Feeling Lucky, Punk? Thought Tools

I misquote.  In his 1971 classic, Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood actually said,

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk’?”

How about you? When things seem to be going your way, from finding a new job to meeting a potential mate do you marvel at your luck? When you lose a job or friend, do you rail at it instead?

Let’s look at three seemingly lucky men and one unlucky one, from the Bible.

1) Abraham’s servant Eliezer is sent on a mission to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. Entrusted with this momentous errand, Eliezer devises a strategy. He will ask for a drink of water at the well, and if the girl offers water not only to him, but also to his camels, he will know that she is Isaac’s future wife. How lucky for posterity that Rebecca fit the bill. (Genesis 24)

2) Caleb promises that whoever leads the Israelites to victory against the town of Kiryat Sefer will marry his daughter.  It turns out to be the Godly and valiant Otniel. (Joshua 15)

3) Confronted by the terrifying Goliath, King Saul proclaims that whoever defeats the giant will marry his daughter.  How lucky that David is not only a great warrior but also a great man.  (I Samuel 17)

4) Jephthah (more accurately pronounced Yiftach) swears that if God leads him to victory against the Amonites, he will sacrifice whatever first comes out of his house to greet him upon his return.  Unfortunately, his daughter is first and tragedy ensues. (Judges 11)

All four stories describe someone who appears to be leaving important decisions to random luck. Can you see a reason why the first three stories worked out well, while poor Jephthah’s didn’t?

The answer is that only Jephthah left things to chance.  Each of the first three accounts involved a test of character. That is far from blind luck.

Imagine a friend handing you a small ball and directing you to use it to knock down a tower of blocks at the far end of the room. He thinks he’s given you an almost impossible task. But you decide not to entrust the outcome to a lucky throw. 

Instead of tossing the ball, you drop it down a chute, where it gathers speed.  At the bottom, it strikes the door latch of a small cage releasing a hamster that scuttles up a ramp to a tempting morsel of food. (Remember those goofy Rube Goldberg contraptions?)

The ramp is really a see-saw and the hamster’s weight causes it to drop and hit an electric switch which starts a model train rumbling down a miniature track, and so on.

Eventually the final ridiculous act in this multi-part mechanical comedy triggers a device, which knocks down the stack of wooden building blocks.

We sometimes leave things to luck when with effort we can improve our odds. Eliezer, Caleb and Saul knew that invisible links connect courage and compassion to the characteristics of a good spouse. While God would oversee the final outcome, they were stipulating a meaningful test. (Don’t try this one at home)

Jephthah’s condition was meaningless.

Part of improving our lives every day is leaving as little as possible to chance. Life is full of invisible links and marvelous devices that can convert our actions into positive results. While God’s hand is all-powerful, we need to guide our choices in the correct direction as much as we can. He rewards our focus and purpose.

In my audio CD, Let Me Go, I provide a three step process for overcoming life’s challenges. The Gathering Storm audio, on sale for one more day, shows how Noah employed one of these steps.

I am gratified that thousands have followed the principles I teach to help them move from Jephthah like randomness to the success that follows deliberate behavior.

Incidentally, Clint Eastwood didn’t leave things to chance either. He knew he had one more round in his .44 Magnum.

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