The How Matters

There’s a story in the Bible that is dark, disturbing and irksome to me.  It used to bother me historically – I didn’t like the facts of the story and found it rather confusing.  Then upon understanding it…it was worse, and I wondered why God even wanted it included for everyone to read about.

Oops. Didn’t mean for that to happen!

The story goes (liberally paraphrased) something like this…King David was this heroic “man’s man” who faithfully waited for over a decade to finally fulfill his destiny as King of all of Israel as appointed by God Himself.  David was like a Jesus-freak Da Vinci, a renaissance man extraordinaire–he was valiant, fearless, successful, a poet, a lyricist, a dancer, a faithful friend, a man of honor, and while he probably didn’t drink beer, we all know what kind he would drink if he did.  In recent history the ark of the covenant, the prized relic of the Hebrew faith had been moved around and was essentially in storage in a nice guys house.  David felt it was about time things were made right – the ark should be in the capitol city where everyone can appreciate it and he wanted to throw a giant festival celebrating God’s greatness.  To transport this golden icon from the hill country of Gibeah, he dispatches some of his finest men and a brand new cart with oxen to haul it to Jerusalem in a hurry.  While transporting it the oxen starts to trip and a guy named Uzzah reaches out to stabilize things and God zaps him dead on the spot.  Boom. End of story (not really, but might as well be).  Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, not a warning shot, not even “mostly dead.”

The whole story gave me theological whiplash.  Contextually, David was riding high after some amazing God-given victories.  Everything was going up and up, he was “God’s man” doing “God’s work” for Pete’s sake (who is this Pete we blame anyway?)!  This was the crescendo moment where David was going to light the fireworks and celebrate.  The sound of shattered glass and record screeching when Uzzah dies halts the party.  What happened?  Why? If you dig into the context it all becomes clear quite quickly.  You see, God had given incredibly specific instructions about how, who and when to move the ark (Numbers 4).  Clear warning about the hazard of disregarding the instructions were clearly given.  What happened was David was so caught up in his own success, glorious plans to serve God and the timeline for things he had decided upon that he cut a corner.  The “old fashioned way” of transporting the ark would have taken days possibly, when a quick cart ride fueled by a 200-ox power motor would get it done in hours.  The efficient option was obvious.  It was a good plan, a good motive, but the wrong way.  God is a god of excellence, beauty, purpose and story – but efficiency is not His chief value.

Moral of the Story: The “how” matters.  Like it or not, David is responsible for the death of Uzzah because David let efficiency and timeline trump method and holiness.  That’s the high stakes of leadership.  You can be right but wrong in the Valley of the How, and not only “wrong,” but people can literally die.  Let that sober you as a leader!  The ends do not justify the means.  Process and purpose matter.  The Jesus Way is just as critical as the Jesus Why & Where.

This bothers me, because I like efficiency.  The shortest distance between 2 places is a straight line.  But how many epic stories in the Bible have straight line narratives?  Abraham from Ur to Canaan?  Hebrews from Cush to Jerusalem?  David from anointing to the throne?  Paul’s missionary journeys?  The assault on Jericho?  The record shows that our God is not one of efficiency, that the how matters and that we disregard the “way” at not only our peril but that of the teams we lead.

Q: Where do you need to be more diligent in the “how” and the way of your leadership?