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Leading with a Limp

Nick FranksNick Franks

Broken at Fourteen

When I was fourteen years old and delivering newspapers around southwest England on a push bike, I was once accidentally hit by a car. After impact, I laid screaming on the tarmac surface of the road staring at my ankle that had been badly broken in three places. My right foot had been forced into an unnatural right angle beyond where it should ever go. I was in pain and in shock but mainly very afraid.

Despite healing over time and progressing to compete at a decent level, this injury was the end of my hopes of being more than an amateur footballer. It took years to recover from and, as others occasionally told me, I was never quite the same again.

Twenty-four years and one failed arthroscopy later, I’m now unable to play at all and have even had to forget running completely. I have learned to live with the limitations of the ankle and, praise God, it still allows me to walk, swim, lift weights and ride a bike largely pain-free.

Limping and Lateness

Dan Allender’s book, Leading with A Limp, is likely to be a familiar book to most of you reading this blog. Certainly, if you haven’t come across it yet, I encourage you to find or buy a copy as an essential asset to your own leadership.

When I first read it several years ago, it was like a liberating weight being removed from my shoulders. I could relate strongly with the metaphor of limping in life and in leadership as the tyranny of comparison with others ‒ as well as my own experiences in the physical as a teenager ‒ had left me with an unreasonable dose of self-expectation.

I felt like I must achieve a certain point of “success” by a certain “stage of life” and that, therefore, I was very late.

God isn’t looking for a perfect heart to make willing, but a willing heart to make perfect!

Over the years, I have come to realize that this isn’t true and that I am primarily called to be faithful not successful. Indeed, that God isn’t looking for a perfect heart to make willing but a willing heart to make perfect!

This sanctification takes a lifetime and is a uniquely and purely personal process. It’s very different for each of us.

A lot of us carry unhealthy burdens of self-expectation like this and, despite believing that we’re loved just as we are, often feel like we need to do more and do better. Arguably, this is especially true for men who are called to protect and provide for their wives and families. Am I doing okay? Am I up to it? Can I really do this? Am I doing them proud?

I know these nagging thoughts only too well.

But, as a potent antidote for these lies, there is a peculiar aspect of Christian leadership (in the home and at work) that is uniquely different from all other forms of leadership on the planet. This is perhaps most poignantly seen in the life of John the Baptist.

The Trust to Increasingly Decrease

John would have been considered a complete failure by earthly standards: in public ministry for less than a year and, once a prophetic war-horse of sign and wonder, in the end languishing in prison with barely a whimper, decapitated at the whim of a spoiled child.

But John’s apparent lack of leadership longevity ‒ his sudden prominence and rapid decline ‒ wasn’t a lateness or even mainly a limp. It was his finest hour (John 3:29-30).

Limping and timely “success” for John the Baptist looked like decreasing and diminishing while other religious, empire-building Pharisees only wanted to increase and rise to public acclaim.

This is a major difference that I believe separates healthy and unhealthy forms of leadership: possessing a God-given security and inner-trust in the One who sees all and knows all.

Not striving for some kind of magazine perfection of human “success”; not unable to admit to weaknesses, foibles and even addictions, but rather able to increasingly trust the personal all-sufficiency and preeminence of Jesus in all of our strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and what may seem to be regrettable lateness.

In the other words of Jesus Christ to Paul, that My grace is sufficient for you (2 Cor. 12:9).

What Does This Really Look Like?

Well, for me, this has looked like a rather mega paradigm shift from a focus on myself (all those unreasonable self-expectations I mentioned) and increasingly onto the kingdom of heaven and the Coming King.

After graduating from University in 2002 with a good degree and a whole heap of good prospects, and having the immense blessing of open doors into the UK’s NHS (National Health Service) shortly after that into what could have easily been a “job for life,” I was made redundant in 2011.

I wasn’t at all worried about it at the time and had no doubt that God was calling all the shots. But what has ensued since then has been an unprecedented and colossal struggle within my vocational life. For various reasons ‒ including temporary contracts and woefully poor, untenable “Christian employment,” I haven’t known a settled period of work again in approaching seven years. This is staggering to me and ‒ on my worst days ‒ a nagging mental nemesis that always wants to confront my peace.

But, even in recent months, I have come to understand a different “God way” of looking at this chronic struggle: God absolutely knows about every single detail of my life and it’s not up to me to prove that; it’s up to me to rest in that, come rain or shine.

In Matthew 6:25, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

So, I’m continuing to learn that leading healthily with my various limps, with the naggings of apparent lateness and failures, means increasingly growing in child-like faith on the One who considers life more important than success.  Whatever your struggle today, keep in mind ‒ as I am ‒ that Jesus simply never has unreasonable expectations of you. The pains of the accidents of life ‒ and resultant limping ‒ are not at all at odds with God’s good and sovereign purposes for your life.

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Nick Franks
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