I’m a big NCIS fan — the TV show, not necessarily the real Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The cult hero of show is Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and Gibbs has a whole set of life rules he’s developed over the years which he drills into the heads of his junior agents. And if they forget them or otherwise mess up on the job, they get a smack on the back of the head — a Gibbs slap.
Gibbs Rule #38 says, “If it’s your case, you’re in charge” (or simply, “your case, your lead”). You do what it takes to get the job done, even if it means stepping on some toes; and you don’t need to seek special permission from those who assigned you the case.
I particularly like this rule, and it probably rings a bell with a lot of people who have been given a task at work, but not the power to actually accomplish it. And, being known around the office as a bit of a hardhead and stubborn about my job, I can relate to Gibbs (in this way, at least). I take my job seriously. I take “ownership” of it, as they say in popular office-speak. I’m open to suggestions for implementation, but if I don’t think someone’s input is helpful (even from my bosses), I am known to selectively ignore it. And I don’t always follow protocol. I tend to play by my own rules. But the job gets done (usually correctly), and my bosses are generally pleased enough with my work to cut me the slack my personality requires. My thoughts: if you want me to get the job done, then let me do it.
I wondered why this particular Gibbs Rule rang so many bells with me lately — beyond just its applicability at the work place — and then I realized it was also a spiritual principle. We all have done our fair share of wrestling with angels and even God himself, to discern what God specifically wants of us. We’ve all done the probing and soul-searching and praying to find the path designed for us to walk. And many of us have put in extra time inventorying our personalities to uncover the special gifts and callings each of us has been given. But what happens next? What happens once we figure it out? How do we proceed? And how often do we get stymied by obstacles in our path, and end up just stalling out, mission unaccomplished?
There’s this passage in John’s Gospel that has been haunting me for months now that I think parallels Gibbs Rule. “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:18). Those words, “I have authority … this command I received” are so powerfully linked. There is an intrinsic connection between being commanded and having the appropriate authority to execute that command. Jesus said it. Even a Roman centurion recognized that basic principle: “For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes” (Mt 8:9). Perhaps it’s a concept every military person recognizes intuitively. But for me, never having served in uniform, I had to work harder to grasp this basic truth.
If you have been issued a command by God, you have the authority to do it. You can make it happen. You can kick in doors where necessary. You can speak up and have your words taken seriously. You can even demand cooperation — provided you are operating under properly issued authority yourself. You’ve been put in charge to make it happen. Things may not always work out the way you want, you may not get the exact help or cooperation you expect. And I can guarantee that it will hardly ever come easily. But by your pressing through, the job will get done.
Nice theory, but does it actually work? I’m working through the implications for one or two items on plate right now, but I’ve had some success in this area in the past. It’s the same principle of shared responsibility and divine partnership I’ve mentioned in previous posts. God is responsible for the results, but you are responsible for the effort. You can’t do God’s part, and he won’t do yours. He’ll bless the fruit of your labor, and whatever your hands find to do will be blessed — but you’ve got to actually do the labor. Your hands have actually got to be busy doing something in order to be blessed. In real life, I’ve had the benefit of my mother’s wisdom, hearing her instruct a relative who was having difficulty finding housing for him and his wife. Nothing was working out, he just couldn’t find an apartment. She suggested he stand before God in the position he’d been given by God, that is, as head of the house, responsible for providing and caring for his family. And when he approached God, wearing that uniform, and made his bold request in that capacity, results finally began to happen. Within days, they were able to lease a house.
In my own life, I’ve had walls thrown up, blocking my way, which would have prevented me from going to grad school. But I knew I’d been instructed to go. And when things got tough, when administrative barriers were placed in my way or when finances were not immediately forthcoming, I assumed the attitude of a commissioned officer. And I issued the command. I spoke the words — sometimes even quietly under my breath — and then acted accordingly. I pressed. I pushed. I insisted. And those barriers caved in. And I won. In other situations in the workplace, I needed promotion or salary increase to fulfill my God-assigned obligations. I put in the effort. I did my best work. With consistency. And after praying and waiting for the divine “go” signal, I pressed my bosses. On three separate occasions, in two different companies, I pressed. And I prevailed. Not merely because of my own merits. We all know that life is not fair. We don’t always get what we deserve. But I made sure my part was done; I made sure the “merit” was deserved, and then I pushed with the authority of one who had been given a command.
There are two areas in my life right now where I need to apply this principle again. Sometimes when we’re so caught up in the pressures of making it through life in these difficult days, it’s so easy to forget the basic lessons learned in past years. But Gibbs Rule rang a bell with me recently for a reason. It’s a wake-up call in my drowsiness, in the lethargy of my daily routine. And I’m paying attention. This bell tolls for me.
“This authority I have, because this command I have received.” It may be time to kick a little butt and press for what we know we’ve been assigned to do. “If it’s your case, you’re in charge.” Does that ring any bells for anyone else? Or do you need another Gibbs-slap?