This article is the fifth in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the life of the biblical exile. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance—and the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.
Diligence and Excellence
We have been examining the lives of Joseph, Daniel, and Esther—believers living in exile in societies, political systems, and bureaucracies hostile to their faith who nevertheless came to occupy high political offices and render exceptional public service. In this article we want to examine what characteristics of their lives stand out as most essential to:
- The retention and deepening of their faith under such circumstances, and
- Their influence and effectiveness as leaders under such circumstances.
My principal conclusions are that it was their diligence in adhering to certain spiritual practices that was highly instrumental in preserving their faith and that it was their God-given and God-directed commitment to excellence in service that made them so effective and influential. These conclusions then lead me to ask:
- How diligent are we, as believers living in societies hostile to our faith, in attending to those spiritual practices and disciplines that will preserve and deepen it?
- How committed are we to equipping ourselves to serve with excellence in positions of public service in societies and situations indifferent or hostile to our faith commitments?
In raising and addressing these questions I do not mean to imply that we can maintain our spirituality or achieve excellence in God’s service by our own efforts alone. Surely it is God himself who is active in preserving and strengthening the faith of those he has positioned in faith-testing situations and it is he who ultimately equips us for excellence in service under such circumstances. But at the same time we need to do our part—to avail ourselves of those means which he has provided to maintain and strengthen our relationship with himself and to serve with excellence in whatever position he has chosen for us.
It would appear from the scriptural record that Daniel and his companions were consistently faithful and diligent in their adherence to certain spiritual practices—prayer, fellowship with one another as believers, and the dietary requirements of the Mosaic law—despite enormous cultural and political pressures to abandon such practices for those more acceptable to their Babylonian peers and superiors.
While still teenagers, Daniel and his companions were forcibly enrolled in a three-year program to immerse them in the language and literature of the Babylonians. At the completion of this program they were to be examined by the king himself as to whether they were fit to enter his service. But, then as now, “you are what you eat” both physically and intellectually. Daniel and his companions resolved not to defile themselves with the king’s food and wine, perhaps also symbolic in their minds of not defiling themselves with the products and intoxicants of a pagan culture. They persuaded the king’s officials to make diet and its impact upon them the test of their worthiness for continued education and service. They passed the test with flying colors, preserving and strengthening their spiritual identity in a strange and hostile cultural environment by diligently adhering to the dietary provisions of the Mosaic law.
Some time later, Daniel’s companions again risked their very lives by their diligent adherence to the first and second of the Ten Commandments. They refused, even upon the threat of being thrown into a fiery furnace, to bow down to and worship the golden statue that Nebuchadnezzar had erected on the plains of Dura. They refused to have any other gods before Jehovah and they refused to bow down to or worship any idol.
Daniel and his companions were especially diligent in maintaining their prayer life. They prayed together for the wisdom required by Daniel to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. Daniel himself developed a spiritual practice that he apparently followed no matter what regime he was serving and what restrictions it placed on religious worship. When faced with a law forbidding the worship of anyone but King Darius,“… he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”
In the case of Esther, her diligence took the form of faithful and consistent adherence to the inspired advice of her spiritual and political mentor Mordecai, even to the point where such adherence endangered her position and life.
In the case of Joseph, Scripture tell us nothing about his spiritual practices in Egypt. Yet after years of immersion in the Egyptian political and religious system he demonstrated in later life greater understanding of the purposes and ways of God than his brothers who had never physically departed from the household of faith. Whatever spiritual disciplines Joseph practised they must have been learned at an early age before he was sold into slavery in Egypt. Perhaps, ironically, his faith was more vigorous than his brothers’ precisely because of how it was tested and tried in a hostile environment while theirs remained a “hothouse” faith.
What About Us?
For many of us, even if we have been raised in professing Christian homes and environments, our spiritual practices, after making an initial commitment to follow Jesus, can easily dissipate into little more than sporadic Bible reading, sporadic prayer (mainly at meals), and sporadic church or fellowship-group attendance, punctuated with occasional intensifications when trouble of some sort—health, financial, marital, etc.—drives us back to God.
But such nominal religious practices are simply not adequate to sustain us under any kind of prolonged testing in a hostile spiritual environment. They are certainly not adequate to sustain our presence as “salt and light” at the interface of faith and modern-day business, science, media, politics, or culture.
In an earlier article on the life of David, we noted the constant attention David gave to his inner life as reflected in the Psalms. And at the risk of repetition, I cannot stress emphatically enough for those endeavouring to live out their faith in hostile cultural environments, especially hostile political environments, the importance of disciplined and diligent attention to:
- Solitudeas an antidote to constantly being in the public eye and under media scrutiny
- The practice of Lectio Divina as a counter balance to reading or viewing hundreds of pages a week of secular material.
