It all started for me while I was climbing a mountain in Russia at 16,000 feet in a blizzard.
I could have written it off to oxygen deprivation, but something within me said it was more. On that mountain, God placed a dream in my heart, which eventually became so strong it was a burden. I knew I had to do something about it.
I was determined to help people gain a vision for their lives and lift their perspective, and I was certain God was showing me just the way to do it.
The problem was I had no success under my belt (I didn’t make it to the top of that mountain in Russia), no money and no connections. So when I looked at the dream He gave me, it seemed pretty close to impossible.
But now here I am 10 years later doing the exact thing I thought was impossible. I run a little operation called Summit Leaders where I lead conferences in the outdoors. I take authors who normally speak to arenas of 10,000 to 12,000 and have them speak to a small group of 10 to 12, Jesus-style while walking the trail.
Somehow I persuaded Bob Goff to hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro with me. I took Matt Chandler on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Mark Batterson climbed Half Dome and rafted the Grand Canyon with me.
Even as I write this, I still can’t believe it happened. God did the impossible.
So now, when I tell people what I do for a living, the conversation usually goes one of two ways. They either:
- Smile and say, “That’s nice.”
- A fire comes into their eyes, and they get really serious. They ask, “How do you start something like that?”
When I get the B response, I get excited. I know I’m talking to someone who has a dream that is so strong it has turned into a burden. It feels like a moral imperative. To not do it would be like disobedience to God.
I know the question those people are actually asking is, “What do I do with this dream I’m carrying around that I feel God gave me?”
I’m convinced God has given each of us a unique message to share and a problem to solve. He has been equipping you for it from the moment you were born. The good, the bad and the ugly in our lives are all things He wants to use to accomplish His purposes.
The key is you have to start.
There is no formula. Really. There is no formula. God works differently in each person. I think He does it that way so we are totally dependant on Him. He wants the credit when the impossible thing He placed in your heart comes to pass.
I do, however, believe that there are a few consistent things all visionaries need to do if they want to get themselves ready for when God divinely breathes in their direction and does what they can’t do on their own.
It’s that time of year when we all start making resolutions. May I propose that this year you get really serious about pursuing that thing God placed in your heart. Don’t just think, dream or talk about it. Actually start taking steps to get there.
One of the most popular hikes I lead is the 28-mile trek through the Andes Mountains to Machu Picchu. Day 2 is the hardest part of the hike where we cross a 14,000-foot pass called Dead Woman’s Pass. It’s the highest and hardest point on the hike, so I always warn team members to pace themselves on Day 1. They usually still end up running past me on the trail.
So normally at basecamp that evening, one or two of them pull me aside and secretly confess their concerns: “If tomorrow is harder than today, I don’t think I can make it.”
I always tell them there is a secret to hiking long distances that I will show them in them morning. The next morning I have them stand up. I tell them to put their shoulders back. I point them in the direction of the trail and say.
“OK, now take a step that direction.”
They take the step and then look back. “What now?”
“OK. Now take another step. Put one foot in front of the other.”
They usually get annoyed. “Well, duh! That’s not a secret. It’s too simple.”
I smile and remind them that it’s the simplest things that usually take us the furthest in life.
Every team member always makes it to the top of the pass. When they get there, I give them a high-five and turn them around to look back at the path they’ve just hiked. Their eyes get wide, and they usually say something like, “Man, it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you’ll just put one foot in front of the other.”
The path to your dream will happen as you take one step, then another, then another. You do what you can and trust God to bring the grace you need and intervene when it’s beyond your power.
So, if you’ve got a dream, idea or goal, I want to share with you eight practical steps you can take to get started this year. Whether you want to get out of debt, lose weight, restore a relationship, build a ministry or launch a not-for-profit, these eight steps will help you get moving in the right direction.
- Create a One-Liner
You absolutely must develop a clear one-line explanation of what you will do and why it needs to be done. Seems simple enough right? Nailing it down to one line takes lots of practice. You’ll have to explain it over and over. Talk it through. Don’t use fancy language or complicated terms. Look for the aha moment in your listeners. If they aren’t getting it, you need to be clearer.
