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Lessons from Psalm 78: Being Before Doing

By Michael Roop

This blog is part two in a three-part series on Psalm 78:70-72. Read part one here.

He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand. Psalm 78:70-72

Many volumes have been published extolling the attributes and practices of effective leaders. It’s a topic many with influence want to explore, and rightfully so. Shockingly, Asaph gives just two short lines, two simple yet profound attributes of David’s use of influence: an upright heart, and skillful hands.

For many years, leadership content has focused on the second aspect, the tactical competence of the leader. Comparatively few resources address the first. Asaph describes David’s heart as tōm. This word means to be complete, integral, wholly of one substance. In other words, David’s doing matches his being. He is the same in public as he is in private.

Tactical competence matters in the kingdom stewardship of our influence, but it cannot function without a heart of integrity. In other words, in God’s economy, we cannot be skillful in stewarding our influence in a godly way if we are not first walking in integrity with the Lord. All the skill and acumen in the world will not outstrip the character of the leader.

We know from other occurrences of this word that the tōm life is not one of moral perfection; it is a life lived walking in step with God. In Genesis 17:1, God tells Abraham, “walk before me, and be blameless (tōm).” A similar admonishment is given by Joshua to the Israelites in Joshua 24:14: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity (tōm) and in faithfulness.”

When talking to someone who is at a decision point (where should I go to school, should I take this job or that one, what should I study, etc.), I remind them of this core truth: God cares more about who you are than what you do or where you go. Far more important than conversations about tactical skill are conversations about developing a heart of integrity, a heart that walks with God no matter the circumstance. A heart that never confuses right and wrong.

Put another way, the tōm life is lived before an audience of One. No matter the stakes, no matter the amount of eyes or ears tuned in, the tōm life concerns itself with walking in integrity before God. Skill can be learned. It can come and go. But skill in the hands of a duplicitous character is a truly scary thing.

So who are you when no one is looking? Are you relying on tactical skill and ignoring the development of integrity? Is your heart becoming increasingly tōm as you walk with the Lord? For most of my life, my dad has reminded me that my integrity is the one thing that can never be taken from me. But, if I give it away, I will probably never get it back. Who I am, more than what I do or where I go, is what matters most.
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