In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson spoke to his Princeton classmates at their 35th reunion. Having just scored a major legislative victory, Wilson said,
Wilson's biographer remarked, "Boldness and thinking big marked Wilson all his life."
Though I read that line five years ago, I think the reason it stuck is because I want to have a life marked by boldness. The question is how? How does anyone become "bold as a lion"? Watching John the Baptist has helped me figure this out.
John saw his meteoric rise in popularity come to very quick end. The crowds that once flocked to the Baptist were now making a beeline for Jesus. John's disciples were fretting:
And they came to John and said to him, 'Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness--look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him. John 3:26 ESV
John was not perturbed. He told his followers:
A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. John 3:27 ESV
John understood God's providence. The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines God's providence as, "His completely holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing every creature and every action."
John operated with a unique characteristic I call, "humble boldness."
- God is in charge -- be humble!
- You are here by Divine appointment -- be bold!
I witness John's humble boldness as I read the gospel accounts. He boldly called out the Pharisees and Sadducees: "You brood of vipers!" (Matthew 3:7 ESV). And he humbly stood by as his popularity declined. John said: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30 ESV).
I see the same humble boldness in the life of the Apostle Paul. At the end of his letter to the church in Rome he writes this: "But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God" (Romans 15:15 ESV).
Paul's boldness, like that of John, grew out of his understanding of what God had given him (grace) and where God put him (as a spiritual leader to that church).
Understanding humble boldness helps me "lean in" when I might prefer to run away.
A few years back, I was in Brazil to address a large group of Brazilian leaders about leading in a changing culture. As I waited to speak, I asked myself:
"What am I doing here? I'm a gringo, an English-speaking American talking to a group of Portuguese-speaking Brazilian pastors!"
The dark cloud of uncertainty began to descend -- until I preached to myself the message I was going to preach to them. It was the message of Humble Boldness.
No matter what you are facing today walk in humble boldness. You are where you are in God's plan, with God's gifts and power, to do God's work.
May God give you grace to be humble, but also to be bold as a lion.
- "There is nothing that succeeds in life . . ." from Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, by John Milton Cooper, Jr. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2009. Pages 8, 250.
- "Boldness and thinking big marked Wilson . . ." from Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, page 8.