And Jesus said to him, “’If You can!’ All things are possible to him who believes.” – Mark 9:23
God has charged me with an impossible task. I will not get into that here and now but rather want to think through wrestling with pursuing an impossible vision. I am but one man and the vision is logistically vast and complex, far beyond my capabilities. But Jesus’ words ring in my ears, as do Paul’s: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” – Philippians 4:13.
Facing the seemingly impossible, ten of the scouts who went with Joshua (Hoshea) and Caleb into the land of Canaan reported that the people of that land were too strong for the Israelites to overcome (Numbers 13) despite Joshua and Caleb’s faith that Israel could succeed. For the lack of their faith, Israel spent the next forty years wandering in the wilderness. Sadly they had forgotten that God promised to send His angel before them to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan (Exodus 23:23), that He would drive them out Himself (Exodus 34:24). The first key to doing the impossible is the God who calls us to the task. He is able to do all that appears beyond our limitations.
The stories of Moses present several more keys. Two instances in Moses’ response to God’s calling serve as perfect illustrations of how God wants us to respond to His directives when they seem more than we can do. In the first case, Moses cries out to God about his own limitations (or even perhaps out of his reluctance to be the leader of Israel). In the second, having taken charge of his calling, he works himself into a corner and godly counsel finally shows him the way out.
When God called Moses to speak to and lead Israel, Moses complained of his lack of oratory skills, being “slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10). God was upset with Moses for his lack of faith that God could and would equip him for the job but offered him an out, his brother Aaron, which cut off any further reluctance on Moses’ part. Moses would supply the message and Aaron would speak to the congregation. God gave Moses a co-worker more skilled in one particular aspect of his calling. In business, two working together have proven substantially more likely to succeed, as the cooperative and collaborative efforts of two minds are more effective than someone flying solo. The encouragement of a partner to carry on when one is feeling depressed or defeated increases exponentially the likelihood of endurance and success. The second key to doing the impossible is finding the complementary skills in others that empower the endeavor at its fundamental level. Few if any successful leaders believe they can handle every aspect of leadership.
The second case came later in Moses’ administration as he sat as Israel’s judge. He was, so to speak, the Supreme Court, for a nation that likely numbered at least three million men, women, and children. The caseload was beyond taxing as the people came to Moses “from morning to evening” (Exodus 18:13) to decide their legal cases.
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, was a wise man. He had several advantages when looking at what Moses was up against. First, he had more life experience. He was the priest of Midian (Exodus 3:1), so he had some particular experience as a community leader. He also had the advantage of not being buried in the work that Moses was doing. He could stand aside from the situation and see that Moses’ approach was killing him (wearing him out – Exodus 18:18). Jethro had the advantage of objective distance and detachment from the frenzy of the work. The third key to doing the impossible is to seek and listen to godly, objective counsel. Find those who have experience in the things you are pursuing and engage them in the conversation. Then be humble enough to submit to changing your ways. The fourth key, though subtle, is to take care of physical and mental health. Don’t wear yourself out. If you do you are no longer any good to anyone. The fifth key: recognize your own limitations. Be humble enough to recognize to do the things you are best at or are essential to your role, and find others to do the rest.
The last above, recognizing your role and the roles of others, were illustrated in Jethro’s advice. His counsel contained three specific nuggets of wisdom (Exodus 18:20–22). First, he advised Moses to teach the people the statutes and laws so that all would have an understanding. There are two elements to this. The first is that Moses was to create a literate society. The second is that expectations were to be clearly stated. There would follow no real excuse for not knowing how things were supposed to operate going forward.
The second nugget in Jethro’s advice was his “hiring principles.” Those chosen were to be equipped, which gives place to ensuring they have the requisite skills and training, and they were to be humble (god-fearing, truth-seeking, and not ambitious in worldly things). This is all about seeking out those of the right intellect, education, and character.
Jethro went on to advise Moses to create an organizational chart, dividing the tasks to be carried out and installing the lesser judges according to their skills. Moses created a hierarchy of those to oversee thousands (vice presidents), hundreds (executive directors), fifties (directors), and tens (supervisors). Much like our current hierarchic system of courts, issues that arose would have many points of responsibility to pass through before they reached Moses’ desk.
