Some of the work of a leader is done out of sight, away from the people he or she leads.
Even before Moses descended from Sinai and saw the golden calf, he had an opportunity to advocate on behalf of his people. The Lord told him what was happening at the bottom of the mountain: “Thy people…have corrupted themselves,” He said. “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them” (Exodus 32:7-8). He told Moses He would destroy the children of Israel. Moses immediately jumped to their defense, making three arguments for patience:
- Sunk cost: “Why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?” (Exodus 32:11). In other words, you’ve done so much for them; why should that effort be wasted? Give them another chance.
- Reputation: “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?” (Exodus 32:12). What kind of message does it send to the rest of the world if you deliver these people from slavery and then simply destroy them?
- Covenants: “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest” (Exodus 32:13). The children of Israel were the beneficiaries of promises God had made to their ancestors.
This exchange between Moses and God reminds me of the Allegory of the Olive Tree. When the Lord of the vineyard sees that all of His olive trees have become corrupted, he tells his servant that he will “hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire.” “I have done all,” he says. But the servant pleads for patience. “Spare it a little longer,” he says, and the Lord of the vineyard agrees: “Yea, I will spare it a little longer, for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard” (Jacob 5:49-51).
In both of these stories, the Lord didn’t require much convincing. His original comments may have been more of an expression of frustration than of intent. But in both cases, the pleading of the servant is portrayed as making a difference.
When Alma visited the city of Ammonihah, the people were unwilling to listen to him. He not only persisted in preaching, but also “labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city” (Alma 8:10). Many of the Ammonihahites never did accept his message, but some did, including Amulek and Zeezrom. (See Alma 8:19-22, Alma 15:3-12.)
Church leaders pray for the people they lead, and those prayers matter. Earlier this month, President Russell M. Nelson said, “I pray daily that you will be protected from the fierce attacks of the adversary and have the strength to push forward through whatever challenges you face” (“The Power of Spiritual Momentum,” General Conference, April 2022).
Today, I will pray on behalf of the people I lead. I will follow the examples of Moses, Alma, and President Nelson in pleading with the Lord to bless, protect, and guide them.