A friend of mine did something last week and was amazed that she had not done it before. To paraphrase her words, "It was so simple, what kept her from just doing it some time ago?"
My suggestion was the "what if...?" trap.
We get so caught up in this kind of limited thinking and bottom line, it can paralze us from moving forward and doing what we've been called to do. It can stop us from simple tasks to moving forward with power and vision.
What if I lose my job?
What if Washington goes broke?
What if I fail?
What if people criticize me?
What if I break something?
What if, what if what if...? it's a trap.
We can think ourselves into inaction or mediocrity if we let the "what if...?" trap take over our minds and hearts.
David inspires me to think differently in Psalm 27:
[What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord's goodness in the land of the living! Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord. (Amplified Version)
David believed. He wasn't hopelessly caught up in the "what if...? "trap. Hopelessness is terrible and instead David chose to have a stout and enduring heart. He wasn't giving up on his vision, He was trusting God. He was believing, not analyzing.
He didn't look at what could happen, he chose to believe that God's goodness would prevail in spite of all the "what ifs" that faced him. He chose to wait, hope and expect the Lord to bring all things (mistakes and victories) together for His good.
It's interesting to me that a few days ago Showtime changed its deal with Netflix and now Starz is following suit. Last Thursday, the pay TV channel said it would no longer put its original content on Netflix the day after it runs on the channel. Now it will wait three months. Starz also said it would eventually do the same with the theatrical movies it carries. The moves from Showtime and Starz come after Netflix made its first foray into original programming, making the company even more of a competitor.
Is this thinking about the customer? Or thinking abundantly? I don't think so.
Years ago Steven Covey introduced us to abundant thinking. More recently Seth Godin has polished the concept to bring it to not just leadership, but marketing and products as well.
These announcements seem like a "hoarding" mentality. One that is restrictive. One that isn't customer focused, but rather, "self focused." The companies are asking, "What's best for us?" rather than "What's best for our customer?"
John 10:10 also talks about abundant life. It reminds us, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."
Jesus's words are a stark contrast to a hoarding mentality. He brings to us not just forgiveness and hope, but an opportunity to live an abundant life. The word implies "well beyond." It's a life well beyond the normal, well beyond anything we've seen or lived. But, we have to also read verse 11.
Jesus continues and says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for His sheep."
The essence of God's abundance lies in His sacrifice. It's not about what Jesus can "do" for us, it's what He "did" for us, at the cross.
When we understand that, then we can begin to understand His incredible, matchless love for us and then we can fully see His promise for an abundant life. It's not possessions, it's His love and character working through us and in us every day. That's abundance.
What do you think?
Knowing what you want is very important.
It's surprising how many people, even those in leadership roles in large, multi-national organizations and ministries, do know really know what they want. They are good people with good motives and good ideas. They work hard and get a lot done. But, their values are inconsistent; their vision is not clear. They are wandering in the fog.
To ultimately realize the power of commitment, we must be sure of where we are going and what attitudes and behavior will ensure that we arrive at our destination with our head held high.
Commitment has its origins in clearly perceived values and vision.
Personal Values. I enjoyed reading George W. Bush's book Decision Points. I'm not arguing politics here, but it's obvious to me, after reading the book, that Bush had a set of personal values that were uncompromising and clear. He made decisions from those values. He may have seemed stubborn, but each time he needed to make a decision, he fell back to his personal values. Our values reflect what we feel is important. They are motivators and they give us reasons to do or not to do. If we don't have a set of highly thought out values, we're in a fog when crunch time comes.
Developing a Vision. It's important for a leader to be committed to a vision. Vision is the ability to look beyond today, beyond the obstacles, beyond the majority opinion and gaze across the horizon of time and imagine greater things ahead. It's the ability to see what is not yet reality. It includes foresight as well as insight. Knowing our vision keeps us out of the fog. It keeps us from rattling around and simply punching the time clock.
Leaders who have climbed above the fog know what they are committed to. They have forged values and vision on the anvil of time, experience, hope and faith.
What values drive you? What's your vision?
