Today I would like to talk about the topic of "strategy".
It may sound a little strange at first glance as a sermon topic. I also do not want to talk about military issues today.
Quite naively, I entered the word "strategy" as a search term on bibleserver.com. The default setting was the Luther translation and there was no strategy there. Then I added other Bible translations and found what I was looking for in "Hope for All", Proverbs 24:5; HFA:
That brings us back to war. However, this is meant more as an image, which is clear when you read the sentence in context (Proverbs 24:5-7; HFA):
Now I was interested in what the other Bible translations write here instead of "strategy":
- Elberfelder: "with wise consideration".
- Luther: "with deliberation"
- Good News: "to plan carefully".
- New Life: "to seek wise counsel"
- New Evangelistic Translation: "wise measures"
I have a program that shows the Hebrew words to individual Bible passages, but I cannot pronounce the Hebrew word that is here in the basic text, so there is no point in reading it out.
This program also shows possible translations of the word, and that is quite exciting. Unfortunately, these translations are in English, and it is always difficult to translate one-to-one between different languages, especially across three languages.
But that's still interesting what came out of this. What the "hope-for-all" translation here translates as "strategy" means, mutatis mutandis:
- steering: guidance, direction
- the art of leadership
- consideration: to weigh up, to consider, to take into account
- deliberation: thoughtfulness, consultation, consideration
- thoughts: Thoughts, ideas, reflections
We can divide these possible meanings into two categories.
The first is deliberation, careful thought. This includes seeking wise advice from others and incorporating it into one's thoughts.
The second category is leadership. "Strategy" is always a leadership issue and if you want to think about it as a non-leader, you have to try to look at it through the lens of leadership. For example, if you want to talk to your boss about the company's strategy, it only makes sense if you try to take the boss's perspective. One's own department no longer plays such a big role. What makes sense for the company as a whole?
It is similar with the community. If you want to think about strategy, you have to leave the level of "I didn't like the last service so much" and think about how the service or the congregation can look in the future.
But I don't want to go that high in the first step. Let's start with our personal lives.
Strategy for my lifeDo you, do I, have a strategy for your or my life?
Do you need one at all?
We live in a time of self-measurement and self-optimisation. Fitness tapes are popular, health is important. The following saying, however, is quite old: "The main thing is to be healthy!" I already knew that in the 70s.
And nutrition is half a religion nowadays. There are always new trends. For example, some people will remember that there used to be a food combining diet, and people were totally convinced of it. Today you don't hear about that any more. There used to be lowfat, today it's more lowcarb, and now interval fasting is the new hot shit, er, trend.
In a few years it will be something else again. Every issue of our TV magazine seems to describe a new diet from the USA that is particularly great and successful.
Nutrition is important. Some of you know that I have known since the summer that I have diabetes. So something has to change. I always look at the back of the food I buy to see how much sugar is in it. You are sometimes amazed. Juice, for example, contains a lot of sugar. A glass of apple juice contains as much sugar as 8 sugar cubes. That's why I don't like to drink juice at all.
Things have changed in my life: No more soft drinks, only a very small amount of sweets, and I should also lose a little weight, so I should eat more whole grains, reduce the amount of crisps I eat, etc. and try to cycle the 23 km to work once a week.
But that's not my life strategy now. It's just part of it to take care of your health in a realistic way and not to carelessly ruin your own health. I have already lost a little weight.
So what about the slogan: The main thing is to be healthy?
As important as health is, it's not the main thing, and if life only revolves around nutrition and fitness, then something is wrong.
But how should it be? Do we need a strategy for our lives?
Let's look at this question from the end of our lives, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; NGÜ
Now here Paul is talking about himself as an apostle, but I think that also applies to all Christians in general. There are no performance measurements, no expectation of success, only that one reliably carries out one's task. Other translations write here that one is judged to be faithful. And the judgement is not ours to make, God will judge that in the end, although "judge" has a rather negative ring to it. As Christians we are no longer judged, but we receive recognition (or "praise" according to other translations) in the end, as much as we are entitled to.
One could already feel pressured here: Am I even reliably carrying out my task as a Christian? Do I already know my task? Am I looking for it decisively enough?
I think that some people tend to put themselves under pressure. Perhaps they are also afraid of failing at work and so they try to keep up with self-improvement, fitness, diet, etc., all of which are of course good things in themselves.
But one must not forget: Paul does speak of a kind of evaluation in the above text, but it is in any case a positive evaluation: recognition, praise. It does not say: Then everyone will receive from God the punishment he deserves. But it says: Then everyone will receive from God the recognition or praise he deserves.
So you can be rather relaxed about the questions of strategy, can't you? But what is the right strategy for our lives?
The very first Bible verse that came to my mind is Proverbs 3:5,6; LUT:
or in another translation (Proverbs 3, 5.6; NL):
Of course, it is not a question of turning off the mind. It is such a precious gift that we should of course always use it.
But we must also be aware of its limits. That would be a life strategy: to use our own mind, but to be aware of its limits and to trust in Jesus without limits.
The two verses after that fit this (Proverbs 3, 7.8; NL):
"Fear the Lord" sounds a bit scary. The Hebrew root word for fear already means fear in the sense of dread, but it also means "to honour", "to revere" and it also means "fantastic", "great", "impressive", "overwhelming".