Think of it this way. If the person who could help fund your idea was on an elevator with you for a ride from the first to the 15th floor, could you sell the person on your idea during your ride? Make it clear. Make it concise. Whatever you are doing you need a clear vision statement.
- Find Advisers
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” Proverbs 15:22.
The best advisers are like a radar. They won’t tell you what to do. That’s God’s job. They’ll give you an idea of what to expect up ahead and share things they have learned. You need advisers. There’s an old African proverb that says, “Never buy clothes from a naked man.”
If you are seeking advice, ask someone who is walking their talk. Someone who did it right the first time. When you find people who clearly know what they are talking about, pump them for knowledge.
Ask questions like: Who do you know that I need to know? What books should I read? What lessons did you learn the hard way? Ask as many questions as you can. Then pray for discernment, and follow the advice that seems to fit what God is telling you.
- Draw a Map
Write your idea in pen, but write the route for getting there in pencil. It will change. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan. Write out steps you can take. No matter how small. Then do them. Give yourself a reasonable deadline.
When you get to a step you can’t do without some divine intervention, then it’s time to start praying. I created a simple tool called a Vision Map that helps me get organized and divide out responsibilities between me and God. I take the advice of Irenaeus: “Work as if it depends on you, and pray as if it depends on God.” Both are true.
- Pray, Pray, Pray
If the dream you have is too big for you to do alone, there’s a good chance God put it there. That means He wants to be involved in making it happen. That way He gets the glory when the impossible happens.
When it comes to prayer, be specific. Ever notice how, before Jesus healed people, He always asked them specifically what they wanted him to do? Jesus did this even when it seemed obvious He wanted them to express their need. It’s easy to fall into “God bless, blah, blah, blah prayers.”
But Matthew 20:29–34 seems to indicate God wants us to be specific about our needs. Make sure you are including regular powwows with God into your routine. Get His input through prayer and then obey what He says.
- Build a Tribe
Starting something new can be a lonely road. You may start alone, but eventually you’ll need to bring a group of people on board to help. Share your vision with everyone. Some folks won’t get it. Others will. Get those people on your team. God will bring people into your path to help, but you need to cast the vision to them.
Always keep an ongoing list ready for when people ask, “How can I help?” Then you can give them an answer immediately. Keep reminding your team of the vision. Vision doesn’t stick. It has to be shared over and over. That’s your job.
- Be Flexible
Visionary leaders write the purpose of their dream in ink, but always keep the steps to get there in pencil (with an eraser handy). Plans change a lot. The final version of what you set out to start will probably look quite different than what you originally dreamed. There is nothing wrong with that. Go with what God is blessing. Don’t get tunnel vision. Stay flexible and you’ll see God do some amazing things.
- Take the Risk
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” – Joseph Campbell
Very little of any value in God’s kingdom comes about without someone being willing to take a risk. Life is full of risk. Marriage is risky. Having kids is risky. Giving is risk.
When it comes to your dream, you will reach a moment where you will have to step out in faith. “And without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
You may have to quit a steady job or put your reputation on the line, but you won’t get where you really want to be until you take the risk. Taking risks that show your hope is in something beyond power, money or your own reputation are the kinds of risks that actually bring God glory. So take the risk.
- Start Small
I can’t stress this enough. Above all else, start small. Start with what you have in front of you. A go-big-or-go-home mindset is your enemy. Most things don’t need a giant budget and 10-year plan to get started. They just need to start — small. Dream big, but start small. Don’t get overwhelmed. Use the resources in front of you and build from there.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT).
So let’s just decide right now that this is going to be the year that you go after it with all you’ve got. Make this the year you set your goals and then get serious about going after the dream God gave you. God has been preparing you for this. It’s time you get into motion.
If you would like more tips on how to go after the dream God placed in your heart, then pick up a copy of my book, “Vision Map: Charting a Step-by-Step Course for Your Biggest Hopes and Dreams” (fmchr.ch/vmmalm).
If you want to join me for a hike or be part of our six-month coaching program, you can visit summitleaders.com.
Joël Malm is the founder of Summit Leaders and the author of “Vision Map: Charting a Step-by-Step Course for Your Biggest Hopes and Dreams.”0