Jason’s friend was different from the other kids on the block. He rarely came out to play, and when he did, instead of joining in the basketball game, he ran in circles, jumping up and down. His parents watched, hoping their son would connect with the group, only to see that the other children really didn’t understand him at all. When Jason asked his dad why his friend was so different, his father told him about autism, which makes it hard for some kids to communicate and form relationships. Jason was puzzled, and said, “I don’t get it.”
“Well,” his dad replied, “do you ever try to talk to your friend, and he doesn’t pay attention?”
“Yes,” Jason said.
“Well, that’s because he hasn’t figured out how to communicate with you. Has he ever repeated things you were saying?”
“Yeah,” Jason said, “I thought he was making fun of me.”
“No, he is parroting you, trying to figure out how to talk to you.”
“Is there a cure for autism?” Jason asked.
“Not yet, but I’m sure people are trying to find one.”
Just then, Jason noticed that his friend’s parents took their son back inside because the other kids were laughing at him. Jason decided right then to help his friend in any way that he could. “Could I find a cure, Daddy?” he said.
Surprised, his dad replied, “Well, it’s like I always tell you: keep looking up, because you never know when God is going to drop something amazing in your lap.”
A big smile came across Jason’s face as he realized that anything is possible with God. Jason collected newspapers and aluminum cans to recycle for profit, and he set up a lemonade stand. When his friends said that he would never make enough money, he just kept looking up. With his parents’ help, he planned a walkathon and went door to door asking for donations and telling others of his dream to find a cure for autism. When a door closed without a donation he just kept looking up.
On the day of the walkathon, there were only ten people signed up to walk (and half of them were his family), but Jason walked proudly around the block, confident that he was making a difference. When a man asked him why he was looking up, Jason told him that God was going to drop something in his lap.
“Right now?” the man replied.
“I don’t know,” Jason said,” but you’d better duck, just in case!”
Jason called his family and neighbors and even the local news stations over to hear the announcement of the money he had raised. He was so excited that he woke up at 6:00 a.m. and checked every 15 minutes to see if people were lining up to experience the miracle. At 9:55, he ran outside to find his mom and dad, a few neighbors, some kids who wanted to see if he actually raised any money, and a local radio station that thought it would make a cute story for their lifestyles segment. Jason began to speak: “Ladies and gentleman, members of the press, thank you for coming out today to help find the cure for autism. The money we raised will help my friend be cured so that he can play basketball whenever he wants to. Let the change begin!”
At that moment, Jason unscrewed the back of his piggy bank and poured out the money he had raised during the past three months. As his mom and dad counted the money, Jason wondered why his friend with autism had not shown up. Then Jason’s dad called out, “$435.”
With great confidence Jason shouted, “YES! We have done it!”
In his mind, $435 was the equivalent to $4,000,000. Kids started laughing, saying, “$435 wouldn’t cure a frog.”
A neighbor gave him a pat on the head, saying, “You did your best son; that’s all you can do.”
For the first time in three months, Jason dropped his head in embarrassment.
“I did my best, Daddy,” he said. “I guess it just wasn’t good enough.”
His father smiled and said, “Son, when you give your little, God will take care of the rest. Keep your head up; you never know when God is going to drop something amazing in your lap.”
Later that day, Jason’s friend and his parents returned home. Jason ran over to knock on their door and ask why they had missed the big announcement about the money he raised. The parents explained they had been visiting a developmental school that could help their son, but were discouraged because the school cost $35,936 per year. “There’s no way we can afford a school like that.”
Jason replied, “Guess what? I raised $435 for your son, so we only have a little over $35,000 more to go.”
They thanked him, but were still discouraged, so Jason said the only thing he knew to say: “Keep your head up. You never know when God may drop something amazing in your lap.”
Just then, Jason’s dad came in with an envelope, which he dropped into the parents’ laps. “A courier just delivered this to our house,” he said. The couple opened the envelope and began to read the note.
We just heard on the radio about the little boy who wants to find a cure for his autistic friend. Our son was born with autism years ago, and at the time there was very little known about how to help him. We have always wished we could do for someone else what we couldn’t do for our son. We recently sold some property, and when we heard about Jason’s desire to help his friend, we knew we were meant to help in some way. Enclosed is a check for the amount we received in the sale of our property, $430,917. Thank you for letting us help your son.
The parents began to dance around with their little boy. Pulling his calculator out, the father confirmed that the check would pay for twelve years of school. No one can foresee all the obstacles he or she will face personally or in ministry. It wasn’t a lack of challenges, but rather his response to them that helped Jason succeed. In other words, his response determined his experience of providence. He experienced God’s best, because he saw the world from God’s perspective: He kept looking up.
This story demonstrates the basic principle behind vertical leadership: A vertical leader sees life on a different plane and inspires extraordinary change that helps others soar above their circumstances. Little did I know this story would hit so close to home when my son Connor was diagnosed with autism. I remember it as clear as yesterday when my wife Samantha called me on the phone and gave me the report. As I was driving home from work I could hear the enemy whisper thoughts in my head such as, “Your child will never be normal. He will always be deficient.” With God’s help I remember fighting back those voices, hitting the gas on my car, and running up the stairs to my son’s bedroom, picking him up and saying, “Connor, you are more than a conqueror. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. You are a victor, not a victim.”
When we came to Lakewood to be on staff we thought we were coming to minister to people, but we had no idea we were coming to be ministered to. Every week after we got the diagnosis we would hear other vertical leaders cheering us on saying, “Don’t give up.” “You are more than a conqueror.” “You can do all things through Christ.” It was those messages that kept us going in spite of the odds we were facing with our son, Connor. They weren’t just my team; they were my family. When a team becomes a family, you care about people as much outside of the ministry as you do inside of the ministry.
Vertical leadership starts with looking up and asking for the mind of God. You can’t fully understand the mind of God according to Romans 11:33, but you can ask God to reveal His secrets to you. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.” I try to pray every morning, before every meeting, with every leader … asking the question— what would God say here? How would God respond to this situation? How would God build this person?
I love leadership ideas, but I love God ideas even more. When we have tried everything else and we can’t recruit enough people and we hit those walls, I need more than a leadership principle; I need a God idea. When you hear a good idea you might say, “I wish I would have thought of that.” Yet, when you hear a God idea you will say, “I would have never thought of that.”
How you lead will be determined by whose perspective you lead from. God sees everything. He knows what you need when you need it in your life and ministry. What is impossible with men is possible with God. Let me encourage you by saying don’t give up! Keep pressing on! Matt Barnett says, “Just because you’ve thrown in the towel doesn’t mean God doesn’t have another one.” Spend time with God everyday and ask for God ideas. Keep looking up! You never know when God is going to drop something amazing in your lap.