I have a prayer that I pray for myself on many days. It goes something like this: Pray that I have the integrity of Daniel, even if it causes me harm. The reference I use is Daniel 6:12, which reads:
“The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.”Daniel 6:12 (CSB)
I’ve added to that a verse from 1 Corinthians 6:7, which reminds me that winning arguments isn’t always the right thing to do.
As it is, to have legal disputes against one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?1 Corinthians 6:7 (CSB)
Stay with me long enough and you’ll hear me say that all a man has is his word. You lose that and you lose it all. For most of my adult life (if not all of it), integrity has been a mantra. Not just, “do the right thing,” but, “be the right person.” I want to be counted on and I want people to know that what I say, I mean. I want my tax return to have no error in it (is that even possible?) and I never want to forget a payment. If people find wrong in me, I’d like for it to be because they are wrong.
Integrity and the Leader
One time I was in ISS (in-school suspension) for starting a fight, or maybe it was just for fighting (you know, back when I had less integrity). Every little cubicle had one of those motivational phrases on it that schools are so popular for displaying. You know what I’m talking about: “What is popular is not always what is right, what is right is not always what is popular.” I still remember those—the fight, however, was a waste of time.
To me, the single most important characteristic to a leader is integrity. If you can’t stand up and do the right thing, then you will get crushed. If you can’t be trusted, then why do you want people to follow you? Where are you taking them? I’ve watched from a distance as pastors built huge churches only to have those same churches come crashing down (or those pastors come crashing down) due to issues of character and integrity.
Psalm 15 comes to mind, and I think of it often:
1 LORD, who can dwell in your tent?Psalm 15 (CSB)
Who can live on your holy mountain?
2 The one who lives blamelessly, practices righteousness,
and acknowledges the truth in his heart—
3 who does not slander with his tongue,
who does not harm his friend
or discredit his neighbor,
4 who despises the one rejected by the LORD
but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his word whatever the cost,
5 who does not lend his silver at interest
or take a bribe against the innocent—
the one who does these things will never be shaken.
Who can do that? I can.
Or can I?
Watch Out for Your Arrogance
It’s amazing how our flesh can grab ahold of a good thing—integrity—and then, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a totally different spot. We create a world where our word is so weighty and significant and our integrity so important that we become a caricature of ourself. We think that we made things happen.
Before long, what we had assumed was integrity quickly becomes arrogance. Have you ever used or thought of phrases like this:
- If I were in charge, things wouldn’t be like this.
- I’ll never let you down. Trust me.
- I better do this myself so that it can get done right.
- You didn’t think this through.
- You made a mistake; now let’s consider what you did wrong so you won’t do it again.
Those are but a few ways that our integrity becomes an idol—something so weighty that we have forgotten our own weakness and need. We assume we are always right, always trustworthy, and always best. Such danger lies in those assumptions and, not only that, but they neglect to remember two important facts.
- Your heart deceives: Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that our heart is deceitful and desperately sick. When we overplay our integrity, we are likely underplaying our own tendencies to self-protect and self-preserve. We fail more than we realize, and we lie more than we want people to know. To act as if our integrity is pure is a complete joke.
- Jesus is our mark: Jesus is the one who had no sin (Heb 4:15). We do have sin. We are weak. When we point to our integrity as the mark of good leadership, we are taking from Jesus the glory he deserves. In fact, only because of Jesus can we even be who we are.
If we aren’t careful to recognize our constant need for grace (and, thus, the humility which comes from such recognition), we deceive ourselves. We create a view of ourselves that crushes us and robs God of his place in our lives. Have integrity, yes, but let your pursuit be wholly dependent, gracious, and cognizant of your own weakness.
Let it point people to Jesus.