Of all the beautiful images that the Bible has of skilled and compassionate leadership, this – the light of sunrise on a cloudless morning – is my favourite and has been for years and years. The writer of Proverbs says that the path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day (Proverbs 4:18).
David, king of Israel, on his deathbed, uttered his final prophecy, a reflection on the years that had passed and what he had learnt about leading his people. He said this, in 2 Samuel 23:
‘The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me;
his word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel spoke,
the Rock of Israel said to me:
“When one rules over people in righteousness,
when he rules in the fear of God,
he is like the light of morning at sunrise
on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain
that brings grass from the earth.”
This is a quality to be hungered for and sought after with all that is in us, as leaders.
A fascinating interview with Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, appeared in this weekend’s Times magazine, and what really struck me about him, a ruler I have long admired, was the fact that he had created a place of safety and growth for the vast majority of Rwandans, in a way that Trump or Putin, for example, simply cannot even conceive of doing. They create insecurity around them as a matter of policy. Kagame, living in the shadow of a brutal genocide that the “democratic west” simply allowed to take place, measures all his actions by a single yardstick – are they more or less likely to allow a genocide to take place again? This is not nuanced leadership, but it creates stability and safety in a place where for 100 days in 1994 there was absolutely none whatsoever.
But David has in mind the beauty of stable, God-fearing, compassionate leadership that creates safety for people to thrive and the capacity to grow. The metaphor is extraordinary. Elsewhere the bible talks about warriors, shepherds and priests as the metaphors for leadership, here it is just the promise of warmth and sun for growth, and the sunshine reflecting on rain-covered grass. It speaks, as so often the scriptures do, of provision, of capacity for growth, of inspiration, and of freedom.
All of us know this delight of the early morning, even in the most straitened of circumstances, and the hope it brings. I woke up with it this morning, and had the joy of watering a garden where tomatoes and corn and pumpkin and zucchini and aubergines are ripening, after sunrise but before the sun was on the plants.
I am sitting at my desk at school as I write this, alone in the building, thinking of each person who I am charged to give leadership to – what would the light of morning at sunrise mean to them this term? What does it mean for them as leaders as they provide the first light of sunrise for each of their children as they enter the class each day? How do we, as leaders, undermine the deadly cynicism endemic in a profession which is never praised by those who reap the rewards of it? And how often do we simply stop and look and wonder and celebrate over the glory of what is before us? This too is a vital part of leadership – the rich appreciation of what we have and the potential that lies within it and the quality of the person led, or the child taught, or the parent encouraged or comforted. Seeing the intrinsic value of each created being of infinite worth, and then absorbing that into ourselves as leaders is an absolutely essential contribution to the fight to make education a worthwhile occupation, and not, as Nick Baines said in this morning’s Thought for the Day on Radio 4, one that “has value only in so far as it fulfils an economic end.”
If we are to fulfil this as leaders, if we are to rule in the fear of God, reflecting his brightness onto those we seek to serve, we will need a better quality of discipleship for ourselves, a richer and more profound prayer life and a willingness to hear and follow the leading and slow wisdom of the Holy Spirit.