steps, not leaps

There are moments in life that you never forget.

For me, one of those moments took place during my first visit to the Grand Canyon. Although I am an Arizona native, I didn’t lay eyes on this manificent landscape until I was a teenager. One can use the most beautiful words in all the languages of the world, and still not capture the beauty of the Grand Canyon. When you take in a sight like that, it becomes difficult to exhale.

While just being at a place like that is enough of a priceless moment for anyone, there was something else I remember from that visit. I noticed an oddly placed tree along the canyon wall just below us. In fact, just to notice it, you had to turn your attention away from the vast panormic view that everyone else was taking in. The tree was lush, creativly placed and shaped, yet I would be willing to bet that 95% of the people who visit the Grand Canyon don’t even glance at it.

While there are times I obsess over details, anyone who knows me well or has worked with me before can tell you that I’m a big picture guy. I love to think and dream about things that could be, usually accompanied by confidence that it can be if I work hard enough and put the best pieces together. Whenever I hear people talk about a product or a concept, I don’t think about how we can obtain that product or concept…I think about what my youth group, church, or life would look like after we have adopted and used it. While my ministry has benefited in part from my big picture approach…my ministry and daily life has taken some negative hits as well. Some of those negative hits have been more frequent lately, and I think I’m starting to see why.

This past fall, I took my students through a series called Forward Motion, which started out with the fundamental perspective that growing spiritually shouldn’t be done in leaps…but steps. I was excited to spend 5 weeks having a dialouge with them about it, but I soon realized that this perspective hit a little too close to home for me. It wasn’t hard for me to examine myself and conclude that I get caught up too often in the entire canyon, and I miss the tree God creatively and intentionally put there.

I realize some of you might have the opposite problem, and you’re perfectly content fixating on the tree. You may even enjoy counting the leaves on it! However, if you are a fellow big picture person, here are some reminders (for you AND me):

  • Take steps, not leaps: Whether it’s a personal goal, a spiritual goal, or a project at work…remember that you don’t need a completely finished product to make progress. Get something on paper, knowing that you can always add to it. Taking a leap might be tempting, but it’s hard to maintain such an arduous pace. Steps may be slower, but you will be more likely to continue making progress rather than falling backward. If you fall backward from a step, it won’t be nearly as disasterous as falling back after a leap! Look for the trees (steps) God provides as you make your way into the canyon (vision).
  • Don’t get caught up in goal-making: This might be more helpful for those of you who are detail-oriented people, but I think it applies to big picture people as well. Resonating from the last post on my blog from my buddy, Scott, getting caught up in goals can create a barrier rooted in ego and psuedo-progress…which may leave you selfishly revving your engine and not taking action. Detail-oriented people will neatly complete and even fly through a list of goals, while big picture people will spend an entire day constructing the biggest, most innovative, and stupidly complicated goal they can so they can leap ahead to fulfill their dreams. Like I said…get something down, knowing that you can always add to it later. Just take a step.
  • Remember to keep the tree AND the entire canyon in view: The world needs big picture people and detail-oriented people. God created us in His image, but we are unique for good reasons. If you struggle with details, find someone who doesn’t and vice-versa. We need a clear and united vision to drive details, but even the most creative vision will remain a cartoon bubble on a white board without the details and underwriting to make it a reality.
As Dallas Willard once said, spiritual progress may just mean doing the next best thing you can do that honors God. It probably won’t be a revolutionary paradigm shift, and it might not be a neatly-layered spreadsheet full of algorithms. It may just be a moment of surrender to the God who is sovereign and provides what we need, namely through the death and resurrection of Christ.
So, what’s your next step?
“And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”   Luke 12:29-31
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