Perspective is one of the most difficult things to maintain in leadership. It is absolutely essential in knowing how to handle problems. In fact, it’s been said that the difference between good leaders and great leaders is their ability to maintain perspective in both the good times and the bad times.
In 2 Kings 5 we read about Naaman, a successful commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was highly regarded for his military accomplishments, but casting a shadow over his accomplishments was the fact that he was a leper. Being a leper was feared in Naaman’s day because it usually meant physical suffering, social rejection, and spiritual isolation. Naaman lived in Syria, a pagan nation to the north of Israel. His life changed when his path intersected with a young girl taken captive from Israel.
“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. 2 Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” 2 Kings 5:1-3
This Israelite girl is nameless in the story, but from her life we learn a priceless leadership lesson about perspective.
My circumstances don’t define me, but they refine me for a bigger purpose.
Imagine for a moment being in this girl’s shoes. She’s a slave, which means she has no rights. She’s at the bottom of the scale in society. She’s a Jew living in Syria, meaning she’s captive in a foreign land. She’s young and powerless, especially compared to someone like Naaman. And she’s a female in a very male dominated culture. If that were you, how would you respond?
While many people would take a low view of themselves in this situation, this young, nameless girl had perspective that was greater than her circumstances. Her identity was established in her God, not her circumstances.
That’s a crucial lesson for leaders to remember. Your identify must be defined by who not what. If you let WHAT (your circumstances) define your identity, then your identity will change every time your circumstances do. But if you let WHO (Jesus Christ) define your identity, then your identity will not change because Christ is unchanging. As Mark Driscoll once said, “What you do doesn’t determine who you are. Rather, who you are in Christ determines what you do.”
Our society has a completely different message. In our culture today, our identity is often defined by two things.
- Opinions – Most of us struggled with this when we were in jr. high and high school. What people thought of us was almost more important than breathing. But for many people, that constant search for approval has followed them into adulthood. Please hear this: When you own people’s opinions of you, they own your future. That’s dangerous for everyone, but if you’re a leader, it will completely sidetrack your ability to lead well.
- Circumstances – Other people allow their circumstances to define them. They feel trapped in a prison and they can’t see past the here and now. As a result, they’re identity and their circumstances are synonymous.
Who defines you? Are you defined by opinions, circumstances, or do you find your identity in Christ? Does your leadership change like the wind because your identity is tied to what’s happening around you (good or bad). If you settle the identity issue, then you can look at your circumstances as an opportunity to refine you, not define you. That’s what the servant girl did.
2 Kings 5:2b-3 says, “…she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’” This girl was captured, taken to a foreign land, and forced into slavery, and yet she let these circumstances REFINE her rather than DEFINE her. How? In two ways:
- Serving – First, she served. That’s the last thing any of us would want to do if we were taken captive in a foreign land. You might say, “Well of course she served. She had no other choice.” That’s true, but how did she serve? That is seen in her second response.
- Sympathy – The servant girl had compassion for her master by suggesting that he go and see the prophet Elisha in hopes that he would be healed.
The girl not only served, but her heart was filled with sympathy for her master. And because she was sympathetic, she didn’t keep quiet as Naaman experienced physical suffering, social rejection, and spiritual isolation. Instead, she offered hope to Naaman by telling him about a Prophet who could heal him. How could she do this? Perspective! Her circumstances didn’t define her, but they refined her for a bigger purpose.
So what was the bigger purpose? As you read the remainder of the story, you discover that Naaman took the girl’s advice and was ultimately healed. But something even greater happened. 2 Kings 5:15 says, “Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.” God’s bigger purpose for Naaman was not only his healing, but his heart being turned to God. And therein lies an important lesson on perspective for all of us.
When you’re in tune with God’s bigger purpose, you’ll let your circumstances refine you instead of define you.
It’s when you lose sight of God’s bigger purpose, that you become bitter at your circumstances. Viktor Frankl is a great example of someone who maintained perspective in extraordinarily difficult times.
Viktor showed an interest in psychiatry while growing up, and at the age of 25 he became a successful medical doctor in Vienna. He married Tilly Grosser in 1941, but in 1942 they were arrested by the Nazis. They were forced to abort their child and were transported to the Ghetto.
After spending three years in various concentration camps, Viktor was finally liberated, along with others in the camps, on April 27, 1945. Only after returning to Vienna did he discover that his wife, mother, and brother all died.
Most people in Viktor’s situation would allow their circumstances to define them. You couldn’t blame them after suffering such terrible abuse. But Viktor’s incredible perspective enabled him to respond differently. During his lifetime he wrote 39 books, received 29 honorary doctorates, and taught at four universities. And his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which he dictated in only nine days in 1946, sold nine million copies by his death in 1997.
One quote from Man’s Search for Meaning powerfully describes Viktor’s perspective. He writes:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Imagine having this kind of perspective as a leader. Imagine how you would view your circumstances differently. Imagine how you would respond to tests, trials, and the ups and downs of the leadership journey. Your circumstances don’t have to define you, but with the right perspective, they can refine you. Here are three questions to reflect on as a leader:
- What is my most common response to circumstances: to define me or refine me? Why?
- What is the lesson God is trying to teach me in my current circumstances?
- What is the “bigger purpose” God wants to accomplish in me (or through me) in my current circumstances?
As you reflect on these questions, I believe you’ll gain great perspective on how to let your circumstances refine you instead of define you.