the shape of leadership

Do What You Can Do

Eliminating the excuses that lead to inaction

When leaders find themselves in difficult, even paralyzing circumstances, it can be easy to let excuses become the language of the moment. Faced with a lack of clarity, difficult decisions, or unfamiliar territory, the most natural action can be a retreat into inaction. Inaction is a dangerous place for leaders to live.

Yes, there are times to reflect, pray, evaluate, and plan, but eventually leaders have to move. They have to do what they can do.

In the Gospel of Mark, we find an important lesson that drives home this very point. While Jesus was in Bethany, He visited the home of Simon the Leper. While Jesus was there, “a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head” (Mark 14:3).

Some scoffed at the woman’s actions, saying, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor” (verses 4-5).

While the woman was being ridiculed and rebuked, Jesus made a powerful statement.

First, Jesus told them to leave the woman alone, and He even affirmed her action as “beautiful” (verse 6). But then Jesus said something that is easy to overlook in this moving story: “She did what she could” (verse 8).

I love that statement. She did what she could. She didn’t try to do what someone else might have done. The woman didn’t focus on what she didn’t have or wish she had. Instead, the woman took the one thing she did have — her alabaster jar — and did what she could.

This was no small act. This was no mindless moment. Instead, it was an act of surrender and sacrifice. The one thing the woman could do was the bravest thing she could do.

But that’s not how others viewed it. The woman’s actions drew judgment and ridicule from those who thought what she did was pointless and reckless. But to Jesus, it was a heartfelt expression of worship.

The woman did what she could, and Jesus affirmed her for it: “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9).

What’s the lesson for leaders today? No matter what challenge, hardship or difficulty you’re facing, you can still do something. Don’t let excuses drive you to a place of inaction … excuses like these:

Excuses are the permanent exit ramps from the highway of obedience.
  • We don’t have enough money.
  • My leadership skill isn’t great enough.
  • Our church isn’t big enough.
  • Our missions budget is too small.
  • Our building is too old.
  • We don’t have enough leaders.

Don’t compare what you can or can’t do to what others have done. Don’t complain about what you lack or your limited resources. Comparison will rob your joy, and complaining will rob your gratitude. When you focus on what you don’t have, you feed a scarcity mindset. You also send an arrogant message to God: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

If God can’t trust you with what you currently have, He certainly won’t trust you with any more (Luke 16:10).

Don’t wait for God to give you what you want before you do something that matters. Do what you can do with what God has already given to you. Act. When we focus on what we can do, three things happen:

  1. We are released from the guilt of what we can’t do.
  2. God calls us to faithfully steward what we can do.
  3. We become responsible for what we will do.

When we do what we can with what we have, God calls us faithful. In fact, the Parable of the Bags of Gold in Matthew 25 shows us God can entrust us with more when we’re faithful stewards of what He’s already entrusted to us. Doing more with less leads to more. Complaining more about our less only reveals the condition of our heart.

God will not hold you accountable to do what He never gifted you to do, equipped you to do, or called you to do. The Lord only expects you to act (often in faith) with what He’s placed in your hand. Don’t let excuses neutralize you, and don’t let inaction paralyze you.

John F. Kennedy once said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

Inaction only leads to regret. Inaction only retreats to the safety of mediocrity.

Inaction is the fruit of every excuse we can imagine. At the end of the day, excuses are the permanent exit ramps from the highway of obedience.

As John Maxwell says, “It’s easier to go from failure to success than it is from excuses to success.”

Ditch the excuses, and choose to act. As you do, you’ll also ditch the regrets that might otherwise haunt you. Do what you can.

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