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An Unlikely President

March 6th, 2009

Focus Text: Proverbs 12: 24 (NLT)

24 Work hard and become a leader;
      be lazy and become a slave.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

Most American presidents who are held in the highest historical regards provided leadership during pivotal times in our nation’s history.  Washington in the American Revolution.  Lincoln in the Civil War.  Roosevelt (Franklin) in World War II.  Many presidents were born into prominence.  Their pedigree and upbringing provided a platform for their political lives and propelled them into the cultural limelight.  However, other presidents did not rise to office through the means of fortunate circumstances . . .  some worked through a series of unlikely events to get there.

One such president was Harry S. Truman.  His story was far from enchanted; it was riddled with determination and hard work. First of all, he was born into a family of farmers . . . pretty impressive for a president, eh?   He attended public schools and after graduation from high school, he worked briefly as a timekeeper for a railroad construction contractor and then as a clerk in two Kansas City banks.  In 1906, he returned to help his father run the family farm.  He continued working as a farmer for more than ten years.

Truman served in the Missouri National Guard and saw combat during World War I.   He joined the reserves after the war, rising eventually to the rank of colonel.  He sought to return to active duty at the outbreak of World War II, but his offer was declined.  Wow, what a shot this must have been to his confidence. . . an obvious blow to his nationalism and influence.  But he remained focused and continued working.

From 1919 to 1922, he ran a men’s clothing store in Kansas City.  The store went under in the postwar recession.  Truman narrowly avoided bankruptcy, and through determination and many years of laboring and saving, he paid off his share of the store’s debts.  

Hard work.  Hard times.  Poverty.  Rejection.  Debt.  Do these sound like the adjectives associated with a president?

After pulling himself out of his financial troubles, he began his political career as a judge and eventually became a senator.  He went on to be the Vice-President under FDR, but his fate changed drastically when President Roosevelt died after only eighty-two days of his fourth term. Truman, a farmer, a clothing salesman, a military reject . . . now found himself at the helm of the most powerful nation on earth at the most crucial time of the largest war in history.

But even as President, his challenges continued.  Besides the obvious issues of ending World War II and the debate over the use of the atomic bomb, his popularity among Americans was doubted when he ran for re-election.  The media was so certain that he would lose the election that one post-election morning newspaper’s headline had already been printed with, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”  He had been counted out again.

How surprised the media must have been when Truman actually won the election!  It made for one of the most famous photos in history of Truman holding up the newspaper that had falsely predicted his defeat.  

I am certainly not endorsing Harry S. Truman as a spiritual role model, but his life and his willingness to work hard most definitely gives evidence to this passage: “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.”  Truman’s hard work opened up the potential for his life to soar beyond mediocrity.  Every detail certainly did not pan out as he would have planned it, but when life became difficult, he just kept on working and moving forward.

There are many things in life that we can’t control.  Economic trends.  Natural disasters.  Global politics and wars.  Unforeseen family issues.  But what we can do is continue to work hard when life presents us with unfavorable circumstances.  Those who find maturity usually find it amidst a long story of setbacks and difficulties.  

The question is: when life delivers the unexpected blow, what will we do with what we have left?  The temptation to quit can be overwhelming, but the strength to continue the work at hand will be the quickest way forward.  Stones of adversity lay a solid foundation for structures of significance.

You and I may never be the President, but we can make a make a mark on our world.  Hard work is one crucial key to our legacy.  What headlines will you hold up for the world to see when your work stands the test of time?


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