WAS THE FIRST TIME EVER that I’d heard a Charlie Hunter
song. The jazz instrumental, Someday
We’ll All Be Free, which Hunter plays with only bass
accompaniment, melted me, and I phoned the radio station at
once to find out who the guitarist on this recording was. I
felt immediately that this was a song I wanted to perform on
guitar myself. While I knew it would stretch me, I was sure I
could learn it with some effort, and that the challenge would
be good for me. Although I’d never heard of Hunter, I was
pleased to find the CD in a store the next day, and purchased
If you happen to be a
Charlie Hunter fan, you’re already chuckling, for you know
where this story is heading.
I was surprised enough to
find that Hunter plays an eight-string guitar, unlike the
six-string model picked by most ordinary mortals. I was
astounded to find that no bass player is listed in the album
credits, even though I was certain I’d heard one on the
radio. Of course, Hunter could have dubbed in the bass part
himself. But the album is produced by Blue Note, a purist jazz
label that would never stoop to such studio trickery.
It couldn’t be, I
Hunter plays both the lead
guitar part and the bass part on this song—as he does on
every selection on the album—at
the same time. He picks the guitar portion on the high
strings, the bass portion on the low strings. And he plays
complex, nuanced lines, that any guitarist or bassist would be
proud to play as individual parts by themselves.
covers them both at once.
While I’ve witnessed many
guitarists, like Chet Atkins, who can play multiple guitar
lines at the same time, I’ve never encountered one who can
play bass and guitar parts simultaneously—a skill I hadn’t
previously thought possible. I was delighted to discover
Hunter’s unusual talent, and his music is truly inspiring.
Yet this discovery had a
demoralizing effect on me, for I knew if I practiced a
lifetime, I couldn’t come close to matching his remarkable
skill. That realization dampened my enthusiasm for doing what
I can do—which is to learn the guitar portion of the song
I’d so enjoyed.
Finally it dawned on me
that I was falling in to the same rut I warn others to avoid.
I was letting Hunter’s talent be a benchmark for judging my
own. This envious comparing led me to devalue my own talent,
and went well beyond healthy humility, for it sapped my
motivation to take a step of growth that was within my reach.
the Right Dreams
of us is far more capable of setting significant goals and
achieving them than we normally realize. Dreams that seem
impossible may even be much more within our reach than we
imagine. The secret lies in how we focus our thinking.
Beginning with the premise that the problems we encounter can
be solved, then dwelling on finding solutions, can make a
radical difference. This approach to life is at the heart of
what one writer has termed “the magic of thinking big.”*
This isn’t to imply that any
dream we wish to achieve can be accomplished through such
positive thinking. Thinking big has it limits, which are vital
to respect. The dreams we establish and the goals we set need
to reflect the potential God has given us, and his unique
design of our life. If we tread too far outside this arena, we
can end up thinking big in a manner that works against us. We
can lock in to goals that don’t fit us well, and even devote
considerable energy to attempting to reach them.
It’s easy to fall into
what psychologists term an “idealized self-image.” We
esteem someone else’s talent, or success, or possessions or
benefits they enjoy, and decide we would be better off in
their position. We may even establish a major dream, and stake
our self-worth, on our ability to match their success. Yet
this grass-is-greener mentality is bound to frustrate us,
especially if our gifts and potential differ significantly
As an avid guitarist,
I’ve often fallen into this comparison trap when listening
to other players. It was, of course, outlandish that I gave
even a passing thought to how my musical ability stacks up
against Charlie Hunter’s. There are probably not a
half-dozen people on our planet who can perform his musical
feat. Yet this is how our psyche works. We instinctively
compare ourselves with others in countless ways we have no
The process is most
insidious when we establish major dreams based on others’
potential rather than our own. While it’s commendable that
we have vision, we’re basing it on God’s design of
others’ lives, not ours. This idealizing can leave us
greatly dispirited if we’re unable to live up to the
accomplishments of others we esteem. It can rob us of the
motivation to take our own potential seriously, and to work
toward goals we actually can reach. It can also incite us to
strive unreasonably hard to accomplish goals that aren’t
appropriate for us.
