Today, we celebrate the life and leadership of one of my personal heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His vision of what could be, so eloquently expressed in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech (watch below), and his conviction that it should be changed the world forever and made our society a better place.
But what was the secret to Dr. King’s success? Why was he successful in changing the direction of American society where others had failed?
What Dr. King knew and what many other great leaders have known throughout time is how to employ the most powerful force within us to create change – faith.
Faith is a verb, an action, a muscle within us that must be used in order to be strengthened. When faith is developed, it can be called upon to direct massive action and create lasting change.
Dr. King’s faith was a keenly developed force that helped to bring about one of the greatest cultural shifts in American history. Would you like to have faith like him? Then it’s time to go the gym and learn the 3 exercises that can develop your faith muscles and make them a force for positive change in your world.
First, see things as they are, but not worse than they are.
Faith is the life force that animates us. It’s what gives us the ability to wake up in the morning and trust that the ground will be stable enough for us to walk. It’s what gives us the certainty that when we close our eyes they will open again. It’s also what helps us to live free from the tyranny of fear long enough to share the world with strangers.
Faith is our imagination directed in a positive and effective way, while fear is our imagination undirected and wild. Think of your imagination as a fire hydrant. When you twist off the cover without a hose attached, that’s a picture of what fear can do with your thoughts – wild spraying water under lots of pressure shooting in every direction. But when you place a fire hose on that hydrant, then you have a powerful tool to use in the fight against a destructive fire.
In order to exercise your faith to direct positive change, you must first learn to see things as they are, but not worse than they are. Since faith and fear both originate in our imagination, then we have to take control of our thoughts and begin to observe life as it is and not as we imagine it.
For example, when a mother is waiting up for her teenage boy to come back home before his curfew and he’s a few minutes late…what might take place in her thoughts? She may begin to have thoughts like, “I wonder if he’s okay?” and “I hope nothing bad happened to him.” And if she follows those thoughts, then what might happen? Do you think she might allow her imagination to run wild with scenarios of car accidents and hospital rooms? What force would be controlling her then? Fear. But instead of riding on the wild waves that those initial thoughts took her, she could instead just choose to see things as they really are. “My teenage boy is a couple minutes late for his curfew and there’s nothing to worry about.”
When we can see the people and circumstances of our lives as they really are, without any filters that would alter our view of reality, then we have mastered step one.
Second, see things as better than they are.
Life gives us a lot of opportunities to see things that could use some improvement. The truth is, in all of us is an impulse to make things better. We once sat among the trees and ate beneath them. Then we used the trees to make houses, and we sat at wood tables and on wood chairs to eat. That progression was an exercise in faith. Someone had to see things as they were, then imagine them as better than they were.
Dr. Martin Luther King used his faith to direct the imagination of our whole nation when he addressed the crowd at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. During his 17-minute speech, he departed from his written text and delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” lines from his heart. (Watch the speech below.)
Dr. King’s faith was firmly placed in the ability of humanity to see the future like he did and make it so. If you want things to become a force for change in your own life, then you’ll have to see things as better than they are too.
Finally, take action to make what you see a reality.
The last and final step can be most eloquently spoken from the Scriptures that Dr. King regarded as true for his life. James, the brother of Jesus, in his short and to-the-point letter to believers said, “Faith without works is dead.”
In other words, when you see things as they are and you’re not controlled by the imagination of fear, when you direct your imagination to see things as better than they are and you’re fueled by the conviction that it should be, then the only thing left to do is take action in accordance with your vision.
So many of us get stuck here. We have seen what we want to create and bring to the world and we feel strongly that the world could benefit from it, but we don’t take any action. Why? Refer to step 1. When we get to this place in our faith, then we must be careful to again see things as they are and not worse than they are. How many dreams died with the dreamer? How many books died with the author? How many inventions died with the creator?
Taking action means seeing that failure is never as bad as we imagine it. Dr. King counted the costs of his actions. He knew that he would be in the crosshairs of the majority of people who wanted things to stay the same. But did he let his imagination run wild and immobilize him from taking action to create a better future for himself and others? No! He allowed his faith to fuel his decisions and create a vision that lived long after he passed.
There’s no greater power within the human soul than the power of faith. It makes us able to conquer the problems we face without by going deeper within. It calls things that “be not as though they were” and sees a future that we know should be a reality. It helps us to take actions that are alignment with our vision for a better future and not be paralyzed by the fear of what might happen.
Follow the example of one of the great American heroes, and exercise your faith! You’ll become a force for change in a world that needs it.