But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
When I was in junior high I remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I clearly remember blurting out, “a real estate agent.” The classroom gave a collective chuckle. Keep in mind that my dad was a real estate agent at the time and seemed to be quite happy and I also thought my dad was pretty awesome. So my answer was actually quite sincere. But if I were really honest I would have said that my real dream was to be the starting point guard for the Lakers. The problem was that in junior high I was 4’8” and just 75 pounds (34 years later I’ve blossomed to an impressive 5’4” and have added many pounds that unfortunately are not primarily muscle). The tallest in my extended family was 5 feet 9 inches—not quite NBA stock but not entirely unheard of either. In order to gain some height I naively hung from the pull-up bar as I saw on a Brady Bunch episode, hoping gravity would stretch me into NBA contention. It didn’t work.
Not only was my size an issue but even more so was my lack of stellar athletic ability. Yes I had some impressive moments in Boys Club baseball earlier that year where I had the highest on-base percentage out of the whole team, but I realized it was mainly because I was so small that the pitchers always walked me – not because I could hit the ball! Trying to become an NBA player wasn’t even the right problem to solve.
Pastoring the past 20+ years has clearly been the right calling I have pursued and I have gladly helped others discern their vocational callings (including some actual professional athletes who had the skills and drive to make a living in the sport they loved). Helping others focus on the right problems is always a task of leadership.
Some early Christians were so committed to their Jewish roots that they demanded the Gentile believers become more Jewish as proof of their faithfulness to God. Fortunately the Spirit led Paul and Barnabas to declare the problem wasn’t the Gentiles not being Jewish enough but certain Jewish Christians putting ungodly burdens on these new believers. Paul and Barnabas refused to fix the problem wrongly put before them and instead reframed the issue at hand to fix the right problem.
Dave Evans’ and Bill Burnett’s book, Designing Your Life makes the case for not focusing on every problem that comes to you. We must make sure we are working not just on obvious problems, but the right problems. “Deciding which problems to work on may be one of the most important decisions you make, because people can lose years (or a lifetime) working on the wrong problem.”[i]
Fortunately it was easy for me to figure out that making it into the NBA wasn’t the right problem for me to solve. Most of our problems aren’t so simple and yet this is still a good exercise to challenge ourselves with. Sometimes the problems we focus lots of resources on don’t deserve this time and effort. Wrong problems often disguise themselves as important or urgent when they are rarely both – and often neither. Those we lead deserve our focus to be on the right problems to be addressed instead of the wrong problems that others want us to fix. Paul and Barnabas were wise not to waste time fixing a problem that wasn’t really the problem at all.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you find yourself energized by fixing certain problems more than others? How do the wrong problems disguise themselves as urgent or important in your context?
Is there a problem or set of problems that you currently spend a lot of time trying to fix? How did you determine if this problem was the most important one for you to focus on in your work? When have you spent time fixing something that you realized later wasn’t really the main problem or even a problem at all?
Who determines which problems you are to focus on: yourself, an individual who supervises you, a client, a team that you are accountable to or some combination of these? What steps could you take this next week to refocus on the right problems in your sphere of influence?
Lord, give me your wisdom so that I might focus my attention on that to which you are directing me. Help me to ignore the wrong problems that others might want me to devote time and attention to and to recognize my own inclinations towards fixing things you aren’t asking me to fix. Amen.
Burnett, Bill; Evans, Dave (2016-09-20). Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life (Kindle Locations 401-402). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
P.S. Dave Evans, co-author of Designing Your Life, is a friend of and advisor to the De Pree Center. His book is excellent and we highly recommend it. [http://designingyour.life/the-book/]