How To Be a History Maker

I want to be a history maker. I remember the first time I saw my favorite Christian band, Delirious, in concert. In that dark, crowded, suspiciously musty concert venue, I remember shouting the words of one of my favorite songs:

I’m gonna be a history maker in this land
I’m gonna be a speaker of truth to all mankind
I’m gonna stand, I’m gonna run
Into your arms, into your arms again

Delirious, History Maker

In 1999, I was a 21-year old Bible college senior ready to change the world. Those heady words swirled inside of me and took residence in my heart. I had ambitious plans. I would land an internship, join a church staff, ascend through the hierarchy, and accept the call to lead. I’d be a fearless, compassionate, and creative leader. Over time, I’d expand my influence by coaching and supporting other aspiring leaders. After a full ministry career, I’d run into God’s arms and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I wanted to be a history maker!

Can you relate?

No matter what calling God gave you—vocational ministry, the armed forces, education, raising children, banking, farming, retail, tech, or politics—you likely pursued it out of a deep passion and an overwhelming desire to make a difference in the world. You wanted to help, to earn responsibility, and to expand influence. You wanted to change the world.

Do you still want to be a history maker? I know I still do. There are at least four disciplines that history-making demands of us:

Become good at the little things

I discovered quickly that if I wanted to change the world, I’d have to focus on the present. Every career is made up of 1,000 un-glamorous tasks that simply must be done. I learned that if I wanted to have a chance to teach on a big stage, I’d have to get really good at planning lessons for my small group. If I wanted to help an organization increase efficiencies, I’d have to learn how to file accurate expense reports on time. If I wanted to get permission to make changes, I’d have to learn how to persuade decision makers. I had remember that this is the path to greater responsibility and impact in the Kingdom: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 25:21″ display=”Matthew 25:21″]).

Faithfully executing the details gives you the experience and credibility you need to assume greater responsibility. There are no shortcuts to success. The discipline developed in getting good at the little things positions you as a person who can be entrusted with bigger things.

Sharpen your Spirit-given strengths

I had a clear picture of what I was going to accomplish but I didn’t know my own strengths and weaknesses. As I embarked upon on my plans, I experienced great friction in some areas and great traction in others. I spent a lot of time trying to become good at things that simply weren’t aligned with my gifts. I soon realized that I could either invest hours trying to bolster up weaknesses with very little return on investment or that I could lean into my strengths with huge results. Along the way, I learned that God had given me gifts of leadership, administration, and teaching. I took time to better understand my own temperament. And, wise counselors gave me permission to focus on my strengths, gifts, and calling. This made all the difference.

The Apostle Paul teaches that each of us who are in Christ have been given the powerful presence of the Spirit to accomplish the common good ([biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 12:7″ display=”1 Corinthians 12:7″]) and he reminded his protege Timothy to fan his gifts into flame ([biblegateway passage=”2 Timothy 1:6″ display=”2 Timothy 1:6″]). If you want to be a history maker, spend your time sharpening your Spirit-given strengths.

Invest in people

You can be charismatic and gifted, in possession of all the right resources, and you can be a wizard at strategy and structure. If you don’t invest in people, though, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Or, at the very least, you’re diminishing your potential. No matter where you work, what you do, or how talented you are, you won’t succeed if you’re not great at investing in people.

As Christians, what’s our overarching calling and purpose? It is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:37″ display=”Matthew 22:37″] and [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:39″ display=”39″]). That’s it. Whether it’s our coworkers, our constituents, our clients, our communities, or our customers, our first priority must be to love people well.

If we become history makers it will be because we invested in people and we loved them well (ultimately by bringing them to Jesus).

Keep showing up

Finally, there’s no substitute for simply showing up every day. For most of us, God willing, it will be a long race. It’s easy to become discouraged when we forget that history making takes years of sustained, persistent effort. We tend to overestimate what we can do in a week or month and underestimate what we can do in a year or two. People who make a difference in the world have learned how to push through the pain of slow progress and how to keep showing up and doing the work to which God has called them.

What about you?

Are you young and ambitious, hoping for history-making results on a shorter-than-realistic time frame? Are you trying to remain passionate in spite of slow progress or under-realized visions and dreams? Have your world-changing dreams begun to fade?

Hang in there. Keep working on mastering the little things. Continue sharpening your Spirit-given gifts. Don’t quit investing in people. And, by all means, keep showing up. God is in the business of making history and he wants to use you and me. (If you need a little extra inspiration, try this!)

Maximizing Strengths

maximize-your-strengths

I have spent a number of years feeling guilty.

You see, I need to get in better shape. But, I really dislike working out at the gym. The thought of getting up in the morning to go for a run simply isn’t appealing. I used a treadmill for a year or so—as a clothes hanger. You get the picture. I’ve tried, and failed, at any number of exercise routines that I simply didn’t enjoy. None of them stuck. They only succeeded in making me feel guilty.

