I love starting things and it’s exhilarating to close out a project, but the middle ground can be a drag and it is your habits in the middle that will either move you across the “great divide” to complete your project or risk shifting into neutral and allowing projects to slowly fade and die.
In Psalms 78, King David, arguably Israel's greatest king ever, began to recount the historical journey his ancestors made from slavery in Egypt to the settling of their "promised land." He boasted of their miraculous escape from Pharaoh and how God supernaturally supplied for their needs in the Wilderness. But when it came time in the story for the Israelites to cross the Jordan River and take possession of Canaan, King David made an alarming statement as to why they failed. He said in verse 41, that they "limited God."
Is it possible for a human being to limit the limitless God? If the Israelites were able to limit God, then that would suggest that we, too, are capable of limiting Him.
The facts are: God promised them they would inhabit and establish a nation in the land of Canaan. Yet, the group that had received this promise died in the Wilderness on the border of their dream. It was God's will for them to settle in Canaan, so it wasn't God who limited them, they limited God. But how? And if they were capable of limiting God, how can we avoid limiting Him in our lives?
I think the Israelites made 4 mistakes that caused them to miss God's will for their life:
1. They asked the wrong questions.
18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Numbers 13:18-20 (NIV)
Moses asked the wrong questions. In fact, I think his questions set the spies up for failure. What report would have come back if Moses had asked them to report on their enemies weaknesses instead of asking "are they strong or are they weak?" The spies came back with the report that they were strong. This put fear into the people's hearts. What if Moses would have asked the spies to report on the vulnerabilities of their cities instead of asking if they were "unwalled or fortified?" The spies answered the questions Moses asked honestly.
What questions are you asking yourself? I believe one of the reasons we talk ourselves out of our potential is we are asking ourselves the wrong questions. If you ask the right questions, you will get the right answers. So, one way to remove the limits we place on ourselves and on God is to ask ourselves better questions.
2. They didn't think in steps.
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” Numbers 13:31 (NIV)
They made a crucial mistake that we are all prone to make. They looked at the project in it's entirety and didn't break it down in steps. When they looked the people who inhabited the land as a whole group, they saw strength. But, history tells us that there were at least 5 different people groups that occupied the land of Canaan and these people groups were continually at odds with one another.
29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” Numbers 13:29 (NIV)
God wanted them to think in steps. The fact was, years later when Joshua did conquer the land of Canaan they discovered that when they attacked one people group, none of the others came to their rescue. They hated each other. It was a simple divide and conquer. Individually these groups were small and weak and could be conquered one at a time.
It's the same with you and me. I often look at a project as a whole and get overwhelmed by the magnitude of it. But when we learn to think in steps we can conquer virtually anything. I believe there are 2 reasons people don’t reach their full potential: 1.) They don’t think big enough; and 2.) They don’t start small enough. Dream Big. Start Small. Think in steps.
3. They didn't see the opportunities in their problems.
32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. Numbers 13:32 (NIV)
Historians say that at this time in history there was a great plague sweeping the land. Many died. This is why they said "the land devours those living in it." This was a crisis. Often, the opportunity of a lifetime comes through a crisis. The plague made the people weak and vulnerable, yet the Israelites chose to look at it with fear.
The word crisis in the Chinese language is made up of two characters that mean: 1.) Problem; 2.) Opportunity. In every problem there is an opportunity if we choose to look at it that way. You can live fear minded or you can live favor minded. What problems are you facing right now? Search for an opportunity in the problem and you will find it.
4. They empowered their fear through their focus and confessions.
All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Numbers 13:33 (NIV)
What you focus on you give power to. If you focus on your giants, they will get bigger and bigger in your mind until they are unconquerable. The spies actually reported that ALL of the people were of great size. If that was true, how did they spy out the land and come home undetected? Wouldn’t they have stood out if they were the smallest? All of the people weren't giants! In fact, verse 22 in Numbers 13 names only 3 giants! Do not magnify your giants!! They exaggerated the giants so much in their own mind that they confessed that they "seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes." Isn't that the truth? The more we focus on how big the problem is, the smaller and smaller we feel. That's why the Apostle Paul told us in Philippians 4:8-9 to think on the positive things. The truth is, if you change your view of you, then the world will, too!
Question: Which one of these 4 mistakes do you struggle with the most? How do you plan to address that limitation?
I am currently on my annual prayer and prep week. Each August I travel to a remote location and spend the week alone praying through the upcoming church season, from September to September. I seek God for direction as to where He would like to take our church in the next year and as I get a sense of direction and focus, I begin to chart a preaching plan. I start by breaking down the year into 12-15 series of 2-6 weeks each. I theme each series and then begin to pray into each theme, looking for direction as to what to teach.
I have done this each year for the last 4 years and here is why:
I have discovered that one of our biggest problems as the Church is that we generally communicate hundreds of messages on any given weekend. This hinders our ability to connect with our audience and be relevant in our communities. One of the reasons we fail to connect is we fail to prepare. I have found that the more prepared I am the more focused I can become.
Focus is important because:
- The more you focus each environment, the greater the relevance. Pastor Reggie Joiner of Northpoint Church said, “The truth is that church by its nature is a very general concept. And most people are not looking for a church; otherwise, churches would be full of visitors every week. What people are looking for is something that is relevant to their marriage, their family, their personal lives. What they are looking for is something that works for them as individuals. And that is something specific, not general.” Reggie Joiner
- The more you focus each environment, the better the connection. You can’t be creative with a few days notice. Creativity helps people remember and helps people connect with you and your message. When I used to plan my messages a week in advance I found some of the best illustrations and creative ideas after I delivered the message. By then, it was too late and I missed a golden opportunity to make it stick in the hearts and minds of the people.
- The more you focus each environment, the higher the quality. Gilbert Amelio, president and CEO of National Semiconductor Corporation said, "Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. The leader must be able to share knowledge and ideas to transmit a sense of urgency and enthusiasm to others. If a leader can't get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn't even matter."
- The more you focus each environment, the stronger the impact. When I plan a year in advance, it allows my team to prepare along with me on the specific topic. This enables us to create impactful environments around the theme. Our children's ministry can teach the same theme. Our youth ministry can teach the same theme. Our worship team can prepare songs based on the theme. Our media and creative arts teams have time to create, write and produce high quality creative elements to add to the message. This allows us to create wholesale environments around the message we are trying to communicate. Pastor Reggie Joiner said, “When your priority is creating environments instead of marketing your church, you will make a greater impact on what your community thinks about your church.”
Question: How much more creativity could you add to your communication if you had more time to prepare? I'd appreciate your comments and ideas :)