuela, Argentina or Zimbabwe).
God warned Ahaz not to fear. He urged Ahaz to remain “firm in faith”. Leading with faithful integrity through business a better way requires firm faith, and firm faith requires trusting God. Dr. Skip Moen writes:
Faith is my active attitude of total reliance on God’s absolute trustworthiness. That means that my “faith” is demonstrated in the action of putting myself in His care, no matter what the circumstances! Until and unless I act on His reliability, I just don’t have faith. I might have a set of written beliefs that I can recite, but I won’t have any active relationship. Faith is only found in the action, not the declaration. . . . If faith is the action of trusting Him, then I either act or I don’t act. I either trust Him, or I try my own way. There is no half-full measure here.
The world will urge, pressure and even try to force a faithful leader to trust in worldly things, and if the challenge being faced by the leader is intense and the anxiety they are feeling is high, sticking with God can be difficult. Oswald Chambers beautifully expresses what God expects and how we often turn to other things (like people and money) out of anxiety, particularly in difficult times:
God expects His children to be so confident in Him that in any crisis they are the reliable ones. Our trust is in God up to a certain point, then we go back to the elementary panic prayers of those who do not know God. We get to our wits’ end, showing that we have not the slightest confidence in Him and His government of the world; He seems to be asleep, and we see nothing but breakers ahead. . . . There are stages in life when there is no storm, no crisis, when we do our human best; it is when a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely. If we have been learning to worship God and to trust Him, the crisis will reveal that we will go to the breaking point and not break in our confidence in Him.
It can seem much easier to just “do an Ahaz” and go back to business as usual. After all, the faithful leader who “does an Ahaz” will have plenty of company with other leaders of Biblical faith who never left business as usual. George Barna observed:
A large share of the people who figure out what’s coming as they pursue holiness choose to retreat to previously mastered stops on the trail, preferring the comfort and security of mediocrity to the challenges of godliness.
Turning to Prayer
Ahaz did worse than forget to pray-he rejected God’s advice to pray! We hope most faithful leaders wouldn’t make that mistake, but it is much more common for faithful leaders to face organizational challenges without prayer. Again, turning to Oswald Chambers:
In spiritual issues it is customary for us to put God first, but we tend to think that it is inappropriate and unnecessary to put Him first in the practical, everyday issues of our lives.
It can also be tempting for faithful leaders facing a challenge to watch how the false gods of business as usual (e.g., impressive people and money) seem to be working for others and then to begin “praying” to those false gods by making them the objects of the leader’s trust. This is “doing an Ahaz”–worshipping the world’s false gods (in his case, the false gods of Syria) because (1) they seem to be bringing success to others, (2) the world is telling us they are the only path to success and (3) the world is telling us that we are fools for trusting in the fictional God of the Bible.
Through prayer to the one true God, faithful leaders can avoid “doing an Ahaz” and face resistance, dilemmas and risks with the promise in Ephesians 4:7: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.” Through prayer, God can provide wisdom that permits a faithful leader to overcome resistance, find creative “third-way” solutions to dilemmas, and mitigate risk.
Although prayer can take many different forms, depending on the discernment of the leader and the existing culture of the leadership team and the organization, the same God who calls leaders to lead with faithful integrity through business a better way will be present to guide, equip and protect those who are called.
We devoted three posts to what prayer in an organizational setting might look like.
Avoiding “doing an Ahaz” requires a faithful leader continually to seek guidance, protection and assistance through Prayer–from the ultimate CEO and owner of the organization–and then trust God. Trusting God means trusting God’s process, timing, and outcome:
• Process: God’s process is often counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.
• Timing: God’s timing often seems excruciatingly slow.
• Outcome: God’s best outcome for a business (the “all these things” promised in Matthew 6:33) may not be the world’s best outcome.
Of course, praying for a particular process, timing and outcome is NOT praying for wisdom, and ignoring God’s wisdom to pursue your own process, timing or outcome is NOT wise–it is going back to “doing an Ahaz”!
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): It is November, which means it is “stewardship campaign” time in many churches. Is it any surprise that even faithful leaders can turn to the world’s false gods of “secure money” and “impressive people” when you look at the example set for them in many of today’s churches: annual November/December stewardship campaigns that suggest “trusting in God” may be appropriate for sermons and homilies on personal finance and generosity but “pledges in hand” is what the church needs to budget for the coming year and a penchant for “big personality”/”celebrity” pastors who can draw crowds of thousands (often with “feel good” messages that avoid potentially controversial Biblical messages). OK, that is my year-end rant about one of my pet peeves (the push for pledges in lieu of stepping out in faith).