A couple of months ago, my wife (who is much smarter and more perceptive than me) said, “You love to swim. Why don’t you get a membership at the YMCA and start swimming?”

Great idea!

I’ve been going several times a week. My stamina has increased tenfold. And, between swims, I actually look forward to getting back in the water.

What was the difference? I’ve found an activity that plays to my strengths and preferences and I’ve given up trying to incorporate unenjoyable activities in areas of personal weakness.

What does all of this have to do with serving? 

I have regularly struggled to find a balance between maximizing my strengths and shoring up my weaknesses, especially at work. There are things I love about what I do. I gravitate toward opportunities that are in my wheelhouse. I’ll almost always respond in the affirmative to invitations to do these things. But, there are other tasks I simply dread. I’ve tried to improve in these areas. But, mustering the necessary motivation is like trying to wade through a pool of molasses.

My experience swimming laps has made me reflect on an important question:

What if I spent much less time feeling guilty about my weaknesses and, instead, spent that time actually maximizing my strengths?

I believe we’d see great results—in all areas of life: ministry, work, marriage, parenting, relationships, and more—from forgetting about weaknesses and maximizing strengths.

Three benefits of maximizing strengths

1. More enjoyment

It’s just more fun to do things that I love, to play to my God-given strengths. And, life’s too short to be chained to a role or task that’s become a ball and chain.

2. Greater output

I’ll never produce as much working in an area of weakness as I could working in an area of strength. It just makes sense. But, how many times do we work ourselves to the bone trying to produce when we know we’re simply not wired for the task? Focus on the things you love, your areas of strength, and build all you can with all you have in you. You’ll be surprised at how much you’re capable of producing.

3. Deeper relationships

Maximizing strengths, and understanding the strengths of the people with whom I’m partnered, can lead to greater depth in our relationships. Whether it’s at work, in the community, at church, or at home, knowing the strengths of the people with whom I’m working keeps me from forming unrealistic expectations of them, increases my appreciation of their unique contributions, and helps me to value them for who they are. And, bringing my strengths into my relationships gives others a chance to appreciate me in the same way.

Before moving on, there are three qualifications I feel I need to make:

First, we’re not talking about moral weaknesses here. These must be dealt with swiftly, decisively, honestly, and with the help of godly friends. Second, this doesn’t give us an excuse to beg out of the tedious tasks that all jobs, roles, and relationships require of us. We still have to be responsible for the little things while being mindful that we lean into areas of giftedness and strength. Finally, this shouldn’t give us an out when it comes to trying new things. We should be excited to try new things even if we think they might not be in an area of strength. You just never know what you might end up loving.

What about you?

What weaknesses have you been determined to bolster up? Which of your strengths have you been neglecting? What changes do you need to make to move into a place where you’re maximizing strengths?

Introverts And Wonder

introverts-and-wonder

In the introduction of her excellent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain points out that introverts are more likely to ask what-if questions than extroverts.

That’s me!

Truths about Introverts and Wonder

I didn’t know this tendency was in any way tied to my personality. But, I’m glad it is! While it might be more natural for introverts like me to wonder about stuff—to ask what-if questions—it’s a discipline that is central to so many things for all of us. Here are just a few:

What-if questions are essential to creative endeavors.

Innovation simply isn’t possible without the ability to ask what-if questions. What if I pour lemonade into my iced tea? Bam! The Arnold Palmer is created. What if we strapped some brave people to a rocket and pointed it at the moon? Bam! The space age is born. What if we could put a personal computer in every home? Bam! Microsoft and Apple make billions of dollars. What if we speed up these atomic particles and make them collide? Bam! … Bam! You get the idea. Every creative innovation or endeavor begins with someone who asks a what-if question.

What-if questions can be powerful catalysts for spiritual growth.

I recently glanced over the notes in my Bible app and was astonished by how frequently I use phrases like, “I wonder” and “what if.” I believe wonder is a central characteristic of people who place themselves on a trajectory of spiritual growth. When we begin asking those questions, we begin a dialogue that opens us up to new ways of seeing things and it helps us better internalize and apply what we’re reading so it becomes a vital, living relationship with the Creator and not just a cursory, religious activity.

What-if questions are a key characteristic of people who lead.

A leader has to be someone who is constantly asking what-if questions. Questions about direction. Questions about resources. Questions about vision and values. Questions about the future. In fact, the alternative to the willingness to ask what-if questions for a leader is stagnation, inertia, the status quo. It takes bravery for a leader to ask what-if questions, even more courage to act on them. But, they’re essential for leaders and their organizations if they intend to move forward.

As a proud introvert, I’m excited to read the rest of Quiet and to continue asking what-if questions as I move into the future.

What about you?

What if you were to ask more what-if questions at home, at work, at church and in your relationships? I wonder what might happen as a result?