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Leverage (by Nate)

February 17, 2009

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Most people have a seat-of-the-pants understanding about leverage from playground equipment.

Some people understand the physics behind the lever and have put it to great use.

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In the financial world, leverage has more of a theoretical application than a physical one. Someone who might only have enough cash to buy enough bread for a week’s worth of lunches might talk his kind banker into loaning him enough cash to make 14 lunches by telling her that he will sell the 7 he doesn’t eat to the banker’s husband, who obviously has more money than time (sugar mama!) and needs to outsource the making of lunches. But this post isn’t about marriage or gender roles in banking or even sandwich making. It’s all about leverage and in this case the person has used Other People’s Money (OPM) to accomplish something he couldn’t with only what he had.

Of course if our sandwich man had thought ahead, he could have circumvented being in debt to his banker by eating one less sandwich per week and saving the extra money to buy a field and plant some wheat to make enough bread to sell sandwiches all next year, but let’s face it, the guy’s got to eat and there may not be enough time in his lifetime to save sandwich money to buy a field and he could starve waiting for the harvest. Which is why the saying goes, “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.” rather than “Give a man some bread; feed him for a day. Teach a man to farm wheat; and he’ll starve before the first harvest.” (Maybe we should update the saying, “Give a man a dollar; he’ll buy a double-quarter pounder w/cheese. Teach a man to borrow money; and he’ll buy everything in sight.”)

Although it can be entertaining, the problem of not-enough-time is universal and quite sobering. All of our days are numbered and every day we step that much closer to the finish line. So how have people applied the concept of leverage to time? Use some that another person isn’t! I think Adam and Eve might have figured it out first. Since Adam was a busy man, Eve should have the babies, saving him valuable time that he could be farming and killing stuff for their next meal- a classic example of Other People’s Time (OPT). Okay, so it’s not exactly classic and maybe just silly, but you get the idea and hopefully haven’t fallen asleep.

Since this blog tends to focus on connecting people to God and His work in general (some of you may think it’s too loosely focused- I’m working on that…), it wouldn’t be on target without bringing it all to a close with:

Leverage Pertaining to God’s Work

Why not use OPM and OPT to accomplish some really important stuff? It’s historically significant that groups of people rallied together to build great things, but one thing seems to really matter to Jesus. In the Bible, Luke chapter 10, there is a story that gives a very important insight into Jesus’ view of what we do with our time and resources. And that leads me to conclusions about how to use my time and resources. But first the story:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Apparently, it was more important to Jesus that Mary spend time sitting at his feet listening to him than for her to take care of all the preparations that had to be made. He’s not saying that they weren’t important. I’m sure Jesus realized that everyone had to have a place to sleep that night, a warm shower, and fresh-baked Otis Spunkmeyer cookies with 2% milk. I know those things are non-negotiable for me.

But He told Martha that only one thing was needed and that was what made Mary’s choice better.

She chose the relationship over the task.

Now I suppose that this would seem like a clear choice to the guy who turned water into wine and made fish and bread reproduce like rabbits (and as the creator of the whole earth, he made rabbits reproduce like… well, rabbits).

But to get back to the concept of leverage, it seems that the previous examples, the speedy distillery and happy meal turned banquet feast, show Kingdom-sized solutions to problems that related to tasks that got in the way of people spending time with Jesus.

What resources were available to Jesus? Water. And some bread and fish . (Long John Silver’s anyone?)

What did Jesus leverage? God’s abundance.

Why hadn’t anyone else thought of this before? Jesus believed that the solution existed AND he had the audacity to order people to do what had to be done to put relationships over tasks.

I’ll admit that Jesus had the inside scoop on what God was able to do, but still he had to have known the impending awkwardness that comes from asking someone to do something they doubt will help the problem. And yet, I have to think that he also knew the delight that comes from seeing the light come on in someone’s head when they realize that what just happened was possible all along.

Jesus used other people’s resources (a.k.a. money) and their time to accomplish something I’m sure he could have done alone. But the key ingredient was the God-factor. I can’t explain it. But it seems like God suspends our understanding* of physics when people are seeking Him and doing his work.

Now that’s some crazy leverage that I think many in the business world wish they had (Madoff?) but ultimately just missed out on the greatest opportunity to multiply what God has given them.

So hopefully we can peacefully use other’s money, resources, and time to afford us the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen as we put relationships over tasks.

Now, I think I’ll go grab a pop-tart that someone else made and I bought with someone else’s money:)

* I could go into a lengthy discussion about how God was merely speeding up some natural processes, something that we do regularly in all kinds of chemistry with catalysts, but that would have taken away from the direction this post was going, so I conveniently located this stuff down here with a little asterisk that is only mildly distracting compared to what it could have been. Sorry for distracting you, but I think it’s important to reason things out and actually think about the most difficult things- otherwise we end up in a cult of belief in things that shouldn’t be believed.

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