This multiple meaning for this word "fear", hopefully makes it clear that it is worthwhile to trust in God. This magnificent, adorable, overwhelming, but also awesome God is on our side.
That should be the basis for our lives.
But is that enough "strategy"? You can think about what else you want to do with your life.
People over 40 or so often think more about this. Often the children are grown up, you're more established, you're no longer so controlled by circumstances, you have more freedom to shape your life. And then you take stock, a midlife balance. And if the result is not satisfactory, it can turn into a midlife crisis. Some people then throw everything over again, start anew, leave their previous life. Of course, this doesn't always have to be based on a midlife crisis, but I understand this balancing of one's life. How many years do I have left, what do I want to do with them? How do I deal with it if the balance is not satisfactory?
No one wants to sit in an old people's home and mourn lost opportunities.
And what does God still have in store for me?
I don't think you can avoid such thoughts, nor should you.
I can't think of much more to say about personal life strategy. Maybe it wasn't methodical enough or something. There are life counsellors or life coaches who you can pay to develop a life strategy with you and accompany you. That costs a lot of money and I don't know if it's worth it.
But talking with friends about what you want, what your dreams are and where you believe God wants to lead you, that certainly makes sense.
And as a basis for such thoughts, trust in God is important. Think of him whatever you do, then he will show you the right way. And don't imagine anything about your wisdom, but trust and fear (in the right way) God.
Strategy for the church
When you think of strategy, you may think of the church rather than your personal life. Or you might think that strategy doesn't fit the community at all.
We carry on as before, pray enough and then the church will go on like this for the next 100 years.
That would even be a strategy. If we pray and God makes it clear that it is good the way it is, then it will also work.
Sometimes you can't think of anything to change. Maybe it seems somehow messed up.
In Acts 16:25,26; NL Paul and Silas were in a very messy situation. They were in prison and had even been unjustly mistreated:
They prayed and sang songs to praise God. We do not know if they prayed for this quake. We also don't know if they sang the praise songs only for themselves personally or if they sang them consciously for their fellow prisoners, like: "God is so great, let everyone hear that."
The outward situation seems muddled, for one does not usually get out of a prison. But Paul and Silas had in mind the others who were also in this same situation. And God changed the situation fundamentally. So as a result, the prison warden and his family find faith and his first visible life change is that he treats the wounds of Paul and Silas.
So to pray and wait must not be the worst strategy. But do we also pray for the walls of our messy situation to come tumbling down?
Actually, we imagine strategy to be a bit more than that. In the Bible, especially in the time of the apostles, we also find beginnings of this.
Acts 13:2 describes the beginning of the first recorded journey of the apostles:
The Holy Spirit starts the first missionary journey here. The church at that time did not yet have a strategy to evangelise Europe. It probably would not have occurred to them to send out their most effective workers.
An interesting detail here is that in this translation the church serves the Lord with prayer and fasting. In other translations it says that it is only the prophets and teachers of the church who prayed and fasted, or worshipped and fasted. It seems that this cannot be translated so clearly here.
But it doesn't matter, the missionary journey is initiated by the Holy Spirit, you could perhaps say the strategy to evangelise the world was initiated by the Holy Spirit.
On the second missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas are concerned. They want to see the churches they have planted again, they think about which people they want to take with them. It does not explicitly say here that one of them, for example, had a vision where the Holy Spirit told him, "Set out!"
No, they think, exchange ideas, certainly accompanied by prayer, and make a decision.
But Paul and Barnabas do not agree, they clash hard and separate. However, despite all the quarrelling, they split up sensibly. Barnabas travels to Cyprus, where they had been together before, and Paul travels north, through what is now Turkey.
I don't know why this dispute had to be, but it shows us that even on issues of church work, generally the work of the kingdom of God, we can disagree and will sometimes have controversial discussions.
What is interesting: Paul apparently also had some kind of strategy for his second missionary journey (Acts 16:6-10; NGÜ):
Paul was travelling with his team in Asia Minor, now Turkey, and it was certainly a sensible strategy from his point of view to preach the Gospel everywhere there.
But God had a greater goal: a new continent, Europe, was to know the Gospel.
And Paul and his team were open to it. He changed his strategy, perhaps also left his comfort zone a little and entered a whole new path.
We know what the long-term consequences of all this were.
And how do we do it with ourselves?
Paul certainly did not work with maps, mind maps, small cards and dots on the cards. Such tools did not exist at that time, or maps were probably very rare and very expensive.
When we think of strategy, we often think of such meetings and often have the feeling that somehow nothing comes out of them.
Paul went out, thought about it and, on the other hand, allowed himself to be guided again and again.
I think it's important to think about the big picture, even if I often find it difficult to get from the big picture to everyday practice. How do you combine practice and strategy?
I have been thinking about such questions in the context of the congregation for a long time. Do we need a new strategy for our congregation? And if so, what should it look like? Take it with you, pray for God to initiate and show something.
I come to the conclusion:
- We first looked at what the word strategy means: on the one hand, careful consideration, reflection, seeking advice, and on the other hand, looking at it from a leadership perspective.
- A strategy for my life? God expects faithfulness from us, not performance.
- Go ahead and think about what else you want to do with your life, but based on: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your understanding, but remember him in all your ways, and he will guide you aright."
- What strategy do we need for our church? Let us pray that some walls will come down. Somehow a strategy has to be lived out along the way and adapted again and again. Let us pray that Jesus will guide us in the right direction.