October 15, 1998
 Grasping the
Bigger Picture

Seeing Beyond Your
Limitations to Your
True Potential
    
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"How can I take all your money, and leave you broke and penniless?"

Greg Lukens welcomed me to his warehouse with his standard greeting. I liked him the moment I met him, and was impressed with his style. He knew I'd be spending more than pocket change there, and he'd defused my anxiety about doing so.

I was equally impressed as I watched him navigate the cavernous facility that is Washington Professional Systems. The company occupies a vast subterranean world beneath the street shops of Grandview Avenue, in Wheaton, Maryland--the confines of a former bowling alley. Greg knows every cubic centimeter of this vastly-stocked outlet--the location of hundreds of specialty products, stacked to the ceiling on narrow rows of metal shelves, and their minute specifications. He knows his forty employees by name and can recognize them by voice.

Washington Professional Systems sells high-end audio products to the highest-end customers. It's the place a major recording studio will contact to purchase a 24-track tape recorder, or one of those endless mixing boards you see pictured on the cover of audio magazines, with six hundred knobs. It's where a radio station will phone to order a special broadcast microphone more expensive than a diamond necklace.

I was there to purchase some recording equipment for our ministry, costing around $2,000, making me, I'm sure, Greg's low-end customer of the week. Yet he treated me with respect, and gave me careful instructions about how to operate the items I'd selected.

If you had accompanied me that day on my visit to Washington Professional Systems, you might not have noticed anything unusual about Greg Lukens' world until you entered his office. It was only then that the stark reality of his condition struck me fully. I watched in astonishment as Greg sat down at his desk to type out an invoice on his computer--a computer consisting of a keyboard, tower, speakers . . . but no monitor. At first I was stunned by this bizarre omission. It quickly soaked through my leaden skull that a monitor wouldn't benefit Greg a bit, for he couldn't see one pixel on it. Greg, you see, is blind. Not just "legally blind," but totally blind--the result of a tragic spill off a dirt bike when he was thirteen years old.

In spite of this extreme handicap, he not only founded this multi-million-dollar business, but manages its day-to-day operations.

And types comfortably on his personal computer. He has jury-rigged it to "speak" to him--to announce each letter he types, and to beep at him rudely after each typo.

It was a wake-up call like few I've experienced in a long time. As I drove home, I thought of the many problems I bemoan in my own life which are very minor limitations next to Greg's blindness. I felt like God was shaking me by the shoulders, saying, "Stop dwelling on your disadvantages. Stop worrying about what you don't have. Focus on what you do have--the resources, gifts and opportunities that I've given you--and give your energy to making the best of them."

Not Dwelling on Our Limitations

We hardly face a greater challenge in life than knowing how to weigh our personal limitations. Each of us, as we look at our life, is aware--often profoundly conscious--of certain limitations that we have. These may include, as in Greg's case, an actual physical disability. More typically they involve limits in our talent or potential in areas we regard as important, shortcomings in our physical appearance, deficiencies in our health, less overall energy than we'd like to have, and circumstantial factors we believe are stacked against us. And, of course, there's our finances. Which one of us ever feels we have all the money we need to achieve our goals?

Against these limitations we have dreams--those things we would like to accomplish with our life. It can be extremely difficult to know what weight we should give to our limitations in considering whether or not to pursue a dream. Should we regard them as an absolute barrier to our achieving the dream--perhaps even a sign from God that we shouldn't move ahead? Or should we believe, in faith, that God will give us success in spite of them?

Greg Lukens' example is one of those remarkable ones we encounter from time to time, which suggest that we ought to tilt more toward the latter perspective than the former. We need examples like Greg's to inspire us, for frankly the tendency for many of us--even when a dream fits our potential well--is to cave in too easily to our limitations. We assume they are a roadblock to our ever being successful. Yet Greg's example reminds us that even the most serious limitation may not be an obstacle to our succeeding, so much as a problem which we can learn to overcome.

Focusing on Our Advantages

When I consider the factors that have contributed to Greg's success, at the top of the list is the fact that he is by nature a problem solver. This is evident as soon as you meet him. The whole bent of his personality is toward finding ways to make things work.

We each will do well to look carefully at how we use our own mental energy most of the time. Even those of us who are most intelligent may not focus our thinking in a way that is constructive, or that opens us to God's best for our life. Many highly intelligent people use their brilliance far more to try to justify to themselves why their dreams cannot be realized, than to look for ways to achieve them. When this is the thrust of our thinking, we almost surely doom ourselves to failure.

The fact is that we have considerable control over how we direct our thinking. Having a realistic understanding of our personal limitations is critical. But dwelling on them is always counter-productive. And it's not honoring to God to do so. In general, we should give much more attention to looking for ways to solve problems, than to trying to explain why they cannot be remedied. When we're able to make this mental shift, we're often surprised by the difference it makes. We begin to see answers to "impossible" predicaments, and ways to pursue dreams which before had eluded us.