The story is told that Andrew Jackson's boyhood friends just could not understand how he became a famous general and then the President of the United States. They knew of other men who had greater talent but who never succeeded. One of Jackson's friends said, "Why, Jim Brown, who lived right down the pike from Jackson, was not only smarter but he could throw Andy three times out of four in a wrestling match. But look where Andy is now." Another friend responded, "How did there happen to be a fourth time? Didn't they usually say three times and out?" "Sure, they were supposed to, but not Andy. He would never admit he was beat -- he would never stay 'throwed.' Jim Brown would get tired, and on the fourth try Andrew Jackson would throw him and be the winner." Picking up on that idea, someone has said, "The thing that counts is not how many times you are 'throwed,' but whether you are willing to stay 'throwed'." Leaders face setbacks, but must take courage and go forward in faith and trust. The battle is the Lord's, so there is no excuse for us to stay "throwed"!
Perseverance – what it takes to stay with something until it is completed. Andrew Jackson evidently understood the word.
A. B. Meldrum once said, “Bear in mind, if you are going to amount to anything, that your success does not depend upon the brilliancy and the impetuosity with which you take hold, but upon the everlasting and sanctified bull-doggedness with which you hang on after you have taken hold.”
Throughout the history of man, leaders have usually propelled the greatest achievements with an against-all-odds tenacity. The unshakable convictions of the righteous of a cause have kept adventurers, explorers, entrepreneurs and visionaries going despite overwhelming difficulty and fierce competition from the market. They were and continue to be persistent, holding fast to their beliefs and moving the organization or the idea forward.
The Apostle Paul writes to the Philippians:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Incredible words from an incredibly persevering man. Paul was humble enough to know he had not arrived. He is focused on the prize (the right goal). He learned from his mistakes and pressed ahead. He was committed from a deep sense of purpose and he trusted something outside of his own pride, knowledge and resume.
Julian Phillips and Allan Kennedy wrote, “Success in instilling values appears to had had little to do with charismatic personality. Rather it derived from obvious, sincere, sustained personal commitment to the values the leaders sought to implant, coupled with extraordinary persistence in reinforcing those values.”
Persistence is critical to leading any organization or group of people. Persistence, not prideful stubbornness, but a laser-sharp focus on biblical values, goals and humility.
It's too bad that Noah's and the whole ark story is often relegated to a simple story about animals and two by two. Noah (Genesis 6) was a hero and he's clearly an example of a leader who's obedient to God's will.
It's not like God didn't give everyone the same opportunity as He gave Noah. I'm sure He did, but they refused to listen. They stayed in their box of comfort, traditionalism, pride and self. Many scholars believe they had never seen rain. They must have been thinking, "What's a boat?" Can you imagine the peer pressure Noah felt? His family felt?
Noah turned his back on business as usual. He turned his back on conventional wisdom. Noah turned his eyes heavenward, stayed focused on what God was telling him and he was rescued and blessed.
What does that tell us as leaders? What does Noah's example show us?
Noah's a leaderhip hero. There is a lot we can learn from him. The bottom line - obedience to God's vision won't always make sense, but we can be protected by doing what He asks us to do. Noah was fully dedicated to living in God's will. He went against the flow, he stayed tuned in to what God asked and called him to do.
We all make decisions. Every day, whether we're president of the U.S. or a small child, we make decisions. We reach a place, a fork in the road, a business problem, a playgound turmoil, where we must choose something. We seek change, we want peace, we want to get ahead, we want more marketshare and profits. We need to make a decision.
Many people make quick decisions. They think that the quantity of decisions they make is the goal. They trudge down the agenda and rapidly change directions, policies and conditions without much hesitation. At the end of the day they may feel better ("Hey, the agenda is completed") but they also may be swimming in shallow water.
The best decisions are quality decisions. Ones where we get input and go deeper to find the best solutions. Not the quickest, not the one that feels better, but the one that best leads the organization or our lives in the right direction.
In Luke 5:1-7 Jesus shows us how to go deeper and make quality decisions. In this narrative, the fishermen are just coming ashore from a lousy day. No fish. They are cleaning thier nets (no small task in the first century) and Jesus tells them to go back out to deeper waters. They are tired from their day, they probably don't "feel" like going back out, but they do (and this is key).
