What Are You Building?

by Larry Hehn on April 27, 2011

sand castleWe are blessed to have Clay Morgan of ClayWrites guest posting today. Clay is the kind of teacher I always wanted to experience in college. As a pop culture professor, he makes learning fun. He’s the clever, lovable, puckish younger brother that I never had. Clay can cook, dazzle with his stellar karate moves, and make even the ugliest sweater look good. He hails from Pittsburgh, PA but also speaks fluent Canadian. Frankly, I’m quite jealous.

If you haven’t met Clay yet, be sure to pay a visit and subscribe to ClayWrites!  And now, here’s Clay…

Somebody recently asked me to name something I know way too much about. The first answer that came to mind was “ways to not succeed.”

I’m what you call an ideas man. My brain constantly churns out plans of all sorts. That sounds kind of great but most of those schemes never went anywhere, especially when I was younger. My problem was that for the longest time I was brilliant at starting but terrible at finishing.

Good ideas that never go anywhere are useless. The world is run by finishers, people who build great things. How do we join them?

The history I teach is filled with inspiration, especially ancient times when those seven wonders of the world were crafted. I’m blown away by the construction of a new home let alone a skyscraper or stadium. Imagine what it took to make amazing structures like the Great Pyramid of Giza with practically no technology!

Yet King Solomon may have built something that surpassed all seven of those iconic structures, the First Temple in Jerusalem.

That temple wasn’t just massive; it was invaluable. Thousands of tons of precious metals and iron went into the project. Massive loads of lumber were felled and shipped down the Mediterranean coast. Workers included every level from skilled craftsmen and engravers to loggers and stonecutters. They numbered in the hundreds of thousands and didn’t so much as have a thermos or port-a-john let alone power tools.

The task took years, but the planning took decades. The people running the show knew how to think big and finish. Neat combo.

Solomon’s papa was King David. He got his vision from the only One bigger than him: his God. 1 Chronicles 28 tells the story. David didn’t just dream up this ambitious building project on his own. The vision came to him express via the Spirit of God. Makes sense since the temple was literally a house for the Almighty. Too bad they didn’t have MTV back then because that would’ve made a great episode of Cribs.

But don’t take my word for it. “All this,” David said, “I have in writing as a result of the LORD’s hand on me, and he enabled me to understand all the details of the plan.”

We often wonder what to do next. Ever get stuck? Ever get paralyzed in that moment of decision when you know that the next move you make could change your life forever?

David said that God enabled him to understand the details.

There’s pretty much three types of people: those who don’t believe in God, those who believe in God but don’t find Him useful, and those who believe in God and look to Him for understanding.

For the crowd that doesn’t believe in God there’s no ultimate understanding. If you don’t believe in a transcendent power then meaning disappears, so what’s the point? But I’m always fascinated when people tell me there is no God yet proceed to point out all the terrible things He does. Which one is it?

For believers, most of us have no trouble dumping on God. When things go wrong we plead with/rage against the all-powerful deity that let us down. Of course, when things go right we might not be as quick to show gratitude. That’s how it often works for me anyway.

So between these highs and lows we’re trying to figure out what comes next. What should we focus on now? Should we take that job? Get that degree? Have that kid? To a lesser extent should we buy that house? Take that trip? Call that friend or family member who we’ve allowed resentment to separate us for so long?

That’s why I love David—one of the most powerful kings of all-time. He succeeds and blows it and despairs and questions. But in the end he lands on value and meaning, something real and knowable. He says that God enables him to understand the details of the plan. I like that because he had all the wealth, power, and fame you could dream of yet he didn’t try to pretend like life was about him. In fact, one of the things David had to understand was why he didn’t get to be the one to build the glorious temple. That job was given to his son instead.

Even though he didn’t fully understand the guidelines he still did what he knew to be right.

Twice David says, “Do the work” to his son Solomon. That declaration comes with some authority. If you keep going you will succeed. Don’t stop. Finish.

Solomon did the work and created something so magnificent that other world leaders sought him out to pay homage.

So what are you building? What’s next for you?

Here are four tidy lessons from David’s leadership to help us succeed in our messy lives.

1. Recognize inspiration / Make plans.

2. Bring like-minded people alongside you.

3. Do the work.

4. Finish as much as you can.

Sometimes we don’t get to finish the job. Add value to whatever work you do, regardless of what part you play.

