ISAIAH 9:6 contains a beautiful message for the burdened leader. Looking ahead to the birth of the Messiah the gospel prophet wrote: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
Here are at least five precious thoughts that should bring courage to the burden bearer. The One to whom we look for help and leadership is a wonderful counselor. Some commentators separate these two names. Some leave them together as I have chosen to do. This help is assured. He is also the "mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." What a blessed assurance for every leader—every pastor, every administrator, and every departmental leader who bears responsibilities today.
But the portion of Isaiah's message I wish to emphasize this morning is the seven comforting words "The government shall be upon his shoulder." This thought is so easy for the busy, harried leader to forget. We are prone to shoulder all the problems, all the cares, all the frustrations, and carry them ourselves, when all the time the government of the work should be upon the shoulders of the great Master whom we serve. This is His work, not ours!
For several years Trans-Africa has been filled with problems and frustrations. You men here this morning know only too well how true this has been. The year 1965 was a particularly difficult year. Some of the more violent explosions of previous years did not assail us, but we have been harassed on every side by persistent frustrations and threats.
In one of your countries the labor union—practically government controlled—insisted they be given permission to organize all of our workers except ordained ministers. This has been a heavy burden for the president of this union field. Political youth movements have been active, insisting they be privileged to organize "chapters" on some of our school campuses. This has occasioned headaches for our leaders in these lands.
Some of you have been plagued with immigration frustrations—you had counted on getting desperately needed personnel into your countries to fill key positions long vacant. Then at the last minute you have received negative replies from the government. This has been a very heavy burden to some of you union presidents. In several of our countries it is a penal offense to seek to persuade our workers and members not to take part in politics. Great pressure has been brought to bear on some of your capable workers. You may even have lost a few men.
In other countries there have been attempted coups and rebellion. In almost all there has been political uncertainty and other problems that have made your burdens of leadership heavier.
I am acquainted firsthand with some of your frustrations and headaches. Not long ago I sat for seven hours on the frontier of one country waiting for the immigration official to return from a visit to the nearby town and let me into his fair land. I stood in line for two hours in another capital to be vaccinated when I was already in possession of valid health certificates. I know from firsthand experience what it is like to look into the ugly snout of an automatic rifle while my car is being searched almost splinter by splinter and bolt by bolt by military frontier guards. With you I know what it means to toss restlessly most of the night making an important decision only to find myself frustrated by government regulations after the decision has been made.
These are experiences that dog the footsteps of leaders in Africa practically every day in this era of national development. How true are the prophet's words in the Africa of 1965: "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23).
Today the government must be upon His shoulder. The burdens of the work are too great for us to bear in our own strength. Our counsel must come from the Wonderful Counselor. Only the everlasting Father can help us face our everlasting problems. Only the mighty God is able to deal with the mighty issues in Africa today. Only the Prince of Peace can bring lasting tranquillity to our troubled continent. The government of our work in these great lands must be upon His shoulder.
And we must never forget that Africa does not have a monopoly on all the problems and difficulties in the world today. When we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves we would do well to think of our fellow leaders in Vietnam, in China, in Southern Asia, in Indonesia, in Russia, and many other parts of the world where there are also plenty of problems that need to be solved.
The apostle Paul reminds us all, wherever we serve on this troubled planet of ours, that our help must come from outside ourselves—"Our sufficiency is of God" (2 Cor. 3:5). Perhaps Dr. Phillips' translation states it more impressively for us as leaders here this morning: "It is God who makes us competent administrators" (Phillips).* In other words, if we are to be successful, the government must be upon His shoulders!
Hill of Heartbreak
When our church work is in God's hand it is in good hands. We need not chafe nor worry about its success. He is the El Shaddai—the God who is enough, the God who is able! His wisdom is enough to meet any situation no matter how menacing or how complex it may appear to us. He is able to protect and to direct His work under the most trying, discouraging circumstances. We may well learn that our pause on the hill of heartbreak was only that we might learn with a leader of long ago that the One who bears the government upon His shoulders is none other than Jehovah-jireh (Gen. 22:14), who wishes to remind us that "the Lord will provide" in the hour of our extremity.