We also need to establish a
pace that’s right for us in pursuing any goal. It helps to
remember the dynamics of flight. An airplane needs to be
moving at a reasonable speed to gain lift and become airborne.
But if, once in flight, the pilot raises the trajectory too
high, the plane will lose its thrust and descend.
This is a good parallel to
realizing our potential. We need goals, and we need to be
moving toward them at a reasonable pace to achieve them. Yet
if we raise the trajectory too high—by setting unrealistic
goals, or by pushing ourselves too hard to reach them—we
will “crash and burn.” Keeping balance in the process is
from David’s Example
Scripture offers us a
wealth of insight and inspiration for this process of
establishing our ideals and dreams. Some of the most helpful
enlightenment comes from examples of those who either
succeeded or failed at the task. Once again, the life of
David, the Old Testament king, is especially helpful to
consider, for he set many stunning goals and succeeded in
reaching them. Yet he also overdid it at times and fell flat
on his face. His life is an intriguing mix of both dimensions
of thinking big.
David was, overall, an
exceptionally gifted visionary thinker. His decision as a very
young man to fight Goliath is one of the most impressive
examples in Scripture of someone thinking big in a
constructive way (1 Sam 17). Although an extremely high-stakes
venture for David, it was suitable given his gifts and
experience, as we’ve noted. As a shepherd he had, with a
sling, killed wild animals that had threatened his flock. He
had developed a simple strategy for defeating a fierce
opponent, and from experience learned that it worked. He had
also discovered he had the presence of mind to carry it out at
those moments he was under attack and his life hung in the
While fighting Goliath
meant taking on a new and greater challenge, David had good
reason to believe he possessed both the skill and temperament
for it (1 Sam 17:34-37). The rewards for succeeding were also
immense: the glory of God was at stake, and a nation of people
stood to benefit from his action. He and his family would
benefit in major ways as well. Some risk, then, was more than
As grandiose as David’s
brothers thought his dream of fighting Goliath was, it was in
fact appropriate for him, and he proved it with the first shot
of his sling. David’s encounter with Goliath symbolizes his
approach to life during his years as a warrior and his decades
as king. He was an uncanny optimist and a master at thinking
big. He had instinctively good judgment for recognizing good
options for himself and his people, and he took many ingenious
steps that successfully brought them about. His example
inspires us to see the bigger possibilities for our own life
and to go for them.
Yet David didn’t always
get it right. He made some major blunders at times, which
sprang from thinking too grandiosely. In each case, David
probably became too obsessed with trying to match the
accomplishments of others.
On one notorious occasion,
he decided to take a census of
, a step that brought God’s wrath upon the nation (2 Sam 24,
1 Chron 21). Although Scripture doesn’t reveal precisely why
taking the census angered God, it must have been that David
was seeking more information than he needed to govern by
faith. He undoubtedly wanted to know how
compared population-wise with other nations, and especially
’s military strength stacked up against other countries’.
Instead, he should have simply trusted in faith that God had
exactly the people and resources needed to carry out his
Equally tragic was
David’s decision to seek a tryst with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11).
However great his raw sensual desire that drew him to her,
David also coveted in this case—a point Nathan the prophet
implied when confronting him about the incident (2 Sam
12:1-9). David thought he needed to be gratified through a
provision that God intended for Uriah the Hittite alone.
Another grandiose misstep
of David’s was his decision to build a temple for God (2 Sam
7). David dearly desired to carry out this project, and spent
considerable energy musing about it. Yet God explained to
David that he didn’t have the right temperament for the
task, since he was a warrior at heart (1 Chron 28:3-7, 1 Chron
22:6-10). He should instead allow his son Solomon to do it,
during the latter’s reign.
David’s motives were
certainly more commendable here than when he took the census
or yielded to temptation with Bathsheba. God, in fact,
commended David for his desire to build the temple (2 Chron
6:7-9). Yet he may have been influenced by unhealthy motives
as well. David had been mentored by the prophets Samuel and
Nathan, and undoubtedly had frequent contact with other
dynamic religious leaders whom he esteemed. He may have felt
inferior to these people in certain ways. He may have desired
to prove to himself and others that he also could make an
important contribution to his nation’s spiritual life. It
wasn’t enough merely to be a good political leader; he
needed to accomplish something that would deeply influence his
nation spiritually as well.
