4 Lessons From Lincoln – What We Can Learn From America’s Greatest President

Donald Miller

There was no renewed interest in Abraham Lincoln at the release of Steven Speilberg’s new film because an interest in Abraham Lincoln has never waned. Lincoln is considered by many to be America’s greatest leader. Daniel Day Lewis plays the President so wonderfully in the new film that he certainly deserves an Oscar, as does the movie itself.

Missing from the film, however, is Lincoln’s darker side, the sad Lincoln, the tortured Lincoln his own letters reveal. But this wasn’t so much the focus of Spielberg’s film. The director wanted to tell the story of the passing of the thirteenth amendment, and he does so quite well. In fact, I would argue this is less a film about Lincoln and more a film about the passing of that specific document and idea. While Lincoln hardly leaves the screen, he’s painted thinly in contrast to the debate surrounding slavery.

*Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture, Creative Commons
Still, it’s worth seeing for filmgoers, patriots and historians. I would also recommend all people in leadership see the film. Lincoln had to lead the charge in amending the constitution, and it was as great a battle as the Civil War itself.

Here are four lessons (choices from a thousand) I learned from Spielberg’s framing of this season of Lincoln’s life:

1. Passion comes as much from the merit of our fight as it does from what is within us. What I mean by this is if we are fighting to make more money, we can expect little passion. We simply aren’t designed for selfish gain. We were designed to sacrifice, and sacrifice for the sake of others (love, not the mushy kind, but the real kind won with blood) and a sacrificial cause will bring out the best in us.

2. Realize we are divinely appointed and have been called to a difficult challenge. Lincoln was attacked, slandered and harassed by men perceived as noble, moral, upright and even Christian. He was not a man who often attended church. Lincoln, however, had a deep and centered faith, perhaps considering himself divinely appointed. He believed he was doing the will of God. Do I believe we are divinely appointed? I believe the fact we exist makes us divinely appointed. We were, after all, divinely created. It helps a little to take up the cause of the oppressed if we want to live up to that appointment. Regardless, though, what we do with our lives can be a partnership with God.

3. Understand you will face resistance. It’s nearly unbelievable that the thirteenth amendment to the constitution would face opposition, but it did. In hindsight, we can all see clearly, but in the moment, southern leaders who voted for the amendment were voting against the economic welfare of their constituents and giving power to the north. We tend to think if we choose a noble cause the world will come with us. But the world won’t. Doing good will involve a fight and, not unlike Lincoln, it may be a fight that costs your life.

4. Forgive your enemies. In doing good, you will create enemies. And yet have we really risen above the spirit of the world if we aim to seek vengeance? In two scenes in Spielberg’s film, Lincoln is a man portrayed as devout toward his cause, even willing to allow hundreds of thousands to die, but extremely quick to forgive and reconcile once a just course had been established.

There are many more lessons we can learn from Abraham Lincoln. We certainly need more leaders like him.

We are not short on causes. We are short on humble, devout, forgiving and passionate leaders.

What cause could you see yourself dying for? And how has that cause changed the way you live?

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller has been telling his story for more than a decade, now he wants to help you tell yours. He’s helped over 1,000 companies clarify their message through the StoryBrand Workshops. For an introduction to what he’s doing now, check out the 5 Minute Marketing Makeover.