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Humility Check

by Mike Smith • May 8, 2015

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One of the ways to learn good principles of leadership is to study the mistakes of others—this is called wisdom. And one of the greatest leaders of all time was King David, who made a mistake that resulted in the death of 70,000 of his subjects. What can we learn from this tragedy?

It is near the end of David’s reign as king of Israel. He orders a census, which angers the Lord and turns Him against Israel. The story, as recorded in 1 Chronicles 21, says Satan himself moved David to order the census.

The census takes nearly 10 months, and at the end of it, David learns that there are 1,300,000 warriors in Israel and Judah who can wield a sword (2 Samuel 24). Then David’s conscience starts to bother him. He confesses his sin to the Lord and asks for forgiveness. The Lord forgives David, but there is still a punishment to be imposed. God gives David three options, and he opts for three days of severe plague throughout the land.

As a result, God strikes Israel with a plague that kills 70,000 people.

What was David’s sin?

It was not a sin for a Jewish leader to take a census of the army—Moses took two censuses. It’s more likely that the sin of pride was the problem.

The word pride in Hebrew means majesty, haughtiness, and highly exalted. In Greek, it means self-confidence, arrogance, puffed up, and conceited. The opposite of pride is humility. God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

Logic argues that there are two possible reasons for why the census indicated pride on David’s part. One, he may have wanted to boast about the mighty army he had amassed. Or, he may have wanted to feel confident that he could defeat any enemy because of the sheer numbers of his army. Either attitude reflected pride and both were offensive to God, because God was the ultimate reason for any success David had.

Leading with humility

I’ve met many humble leaders in homeschooling—national leaders, state organization leaders, and support group leaders. But if King David, the man God says was after His own heart, can fall to the temptation of pride, then I know we all can be tempted. Let me encourage each of us to take a moment and consider where pride may be creeping into our leadership. Here are several suggestions that can be very helpful in holding ourselves accountable in this area:

  • Be open to receiving criticism. This is where our pride can surface, in too quickly defending our position or self. We all get criticism and some is ridiculous, but some perspectives have merit if we don’t automatically dismiss them.
  • Use our accountability structures, which are our boards. If any board member has a hesitation or concern about a decision, using the “multiplicity of counsel” wisdom factor urged by Scripture can expose underlying motivations that could make for bad decisions.
  • Make sure that if a board member has a conflict of interest in an issue before the board, he or she does not vote on any related board decision.
  • Both personally and professionally, it’s good to have people close to us who have the freedom to lovingly speak to any concerns they see in our lives. Obviously, our spouses should always have that freedom. But most of us also have areas in our lives where our spouses are not privy to the decisions we make. Let someone else know they have that freedom.

By humbly acknowledging our dependence on God’s power and guidance, and allowing trustworthy people to speak into our lives, we can continue to faithfully serve the homeschool community.