Of Jesus it is written: "He knew all men" (John 2:24). The Saviour, who is constantly by the side of His leaders, knows well some of the difficult and exasperating men with whom we are sometimes called to deal. He "knew what was in human nature" (John 2:25, Amplified) t so He can help us when we face frustrating situations. Of Him the disciples said, "Now are we sure that thou knowest all things" (John 16:30). Every circumstance is under control when it is on His shoulder. "In the darkest days, when appearances seem most forbidding, fear not. Have faith in God. He knows your need. He has all power. . . . Fear not that He will fail of fulfilling His promise."
Wisdom and Divine Guidance Needed
Every leader in God's cause today needs wisdom and divine guidance. Those of us here in Africa know how frequently we face situations when we simply do not know which way to turn. What a blessed assurance to know at such times that the Wonderful Counselor is at our side to take over. "If . . . any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men" (James 1:5, Phillips).*
"When in trouble," the servant of the Lord writes, "many think they must appeal to some earthly friend, telling him their perplexities, and begging for help. . . And all the time there stands beside them the mighty Counselor of the ages, inviting them to place their confidence in Him."
The One who places His wisdom at our disposal is "greater than Solomon" (Luke 11:31). "Christ is ever sending messages to those who listen for His voice." Some of you men have told me of remarkable evidences of God's leadership in meeting some of your problems. These are some of the messages Christ has been sending to you as you listened for His voice of wisdom. This is another evidence that the government of His work in these perilous times must rest safely upon His shoulder.
When we face the hungry multitudes—the unentered areas of our division, the great cities and the countless villages not yet reached with the Advent message—how much we need help in our planning and in our administration. Then we may look with assurance to the everlasting Father who provides the bread of life freely for His children. "Make the men sit down," Jesus said two thousand years ago when His disciples faced the hungry multitude (John 6:10). When the Man of Galilee had finished they all had been fed and there was plenty to spare.
What a challenge to every one of us as leaders as we lay our plans for evangelism this coming year. Let us be sure that the government rests upon His shoulder, lest our planning prove too limited, our administration too inadequate.
When the storms of revolt and political intrigue rage about us, the Prince of Peace will shelter us under the shadow of His wings. On stormy Galilee, while the angry billows tossed and foamed, the disciples labored and worried while the Source of their peace slept quietly in the bottom of the boat. Only when they realized their efforts were inadequate and they turned to Him was calm restored. The Master spoke, "Peace be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:39).
Troubled Leaders in Africa
The Master of land and sea can still speak peace to troubled leaders in troubled Africa. How frequently He has done just this during 1965. In the land where labor-union trouble threatened violence, peace has followed the prayers of God's people. In one land where we have a very large membership, trouble might well have resulted from the national elections being scheduled for Sabbath this year. It is a punishable offense not to vote in that land. Trouble was brewing. But the Prince of Peace averted disturbances—the government order was rescinded, the national elections were rescheduled for another day, not Sabbath. Thank God, the government is upon His shoulder!
The Jesus Way
In these troubled times God would not have His leaders worry and fret over the problems. We should be vitally concerned, yes—but not burdened down with worry. "Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy," Jesus says to each one of us this morning; "and I will give you relief. ... For my yoke is good to bear, my load is light" (Matt. 11:28-30, N.E.B.).T. This is the New Testament way—the Jesus way—of saying "the government is on My shoulders."
"When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid," the wise man comforts us. "Yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet" (Prov. 3:24).
"Be careful for nothing; but in everything . . . let your requests be made known unto God" (Phil. 4:6).
"Worry is blind, and cannot discern the future; but Jesus sees the end from the beginning. In every difficulty He has His way prepared to bring relief. Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing."'
A thousand ways! Usually all we need is just one way out of our impasse, just one solution to our problem. But God has a thousand ways. Should we not repose our confidence serenely in Him? If we trust we will not worry. When we worry we do not trust!
Brethren, let us advance with courage and confidence this morning. Let us face the frustrations, the coups, the violence, the uncertainties and the problems of our great field with faith-filled leadership, with victorious planning, for "the government shall be upon his shoulder." The Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, is on our side. Victory is assured. Let us move forward with confidence on every front!
* The Bible texts in this article credited to Phillips are from The New Testament in Modern English, © J. B. Phillips 1958. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company.
+ The Amplified New Testament. Used by permission of The Lockman Foundation.
The New English Bible, New Testament. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961.
1 Prophets and Kings, pp. 164, 165.
2 The Ministry of Healing, p. 512. Ibid., p. 509.
3The Desire of Ages, p. 330