Looking Back on 2018: 10 Reflections on Life and Leadership (Part 2)

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.
— Winston Churchill

Mr. Churchill has been sitting on my desk for a couple of months — the book, not the man. He told me his story. I listened and learned. But so far he has not returned to join his cohort of dusty mentors gathered on my shelves. I suspect that is because the years 1932 - 1940 were so formative. There is still much for me to learn and more to apply.

Churchill loved history. He said,

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.

Churchill looked deeply into history. In 1933, he saw the potential menace of Nazi Germany. Warning his colleagues he said,

For four hundred yeas the foreign policy of England has been to oppose the strongest, most aggressive, most dominating power on the Continent, and particularly to prevent the Low Countries [Belgium, Luxembourg, and Holland] from falling into the hands of such a power.

As I enter 2019, I am not looking back 400 years, though that might be a good idea; I am looking back to last year and some key lessons I learned on life and leadership. I shared the first four in a previous post. In brief they were:

  1. Lean on technically competent people.

  2. Do creative work first.

  3. Oh, what a difference a strong team makes.

  4. Stop looking for encouragement where you know you won’t find it.

And that brings me to this picture, the 5th lesson, and the best advice I received in 2018r


If you look closely you will see a small envelope nestled between a few books. I think it is providential that Churchill and that envelope are in such close proximity. Churchill admonishes me to look back. The envelope contains the lesson I need to embrace.

The envelope arrived a few weeks ago. A towering leader, also a friend and mentor, sent it to me with a heartfelt note tucked inside. His note contains the best piece of advice I heard all last year. I suspect it wasn’t the only time I heard this admonition, nor was he the only one to give it, but given his life and leadership, these words have reverberated in my soul:

Stay on your knees . . .

That was the parting line from this powerful leader. And I needed it. No, let me correct that, “I need it!” As in every day of every week of every month of every year of this one and only life which God has entrusted to me.

Prayer is the obvious, but often neglected task (and privilege) of the leader. How obvious came home to me last week as I was reading large chunks of Paul’s letters. Here’s a sampling:

  • So this is my prayer … (Philippians 1)

  • Through your faithful prayers . . . (Philippians 1)

  • Instead of worrying, pray . . . (Philippians 4)

  • Pray diligently . . . (Colossians 4)

  • Praying away, night and day . . . (1 Thessalonians 3)

  • Pray all the time . . . (1 Thessalonians 5)

  • We pray for you all the time . . . (2 Thessalonians 1)

  • Pray for us . . . (2 Thessalonians 3)

  • All those prayers are coming together . . . (1 Timothy 1)

  • The first thing I want you to do is pray . . . (1 Timothy 2)

  • Since prayer is at the bottom of all this . . . (1 Timothy 2)

  • What I want mostly is for men to pray . . . (1 Timothy 2)

  • God’s Word and our prayers make every item in creation holy . . . (1 Timothy 4)

  • Praying to him constantly . . . (1 Timothy 5)

You get the picture! So, what exactly should I be praying for as a leader? In short, everything! That’s what Paul admonishes in Philippians 4:6,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

If you are looking for more specifics, here are five that relate to the Christian leader:

  • Your walk with God: Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. Psalm 25:4-5

  • The need for wisdom: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5 ESV

  • Political leaders: I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV

  • The impossible: But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God. Luke 18:27

  • Your pastor: At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Colossians 4:3-4 ESV

Prayer should be at the heart of every leader because prayer connects us to the heart of God. When I look at my friend and mentor — the one who sent me that note — I see the heart of God, the blessing of God, and the wisdom of God.

Lord, keep me on my knees!

“For four hundred yeas the foreign policy of England has been…” from The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill Alone 1932 - 1940, by William Manchester. Boston: Little Brown and Company. 1988. Page 93.