Such order of dividing the tasks and responsibilities of Israel’s organization then made it possible that only the most important, big issues came before Moses. His workload was cut dramatically and he could give due diligence to the heavyweight decisions rather than being distracted by the inconsequential. His tasks were in accord with his position. There is an extra element in bringing such order to any organization. Moses bore the responsibility for overseeing the whole of Israel but he could rest, having chosen lower level leaders prudently and knowing he could trust them to handle issues of less importance without troubling him. Empowering an organization requires empowering everyone down the hierarchy to not fear making decisions pursuant to their level of responsibility. Surely some made mistakes but that is why the stations higher up the hierarchy were there, to ensure consistency and help oversee any corrective measures that needed to be made before these issues found their way to Moses.
Let’s rehash the relevant points (and add a couple more) for Doing the Impossible:
1) Rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Rejoicing, praying, and giving God thanks are “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” – (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Begin and end all that you do in the will of God. This is living and walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) as children of God’s light (Ephesians 5:8). Rejoice in all that God has done and is doing. Pray listening. Be thankful for God’s blessing, even those found in promises not yet fulfilled in your sight.
2) Walk uprightly. To know how to walk uprightly, it is best to be in fervent relationship with God, His Church, and the Bible. The bottom line is that God requires that we “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” – Micah 6:8. We need to understand God’s perspective on justice, kindness, and humility. With that knowledge in hand, root out any behavior that undermines them in any area of life. When we live with integrity, we are “vessels for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” –2 Timothy 2:21.
3) Have faith. First in God, that He is able to see the task through (with or without us), then that He equips those He calls. We may have some of the skills necessary to complete the task and God typically will not call the utterly inept to a task far outside their expertise, but we must remember, it is God’s mission and He is able. He will provide a way to overcome any shortcomings we have.
4) Listen to godly, objective counsel. Those with enough detachment to look over the situation and see what we cannot are not under the burden of putting out all the fires we may be battling. Seldom will you find the Fire Chief manning a hose or entering the burning building to rescue those inside. He can stand aside, see the bigger picture, and advise the Captain without distraction.
5) Set boundaries. The demands of leadership can quickly become overtaxing. There are always more things that could be done than can get done. If we go to our own well too often, one day we will find it has run dry. God’s admonishments are toward rest on regular intervals. If the work is important enough, God will provide for others to help.
6) Recognize your limitations. We all tend toward having big egos. We also tend to think we know more than we do and take on tasks which are better left to others. God gave Adam a helpmate because He knew Adam could not prosper adequately by doing everything himself. This applies to time management (see Set boundaries above) and humility in recognizing your own lack of particular expertise.
7) Create a literate and expert culture. Make sure everyone on board has the appropriate knowledge and training for the tasks at hand. In every game, there are rules. In every business there are best practices. Insist that everyone in the organization knows the rules and is always pursuing continuing education.
8) Be clear about expectations. Nothing undermines organizational achievement more than a lack of well-defined purpose, clear direction, and systematized effort. Make every effort to know that every player in the game knows the game and their part in it. Without these, no endeavor accomplishes anything more than a light bulb in bright sun light. It may expend a great deal of energy but will be of no value to anyone. And it will produce substantial waste.
9) Hire character. In Christian businesses or not-for-profits, hire those who have already begun the journey of faith in Christ. For one, we are not to be unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14). Be wary of the overly ambitious. Money and career advancement can become gods unto themselves. These folk are at cross purposes with the organization as they place their own ends ahead of the enterprise.
10) Organize and divide the work. One of the best exercises I have ever seen is to design an organization as if it is already all that it is hoped to become. Divide the ultimate work loads into appropriate departments, then create the employee positions suited to the specific kinds of work. Hire the abilities (and character) of the workers who will fill them. This prevents re-inventing the organization, avoiding many unforeseen needs and unplanned hirings, along the way.
God is the God of our well-ordered universe. The design of creation shows that everything produces after its own kind, whether plant, animal, or human. If we want good results, we need good inputs, especially of faith, obedience, and diligence. Ultimately, God is God and only He can do the impossible. Fortunately, He sometimes lets us take part.