“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” (Greek proverb)
As the kings of Judah went, Hezekiah wasn’t too bad. He was better than most. Keep in mind that Hezekiah was a true worshipper of Yahweh, a man of faith who had trusted God and seen supernatural intervention.
The truth is that if any of us were to meet him today, we would probably view him as worthy of emulation. Sadly, we do follow in his footsteps. And this is part of the problem regarding our failure to reach and retain the next generation.
Hezekiah did not finish his life on a high note. Because he ostentatiously displayed his wealth before Judah’s enemies, judgment would come, one which would be experienced not by the king, but by his descendants.
Hezekiah should have been troubled by this, but he was not. He piously accepted the verdict because in his mind he realized that he would be dead and gone by the time it came to pass. “So Hezekiah said to Isaiah, ‘The word of the Lord which you have spoken is good!’ For he said, ‘At least there will be peace and truth in my days.'” (Isaiah 39:8, NKJV) He was so shortsighted that he couldn’t see how his actions had doomed the generation to follow.
So what? What does this have to do with us?
The Hezekiah Syndrome still exists today. The facts are clear: 70 percent of our students leave the church when they turn 18 years old. Why are we not traumatized by this and shaken to our very core? Perhaps we are like Hezekiah, driven by short-term thinking.
In his “at least” remark, we see Hezekiah’s willingness to settle for the way things were rather than fight for what they could be. He said, in essence, “It begins and ends with me. I refuse to look further than myself or the duration of my life.”
We don’t know what Hezekiah could have done to try and avert the coming disaster. Perhaps nothing, but the text shows us that he didn’t even try. This is strange behavior for a man who had previously experienced two supernatural interventions in his life (Isaiah 36-38). When faced with his own crisis, Hezekiah prayed to the Lord. Couldn’t he at least have done the same for his descendants?
What are we willing to do for the next generation?
While we must pray for them, we also need to enter into the world of young adults. Discover what MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are and what they mean to young adults between the ages of 18-24. Grow to understand and accept them by just hanging out with them and listening to what they have to say. We’re not incapable of relating to 18-24 year olds. Many of us simply choose not to do so.
There was a hog rooting around a tree looking for acorns. A bird in the tree warned him, “Hey, if you keep doing that, exposing the roots, that tree will eventually die.” The hog never looked up but said, “Who cares as long as there are acorns?” In the church today, older adults seem to be the acorns. Young adults are the tree. If we focus on the former at the expense of the latter, someday the church will die as a result.
Like Hezekiah, we are all frail, flawed human beings. Even the best of us can become short-sighted, mortgaging the future at the expense of the present. How does this happen?
Essentially it happens when we choose to serve self rather than others. Like Hezekiah, people who love God can nevertheless act in a self-centered fashion. Though the next generation would perish, Hezekiah said, “Well, at least I’ll be OK.” Do we think the same?
A self-centered perspective invariably manifests itself in either one of two ways, pride or fear, either self-preference or self-protection. We can become myopic in our thinking, just as Hezekiah did, and only see ourselves, the duration of his season of influence, and our own preferences. We can also become intimidated, fearful that we are not “cool” enough to reach young adults.
A true servant mentality rejects pride and fear so as to embrace humility and confidence. It recognizes that personal preferences are not biblical mandates. Focusing on Christ and not personal inadequacies, servant leaders possess a godly confidence that God will use them to reach a generation that is radically different.
Not surprisingly, more than anything else, servant leadership will capture the heart of today’s generation. They are skeptical and cynical, partially because they have been oversold and misunderstood. However, if we choose to live like Jesus did, with a genuine heart of servanthood, today’s young adults will recognize it and respond with openness.
The big question is succession. Opportunity is only for a season. In humility, servant leaders focus on what will happen after they are gone. Those who follow Christ instead of Hezekiah ask themselves, “Will the people I influence hear my voice to the end of their lives or only to the end of mine?”
Hezekiah helps us to see that well-intentioned and good people sometimes create a disastrous future by their failure to consider future generations. Reaching young adults today requires us to move beyond a Hezekiah model of leadership to a Christ-like model. It demands that we have the sacrificial and courageous faith to plant a shade tree under which we will never sit.
What can you do today for the sake of the future? What will you do?