When they went deeper, following the voice of Jesus, Scripture says, "They caught a great number of fish." The result shows the right decision. It shows wisdom of going deeper when we don't feel like going deeper. They had every reason to make a quick decision, but they chose (another key) to go deeper.
Our natural self says, "Nope, I've tried, I'm done. I'm deciding this because I'm not feeling it." This is shallow water living. Jesus tells us to go deeper. In spite of our feelings, in spite of all the data ("We didn't catch any fish today"), He says, "Go deeper. Follow my instruction and go deeper to find the answer (in this case so many fish that their net was breaking).
We can make quick decisions. We can stay in shallow water and rattle off the decisions based on our feelings or some data.
Or, we can go deeper. We can seek quality decisions by listening to Jesus voice, going deeper and finding wisdom in the depths.
Proverbs 2: 1-6 says:
MY SON, if you will receive my words and treasure up my commandments within you,
2Making your ear attentive to skillful and godly Wisdom and inclining and directing your heart and mind to understanding [applying all your powers to the quest for it];
3Yes, if you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
4If you seek [Wisdom] as for silver and search for skillful and godly Wisdom as for hidden treasures,
5Then you will understand the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of [our omniscient] God.
6For the Lord gives skillful and godly Wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Seek wisdom and quality decisions. Go for the deeper waters and reap the benefits of quality decisions, not fast ones, not feeling ones, not data ones. Quality ones.
I don't know about you, but I hate to stop. Red lights, traffic jams and airport delays just drive me crazy. I want to keep going, make headway, and not sit and waste time. For me, it's all about the destination, I could care less about the journey. Looking around, I don't think I am alone.
We study Jesus' life much the same way. We see Him going and doing. "Jesus left so-and-so place and went here, and He did this." Jesus went.
However, what I've discovered is that Jesus was extremely powerful and effective when He stopped.
Here are just three of many examples Jesus and the power of stopping
The sermon on the mount. Jesus is surrounded by a multitude (Bible word for a big crowd). He's a rock star. Instead of arrogantly firing up the crowd, performing or just posing for photo ops, He pulls His closest comrades to Him, and on a hill delivers one of the most stirring sermons ever recorded. He starts with the Beatitudes and with these interlocking building blocks, He lays a foundation for who we are in Christ and how we are to live. He stopped. He took the time away from the crowd (and the adulation) to teach, serve and love people. NOTE: as an aside, Steve Berger’s recent teaching on the Beatitudes is excellent and can be found at www.gracechapel.net
The woman at the well. Jesus is traveling and He makes a point to stop in this place. It's not a friendly place by any means and He stops at a water well to talk to this Samaritan woman of questionable reputation. He saves her life that day for Eternity. What if He didn't stop and notice? What if the journey was more important than the few minutes He spent with her? He chose to stop. He chose to meet a need.
The Cross. The ultimate destination becomes the ultimate stopping point. God's son leaves Heaven, comes to earth and makes the ultimate sacrifice for us. He stopped so we could be free. He stopped so we could "go."
Stopping is powerful. Leaders, do you take the time to stop and not just check on what your people are doing, but do you check on their "being"? Do you know who they are aside from what they do? Do you stop long enough to know their strengths? Build them up and care?
Parents, do you stop? I was in a restaurant a few weeks for breakfast. In came a Dad with his six or seven year old son. I thought, "How great, Father and son together for breakfast." To my shock, the Dad props up his iPhone and plays a video for the son (complete with headphones) while he read the newspaper. Their food came, the boy watched the video and they left. Couldn't the Dad stop long enough to talk to his son? Parents, the time goes way too fast. Stop texting, phoning, and going. Stop and talk to your kids. You'll be amazed.
We have to learn from Jesus and stop. We need to take the time and not just enjoy the journey, but get to know and serve people along the way as well. I'm committed to do that, are you?
