My first priority in preparing for the vagaries of the future is to invest in the totally portable facets of my life — spirit, soul and body, basically.
My second priority is to invest in things that are durable, such as building fortresses of righteousness in time and land that will significantly inconvenience the enemy should he become dominant, and will hugely empower the work of the King, should there be a new move.
Before I share the third priority in a bullet point, allow me to retell a story I read years ago. My apologies to whoever copyrighted it originally. I can’t remember where I read it.
The short version is that there was a storm at sea and a ship in distress. The crew had made the decision to abandon ship. A Navy ship was nearby, preparing to rescue them.
The rescue involved taking a small boat, coming alongside the crippled ship in a storm, offloading their crew into the small boat, and returning to the rescue vessel.
Clearly it was a high risk proposition. It was not just a question of whether they could save the sailors in distress, but whether the rescue operation would cost the lives of the rescuers as well.
The captain called a lieutenant to head up the operation and gave him a choice of taking a motorboat or a crew that could row.
The junior officer thought for a bit. Taking the powerboat minimized the number of lives that were put at risk. However, mechanical failure would doom the operation. He opted for taking the rowing team even though it jeopardized many more lives. The captain acted surprised at his choice, but authorized the venture.
The rescue was successful, albeit fraught with risk and loaded with drama. When everything was over and the lieutenant was pondering the situation, he realized what the captain had known all along.
A motor has a fixed capacity. Even if it did not break down, it can only give X units of energy against the power of the wind and the waves. Human beings have this mysterious capacity to exceed all normal parameters in times when heroic effort is called for.
He had made the only wise decision. The risk to additional lives was offset by the capacity of his crew to do the impossible — which they did!
* * *
My third priority in planning for the future is to develop high potential resources which is a fancy term for pouring into people. At the end of the day, the deposit of God in each human spirit is an incomparable treasure waiting to be unpacked by someone who has eyes to see.
However, humans are also the most fickle and undependable commodity on planet earth. That is why they are in third place, not first.
In our American culture, talk is cheap and relationships are easily shattered. This is a riddle I simply have never been able to solve. I watch hard-charging, ideologically driven people commit to a community, whether it is a mentoring relationship or a business or ministry. So often in just a few months or years there is a grand announcement of how flawed the others are and an explanation of the utter imperative of parting ways.
On the other hand, I watch the incredible durability of dysfunctional communities. People routinely remain in toxic relationships for decades, no matter how they are counselled to leave.
I think of Solomon’s summary of romance in Proverbs 30:19. The wisest man in the whole world just shrugged and said it is an insoluble mystery. The man with 1,000 women had no clue what made the male/female relationship tick.
Likewise, I know a whole lot about what makes individuals tick, but I shrug and admit total powerlessness when it comes to handicapping the trait of loyalty in community. I have no idea who will be there for you or for me three years from now, in any of our three scenarios.
So it is a paradox for me. On the one hand, people are an enormously good investment. There is no other investment that can give you a higher return. And there is no other investment so high risk and prone to failure.
It can be quite crazy making at times, because the most natural context for investment is through community. God designed the community of family to be the tightest community, with numbers of other community structures around that. We invest the most when mutual love is involved.
Look at these four data points on a line. Imagine investing in your own child whom you love, in a close friend, in a casual acquaintance, and in a total stranger. The further away we go from the love-based community, the less sparkle there is in the idea of sacrificial investment.
Yet, the deeper the love is in community, the greater the pain when you do not get a return on investment. When you consider the four people in the previous paragraph, and all of them turning away from both your spiritual resources and from their relationship with you, the ones you loved the most will hurt you the most.
Into this picture, we need to bring a larger world view and revert to focusing on THE King and His Kingdom, not our little world. We must invest in others because of the Kingdom.
Here is a simple scenario from my life. As a matter of ethics, we do not resell materials that have been returned to us. We get a steady flow of returned products, whether it is a bad address or someone did not want to pay the taxes on the other end, or they just ordered the wrong thing and were not willing to own their own stuff.
Regardless, I think that by the time a product has been bounced around the postal service for a trip out and a trip back, it is not technically “new” and therefore should not be sold as new. Those products go on a separate shelf, and whoever does shipping has the responsibility to listen to the Spirit and to put one of those products in a box along with a regular order, when the Spirit prompts them.
So we do. Tens of thousands of dollars of products every year are given away to people who are essentially strangers — just a name on an invoice.
Out of that, we average three “thank yous” a year. That means the gift of a resource did not generate any significant connection between us and that person. We don’t have a loyal community where they will benefit me.
Test this against the three scenarios. If I am in prison, in a really bad way, can I expect them to show their loyalty to me and invest sacrificially to help me? The chances are substantially less than zero.
If we are doing business as usual, will that act of investing in them help the business? Possibly. They might say something good about me to their neighbor, but there is no guarantee.
If there is a massive God-explosion, will that investment in them benefit the King? It is quite possible that it will. It is possible (especially if they listened to it!) that they will be in a better place to serve the King because of that investment from me that did not generate community.
And this is the dynamic I embrace. Frankly, loyalty to me or to Sapphire is a scarce commodity. I am not complaining, nor do I teach people to be loyal to me. I am simply stating that when hard times come, I know I can only bank 100% on the King. I don’t invest in people in order to buy security for myself in the future, although investment is so much more fun when it is in the context of a loving community.
Once that issue is settled, then I am emotionally free to invest for the King, not simply to invest because I love someone. Do I invest more in my love-based community. Of course. It is more fun. But I am prepared to look at all sorts of people, to identify those who are possibly open to change, and to invest in them quite apart from any personal return on investment.
When things go really bad or really good, I think there will be some people out there who are of value to the King because I sowed something into their lives. And there will probably be a lot of people who have been massively unchanged by anything I said or did for them.
That irony is immense. People are the best possible investment you could make at any time. And they are the worst.
Expecting people to be there for you as a result of your investment is an iffy proposition. Investing in people in order to position them for the King, while you have no expectations for yourself, is a much better framework for the third priority in our strategy for the future.
Copyright April 2011 by Arthur Burk
On the Quarterdeck, in Anaheim