We often won’t know what’s going on, but God will enable us to understand the details. Sure, you may not get that clarity right away, but would you rather always do what makes immediate sense or what is truly best in the long run?

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie April 27, 2011 at 11:29 am

Well said! Clay, you continue to amaze me. I plan to have my daughter read this post.

My primary “project” at the moment (and for the rest of my life) is raising four children to be compassionate adults. (Can you sense I’m sweating bullets?) I’m always praying for strength and clarity.

On the side, I’m dabbling in writing. #3 and #4 of your tidy lessons is the tricky part for me. Takes focus and a little bit of selfishness from this busy mom. The day needs a 25th hour.

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Clay Morgan April 27, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for that Annie. As I said, the problem with a tidy to-do list is that our lives our just so messy! Kids and work and obstacles and life all get in the way. That’s why I try to think about the great focus of others as much as possible.
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Larry Hehn April 27, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Nice to meet you, Annie! My wife and I also have a daughter followed by three sons. They are all in their teens now. Yep, prayer definitely helps. I’m looking forward to reading your blog!

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JButt April 27, 2011 at 11:56 am

Hm, I like this side of you, Clayford. Can’t bring my signature wit to the table, cuz I’m kinda rebuked. Bah, and a humbug. But in a Jesus-loves-you kind of way.

Well said, friend.
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Clay Morgan April 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I know the feeling my friend. You are super.
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kristinherdy April 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm

there seems to be a theme in my reader today, dreaming big, working toward that dream and letting generations to come carry on your dream past your ability.

God speaks to me in repetition and today’s he’s used you. Thanks for listening to him speak and thanks for sharing this word with us!
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Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom) April 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Sorry, Kristin, to have ruined that theme with my non-serious post. 😉
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Clay Morgan April 27, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Great to hear Kristin. Thanks for reading.
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Jason April 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm

To answer your question, I’d always want to do what is best in the long run. I’ve come to find that usually means the immediate will suck more often than not. 🙂
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Clay Morgan April 27, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Delayed gratification is great and terrible all at once. Thanks for reading.
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Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom) April 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Sheesh. You Renaissance Man.

Seriously, though, this post is brilliant. To bring together humour, clarity, the Old Testament, and insight and make it relevant is, well, wow.

Anyway, in the interest of telling people what to do, you should find another market for this. (And in no way do I mean to imply that Larry Hehn’s blog does not reach a great audience).

But this is a fab essay.

Okay, now I’ll stop saying how good this is and just add that social media definitely makes #2 much easier.
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Clay Morgan April 27, 2011 at 5:02 pm

I know Larry will appreciate the #2 reference as much as I! Thanks though. I haven’t been called a Renaissance Man before.
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Larry Hehn April 27, 2011 at 9:17 pm

I actually was planning to refer to you as a Renaissance Man in your introduction, Clay. But I forgot how to spell it.

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Jesse April 27, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Well said, man. I would amend #3 to say ‘do the work as though you are working for God’
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Clay Morgan April 27, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Great point Jesse. Thanks for adding to the discussion.
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Ellie Ann April 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I really appreciate these words, but especially: “But in the end he lands on value and meaning, something real and knowable. He says that God enables him to understand the details of the plan.”
I love that. I want to have a heart like David. One of my favorite verses is, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart–as working for the Lord, not for men.” This post made me think of that verse. Thanks so much for this great article!

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Larry Hehn April 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

Thanks for dropping in, Ellie!

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Clay Morgan April 27, 2011 at 5:03 pm

You, Ellie, are fantabulous. Thanks for adding that.
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Keri April 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm

I love how you brought David into this post. Just finished up a study on David, and I was amazed at the height of his highs and depths of his lows. But, all along he trusted God and came running back to Him in worship.

The last bit hit home for me: “Sometimes we don’t get to finish the job. Add value to whatever work you do, regardless of what part you play.”

We all make up the body, we each have different gifts. But, each and every one of these gifts is worthy and useful. When I step out of my gifting, I’m not only leaving a gap, I’m standing in someone else’s way. And, even if my gifting or my calling isn’t glamorous, it is He that makes it beautiful.

