I remember merry-go-rounds very well. Because of my age, my childhood involved a good bit of playing outside without fear, and by far one of my favorite playground features was the merry-go-round. The faster the better – the more dangerous the more exciting – the closer to the edge, even to the point of hanging on to the rails and letting my entire body dangle and swing outside of the confines of the disc – all of it, I loved!
In elementary school I was kicked in the back of the legs by a kid dangling off of a fast-moving merry-go-round. The result of this had two-parts: first, this was my introduction to the feeling of getting the breath knocked out of me (additionally this was the first time in my life I actually thought I was going to die). Second, this was a moment of epiphany as I learned that it was both safer and more fun to be the one hanging on for dear life than the one who was standing beside the disc waiting to get kicked.
This image of the merry-go-round is a leadership principle – though not new with me – that has captured my thoughts and attention as of late, but not just for the purpose of leadership. The big idea is based on the physics of the merry-go-round.
The hardest work in getting the disc – or any system, organization or ministry – spinning comes at the beginning; but it isn’t difficult to keep the wheel spinning after it has gained momentum.
Case in point: David’s encounter with the priest when he is running from Saul.
David is running for his life, and because of the nature of his departure he has no supplies for what would become a decade long journey from everything familiar in his life. So he stops at an outpost called Nob, and convinces the priest that Saul has sent him on a mission. This is a lie, obviously, but one born out of war-time necessity.
1 Samuel 21:8-9
8 Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” 9 And the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down in the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here.” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me.”
The point: this entire exchange between David and the priest happens because of the reputation David already has. This is not a moment when obscurity gives way to miraculous opportunity, this is a moment when momentum carries someone through a transition.
The priest doesn’t do any of this for David if there are no songs being sung about the young warrior. There’s no sacred bread for unknown servants of Saul. There’s no way the priest relinquishes such a symbolic relic like Goliath’s sword to anyone other than the one who killed the giant in the first place.
Momentum and favor are not just about being successful, they are also invaluable tools that can carry us safely through transitions in our lives. God strategically gives us favor in some areas knowing that we will need that steam behind us to get us through tougher times. And, perhaps, there’s nothing wrong with utilizing that momentum, it’s not sinful to take advantage of your God-given benefits particularly if it means the difference between dying and surviving (or more spiritually: the difference between carrying out the anointing and calling on your life or losing it).
We should work and strive and sweat and push to be excellent at everything we do. After all, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. But the energy built up by our efforts should be seen as a strategic gift from God, not to be squandered, and not to be treated with cavalier indifference to the challenges that are inevitably coming.
Build momentum by faithfulness, and then let it carry us through the front lines of our enemies attacks on our lives.