We often focus on the what and the how of things, but seldom take a long look at the why. Why do we do what we do? What’s motivating us, leading us, causing us to do what we do and to do it in a prescribed manner? It‘s helpful and can be liberating or reaffirming to rediscover the why behind the what and the how. 

A few weeks ago I was in Florida with a bunch of Navigator college students and staff. We were discussing the methods we use in the practice of spiritual disciplines. I said that it’s always a good idea to rediscover the why behind the how so that we don’t wind up with meaningless or legalistic methods.

Both individually and organizationally we are creatures of habit. For most things there’s a reason we started doing something to begin with, and there’s a reason why we do it the way we do it. Many organizations and churches having been doing certain things in certain ways for so many years that they have long since forgotten the reason why they do them.

Methodology gets enthroned and there can be an unwillingness to change and do things differently. It’s in asking the why question that we can make appropriate adjustments to continue to be effective and productive. Not doing so moves us closer to the cliff of irrelevancy or bondage.

Organizationally, the why is often related to the vision that led us to do certain things in the first place; but as time goes on, the vision (especially if the originator of the idea is no longer around) gets covered/buried in all the activities and programs.

I heard a very amusing story a number of years ago regarding losing sight of the why. An officer in the Army who was relatively new was on the rifle range with the men for the first time and was curious as to why one man was standing at attention off to the side while the rest of the men were firing their weapons.

He asked a fellow officer, but he didn’t know either. He researched the issue and found out that the man at attention was the man guarding the horses during the days of the cavalry to keep them from being jumpy when the guns were fired! Funny but true. 

How many things do you personally or corporately do that have been done for years but may have long since lost meaning and relevancy? What habits do you have in your life, what programs in your organization, or what methods are firmly in place that serve no practical purpose anymore and should be radically changed or discontinued?

Many times it isn’t until a new person asks why we are doing this or that, or why we are doing this or that in a particular way that we have our eyes opened. Sadly, when these questions are asked, some “old-timers” resent it and refuse to reexamine things and be open to positive change. There are businesses and churches that no longer exist because no one seriously asked and answered the Why question.

Kids are especially good at asking why. But we sometimes brush them off and say, “Because I said so, that’s why.” It usually keeps them quiet for a while, but it’s not really helpful.

Leaders can do the same thing when asked why by saying things like: “That’s just the way we do it around here.” Or, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or, “This company was built on that idea and it has worked for us all these years.” Or, “You’re new here…you’ll get used to doing it this way.” All of these types of responses essentially kill innovation and creativity that could result in better ways to do things.

We see in the ministry of Jesus and in his interactions with the religious establishment that he both questioned and challenged a lot of their habits and practices. Their view of the Sabbath and how it impacted much of their lives would be a case in point. They had totally lost the original idea of the Sabbath had become slaves to numerous rules and regulations. The Why was lost and methods were enthroned.

+So, here is a simple application: Take a good look at your life or your organization and ask yourself why you do the things you do and determine if it is time to stop doing it altogether or to begin doing it differently.