Thanks so much for sharing this. It was really encouraging to me today. 🙂
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Clay Morgan April 27, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Great points Keri. I’m really glad you read and were encouraged.
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Tony Alicea April 27, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Love this Clay. I actually touched on a similar topic today but I really like your angle. It’s great to dream big but we need to put “legs” to those dreams!
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Clay Morgan April 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Thanks Tony. I just read your post and liked it very much. I was struck at how David repeats the phrase “Do the work.” Encouraging stuff!
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Piper Bayard April 27, 2011 at 9:45 pm

I love this post, Clay. I don’t know what I am building, and I don’t know what comes next. But, more than that, I feel exactly no need to know. I’m very comfortable with not knowing or understanding how God uses me. What I do need to know every day, though, is that I’m right with God in my actions and choices in this moment.

I appreciate your list, and while I do have big picture goals, I don’t spend time thinking about the final product. To me, that would be like counting my money while sitting at the table. I tend to translate your list into how it applies to my actions and choices in this moment. Maybe that’s another product of cancer in my youth.

While I consider myself a Christian because I am dedicated to the new principles that Jesus brings to the theological party (i.e. forgiveness and we are all equal in God’s eyes), I do not limit myself to the bible for my guidance or comfort. In this instance, I would paraphrase the Bhagavad Gita, which says that the action of our labor belongs to us, but what becomes of our labor belongs to God. I just try to do my best work on my task today and let God do what he will with it. If I find out what that is, that will be gravy.

Thanks for this most excellent post. I’d love to see more of your theological side. It’s actually my quiet passion.
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Clay Morgan April 28, 2011 at 12:06 am

I like how you phrase that Piper because many of us are unsure of that same thing. In fact, most people are probably just living and doing what they do. None of us ever knows exactly how we were used right? I think some goals are going to be attained while some destinations are never reached. How we are along the way is certainly critical.

Interesting idea from the Bhagavad Gita. While our overall beliefs probably differ, we share some pretty good ones, and I certainly agree that everything we do should be done for God. I love talking about this stuff and can go on for hours. In fact, one of the best parts of my job at the college is after class discussions with such a diverse group of students. Thanks so much for taking the time to craft a thoughtful response.
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seekingpastor April 27, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Finish as much as you can—something that I have had problems with in the past. Good words, man.
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Clay Morgan April 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

I know exactly what you mean. Thanks for reading.
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Moe April 28, 2011 at 1:27 am

Does anyone else find it weird that it took Solomon 7 years to build the Lord’s temple and 13 to build his palace? No? Me neither. 🙂

One of the things I want people to say about me in my funeral is that “Moe finished what he started”. I’m not a quitter, and I don’t ever want to be one too. It’s to easy to start. Finishing is always the hard part.
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Larry Hehn April 28, 2011 at 7:02 am

You got it, Moe. 2 Timothy 4:7 is one of my favorite verses.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”
Cheers!

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Kim Wilson April 28, 2011 at 8:35 am

Larry, thanks for hosting this, and Clay, great words!

I didn’t respond when I read this, but I’ve been thinking about it since then so I decided to come back and post a response.

One thing that’s hard for me is that my “finishing the work” might not be the end of the project because I like results and completion. It’s implicit here, but #2 might even be expanded to training others to keep the work going. I read something in Tim Elmore’s Habitudes called “The Joshua Problem” that’s applicable here. He talks of how Moses mentored Joshua and prepared him to take over, to finish the work of taking the people into the Promised Land. Joshua, however, didn’t train anyone to take over for him. Joshua did the work, but his work didn’t endure as much as Moses’ because he didn’t disciple another. Here’s to finishing the work and inspiring and training others to continue on!
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Clay Morgan April 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Thanks for returning to add your thoughts Kim. You are dead on. I guess part of adding value to whatever you do definitely includes developing future leaders. Great point there.
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Jess Witkins April 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Touching words, Clay, in a funny, sentimental, smart way. It’s a good lesson for all of us. I struggle with rules #3 and #4, but having #2 helps a lot. It’s really on me now. And I’d rather not battle it out with Solomon, so if you’ll excuse me I have some writing to do, but great post!

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Clay Morgan April 28, 2011 at 10:20 pm

You got it Jess. I am a total lone wolf so much of the time and have to focus on working with others. I’m the guy that will just say “let me do it” because I know then I’ll get done. But that’s not sustainable or best.
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Judith April 30, 2011 at 1:34 am

Hi Clay – great post. Truth mixed with humor just the way kids will learn. Wish I had had a teacher like you when I was at school (eons ago) – did they even have teachers then?
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Larry Hehn May 3, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Thanks again, Clay, for such a great post.
And a hearty thank you to all new and repeat visitors – I’m so glad you came by.
You are welcome any time!

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