How is it possible to become blinded by our own sin and failures as a leader? Very easily says Pete Scazzero, author of The Emotionally Healthy Leader. On the “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” podcast, Pete unpacks Ezekiel 13 and three key takeaways that will help leaders be honest with themselves and cultivate a deeply changed life.
Living in exile
Ezekiel was a priest from Jerusalem who lived through the exile of Israel in 586 BC when the Temple of God was destroyed by Babylon- an overwhelming event that would appear that Israel was coming to an end. Pete Scazzero observes:
“Israel was dismembered. As far as God’s people could see, the world was ending.”
God’s people were traumatized, dislocated and humiliated, not too different than what some of God’s people face today. Ezekiel receives a revelation that provides clarity and insight into the state of Israel’s spirituality at the time. The prophet doesn’t focus on the pagan nations around him, he speaks to the leadership of Israel. Pete observes of Ezekiel’s words,
“He cuts through the superficiality of Israel’s relationship with God which on the outside looked good but inside was not so good, was rotting. He calls her ‘whitewashed walls’.”
Jesus also referred to the religious leaders of his day as “whitewashed tombs.” They looked beautiful on the outside but inside Jesus said they were filled with dead man’s bones.
God provides three invitations in Ezekiel to eliminate or at least minimise our blindspots and ensure we are living with integrity so that what we believe on the inside is being lived on the outside.
1. Don’t build your spiritual life quickly
Ezekiel likens the spirituality formed in the Israelites to whitewashed walls. It was constructed quickly and plastered with whitewash to seem stronger than it is. This shallow spirituality of the day was widely accepted and even encouraged by the false prophets who prophesied peace and misled the people by perpetuating delusions. Ezekiel is a contrasting voice to the soothing words of the false prophets, claiming that the Israeliites’ spirituality looked good on the outside but inside it was rotten. Pete quotes Ezekiel 13:14 where the prophet warns,
“I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare.”
Pete says that the Israellites had built their spiritual life quickly and the foundations were not solid. They had built a whitewashed wall and were unable to see their own blindspots, mistakes, and contradictions. The Israellites in Ezekiel’s time were outwardly worshiping the true and living God alongside worshiping the gods of Babylon. This made their spiritual unstable, leaving Jerusalem and the Jews living there in a deeply vulnerable state.
When Ezekiel is speaking to the Israellites he is calling for radical reconstructive surgery to the heart. Even though things are not going well in the Israelites’ lives, they are still not responding to the prophet’s warnings that the flimsy spirituality that they had built would not withstand the pressures and disruptions ahead.
2. Know the difference between self-justification and lying
It’s very easy to live with clear inconsistencies. While we can see other’s blindspots like Israel before the exile, we can also live with similar contradictions. Pete says it’s important to distinguish between self-justification and lying. When you lie you may not feel good about it but you consciously know you are not telling the truth. Pete observes,
“But what Ezekiel is pointing out to the Israellites is deeper than a lie- it’s more dangerous and powerful- you are actually lying to yourself.”
Whether it’s your own prejudices, or your inability to respond to evidence that contradicts your narrative. Pete highlights,
“Most people when they are confronted with evidence that they are wrong, don’t change their point of view, they sink deeper to justify more strongly their position.”
Pete says the world exists with lots of whitewash walls and self-justification. It’s important to recognise the difference between self-justification and lying otherwise we become hypocrites who are unconscious of our own flaws.
3. Recognise you have blindspots and have made mistakes
Humility throughout church history has been recognised as the number one virtue. Living humbly means we need to admit when we have made errors. Pete argues that if we are living in God’s grace we can move away from whitewash walls to building solid walls and live in reality.
Pete warns leaders to recognise that once you are in authority and in power, it is much difficult to admit mistakes. He suggests surrounding yourself with people who do not think like you and are free to give you honest feedback. The danger is being in leadership when there is no one around you who will hold you to account. Pete says we all need to learn to say,
“I have blindspots and I make mistakes.”
Finally, Pete encourages listeners to build a hidden life with God and not to succumb to building a quick spiritual life that is rotting inside. It takes a lot of time to build solid foundations in the faith so that when storms come, you are found standing.