Recently my brother introduced me to a new concept. As I shared with him some things I am struggling with in my search for what God has next for me in ministry and life, he said something about fighting straw men. Do you know what that means? Don’t worry, I didn’t either. So, I asked him to explain. He told me that the idea of fighting straw men is when we, in our minds, create a bunch of “what if” scenarios and proceed to attack these made up problems, as if they were real and here now. He went on to compare it to Don Quixote. If your not familiar with this story, Don Quixote fought a windmill thinking it was some sort of dangerous beast. He then declared victory over it. There was no beast and, therefore, no victory. This is how it is with fighting straw men. We create POSSIBLE issues in our minds and then proceed to dedicate time and energy to fighting something that isn’t even there, and may never be.
As ministry leaders we often do this. When trying to enlist new team members we have the conversation in our heads before hand. This exercise then leads to us convincing ourselves that the other person is too busy, not interested, or for whatever reason says no. So, we never actually have the conversation. Or, we have an idea for the ministry. But, we get so caught up in all the what ifs that we never even present the idea to our leadership.
As parents we do this as well. This can be in discussions we have with our kids, their coaches, or teachers. In our minds we can create an endless list of “what ifs”. We can spend a lot of time fighting these what ifs and never actually getting anything done.
For me personally it was in relation to my future in ministry. You see I am a problem solver. So, when I see a problem my goal is to find a way to fix it, or to work around it at least. And, I’m good at it. While this is a great skill to have when REAL problems arise, it can be detrimental when fighting Straw Men. My aptitude in dealing with problems means I am also good at seeing them, even when they are only just a potential problem. This can be paralyzing, and nearly was for me. You see, I became so concerned with a long list of what ifs that I lost track of what I really should be doing; FOLLOWING AND TRUSTING GOD.
We should strive to be prepared. However, worrying about a bunch of possibilities that haven’t even happened yet, and my not, is not how we get prepared. Consider the military. I remember in Marine Corp boot camp several exercises that were designed to prepare us for what might come. One time they put us in a box about 3 foot by 3 foot. There were two men in each box. They put boxing gloves on us, closed us in the box and then told us to go. Did they do this because they thought that we might end up in a 3 x 3 box with boxing gloves on facing an enemy? No. Another time we worked with pugil sticks. If your not familiar with that term, it is a pole about 6 feet long with padding on each end. You fight with them. In my favorite of the pugil stick exercises they put us on either end of a bridge. When the whistle blew we would approach each other at the middle of the bridge and commence to beating each other with the sticks. Dude, that was fun. But, it was not designed to represent a specific situation that we might face. Both of these exercises were designed to teach us concepts and principles that could help us in any situation we might face.
How do we prepare as parents or ministry leaders? Jesus did say that we should “count the cost”.(1) So, there is some value in considering what may come up, what a given endeavor might involve, what it might cost. But, there is a point at which even “counting the cost” can have us fighting straw men. You see, it is wise for us to consider what something might cost. But, God is our provider and, once we have considered the cost, we need to let God worry about providing for it. Sure there is work to do, but God will handle the provision.
After we have considered the cost there is more preparation to be done. The first thing I would recommend is Bible study. The Bible is our “manual” for life. Contained it in are the instructions for how we should behave in different situations. Sure there will be situations that we encounter that don’t match every detail of what is spelled out in scripture. BUT, just like with the pugil sticks, there are concepts and principles in the Bible for every situations that we will encounter in life. If we “hide His words in our heart” (2) then we will be prepared for what comes up.
So, stopped fighting straw men. Do what you can to be prepared for what might come, but then just move forward. Don’t worry about every little possible problem. There will plenty of times to worry about the WHAT IFS when they become WHAT NOWS.Even then we have to trust that if God led us to it He will lead us trough it.
What Straw Men have you been fighting?
How have you learned to avoid fighting Straw Men?
1.) Luke 14:28
2.) Psalm 119:11