It was 1944. The Germans were losing the battle on the Russian front. My grandfather (Opa in German) was a recent recruit to the front… but his physical war didn’t last long. Within a few months, he had been captured and taken as a prisoner of war. Now a new battle began. Injured from shrapnel wounds – it was a battle of survival as they undertook a long and harsh trek as captives from the front-line, to the prisoner-of-war camp. In pain, tired, malnourished, and cuffed to another prisoner, Opa and his comrade could not take another step. They stumbled to a halt. A Russian soldier barked orders to them to continue. The two German prisoners simply couldn’t move. Bang! In an instant, Opa’s comrade was dead at his feet. The Russian soldier turned his pistol upon Opa and once more ordered him to start walking. “You’ll have to shoot” he managed to mutter, “For I can’t take another step forward…”
At one of the leadership mentoring groups I facilitate, we were discussing how God uses important events from our past, to shape our futures. In my first book, The Pace Setter, I call them Memorial Stones. One of the participants coined a more up to date… techno-friendly term… that God “bookmarks” certain events in our past that we need to recall in order to find the strength to persevere for our future. We discussed that, with hindsight, we are able to see a thread of grace that God, in His wisdom, weaves through all the events of our lives. In the discussion, I recalled the story above about Opa, and how the thread of grace can actually be discerned in events that even preceded my birth! I’ve often thought of this story and the factors that may have prevented the Russian soldier from shooting. Obviously, if he had shot, then I wouldn’t be here writing this blog…
In my view, leaders should not lurch from crisis to crisis, or even from glory to glory, without seeking to recognise the specific thread of grace that God is weaving through their lives. If we believe in a Sovereign, all-wise, and all-knowing God, who is personally interested in us as individuals, then we should be seeking to discern and be cognisant of His perfect plan for our lives. We should take time to reflect on God’s work in our lives in order that, when we face challenges in our future, we can draw strength from the lessons God has taught us in our past. And in recognising the thread of grace we can remain confident that God is at work even when the current evidence is to the contrary. This is the essence of faith. But it is not blind faith because it is faith that is intrinsically attached to the thread of grace.
Leaders are not those who become stuck in the past. These bookmarks are not past glories that we use to justify our positions of authority. In fact, there’s a lovely paradox in Paul’s writings. He often reminds those he’s writing to of their past (e.g. his second letter of 2 Timothy is full of such reminders). But when speaking of himself he says… “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” (Philippians 3:13). Paul definitely does not want us to get stuck in the past… which will certainly result in us plateauing in our spiritual life and leadership effectiveness. Rather, our bookmarked events should be motivational reminders that enable us to “keep on track”… keeping us accountable to the trajectory God has for our lives… and enabling us to find encouragement to push on into the future knowing that God will work all things for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28).
So consider the thread of grace in your own life… which began even before you were born. And find encouragement as a leader that God has you on a certain trajectory which can be discerned through the various “bookmarks” along the way. Then, in faith, persevere!