Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leaders Need Encouragement Too

There isn’t a school kid who hasn’t learned of Orville and Wilbur Wright, the obscure and uneducated bicycle mechanics who pioneered manned motorized flight. On December 17, 1903 they achieved flight three times and soared into the history books. However, as with many great moments in history, there is an untold story and names that are forgotten.

One such man was Dr. Samuel P. Langley. He was a respected scientist, and at the time, the director of the Smithsonian Institute. Like the Wright brothers he was very influential in the early days of aviation. He published several important works on aerodynamics and had achieved some success with large unmanned airplane models.

In 1898 Langley approached the U.S. War Department for funding to design and build the first airplane. He was awarded $50,000 to accomplish this task, which in those days was an incredible sum of money. The day came for his machine to test the laws of gravity—Oct. 8, 1903. He called his aircraft the Great Aerodrome and with the help of giant catapult it would be launched into the skies off the roof of a houseboat. However, when the aircraft was launched it plummeted like a bag of anvils off the launch pad and ended up in the Potomac River.

The national newspapers ridiculed Langley’s failure to no end. Undaunted, Langley repaired the Great Aerodrome and eight weeks later on Dec. 8, 1903 he tried again for another launch. But as before, disaster struck. This time the cable supports to the wings snapped as the plane was launched and found its way into the Potomac again. 

Again the criticism was fierce. The Great Aerodrome was called “Langley’s Folly” and the New York Times reported, “We hope that Prof. Langley will not put his substantial greatness as a scientist in further peril by continuing to waste his time, and the money involved, in further airship experiments.” And he didn’t.

The crushing defeat of his of Aerodrome and the public humiliation was too much to bear. Langley gave up the dream and abandoned his decades-long pursuit of flight without ever having seen one of his airplanes piloted successfully. Just days after Langley quit, the Wright brothers launched their unfunded and unknown Flyer 1 off the sand dunes in Kittyhawk, NC and the rest is history. As for Langly, he all but became a recluse and sadly, two years later he suffered a stroke and died. 

What happened to Samuel Langley occurs in the lives of too many believers today. They allow discouragement and setbacks to get the best of them. Instead of realizing their dreams they just fold up and quit. They give up on life and retreat into defeat. When you are discouraged, it’s easy to lose your head and you can even begin to question God’s plan.

This is where Moses found himself in in Numbers 11. The demands of being the leader of a stiff-necked and rebellious people almost made him snap. When the people began to complain about the inconveniences of being in the wilderness, longing for the comforts of Egypt, Moses wanted to give-up. He was tired of feeling like a failure and glorified babysitter. Like Langley, Mo’ wanted to crawl under a rock after taking intense criticism. 

“10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. 11 Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

Think of the immense pressure. Moses actually asked God to kill him. How do we respond to discouragement like this? I think the Bible gives at least one clue by telling us what the Lord did to help strengthen Moses at that desolating time. In next part of the passage we see that the Lord tells Moses to gather seventy men and assemble them at the Tabernacle (Num. 11:16).

In other words, God surrounded Moses with other people to help share the burden of leadership. For the person leading the way this may see counter-intuitive because he or she is accustomed to doing everything on their own. However, one of the dangers of discouragement is that it turns us inward, where pity parties are common and perspective is rare.

Let’s face it, no leader can handle everything that is thrown at them. Admitting that you can’t do everything perfectly the first time is not admitting moral weakness, but simply that you are human. This is why the Lord has given us each other in the body of Christ. God doesn’t want you to bear a burden alone. He wants you to be connected to a network of encouragement.

That’s why the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as we see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). You don’t have to face the challenges of life alone. Stay linked to God’s Word and God’s people.       

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