It is the Lord who goes before you. - Deuteronomy 31:8
“You go first.”
This is a statement my wife and I have heard frequently over the years from one of our daughters to our other daughter. From jumping into a lake to trying new food, our youngest has often served as a guinea pig for our oldest.
Sadly, she’s most likely inherited this from me. I have not been very good at instilling confidence in others by being the first to try something new. I tend to hang back and watch others do things first.
The Gift of Going Second
I recently read Jenni Catron’s book Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-given Influence. Maybe because I’ve been so bad at this in my life, one idea that stuck with me the most was her encouragement to give others the gift of going second. She writes:
“A statement that has become common says, ‘give others the gift of going second.’ As leaders, we must go first in order to give others the gift of going second. Be the first to be truthful. Be the first to be encouraging. Be the first to affirm someone else. Be the first to be generous. Be the first to be compassionate. Be the first to be humble. Be the first not to compare. Be the first to speak truth. Be the first to display faith.”
Leaders don’t make others clear a path for them. They lead by creating a path others can follow.
This idea isn’t implying that we go first so we can get something for ourselves. It’s helping us watch for opportunities where going first actually blesses, encourages, and serves others.
In our ATLAS Mentor Workshops, we try to help people understand what a mentoring relationship can look like, especially if they’ve never been a part of one before. I highlight six things mentors do, one of which is “initiate.” In other words, going first.
Instead of waiting for people to approach them, we encourage potential mentors to identify people in their lives with whom they can initiate a more intentional relationship. We encourage mentors to initiate within a mentoring relationship as well. Initiate contact. Initiate discussions about how to best use their time together. Initiate and model vulnerability. Initiate spiritual conversations with good questions. Initiate prayer. Initiate getting into God’s Word.
The idea of blessing others by going first is found in many Biblical examples.
God Leading Israel out of Egypt
“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.” (Exodus 13:21) God doesn’t expect Israel to find their own path to the promised land. He instead leads them on his path as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He went before them.
Jesus Calling His Disciples
Jesus’ call to his disciples was repeatedly “follow me.” The word “follow” implies Jesus went first and his disciples followed his way, his path, instead of their own. Paul further exemplified this pattern when he said to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
Christ goes first. We follow. Then we help others follow.
Barnabas Standing up for Paul
After Paul’s conversion, many Christians were still afraid of him. But where others hesitated, Barnabas went first. He stood up and defended Paul to the apostles.
“And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9:26-27)
Jonathan Going Before His Armor Bearer
In 1 Samuel 14, Jonathan, son of King Saul, took his young armor bearer and went to see if God would be with them as they attacked the Philistines who were above a rocky cliff. Jonathan shared with his armor bearer a test they would use to know if God was with them and wanted them to attack. They would show themselves to the Philistines, and if they said, “Come up here,” they would know God was with them. When the Philistines said exactly that, Jonathan and his armor bearer climbed the rocky cliff to attack the Philistines.
I’m no military expert, but I’m guessing climbing a rocky cliff toward an enemy who knows you’re coming isn’t the most strategic attack plan. But Jonathan demonstrated his faith by trusting God and telling the armor bearer, “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.” (1 Samuel 14:12) He didn’t make his young armor bearer go first to confirm that God was with them. He gave the armor bearer, and really the entire army of Israel who had been hiding, the gift of going second. God was faithful that day as the Philistines fled and Israel was saved. A victory that started with Jonathan demonstrating faith first.
How Can You Bless Others By Going First?
In what ways in your own life can you put this idea into practice? How can you love and serve others by going first?
- Being the first one to say hi to a stranger passing by you while you’re out for a walk or at a store.
- Being the first to say you’re sorry to someone you have a disagreement with.
- Making that first call to set up a time to meet someone.
- Being open and honest about your own struggles with someone you talk to frequently who you suspect of holding back from sharing their own struggles.
- Being the first one to stop a conversation that’s delved into gossip.
- Being the first one to suggest praying with or for someone or something.
Whatever way it might be, consider ways to encourage and bless someone by giving them the gift of going second.