Logistical, tactical, and strategic

Tim Elmore, president of the organization Growing Leaders, spoke to our student body today. Whenever I know that someone with more creativity in his left pinky than I have in my entire body is speaking in chapel, I try to go. I wasn’t disappointed.

Elmore warned students (and me because I needed reminding) not to sacrifice the mission, the big picture, the vision, for the methods that we take to get there. He used an illustration of drill bits and holes to illustrate this fact, but it’s after midnight, and I’m just hoping to make sense on the next portion of this blog, so I’ll let Elmore’s own article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle explain that part of his message.

Then, he broke down 3 levels of living and how living at each of those levels affects our entire outlook on life. He borrows the categories from the military, but the application of them to spiritual life is profound. To put it rather crudely, I feel like I’m a python trying to swallow an elephant as I get my mind around just how much paying attention to these levels could affect the way that I live.

First, there is the logistical level. In the logistical level, most everything revolves around me and what I need to get out of life. If I’m praying the logistical level, it might look something like this:

God, tomorrow is the day before fall break. Life is chaotic. Help me to remember the bread for my sandwich tomorrow, so I don’t need to eat peanut butter straight from the jar and call it lunch for the third time this semester. It’d be nice too if students finished classes tomorrow knowing what plagiarism looks like and knowing how to find a book in the library. And, if I could have energy to slip in some grading instead of eating a half gallon of ice cream when I get home at 5:00, that’d be a wonderful boost in productivity as well.

Some elements of the logistical life are ok according to Elmore. There is nothing wrong with asking God that my lessons sink into student’s minds or that I have the energy to get some grading done. But those prayers fall short of their potential.

Then, there’s the tactical prayer. That realm makes us reach slightly past us towards others. So, I might pray:

God, tomorrow is the day before fall break. The students and I are tired; help us to stay organized and tie up the loose ends necessary before we leave campus. Give them focus to learn about plagiarism and research because they need those skills to finish the semester. And, please help me to get some grading done in the evening because the more accurate the mid-term grades are that I turn into the registrar the better I’ll be serving my students.

So, those prayers feel less selfish and thus more helpful. I almost feel like there’s even a chance I’d remember to take bread for my sandwich because I’m approaching the day in a mindful, reflective way.

But, here’s the elephant that I’m still trying to swallow — the strategic way to live life. Knowing that I’m called to be an excellent teacher (for now) and to disciple others and inspire critical thinking that leads to Christ (for the rest of my life), here’s how I should pray.

God, tomorrow is the day before fall break. Of course you are aware that I’m having a mini “existential crisis;” actually, I think you’ve led me here to teach me something. But, you also know that I need to be a good teacher now while I figure out what you want me to be doing 10 years from now. So, help me to put my doubts into your keeping and to show up tomorrow ready to do the best that I can through your power in me. We’re going to tackle plagiarism tomorrow, which means we’re going to touch on integrity. Help me not to settle for teaching students not to copy and paste; help me to remember that their ministry reputations could hinge on how much integrity they use when borrowing the work of others. I might have the next best selling Christian author in my class, and she needs to know where ethical boundaries are. And, research — God, if my passion is to train people to think critically about you and your world then help me to teach one step of that thinking — finding solid resources — in an engaging, memorable way. Make students hungry for information that is of lasting value. And, finally, give me strength to grade. I just want a fall break. But, help me to remember that part of why I’m in this profession right now is because professors wrote encouragement on my papers that still resounds in my mind today. I don’t know what exactly each student needs to hear, but you do. Help me to write it and guide them down the path to your ultimate plan for their lives.

It’s now almost 1:00, so I’m going to let the stark contrast of these prayers basically speak for themselves. I’ll end with the biblical example that almost made my jaw drop. The passage is John 12. Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem for his Triumphal Entry, but he knows the bottom is about to drop out of his approval rating with the crowd. He’s going to die – die a death that he doesn’t deserve to pay for sins he didn’t commit.

And he says — as someone fully God but still fully man –, “Now my soul has become troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour.'” This, Elmore pointed out, would have been a prayer on the most logistical level. Jesus, able to feel the full threshold of human pain, could have begged, “God, let’s find another way.”

But, He knew that from the moment God pronounced the curse upon the serpent in the Garden of Eden that the moment of his death would come. So, he continued on by saying, “But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” This was Jesus’ strategic prayer, the prayer that saw that God has a master narrative in place.

It looks like following a Christlike model goes way deeper than being kind to one another. I’m called to live out a mission that’s only a miniscule slice of something far, far grander than myself, and I need to strategically orient myself within that realization.