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Josiah: Outward Reform Begins with Inward Renewal

2 Kings 22:10–23:25

YOUNG KING Josiah is a classic example of the Law of the Picture. His leadership led to national reform in Israel, and he teaches us something today about how change occurs: Outward reform begins with inward renewal.

In 2 Kings 22–23 we read of Josiah’s wholehearted devotion to God and his desire to lead the people well. He became king of Israel at the tender age of eight, if you can imagine that. His own spiritual passion began to influence the nation of Judah and eventually brought about public reform. We see that the leader must experience personal change before he or she can implement public change. Leaders make an impact the way an atomic bomb does: They implode before they explode. The cycle worked this way for King Josiah:

1. Personal Renewal (inward work in the leader’s own life)

2. Personal Change (outward expression)

3. Public Reform (inward work in the people’s hearts)

4. Public Change (outward expression)

Change From the Inside Out

Accomplishing public change begins with a leader’s heart. True reformation isn’t merely about behavior modification, but heart transformation. Once this young leader recognized the unhealthy state of his own life, he committed himself to repentance. He wanted to change himself. This reminds us that we must always begin our leadership journey with self-leadership. I must lead myself before I try to lead anyone else. Once Josiah’s own heart changed, he couldn’t keep it a secret. It flowed outward.

Further, when his own life changed, he was in position to change others. His example accelerated the public reform since everyone could see his transformed life. The change begins inside of the leader, then becomes visible outside. Next, it burns on the inside of the hearts of those who see the leader, and moves to an outward change in them as well.

When Albert Schweitzer spoke on the meaning of leadership, he said, “Example isn’t the main thing in leadership. It’s the only thing.” While that may sound like an exaggeration, Schweitzer was simply saying that all the words you speak as a leader mean nothing if your life doesn’t back it up. Hypocrisy is like a hole in your credibility pocket. If you don’t support your words with your life, everything gets fuzzy, and you lose the authority you’ve accumulated. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “You can issue all the memos and give all the motivational speeches you want, but if the rest of the people in your organization don’t see you putting forth your very best effort every single day, they won’t either.”

Through his own life, Josiah gave the people he led a picture of the change he wanted to see. He lived out the saying: Be the change you want to see in the world. This is what enabled him to bring about so much change in such a short amount of time. Other kings had failed to reform Israel; still others took the nation in the wrong direction. It requires a leader to model the way to truly transform the followers.

Principles About the Law of the Picture:

1. Most people are visual learners, not verbal learners.
Educators tell us that 89 percent of learning is visual. Most people need to see an example or a model before they really understand. What we see is what we will be. A picture really is worth a thousand words. Followers beg for leaders to “show me, don’t just tell me.”

2. Good communication makes a vision clear. Good modeling makes it come alive.
There’s no doubt that a leader’s words are important. They clarify the vision we want to see come to pass. However, providing an example is so much more powerful and rare. It makes any vision come alive. People can see what is possible if they buy in to the vision.

3. It’s easier to teach what is right than to do what is right.
Any parent will tell you this. We always seem to find the right lectures on how our children should act. Sadly, they imitate our actions faster than they listen to our words. As leaders, we must do the difficult thing and practice what we preach.

4. Leaders must work on themselves before they work on others.
This is exactly what Josiah did. First he bought in to the need for change in his own life, then he proclaimed the need for his citizens to change. The leader had to lead himself first.

5. The most valuable gift I can give to others is a good example.
Leadership is more caught than taught. While every leader should become the best communicator they can be, communication is much more than words. Transforming communication combines clear speech and consistent modeling. There is nothing more confusing than a person who gives good advice but sets a bad example.

A survey was taken by a professional staffing corporation. They asked employees what single trait they most wanted from their supervisor. The number one trait desired in a boss was “to lead by example.”The second most popular answer was: “to possess strong ethics and morals.” In my opinion, these two characteristics are very similar. If you lead by example, you should be doing so with high morals and ethics. So almost all of the respondents said their biggest desire was for their bosses to have high integrity and lead by example. This just about says it all.

From reading these great chapters in 2 Kings, we don’t really discover if Josiah was a masterful speaker, or if he possessed the charisma of King David before him. We do know that while he did read from the Holy Scriptures, he tended to turn some of the speaking task over to the priests at the time. It might be that he felt inadequate as a speaker because he was young and inexperienced. What we do know, however, is that his life spoke louder than any speech he could have given on public reform. His life drove the transformation home for everyone.

As we noted earlier in this book, when good kings led Israel, the people were good. When bad kings led Israel, the people went sour. Why? People do what people see. It isn’t our words alone that can change others. King Josiah proclaimed the need for public reform, but his words had weight because he had experienced the change himself first. It has been said, “A pint of example is worth a gallon of advice.”

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