Way back when I was leading a denominational mission agency, a man asked me a question that really bugged me. The question was a good one. What bugged me was that I didn’t have an answer. I never liked questions I didn’t have answers for, especially from board members.
If someone today gave you a million dollars, what would you do with it.?” Somehow the years have flown by. My organizational responsibilities have changed but I still remember the stinging inner conviction that accompanied my lack of a solid response.
With the passage of time, that hypothetical million dollars has probably shrunk to a $10M equivalent. What stirred up this old memory was the title of a Ted Talk that I haven’t yet gotten around to watching yet. “What would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Both of these questions speak of unlimited potential. Both these questions tapped into my inability or unwillingness to dream, envision or believe that God had a future for me or the organization I led that was a quantum leap ahead of where we were.
The old folks used to say one had to “stick to his knitting” meaning, focus on what you know, do what you have been given to do. We were to “keep our noses to the grindstone,” They used to talk dismissively about the useless dreamers they knew who “were so future minded that they were of no earthly good.” The Old Folk were right about the ineffectiveness of people who live in a fantasy world, always dreaming of hitting the magic jackpot of success but never willing to apply themselves to the disciplined day-to-day hard work that builds the necessary foundation for any successful enterprise or accomplishment.
In Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit quotes E.B. White’s phrase “prepared to be lucky.” Then says, “The key words here are “prepared” and “lucky.” They’re inseparable. You don’t get lucky without preparation, and there is no sense in being prepared if you’re not open to the possibility of a glorious accident.” For the follower of Christ, God’s providence eliminates any concept of luck. However, Divine providence often shows itself in ways that take our breath away with its unanticipated arrival. The $1M gift is one such possibility as is the impossibility of failure. The question for me was “Have I prepared? Have I been diligent in seeking from the Giver of all gifts a vision that would match His magnificent surprise?” I hadn’t been.
I still remember as if it were yesterday being convicted and appalled at the smallness of my vision. I read somewhere last week that “we often get so busy fighting alligators that we forget the job was to drain the swamp.” That was me.
What my board member was asking me was, “what swamp did I really want to see drained?” I was so busy fighting off the alligators that I had not given much thought to the bigger task. For a leader, that is irresponsible. We are supposed to think not only abut the next days pilgrimage, but also the ultimate destination to which we are taking our people. All I could think about in response to my board member was the money we needed to do a better job of fine tuning the system.
Lest you think that this type of dreaming and thinking is easy, spending large sums of money is hard work. It requires great discipline, planning, humility and sensitivity to people and, most importantly, to the Holy Spirit. Unintended consequences always seem to accompany good intentions and large sums of money. It is too late to do the necessary thinking after the gift arrives. The insight for a big vision may come in a flash, but its development matures over time. I am not talking about five-year incremental corporate “dreams.” The arduous kind of dreaming I am referring to is congruent with the statement of a wise man that “no truly worthwhile vision is ever accomplished in a single lifetime.” That is the kind of dream we need.
This kind of visioning is also, in the beginning at least, a solitary enterprise. As the vision matures, there will be plenty of time for people to massage it, and own it. However, as a leader you are the “seer”: you are tasked with seeing farther than the people you lead. The raw material comes from your reading and reflecting on today’s world and future trends. The Spirit’s application of God’s Word to that reality is essential. Fueling your anointed imagination with the best thinking concerning the future should be freeing and liberating from pressures of today. Holy dreaming is a part of this process. Taking time alone with God, depending upon the Spirit’s illumination for future dreams and visions that inspire you should be energizing. Dreaming of God-honoring and world-shaping enterprises will also enlarge your ability to see strategic opportunities to exploit right now. Don’t neglect to get your thoughts down on paper so that over time you can examine and develop them.
You need to put a specific and dedicated time on your schedule at least every quarter to engage under the discipline of Scripture and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit these big picture questions. Engage in the disciplined pursuit of that $1B dollar vision where failure is not a possibility. Perhaps if you prepare, God will choose to surprise you with His abundant and unlimited resources. At the very least you won’t be as ashamed as I was at not having an adequate response to a board members good question.
Your friend and fellow pilgrim, … Paul