Handling Problems So Problems Don’t Handle You

by Andy Wood on June 23, 2014

in Enlarging Your Capacity, Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Pleasers, Principle of Freedom

Overwhelmed Problem Solver

Then there was that time Jethro stopped by.

Not Jethro Gibbs or Jethro Bodine.  Jethro the daddy-in-law.

Moses and his father-in-law had a strange and wonderful relationship.  Moses the young fugitive had whupped up on some bullies and given help to Jethro’s seven sheepherding daughters.  Moses wound up with a job and one of Jethro’s daughters as a wife.  Then while Moses was off delivering the Israelites from slavery at the hand of God, Jethro kept the wife and kids safe and sound back in Midian.

Jethro was, in effect, the father Moses never had.

Now, after the exodus and taking three million of his closest friends with him to the Promised land, Moses gets word that Jethro is on the way, with Moses’ household in tow.  It was a sweet reunion, and you can read all about it in Exodus 18.

This was more than a family visit.  Jethro had heard all the reports of what God had done.  Jethro was a man of God himself.  He wanted to see first-hand what a people so delivered and provided for by God looked like.  What he got was a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde experience.  Watch this language:

Now Jethro… heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people…

Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had befallen them on the journey, and how the Lord had delivered them. Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians…

Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people?”

(Side note:  Do you have people in your life who have permission to ask you questions like that?  What the heck are you doing?)

Somehow in the flurry of administration and problem-solving, Moses had assumed the position of chief problem solver.  Only he wasn’t handling the problems – the load had become so heavy, the problems were handling him.

It’s a classic leadership shift that has consumed many a world-changing leader.  The visionary transformation artist becomes fried to a crisp by the day-to-day grind of administration, petty feuds and disputes, and micromanagement.  And what’s sad and scary about the situation is that to Moses, just as it is to many others in his position, getting so bogged down was the natural thing to do.  Somehow in his belief that he was the only solution to the problems of several million people, he had gone from parting the Red Sea to parting two cousins arguing over a sheep.

Jethro gave his son-by-adoption some classic advice. And regardless of where you are in terms of leading people, if you are ever presented with problems to solve, his advice will speak volumes to you.

Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace” (Exodus 18:17-23).

Here are five guiding principles for problem solving, based on Jethro’s counsel:

1.  If God did it yesterday, it isn’t your job to do it today.

It’s a classic friendly takeover.  Stupid, but typical.  God does it. God does some more.  God does even more.  Then somehow we get the idea that this is tag-team wrestling and we’re tagged in to take over.

Everything the Lord had done for Israel to that point had been because of Moses standing before the Lord, or standing before the world in God’s name.  Jethro sent him back to the presence of God as priest, and before all the people as prophet and teacher.

As followers of Christ, we all stand on the finished work of God somehow.  You can’t improve on that, and it isn’t your job to “take it from here.”  Let God be God, and you be you.

2.  If somebody comes to you with a problem, that doesn’t make it your problem.

I should probably repeat that, but that would be bad writing.  Moses had this crazy idea that when somebody presented him with their problem, it somehow became his problem to solve!

I know!  I’m thinking the same thing!  Who would ever arrive at such a ridiculous conclusion today?

What’s that?  Oh, yeah, about half the population, that’s who.  Which means I’m either talking to you or someone very close to you.

It’s OK to listen. It’s OK to offer counsel, as Jethro did.  It is not OK to assume that your job in life is to worry about someone’s potential dangers or fix someone else’s broken life.

3.  Just because you have a responsibility doesn’t mean you bear that responsibility alone.

That’s where Jethro first saw signs of trouble.  “Why do you sit alone?” he asked (v. 14).

That was easy for an outsider to see.  Not as easy to recognize when you’re the one sitting alone with the responsibility.

It’s interesting that Jethro didn’t criticize Moses’ sense of responsibility – just the fact that he was trying to do it all by himself.  Look – it doesn’t violate your manhood, rob you of your influence, or indicate a lack of talent (or love!) when you call up people to help you.  It actually helps you live to see another day.

4.  The first sign that the problem is handling you is when it distracts you from your primary mission.

Throughout his life and work, the secret of Moses’ power was the time he spent before the Lord for the people, and before the people for the Lord.  Somehow he had lost sight of the source of his genius and power, and Jethro strategically pointed him back to that.

If you’re in leadership and you’ve somehow lost sight of your primary mission or your primary source of influence or strength because of the details and problems, it’s time for a problemectomy.  Run-don’t-walk back to your primary gifts, skills, or calling.

5.  Building problem solvers is more important than fixing problem situations.

Okay, control freaks and insecure or impatient authority-types… I want to say this simply, without you breaking into Disney show tunes…

Let. It. Go.

Yes, it takes time to select, train, and organize other people.  Yes, you have to let go of some of your control and authority to make that happen.  But it’s never a loss when you’re empowering other people so you can be freed up to focus on your higher calling and greater influence.

Jethro’s wisdom was to raise up an army – a team – of people to help with the problem situations.  But his greater wisdom was for Moses to return to a place of teaching all the people so that – get this – maybe they would be empowered to resolve their issues without ever needing a judge in the first place (what a concept!).


Whatever your personal or people problem issues, they can become gateways for growth and opportunities for abundance if you approach them with wisdom, focus, and a viewpoint that sees past the immediate.  Or, they can become a ball and chain that saps the life and vitality right out of you.  Come back from the solo-problem-solving wasteland.  Focus on your primary purpose, be part of a larger community, and invest in empowering others.

It’ll be worth it.

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