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Daring Flexibility

"...From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor." (Nehemiah 4:16)

How good is this!

You've made plans for an efficient route from your home to your desired destination, and then...traffic! I don't know about you, but I am a sucker for making plans for a most efficient route to wherever I am going, only to 9 times out of 10 be thrown by the inevitable trouble of traffic. Life is allot like this. We make our plans, set our goals, aim for growth and throws us traffic jams.

When life throws you a traffic jam?

What do you do? I am someone who can be prone to what I term "pinging." When I get stuck, without momentum, in an area of my life, I can tend to "ping" out of the project or focus I am in and onto something new or something where I am guaranteed to get momentum. But I neglect the fact that traffic jams are real in all areas of our lives - in both a literal sense and a metaphorical sense. This is where the concept of experimentation from Intentional Change Theory (ICT) is quite a powerful concept.

Experiments and flexibility

Over previous weeks (here, here, and here) I have written about ICT and how it relates to the book we're studying as a church, the biblical book of Nehemiah. Last week I wrote about how a crucial step or discovering in intentional personal growth is developing a learning agenda for change. Again, the power of the concept of a learning agenda is noted by Richard Boyatzis, the founder of this theory and the research behind it:

"a learning agenda focuses on development. A learning orientation arouses a positive belief in one's capability and the hope of improvement."

In other words, having a learning agenda frees us to focus on improvement, and developing our capabilities in light of what we need to learn - come what may. And the way we are freed up to focus on learning and improvement is through experimentation.

Flexibility through Experimentation

ICT is very clear that change and growth occurs as we learn through experimenting with and practice the desired behavior changes we aim to make on our path to our growth goals. This inevitable involves a "continuous improvement" feedback loop as we aim for change, see how we go, experience challenges and set-backs, and adapt and develop in order to find a new stable pattern of growing and developing. And one of the sure places you and I will need to experiment is in the face of challenges, set-backs, and unforeseen complications. In a way, Nehemiah's key to successful completion was being open to "continuous improvement" through experimentation.

Nehemiah's flexibility

The easiest part for Nehemiah in the rebuilding project was his starting sense of vision, and selling this vision to King Nebuchadnezzar, who trusted him quite deeply. The second easiest part for Nehemiah was getting a sense of how much rebuild work was needed. Then came the challenges:

  • He had to convinced the people of Jerusalem to build with him. (Nehemiah 2)

  • He had to work with an unconventional building team. (Nehemiah 3)

  • He had to then respond to increasing amounts of opposition to the wall - he devised plans to deal with threats of war and violence against them, and he responded to motivational lows in the building team. (Nehemiah 4)

  • He had to address issues of integrity in the city of Jerusalem - he became aware of oppression by the rich in the city of the poor, and he confronted this oppression and challenged for change. (Nehemiah 5)

  • He had to deal with increasing personal attacks as he begun to make more progress in the rebuilding works (Nehemiah 6).

This was no simple work of rebuilding the walls around this ancient and sacred city. This was a masterclass in dealing with traffic jams, and remaining incredibly flexible in terms of the route to the end goal.

Flexible but focused

What we observe about Nehemiah, when it comes to progressing towards the goal of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, was his flexibility of process towards a specific and focused rebuilding end-goal. The truth is, he had to be - because traffic jams (or challenges) happen in life, all the time.

This week

Reflect on your growth goals. Reflect on your destination markers. How flexible are you being in getting towards those goals? You can be focused on the target, but flexible in the way that you get to the target. Like me, this week's encouragement is to resist the urge to "ping" off onto a new project, goal, or distraction, but rather think, to use the traffic jam metaphor:

  • How long will this traffic jam last - some traffic jams, you can see, will be cleared sooner rather than later. So the strat is to simply wait it out.

  • Is there an alternative route around this traffic jam - Google Maps is great for this, giving you alternative routes to the same destination. When challenges or struggles hit, think: what is an alternative route to the same goal or outcome?

  • Is there a gift in the traffic jam - maybe you can't go an alternative route, and you have to wait it out longer than 5 minutes. But what is the gift in this challenge? When you're in the car, it's podcast time, thinking time, or otherwise making a few phone calls. What is the equivalent potential gift in the challenge you're experiencing right now?

If we can remain flexible in our route, but focused on a healthy, God-honoring growth-goal destination, we will find the growth journey not only more rewarding, but feel an ongoing sense of momentum building. The Nehemiah narrative is testimony to the wisdom of being flexible and focused.I hope you're encouraged. I certainly am! I'm with you and our church in this growth journey! Bring on a flexible and yet focused week together!

Written by Ps. Rob


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