Our small group Bible study spent time in the book of Daniel last year. It was a rewarding and eye-opening study of this man, the culture in which he lived and how he responded to it. Yes, you can marvel at the prophesy and the symbolism of Daniel. We spent time there, but we spent most of our time looking at this special man of God.
Daniel had exceptional character traits. He was a man of excellence and a model leader for all of us to not just admire, but to emulate.
When you read Daniel one of the first things you notice is that he was committed to a lifestyle. He fully understood his personal vision and life mission. He knew what God called him to be and he stuck to the values that came from his deep relationship with God. In the first chapter, as a young man, he's tested, but he doesn't waver. He sticks to his values, his commitments and it shows a deep sense of excellence and connection to God.
Many leaders today find it easy to say they will do something, but harder to do it. They are uncomfortable executing what sounded good at the time. Or, they continually change the ship's direction based on whim, incomplete information or just change for change sake.This may happen because unlike Daniel, they're mind isn't fixed on their values. They waver based on circumstand and external pressure or criticism. Daniel didn't. He was determined to stand firm on values deeply rooted in God's word.
Daniel's mind was fixed on his values. He didnt' live a shallow life out of his emotions, mind and personal will. He did things he probably didn't "feel" like doing, but he did them because they matched his values and personal commitments.
Daniel "found favor." God opens doors and he can close doors, but Daniel knew (as many of us in leadership need to remember) that he didn't want to do anything unless God was in it. He sowed seeds of commitment and determination. He refused to be average. He swam against the current of the times and through it all he glorified God and made sure his values lined up with God's word. He live a long and successful life through tremendous pressure and transition. Through it all, he was blessed by God's favor.
Daniel made a decison to be of excellent character. He didn't waver because his mind was set on Godly values. He remained committed to those basic values no matter the circumstance or his emotions. He was truly a remarkable and effective leader.
Several years ago Stealers Wheel recorded a hit song, "Stuck in the Middle with You." Part of the lyric went, "Clowns to the left of me; Jokers to the right; Here I am, stuck in the middle with you." It's an anthem to so many ideas, goals and projects.
Many times an idea launches with fanfare and celebration. The team is excited. Things start happening. The "change" word is bandied about. Plans are set in place. It all looks so good.
Then, in the middle, something happens. The project, the goal, get stuck. Whether it's bureaucracy, circumstances, or the temptation of that hot fudge sundae, we slow down. We're suddenly people in the quicksand of the middle. The emotional rah-rah is lost, we can't see the end goal for trying and the energy for it all just slowly disappears.
The Israelites suffered in the middle. The former slaves were heading to the promised land. Everything looked great. Seas parted, food reigned down from heaven and God was showing them the way. But, for some reason, they got stuck in the middle. An eleven-day journey took 40 years to complete and the original "team" never did make it.
If any group "had it all" it was this group. If any group should have easily made the goal, hit the target or finished, it was this group.
So what happened and what can we learn so we don't get stuck?
The people lacked vision. In spite of all that Moses did and said, the people lacked vision. This is seen clearly when the 12 come back from spying out the promised land. The people preferred to be negative while Joshua and Caleb saw plenty, the other ten saw disaster and the people clung to the negative. They lost vision. They were so lost they wanted to go back to the way things were - slavery.
They had unbelief. Their lack of vision led to unbelief. It's a horrible cycle for a team to begin. Lack of vision leads to doubt that leads to unbelief. "This is too hard" "Why did we ever start this" "It doesn't make sense". "The numbers don't work".
They were disobedient. God set a clear path before them and yet they strayed from it. They let their own pride, desire and plan get in the way of a perfect plan engineered by God.
As leaders we need to battle the fatigue of the middle. As the ceremony of the beginning wanes, we need to consistently communicate the vision. Our people must never lose sight of the "why". We must coach them through unbelief. When things start going the wrong way, we must discern if this is just an obstacle or a stop sign. If it's just an obstacle, we need to help our people go back to vision and the anticipated end result (the promised land).
Letting the middle get in the way will slow or stop any progress or growth. People think they are doing fine just by getting near the goal. Excellence gets reduced to acceptable. Mediocrity is just a breath away.