Too Hot, Too Cold, Just Right

christian faith personal growth Feb 15, 2022

On January 28, 1986, thousands of teachers in the United States stopped their regular lesson and directed millions of students towards the television screen.

Millions of adults paused their daily activities to tune into the live broadcast from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Space Shuttle Challenger was set to launch into space carrying seven crew members: five astronauts, one payload specialist, and -- for the first time in history -- a civilian. The civilian was a social studies teacher from New Hampshire, a wife, and mother of two children, ages 9 and 6.

At launch the rocket boosters and shuttle weighed over four million pounds and was constructed of thousands of parts. Four of these pieces, o-rings, were about 38’ in circumference and 1/4” thick, the thickness of a pencil. The o-rings were seals designed to keep hot gasses and flames inside the rocket boosters. Tragically, these gaskets failed, and escaping gasses and flames burned a hole into the external fuel tank, triggering a massive explosion tearing the space shuttle apart. Everyone aboard perished. The space shuttle program was halted for over two years.

Why did these o-rings fail? The cold temperatures exceeded the o-rings capacity to function properly. Engineers had warned the o-rings weren’t designed to withstand the cold temperatures present on the morning of the fatal launch. They were ignored.

Everything -- and everyone -- has limits. Ignoring these limits can result in deaths. Not only of people, but of relationships, opportunities, careers, effectiveness, abilities, and health.

Handling capacities wisely means discovering and developing these. It also requires understanding, accepting, and dealing with the dangers when we’re tempted to ignore limits.

Capacities are like bags of popcorn. The instructions on popcorn are there to enable you to enjoy a delicious treat, not leave you with lots of useless kernels or running for the smoke alarm because the popcorn is overcooked. Self-limiting beliefs are like bags pulled from the microwave too early, leaving you with unfulfilled possibilities. Pride-based beliefs are like bags kept in the microwave too long, burning your opportunities. Humility leads to “just right” outcomes.

NASA had engineers warning about o-ring failure due to cold temperatures, while others advised the o-rings would be fine, and the scheduled launch should continue. The warnings weren’t heeded. The choice to wait until a later date when all the engineers would agree wasn’t made. The results: devastating.

How can you make decisions when you hear contradictory messages? That answer isn’t always simple, but there are some key guidelines which can be followed.

Tragically, in 1 Samuel 13:8-14 we read how Saul overreaches his capacity with dire consequences for himself, his family, and the nation of Israel. Saul is still being motivated by fear, although he responds differently than he did when first anointed king. Instead of hiding behind baggage, he’s stepping into the spotlight and taking on a responsibility which isn’t his. Only the prophets and priests were allowed to offer certain sacrifices according to God’s commandments, and the prophet Samuel had promised to come and offer the sacrifices before Saul and the army went into yet another battle against the Philistines.

When Samuel is late, Saul panics and decides to act as a prophet instead of a king and offers the sacrifices himself. Since we’re no longer slaughtering sheep or cows to receive God’s forgiveness, this can seem like no big deal. But it was. Huge, actually. A direct violation of God’s clear command which had been established since the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. This wasn’t some obscure technicality of ceremonial law Saul didn’t know. He knew better!

The consequence of Saul’s act is equal to its significance: the kingship of Israel would not be passed down through his family. (You can read all about how costly this was in 2 Samuel.)

Instead of waiting on Samuel -- which required trusting God -- Saul declares, “Time’s up! Things aren’t looking good here, and I’m taking matters into my own hands.” This isn’t living empowered; it’s living arrogant.

Arrogance and faith do not co-exist. Faith is rooted in humility -- understanding, accepting, and working within our limits while being responsible for identifying, growing, and applying our abilities.

We don’t want to self-limit because of false beliefs like “I’m not smart enough to do _________.” Yet the antidote to destructive self-limiting beliefs is humility, not arrogance.

One of the greatest dangers as we grow in capacities and confidence is to begin moving into roles which aren’t ours. “I handled that so well, I’m certainly capable of doing this other thing.” And what makes this so difficult is the truth that confidence in one area can build confidence in another area and help us to see all of our capacities. So how does a person know if they are operating in self-limiting beliefs, the “sweet spot,” or arrogance? The question is, “Am I doing anything which is against one or more of God’s commands?” Whether one understands the command or not is not the issue. It’s whether one follows the command or not.

The consequence for Saul’s action can seem extreme. His family will not be where future kings come from? Really? I mean, maybe lose a battle. Or two. But an entire kingdom? And from this we can learn a powerful lesson. When we step into capacities which belong to others and we presume that our role, position, capacity, intelligence, social standing, wealth, whatever.... excuses or justifies us, we never know how costly that may be -- for us, our family, our community, church, nation, business, or the world.

Humility protects capacities.

Humility focuses on the right priority. Waits for guidance. Follows wise instructions.

What we focus on, wait on, and follow will develop, diminish, or destroy our capacities. Saul focused on fear. He saw the enemy’s power and his army’s perplexity. His focus became his immediate desire to rally his troops rather than a long-term vision to lead his people in righteousness.

Saul didn’t wait on Samuel which meant not waiting for God. Waiting can sometimes be the hardest action of all. Had Saul waited for Samuel; had NASA waited until all its team agreed to “Launch!,” who knows how differently not only the battle and mission would have turned out, but the lives of all those affected.

Saul leaned on -- followed -- his own understanding. He placed his opinions above God’s commands. He didn’t ask for help from those around him to do the right thing. Today, we don’t wait for prophets to declare God’s instructions. We have Scripture and the example of Jesus. Most of the world will declare the Bible to be irrelevant, outdated, and faulty -- even dangerous. They will judge those believing it to be the only divinely inspired guide to life to be intellectually wimpy and emotionally weak. However, its teachings have been proven over thousands of years in radically diverse cultures covering every area of the globe.

Focusing on, waiting on, and following God requires humility. When we focus elsewhere; plunge ahead ignoring cautions from our conscience, others, or Scripture; and place our own or other’s opinions above God’s instructions, we jeopardize our capacities -- and those of countless others.


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