One thing is certain:
David’s desire to build the temple had become an obsession.
His self-worth had become wrapped up in seeing it
accomplished. “He swore an oath to the LORD,
he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: ‘I will not enter
my house or go to my bed, I will allow no sleep to my eyes or
slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the LORD,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob’” (Ps 132:1-5).
God certainly did David an
enormous favor by relieving him of the burden of thinking that
he had to build the temple. By revealing to him that the
temple project wasn’t his responsibility, God gave David a
treasured insight into his calling as king. He assured him it
was okay for him to be who he was, to focus on tasks that fit
his gifts and personality, and to leave the other
responsibilities for those more suited to handle them.
In the same way, God speaks
to each of us, urging us to realize that he hasn’t made a
mistake fashioning us as he has. He wants us to take great
encouragement in the unique potential he has given us
personally, even to feel exhilarated about it.
He wants us to be good
stewards of our potential, too, and to take the wisest
possible steps to invest it for his glory and the benefit of
others. To do this effectively, it’s essential that we be
optimistic and hopeful, and think big about our possibilities.
From time to time, we will need to take a substantial step of
faith with our life, to open ourselves more fully to the
opportunities Christ has for us.
Again, the important thing
is that such a step results from our best understanding of how
God has molded our own life. The danger is always that we try
to think too big, and embrace dreams that are out of
line with who we are. It’s our desire to look good to others
that so often makes us vulnerable to such idealizing. Our
craving to be appreciated, respected and loved drives us to
strive for accomplishments we believe they’ll admire. While
we can never let go of this desire completely, we’re far
happier not letting it control our destiny. Our greatest joy
is found in living out God’s unique design for our life.
underestimate, however, how challenging it can be to say no to
opportunities that appeal strongly to our desire to be
esteemed by others, but run counter to what is right for us.
Choosing God’s best often means letting go of our need to be
liked by others, to some extent—sometimes to the point of
feeling like we’re throwing caution to the winds.
View of God Makes the Difference
As I’m writing this, a
letter arrives from a friend. In it Carol shares about her own
struggle to break the habit of comparing herself with others.
The challenge for her, she explains, is that, in her unguarded
thinking, she imagines that God is comparing her unfavorably
with others and expecting her to live up to their standards.
In reality, she knows God to be profoundly different. She
knows he loves her uniquely, has a distinctive plan for her
life, and doesn’t expect her to be anyone’s clone. But she
has to dwell upon this realization to be transformed by it.
Carol has put her finger on
the heart of the problem for many serious Christians. It has
to do with our view of God more than anything. We have a
default impression of him—that he judges us in light of how
well we live up to the lifestyle and accomplishments of other
Christians we admire. Underneath, we know God isn’t like
this. We realize he has made uniquely, and that we best honor
him by respecting our individuality. But this enlightened view
of God doesn’t come naturally. We have a chronic
tendency to lose sight of it, for it runs contrary to much of
what we’ve been taught.
We need a view of God that
frees us from this tendency, and infuses us with courage to be
the individual he has made us to be. For this to happen, we
need to devote generous time to reflecting on God’s
distinctive love for us. We need to remind ourselves
constantly that it is he who has given us our individuality,
and that he takes it into account at all points in his plan
for our life. This outlook on God will give us the heart to
take the steps of faith so vital to realizing our potential
for Christ. But it takes serious time reflecting on this
picture of God for our attitude to substantially change.
In addition to focusing in
this way on God’s nature, we should devote significant time
to letting him direct our thinking. Investing such time can
make a radical difference in our ability to recognize and
carry out his will. Give Christ substantial opportunity to
influence your life—both to shape your view of God and to
direct your decisions.
Then take heart. He wants
to shake the foundation of your life with opportunities that
reflect his best intentions for you, with insight to recognize
them, and courage to pursue them.
And there’s nothing
grandiose about saying that.