Creative solutions

A company moved into a new skyscraper and discovered that the builder had apparently not put in enough lifts. Employees complained of long waits for the lifts, especially at both ends of the working day.

The company got a group of the staff together and asked them to sit down and solve the problem. The task force came up with four possible solutions:

1. Speed up the lifts, or arrange for them to stop at certain floors during busy periods.

2. Stagger working hours to reduce demand on the lifts  at either end of the day.

3. Drive a new lift shaft through the building. 

The company did none of these things. Instead it chose the fourth solution: it installed mirrors around the lift doors. It worked. People became so preoccupied with looking at themselves, or surreptitiously at others, that they no longer noticed the wait for the lift. The problem was not so much the lack of lifts as the impatience of the employees. 

Solutions to problems does not always lie in the obvious places, often we do well to think creatively. The prophet Elijah did not find the presence of God in the obvious places, where the pagans might have expected to find their deities. He was not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but he was in the small voice, the whisper. God was in the still small voice of calm.

When we are in turmoil, we might ask for God to help us in some dramatic way. But the help of God, is more likely to come through quiet reassurance and being strangely moved in prayer, through the echo of words of scripture. The quiet voice of the Spirit may well present us with the most unlikely of solutions to our problems.

Were problems to come along one at a time, we might be able to deal with them, but when they come together, our confidence can be undermined.  When Peter saw Jesus on the water, he put his faith in him as he confidently declared , ‘if you tell me to come to you across the water, I will come’. He was going towards his Saviour. But once he took his eyes off Jesus, saw the waves of the rough sea and felt the strength of the wind, he lost faith. It would be the same for him when he wanted to support Jesus after his arrest, but people kept recognising him and asking him if he was his disciple. His fears got the better of him, and he sank into denial.

The danger when many problems come, is that we feel weighed down by one great insurmountable problem. We should first turn to the Lord, who bids us come to him, and ask his grace to help us through. Grace comes through our recognition of the problems, honesty in admitting that we cannot deal with them on our own, and humility in accepting help from others and from God.

With faith in the underlying foundation of God beneath us and sustaining us, we can then separate the big problem into smaller problems, and deal with them one at a time. We need to seek the still small voice of calm through prayer and in the wise counsel of our friends.

We should not have undo fear of unknown problems in the future. A problem is never as permanent as a solution. Problems will come, our Christian faith will not inoculate us against them, but problems can lead to creative solutions.

As the musician Carl Perkins once said, ‘If it weren't for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song.’

At the end of her revelations the anchorite Julian of Norwich experienced her good Lord speaking to her quietly without voice or word of mouth. And he said so sweetly: 'you will not be overcome.'

She says she heard it distinctly and firmly to give us confidence for whatever troubles may come. He did not say you will never have a rough passage, you will never be over-strained, you will never be afflicted. But he did say, ‘you will never be overcome.’

Take it, she heard him say, believe it, hold on to it, comfort yourself with it and trust it. You will not be overcome.

God wants us to pay attention to these words so as to trust him always through thick and thin. For he loves us and delights in us; so he wills that we should love and delight in him in return, and trust him with all our strength. So all will be well.