The Benefit of Vision

There is a second characteristic that I believe accounts for Greg Lukens' triumph over his disability, and it's what I would simply call vision. Greg is someone with substantial vision. I say this not to be cute; I'd use the same term even if he didn't suffer a visual handicap. By this I mean that Greg has focus. He had a clear dream of something he wanted to accomplish with his life, and it was a passionate dream, which fueled his energy and defined how he spent his time. Most important, he focused more upon the results he wanted to reach than upon the problems that might keep him from getting there.

We shouldn't underestimate the value that a sense of vision can provide for any of us, especially if we feel stuck in a rut and uncertain how to move forward with our life. Having a dream we want to pursue, and establishing goals we want to reach--even if they are very long-term ones--can do wonders to focus our thinking, and to help us find the courage to take otherwise scary steps of faith.

The point is not that God would necessarily expect any of us to build a major business, as Greg has, or to achieve outrageous financial success. Our vision should fit the unique gifts and interests God has given us. Yet having vision can make all the difference in how our potential is realized.

We tend to think that others who have reached points in life to which we aspire have done so because they are more talented than we are, or are less cursed with obstacles in their path. Yet when we look closely at these people, we so often find that their potential isn't any greater than our own--perhaps even less. And many of them have had their fair share of setbacks and hurdles to jump along the way. They are where they are not due to unusual talent, but because of focus, persistence, and the simple confidence that they could succeed.

A Simpler Answer Than Anyone Imagined

Consider the familiar biblical story of David's encounter with Goliath (1 Sam 17). We might assume that David succeeded in defeating Goliath because he was more gifted as a warrior than others in Israel at that time. In fact, quite the opposite was probably true. He was younger than most of the soldiers, and far less experienced in combat. There's no question that many were also experienced with a sling, and some could likely have beaten David in a marksmanship contest with it.

Yet Goliath had so successfully taunted the Israelite army that every last soldier--from the newest recruit to the king himself--was convinced that the giant couldn't be defeated in one-on-one combat. This conclusion had settled in so solidly that a gloomy group-think prevailed. Most were obviously spending their energy explaining why the problem couldn't be solved, rather than looking for a creative solution.

David undoubtedly benefited from not being a soldier, and being outside of this defeatist environment. He was by nature an optimist and a problem solver. His attitude wasn't, "here's an impossible predicament," but, "why can't this problem be solved?" In that spirit, he reasoned from his past experience to the present: since he had killed bears and lions with a sling, as a shepherd, he should be able to defeat even an oversized human opponent this same way. David may well have concluded, too, that by dumbing-down his approach--by going into battle without sword or armor, but merely a sling--he could catch Goliath off guard and have an advantage, which is exactly what happened.

What's most encouraging about this episode, is that the solution David came up with to a supposedly impossible problem was simple. Amazingly simple. It was so straightforward and obvious, in fact, that it's astonishing no one else had thought of it. But David alone made the connection between his past experience and the possibility for success with Goliath. David defeated the giant not because of superior talent but because of superior attitude. His faith-inspired thinking allowed him to see connections and a solution that others had missed.

Our View of Christ Makes a Radical Difference

David's example inspires us to realize that problems in our own life which we consider insurmountable may in fact have solutions--even ones simpler than we've imagined possible. It encourages us also not to be too quick to give up on our personal dreams. It reminds us that attitude more than talent so often makes the difference in what we are able to accomplish, and that our limitations may even work to our benefit when we have a clear goal we want to reach.

As David's life unfolds in Scripture, it becomes clear that one factor more than any other accounted for his exceptional ability to think so constructively. He had a vigorous relationship with God, which affected how he viewed every aspect of life. He sought the Lord constantly, and walked with him continually.

His view of God was also extraordinarily positive. "This I know, that God is for me," David declares in Psalm 56:9. He was certain that God wanted the very best for his life, and was working continually to bring it about. And he focused far more on God's grace and strength, than upon his own limitations and inadequacies. This led him to assume by default that many daunting problems in his life could be solved.

We each will benefit greatly from taking time daily to be alone with Christ, to nurture our relationship with him, and to renew our confidence that he desires the best for us. We should remind ourselves constantly that he is for us, and infinitely capable of bringing about his plan for our life. As that conviction sinks in more and more, we will find it more natural to keep our limitations in proper perspective, and not to let them be the overriding factor as think toward the future.

Even more important, through walking closely with Christ, we open ourselves to his inspiration, and to what Paul terms "the mind of Christ" on our life (1 Cor 2:16). Nothing helps us more to see beyond our limitations to our true potential, and to find the courage to move forward.
 

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