A friend of mine is looking to start his first business.
He and his wife have been in a limbo of decision between two different geographical locations and weighing the ups and downs of each in light of what makes sense from both a business perspective as well as family needs and the desire to be in a flourishing community.
[We should all commend him — the mere fact that he is concerned about the community his family will be in, the ministries they will pour into, the people they will serve with their time and resources and love, and the needs of his growing family speaks to this guys heart and rightly-oriented priorities. We need more leaders in the business world with this right focus.]
Have you ever been “bogged down in quandary about God’s will for your life,” as John Piper puts it?
As many of us who are working hard to make an impact and forge a purposeful path have experienced, making decisions between multiple good options can be really tough.
In making these tough decisions and discerning where to go and what to do, and how to keep moving forward in the face of uncertainty or ambiguity, I’ve found somethings to be particularly helpful. Things like: learning to hold loosely to your plans, moving forward in the face of uncertainty, and what “waiting on God” needs to looks like sometimes.
Regardless of the stage of career or life you’re in or what decisions you’re currently facing or plans you’re currently making, I hope this may help you as you grow in authentic leadership of your family and your organization:
We must hold loosely to our plans.
Plans are good. I love plans. I think they’re pretty fond of me too. It’s a nice thing me and Plans got going. I’m thinking about buying a ring soon...
Really though, plans are great. Who doesn’t love a good plan.
But, as I think we’d all agree, we must hold loosely to our plans. (Cue .38 Special’s Hold on Loosely)
As my friend reminded me during one of our mastermind conversations about his business decision — God's ways are higher than our ways.
We must tethering ourselves to the truth that God’s got us — identifying and reminding ourselves that he has provided, is providing, and will provide for all our financial, emotional, physical, physiological needs. Why? Because this creates powerful freedom and confidence which in turn allowing us to be our best selves and allocate clear mindshare to making these plans and decisions.
Why is this valuable from a leadership and entrepreneurial perspective?
Letting go of our need to control every minute detail, holding loosely to our decisions and plans allows us to do two things:
1). grow in contentedness, and
2). build tolerance with ambiguity.
The latter being a key aptitude of entrepreneurial success. As far as I can tell, every successful leader I know can tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty very well.
Entrepreneurs and courageous leaders still make plans of course, but holding loosely allows us to adapt and overcome when the inevitable happens — reality.
There’s only so much you can plan for, and something always goes contrary to our plans. Holding loosely helps mitigate the shock and discouragement which comes when things don’t go as we plan. It also allows us to be more nimble when God calls us into somewhere we weren’t expecting.
Holding loosely is simple, but not easy to do. Here’s some tactics to help deploy this strategy and grow in this ability of "holding loosely."
Sometimes when planning and decision-making we can tend to get a little bogged down. When making our plans and setting our intentions we can get paralyzed into inaction. “Analysis paralysis” some call it.
Holding loosely to your plans does not mean doing nothing.
Simply choosing to make a decision, and moving forward in a decision while being open to God changing our plans is one of the most powerful tactics in making things happen. It’s been key to helping me creating a career I’m proud of.
I believe God honors our plan-making, but it doesn’t mean he always will honor it in the way we expect or want. Thus we must hold loosely keeping open the option for him to "call an audible."
Proverbs 16:9 should be comforting:
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.
He will honor our plan-making by establishing where that planning and subsequent doing takes us. We mustn’t hold too tightly to our exact plans or our idea of what the destination has to look like. Let me give you an example...
Tale of Two Countries
In 2012 we clearly experienced God "establishing our steps" while moving forward in a plan we made. We had decided to make a big career move which would’ve taken us from Cleveland to Atlanta. I had weighed different options, made multiple “vision trips” to ATL, and diligently planned our next chapter, and we were moving forward with it.
Throughout the process we were committing our endeavours to God. In this moving forward God audibled our plans and used the momentum we’d already established to move us instead to the Dominican Republic.
The truth is, if we hadn’t started moving forward into our plan and begun transitioning into the uncomfortable season of changing careers and geographies, we’d not have been ready for what God really had for us. But since we’d already “pulled up anchor and cast off all the bowlines” in deciding on and planning our move to Atlanta, it readied us to hear and follow his call for us in the D.R. that much more doable.
I think there’s a Chinese proverb that says something like: the path reveals itself as you walk it. (I’m writing this in the back of a van, in the Dominican, during Hurricane Matthew...so fact checking my Chinese-proverb efficacy isn’t an option at the moment).
So, make your plans, but be sure to start and keep moving forward. It is a powerful way to make stuff happen.
[ProTip: If you’re feeling stuck and not having clarity on a decision, try giving yourself a deadline on that decision. When the deadline arrives, move forward with your decision while being open to God establishing your steps.]
Maybe you’re asking: But what’s this “moving forward while holding loosely” strategy look like? How will I know where to go, what to do, what decisions to make?
"Close doors” vs. “Give me a sign"
Have you ever asked God to “give you a sign” of affirmation? I have. I still do — “God make it abundantly clear what we should do.” I also know that God’s ways don’t always (read: rarely) fit my fickle wants and narrow perspectives. So we’ve gotten in the habit of asking him to close doors while we’re moving forward in our best plan. We pray this especially if the decision is between multiple good options. Because at some point you just have to decide and get moving.
In my opinion and experience, this is a slightly better approach than the “God give me a clear sign of what to do” while you twiddle your thumbs doing nothing. Actively asking Him to close doors if you’re not moving in the direction is sometimes a superior option.
Now, don’t misunderstand me — there is a time to wait in discernment. Yet often we get hamstrung and paralyzed making our plans or trying to make a choice or decision. Sometimes we may have the opposite problem and we need to slam on the breaks and do a little waiting because we're making big decisions in haste. I know friends who are more of the "ready-fire-aim-if-aim-at-all"-types who a bit of intentional slowing down might serve well.
Self awareness here is key — if you tend to make “hasties”, then waiting and asking God to make it abundantly apparent which decision is best is for you is a good approach. But, if you’re like me, and tend to fall on the slower and more intentional side of pulling the trigger, you may be susceptible to analysis-paralysis and possibly need to be actively moving forward while asking Him to close a door if you’re not moving in the right direction.
Ultimately, as John Piper aptly reminds us, God isn’t concerned with some of the decisions we’re preoccupied with.
"The text [Galatians 5:15] begins with a clear and refreshing statement of Christ's will for our lives. Sometimes we get bogged down in a quandary about God's will. And often we worry about decisions which are simply not a great issue with God (where to go to school, what job to take, where to live, etc.). [Dan: where to hang my shingle.]
We need to orient our lives on the clear statements of Scripture regarding God's will. And here is one: "For freedom Christ has set us free." Christ's will for you is that you enjoy freedom. Where you go to school, what job you do, where you live, etc., are not nearly so crucial as whether you stand fast in freedom. If they were, the Bible would have commanded those things as clearly as it here commands freedom. But it doesn’t.” (bolding mine)
So continue making plans and making decisions. But hold loosely to your plans and continue to pray through your plans, giving them to God, and asking he right your path or close doors if you've taken a wrong turn.
Keep moving forward and keep holding loosely,
P.S. Here’s a bit more intensity on Planning and Doing from my friend and mentor Zach Clark.