Level Zero

April 9, 2019 at 11:10 AM

Unimpressive Starts

Can you guess what product arose from this level zero? I'll give you a clue, it's the worlds best selling computer. Think about it for a moment.

Now, for those of you who said "iPhone", I can only assume you read the same Verge article that I did a few months back. For everyone else it's a complete shock. This looks nothing like an iPhone. If Steve Jobs, at the 2007 keynote, pulled this out of some impossibly large pocket in his pants, he would have been laughed off the stage, and I'm fairly certain Apple would not exist today.

Level zero for the iPhone was nothing more than an idea, and it began quite unimpressively.

Software projects often start unimpressively. This is level zero. You have to start somewhere. Thankfully, by the time the product launches, level zero is obscured by many refinements, years of work, countless iterations and incredible attention to detail.

Consistently in God's Word, we see level zeros that are discouragingly unimpressive. But God is not discouraged. Quite the contrary, He delights in level zeros. The Apostle Paul summarizes this delight quite aptly when he writes:

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; – 1 Corinthians 1:27

Specifically, consider Abraham and Sarah, far beyond their childbearing years. God describes Level zero for His chosen people as that point when they were the fewest of all peoples.

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples... – Deuteronomy 7:7

And indeed, you couldn't have a smaller, weaker, more unimpressive level zero. There was only two of them, and they were old. And yet God spoke a promise into existence, and chose to start at this incredibly disadvantageous, difficult position of weakness.

Similarly, level zero in our individual lives is incredibly unimpressive. We are far from God. Worse yet, the Bible describes our state as "dead" (Ephesians 2:1), as "enemies of God" (Romans 5:10), where we "have become worthless" (Romans 3:12). And yet, God is not daunted by this task, a task where he pursues our hearts and makes something beautiful.

In both God's promise to Abraham, and His pursuit of your heart, God does not consider the challenges greater than the goal. The goal is preeminent, and therefore level zero requires vision.


The vision Steve Jobs had for the iPhone was born in a stagnant mobile phone market, where innovation had stalled entirely. Steve Jobs saw a huge opportunity, and despite what level zero looked like, regardless of how much work it would take, he forged ahead. Steve Jobs had vision.

Consider God and the boldness of His vision at level zero of this universe. It was a completely blank slate, nothing. No atoms. No protons or electrons. No quarks. No dark-matter. His vision would not be overcome by darkness, it could not be overcome. He saw beyond the empty void. The challenges it presented (even to scientists today) were no match for His greatness. There was no hesitation on His part. 

"Let there be light!" – Genesis 1:3

More so, He saw beyond the pain He knew would soon disturb His perfectly content, peaceful and loving existence. He understood exactly the cost, and proceeded unhindered.

In his power he could have chose an easy path. But He did not. Quite the opposite. He specifically proceeded knowing how difficult the path would be. And this is not because He enjoys doing things the hard way, but because there was no other way to fulfill His vision. A vision that not only created something out of nothing, created strength out of weakness, but ultimately created life out of death.

You see, the vision of God was to bring a people to himself, the obstacle was sin, and the solution was that He himself would step into creation and, as the only Holy One, die in our place and rise again in victory. To those who don't understand the vision, it is just foolishness:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

Vision that is rooted in core values that are unshakable does not cower at difficulty. God's vision for creation existed before the world was even formed (2 Timothy 1:9). The core essence of His being, the immutable principles of His character such as His love and His holiness in perfect balance defined this vision. 

In the same way our vision should be built on solid core principles and values. And if we do so, we have no reason to fear challenges or be intimidated by failure, and we rise to the occasion in faith. The key is to ensure our core principles and values are indeed solid. The source of these core principles is God. A faithful outworking of these principles in our lives, produces vision.

But vision does not ensure success, and as it turns out, vision at level zero expects failure.


The prospect of failure at level zero can paralyze an entire project. But failure is part of the process. It should be expected and if so, can prove beneficial.

The type of failure that we're talking about is the kind that results in iterative progress. Facebook made it their mantra "Move fast and break things". In Agile circles it's called "fail fast". And over the years, things certainly broke with failure on many levels. This trend to release Beta software on the masses and engage in real world AB testing has its benefits though, as quick iterations can rapidly move a project forward.

Courage in the face of failure is certainly what saved Atari. In 1979 their team was under incredible pressure to make it into the Sears Christmas catalog. The challenge was the product had to be in the warehouse by September, or it would not be included. To meet this requirement, Atari sent several hundred units with no parts inside, and subsequently issued a "recall" in October. Fear would have the team punting their efforts to the following year. Courage, and a bit of creativity, saved Christmas for Atari.

Anticipating failure ensures we plan for it, and harness it. In the same way, God is fully aware of the weakness in our lives.

we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses… – Hebrews 4:15

You see, our weakness does not cause God to overlook us. Our failures do not cause Him to abandon us. On the contrary, it showcases His greatness. The Apostle Paul describes Christians as "jars of clay": vessels that are fragile and easily broken, prone to failure at the slightest bump.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7

But it is God's strength that is showcased in the midst of our weakness.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Embracing failure is the recognition that level zero is the first of many milestones, it is a commitment to persistence.


It is easy to be overwhelmed with the challenges at level zero. Were the Apple engineers first tasked with building the iPhone overwhelmed? Most certainly. But the vision was clear. Sure, the engineers were painfully aware of what they were up against but they broke the problem into small discreet challenges. They saw that level zero circuitry board as something that enabled multiple teams at Apple to easily swap out components: to test modularly, fail discreetly, iterate incrementally, and refine collaboratively.

In this same way, we understand the need to persist through failures, iterate incrementally, and refine collaboratively. We do this, because this is exactly what God does in our lives.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6

He does not abandon the work he starts. He completes it. And one day, His finished work will be revealed.

The Big Reveal

When Steve Jobs took the stage for that fateful keynote address, there was visible delight on his face.

“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two and half years,” – Steve Jobs, January 9th 2007

No one in the audience would know that the product he was about to announce was right there, in his pocket the whole time. I suspect it was off script when after only 3 minutes he quickly pulled it out, held it up to say "here it is, but we’re going to leave it there for now" and then just as quickly returned it to his pocket. He was like a proud father who could not resist the urge to show everyone a picture of his newborn child.

I am certain that God delights to show off his children. Without a doubt His face beams with a joy indescribable as he reveals what His Son accomplished in the lives of those whose faith is in Him.

But this big reveal, will not take place until He is revealed. The Apostle John summarizes it quite nicely.

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2

The beauty of this big reveal is that it doesn't matter what level zero looked like. Christ's finished perfect work produced a transformative miracle in our lives. The big reveal is what a vision for His glory can accomplish. The big reveal is how every weakness and failure demonstrates His power. The big reveal is His faithfulness that completed the work. 

The big reveal, on display for all, is what we are in Christ. You see, God is not showcasing us at all, He is in fact showcasing Christ.