Taking personal initiative at work can have its rewards—but it can also be risky. I’ll always be grateful to one of my early bosses. As a young manager not long out of college, I remember the struggles I encountered by taking the initiative on several occasions. I had already tested the waters on a few new things—some worked, but others failed terribly.
During one of my one-on-one meetings with my boss, the wise man that he was, he sensed my worry about stepping out beyond the normal and taking risks. He didn’t give me a long speech, nor spend long minutes trying to inspire me. He simply looked at me and said, “Look, if you don’t fail in this business, you’re not going anywhere.”
With that, he held out his hand, I stood and shook it. End of discussion. Meeting over. But, I walked out of that meeting a little different. Taking the initiative no longer seemed so stressful. My boss put me at ease, even though occasional failures might loom ahead.
As the years went by, I learned to couple this very practical business advice with my spiritual life. The story of Jonathan, Saul’s son, became a favorite. In 1 Samuel 14:1-15, we find Israel embroiled in another battle with the Philistines. During this particular time, according to 1 Samuel 13:22, the Israel army didn’t have actual weapons. King Saul and his son, Jonathan, had swords and spears, but the other 600 Israelite soldiers were armed with common farming equipment.
I can only imagine the mood in the Israeli camp.
Then Jonathan did a truly amazing thing. He turned to the armor bearer and said, “Hey, why don’t we go see if God can use us to conquer the Philistine army?” That’s incredible initiative! And yet Jonathan recognizes the element of risk. He isn’t sure God will use him, but he has faith that God can use him. He even tells his armor bearer, “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6, ESV). So Jonathan stands at the foot of the hill below the Philistine camp and calls out to them.
That day, God used Jonathan to route the Philistine army.
I’ve heard people say they’ve heard God’s voice and God told them the direction they should take. I believe them. However, God only gives me gentle nudges. Then, I’m left wondering if the nudge was from God or from the taco I inhaled at lunch.
When we make decisions and take risks and initiate change, we face new, unknown territory. It can be terrifying. Some of us retreat; others move forward. Some of us proceed with caution, others with heart-stopping faith. But none of us can see the end result until long after we make a decision.
Jonathan demonstrates both caution and faith. He had no idea whether he’d be on the winning side or the losing side—but he took the personal initiative to find out.
Perhaps that’s the key.
We see an opportunity, but it requires personal initiative. Is it a good decision to move forward? At times, the answer will be either black or white. But often, it’s not. When faced with the gray areas of the unknown, we may need to move cautiously forward, praying, asking for wisdom and guidance. God may use us to chase away an army, or we may go running for our lives. We don’t know. But sometimes the path will be revealed only when we call out to the Philistines at the top of the hill.
We don’t like to admit our fear, so we might just call it ‘paralysis by analysis.’ Is there something keeping you from taking action on an idea or an opportunity you see in front of you?
God, thank You for examples like Jonathan that remind us that every success and victory we achieve is from You. Help me to move forward in faith when I see opportunities that are risky, and clearly discern Your direction. Amen.
By Steve Gibson. Published by The High Calling. Theology of Work Project Online Materials by The High Calling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.