Leaders often fear seasons of obscurity and isolation. Since most leaders would agree that leadership is fueled and leveraged by influence, it seems counterintuitive that falling off the grid for awhile could actually make someone a better leader in the long run. Sometimes these periods of perceived irrelevance are actually seedbeds for nurturing a great heart and a humble spirit in a leader. The Scriptures are full of examples of spiritual leaders who emerged from the wilderness of isolation with a transformed identity and an emboldened heart that was somehow packaged in a meek and humble spirit.
Moses is a primary example of this type of metamorphosis. People often concentrate on how God found Moses at the burning bush- a man who was slow of speech and who had a self-image lower than a serpent’s belly. What we don’t often think about is what Moses was like just before he was driven into the wilderness for 40 years. As an adopted member of the royal Egyptian household, Moses no doubt had access to all the resources that would prepare someone to be an effective and capable leader. Moses’ self-image may have actually been at the opposite end of the spectrum from what we see in his encounter with God. In the book of Acts, Luke records Stephen’s defense before the Sanhedrin in which he recounts the history of Israel. This Scripture sheds some light on Moses’ pre-wilderness persona. “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action…Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not” (Acts 7:22, 25 NIV). Press pause here. When Moses was forty years old he knew that God had called him to be the Deliverer of the nation of Israel. He actually thought that this was self-evident to God’s chosen people. Apparently he was brimming with self-confidence and passion, and he had a powerful message that he was ready to communicate.
The problem was that Moses was prepared to do God’s work from his own power base, using the positional influence of the royal family and the leadership tools of a pagan civilization. What God desired was a humble leader who would faithfully communicate the words of God and who would lead from a spiritual place of power. So if we hit the play button again, we see that God interacted with Moses after he had been as isolated as a leader can be for an unthinkable period of time. Forty years! God had done exactly what he had purposed to do in Moses’ life, taking what seems like an eternity to accomplish the task.
There are other biblical examples of what I believe is God’s preferred method of spiritual leadership development. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Daniel, Elijah, John the Baptist, and JESUS all had seasons of obscurity and isolation. Yet these are all leaders who shaped our spiritual heritage and changed the course of history.
If we are to learn anything from these leaders, it is that God the Father orchestrates seasons of obscurity in the journeys of spiritual leaders to ensure that we all lead from a transformed heart, a humble spirit, and a spirit-filled, God-dependent life. God’s eternal purposes and his called out community deserve no less.
If you find yourself in a season of obscurity, entrust yourself to your loving Father. Resist the urge to rush the process. Savor God’s sufficiency. Cultivate contentment. Stay connected to the life-giving Word and to the called-out community. Cling to David’s declaration of faith in the Psalms: “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me... Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 54:4; 55:22). God will orchestrate your re-engagement in the fullness of time and you will eventually be grateful for his shaping activity in your life.
Keith West is the founding President of Latitude GLC, a non-profit ministry in Rockwall, Texas. Keith believes his calling is to be a "Barnabas" to the next generation of spiritual leaders.