There are times in life when the clouds over “Brandon World” part and the light of reality breaks through, even if for a moment. These are times when, for whatever reason, I am quiet enough, still enough, or weak enough to experience God and His Word. This is one of those times.
To Lead Like Thunder
I didn’t know until recently that Jesus called James and John the “Sons of Thunder.” Apparently, these two brothers earned that name by being bold and head-strong, even to a fault. They were movers and shakers, leaders among their peers, make-it-happen kind of guys. We all know people like this, people who are really good at getting results but that are so goal-oriented that things like sensitivity, or fairness, or . . . oh, I don’t know . . . other people, just seem to get in the way.
The Sons of Thunder were famous for tripping over their own goals. There’s a great story in Matthew 20 where James and John use their mother to approach Jesus with a special request. In verse 21 she says, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
Stop the truck! What? When I first read this, I thought,”That sounds just like a couple of God Squad wannabe’s. Always trying to sit next to the most popular guy in school.” I mean, really. They can’t even ask for themselves? They have to get their mother to do it? And when the other disciples weren’t around? How calculated! Then I looked in the mirror.
I hate to say it, but my reflection looks an awful lot like this story. I too have been concerned with where I might sit in the grand scheme of things. I too have become so goal-oritented and ambitious that I failed to see the big picture – a picture that included the feelings of those around me. But I still can’t say that my actions have ever been purely selfish. Nor should we assume this for James and John. Who wouldn’t want to spend eternity next to Jesus? These guys were being who God made them to be. They were seeking their place. And they felt they had found it next to Jesus.
Unfortunately their actions, like my actions, sound an awful lot like thunder. Loud, but that’s about it.
To Drink from the Cup
Don’t get me wrong. To lead like thunder can be effective. But sometimes it’s only in the lonely echoes of failure that the whisper of Truth can be heard. This Truth is as humbling as it is powerful. When it speaks of leadership, it makes no promises of success, or acceptance, or of thrones at the right hand of God. Instead, it warns that to lead is to be misunderstood, distanced, or even despised.
What does Jesus say to James and John’s request? “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them (not to their mother). “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
Can’t you just see James and John standing there like Forrest and Bubba in front of Lt. Dan? They look at each other, then back at Jesus, blank stares and blind confidence, nodding “Uh huh.”
The scene had to be similarly amusing for Jesus at first. But I can’t help but wonder if His face grew sad with the thought of what was to come for these Sons of Thunder. I say this because as He was setting them straight on who makes the seating chart in Heaven, He also says to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup.”
Fourteen years after this story takes place, James becomes the first of the disciples to be martyred. His brother John, while living longer, does so in exile on a remote island, a prison camp, where he sees how the world will end. The true cup of leadership is often not at all what we envision. It is more a responsibility than a privilege. And its taste is often bitter at best.
It’s later in this story that we find one of the most profound statements of leadership ever recorded in history. Speaking to the disciples of James and John’s request, Jesus says, (28) “. . . the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And so for modern-day Sons of Thunder, there is a profound lesson to be learned here:
Leadership is not about where you sit. It’s about the cup you drink from.