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Concerned or Responsible?

“Learning the difference between a concern and a responsibility may save your ministry, your family and your sanity.”  “Leading on Empty” by Wayne Cordeiro

I was introduced to the concept of  “Concerned or responsible” when I read Wayne’s book “Leading on Empty.”

I must say that this distinction has done wonders for my emotional, mental, relational and spiritual health.

I have come to understand that I can be concerned about many things, without having to take personal responsibility for these things.  The question will be asked as to how I (or anyone) decide (among all the things I’m concerned about) which are my responsibility and which are not? 

First of all, the answer is not an easy or simplistic one. I believe that people would need to determine that for themselves.  In part, the answer will probably flow out of a sense of calling, identified gifts, passion and capacity (calendar and emotional.)

Additionally, counseling with good friends and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit through prayer and scripture will greatly assist in making these  important decisions in how one allocates time and energy.

I’ve drawn the conclusion that if everything I was even remotely concerned about became my personal responsibility, I would face an untimely death as a result of having overtaxed my God-given ability and capacity to deal with all these concerns. It would also contribute (if I remain alive) to a great deal of emotional stress for me and my family.

The opportunities/concerns/problems that I know of will always exceed my ability and capacity to address them. I cannot, and should not, accept personal responsibility for everything that concerns me. I have to prayerfully and carefully decide what I am/am not responsible for.

It was Oswald Chambers in his classic “My Utmost for His Highest” who said, “The need is not the call.”  Just because there’s a need doesn’t mean that I’m supposed to  meet that need.

It probably boils down to having the courage and freedom to say no to a need or  person and not feel guilty for doing so.

It is not, and cannot be, my responsibility to address everything that comes my way; help every person who asks me, give to every worthy cause for which I am concerned.

Lorne Sanny (President of The Navigators and my boss during my 38 years with The Navigators) summed it up well when he said, "It was a wonderful feeling the day I resigned as master of the universe."

It takes lots of wisdom, courage and security in Jesus to allow some people to be unhappy with me--at least for a while. It was that great theologian and philosopher Bill Cosby who said, “I don’t know what the secret to success is, but I do know what the secret to failure is and that’s trying to keep everybody happy.”  Allowing some people to be unhappy with me is part of the price to pay for being concerned but not responsible to act.

Here is a short list of some needs that will cause emotional turmoil if any of them are of concern to you and you are wrestling as to your potential responsibility.  How can I just say no and turn my back on these great needs and causes? Am I not responsible to do something or to give money?

  • The homeless
  • Persecution of minority groups
  • Worldwide endemic diseases
  • Poverty
  • Displaced people
  • Human/sex trafficking
  • Police brutality
  • Criminal injustice
  • Immigration issues
  • Child abuse
  • On a more personal note, here are some things that can come your way for which you are concerned and need to ask if you are responsible to do something :

    • A needy adult child who struggles financially
    • Old friends who want you to be there emotionally and/or financially for them,  having asked consistently over a number of years
    • Staff at church who regularly ask you to volunteer for a position which needs to be filled, especially when they say that they have prayed and God keeps bringing your name to mind
    • An underperforming co-worker
    • The run-down look of your neighborhood

    I close with this from Wayne’s book: “You could go to a million therapists and spend the fortune of Bill Gates and not get better advice than what we find in Philippians 4:6 ‘Don’t worry about anything…pray about everything.’ ”

     “So many of my worries have come from my inability (or unwillingness) to discern between a concern and a responsibility. I had mixed them up, and as a result, the world was resting on my shoulders.” 

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