- Prayer as an alternative to the incessant communications buzz of media-dominated political discourse.
- Honouring the body as a counterbalance to the intense physical and time demands of public life.
- Self-examination, including the examen of consciousness and conscience, as a counterbalance to the preoccupation of image politics with manufactured and artificial appearances.
- Spiritual discernment as an alternative to perceiving and analyzing issues and problems solely from a secular and temporal standpoint.
- Sabbath Observance, as a means of establishing a disciplined balance between work and rest, including “turning off” the technological devices and media that so dominate the lives of those in the public arena.
- Integration of all the above into a Rule or Rhythm of Life distinctly different from the rhythm of contemporary political life.
The scriptural record leaves very little doubt that, despite many distractions and obstacles, Joseph, Daniel, and Esther were very, very good at the political and administrative work they were positioned and called upon to do. For example, if outside auditors had been called in to perform third-party evaluations on Joseph’s service to Potiphar, his management of the prison, and his organization and management of the great Egyptian Grain Exchange, their report would have read that he does all these things “excellently.” The scriptural interpretation was that “the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”
Likewise in the case of Esther, it was not only her beauty but also the shrewdness and excellence of her conduct under the guidance of Mordecai that made her the most politically influential member of King Xerxes’s harem.
Daniel also performed so excellently that he was constantly promoted over his Babylonian peers to the point where the only grounds that they could find for attacking him and his service was on the basis of his faith.
What About Us?
As believers, especially those of us embedded in political organizations and systems indifferent or hostile to our faith, are we “excellent” at what we do? Do others see us as exceptional and excellent performers? Through diligence in our spiritual practices, do we consciously and faithfully seek God’s wisdom and guidance to enable us to do our work excellently? If the performance auditors were to interview our peers, would they grudgingly be obliged to say, “He/she holds certain religious views and engages in religious practices I don’t understand or agree with, but I must admit he/she is very, very good at ….”?
If we are in political or public administration positions, is this the reputation we have—a reputation for excellence in public service? And if not, why not?
As a founder of several political parties and as a member of the Canadian Parliament, I became convinced that very few of us in the partisan political arena have undergone the kind of rigorous preparation and training that is required to do our jobs “excellently.” To become a barista at a Starbucks coffee bar, one is required to take more than twenty hours of training. But one can become a lawmaker in Canada’s Parliament or any of our legislatures without one hour of training in lawmaking. One can become an “elected representative of the people” in any of our democratic assemblies, including our municipal councils, without one hour of preparation or training in what “democratic representation” really involves. How can such lack of preparation possibly result in “excellence” with respect to legislating or democratic representation, let alone policy-making or public administration?
Since I left Parliament, my friends and I have therefore established several organizations and training programs for strengthening the knowledge, skills, ethics, communications capacities, and leadership skills of participants in Canada’s political processes, especially those with whom we have some ideological rapport and influence. While this is not the place to elaborate on these organizations or programs, the main point I wish to make is that it is especially important for those of us entering the political arena with a Christian commitment to undertake such preparation and training, including training in how to navigate the faith-political interface wisely and graciously. Why? So that whatever public service we may have opportunity to render, it will be judged by our Lord, our peers, and our fellow citizens as “excellent” and a credit, not a discredit, to our faith in Christ.
As the Apostle Paul reminded the early Christians, believers embedded in the hostile cultures of their day, leaders in God’s kingdom are called upon and equipped to “govern diligently” (Romans 12:8) and to both think and practice whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and “excellent” (Philippians 4:8-9).
 Exodus 20:3-5
 Daniel 3
 Daniel 2:17-18
 Daniel served in high office under the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar his successor, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus the Persian.
 Daniel 6:10
 Esther 2:10-11, 20, 22, and chapter 4
 Preston Manning, Faith and Politics: Lessons in Leadership from the Life of David (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2014), part 4, “The Inner Life of a Political Leader.”
The purpose is to encounter God through the Scriptures via regular preparation (Silencio);reading short select passages (Lectio); personally reflecting on the application of the passage to oneself (Meditatio); responding to God based on what one has read and encountered (Oratio); resting in the word one has received (Contemplatio); and finally, resolving to act and live out the word received in the place where God has planted us (Incarnatio).
Genesis 39:2-6; 21-23; 41:38-43
 Genesis 39:23
 Esther 5:1-3; 8:1-3
 Daniel 6:1-5
Source: Marketplace Institute