A new development plan

I got chatting today with one of our sales managers who was telling me about her personal development plans. I love it when leaders in the organization are willing to talk about how they would like to grow! IOn addition to our development plans at work, there’s one arena in which all of us can grow that will help us develop into stonger Christian workplace leaders, brought to us (ironically) from Francis de Sales.

Francis de Sales is not, as you might imagine, the patron saint of salespersons. Rather, he was a French Jesuit priest that later became the bishop of Geneva. He lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and was a prolific writer who used metaphors to deliver important points. In the following writings, he wrote to Philothea, which actually refers to all of us (the term means “one who loves God”), about living a life of devotion to God.

“Another person thinks himself devout because he daily recites a vast number of prayers, but after saying them he utters the most disagreeable, arrogant, and harmful words at home and among the neighbors. Another gladly takes a coin out of his purse and gives it to the poor, but he cannot extract kindness from his heart to forgive his enemies. Another forgives his enemies but never pays his creditors unless compelled to do so by force of law. All of these individuals are usually considered to be devout, but they are by no means such.”

Frances de Sales pushes us – Philothea – to evaluate our devotion to God by our charitable behaviors. By “charitable”, he isn’t just referring to giving to the poor, but the degree to which we lovingly act as an agent of God and offer help to others when able to do so.

“Since devotion consists in a certain degree of eminent charity, it not only makes us prompt, active, and faithful in observance of God’s commands, but in addition it arouses us to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.”

Note that Francis de Sales sees these good works in the proper perspective – not a means to salvation but an outgrowth of those who truly love God and devote themselves to pleasing him. If we develop these devotional traits, we’ll certainly realize a level of personal development and life balance that no corporate training program could possibly produce.  

“Devotion must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince, the widow, the young girl, and the married woman. Not only is this true, but the practice of devotion must also be adapted to the strength, activities, and duties of each particular person.

So also every vocation becomes more agreeble when united with devotion. Care of ones family is rendered more peaceable, love of husband and wife more sincere, service of one’s prince (government) more faithful, and every type of employment more pleasant and agreeable.”

Occupations and preoccupations

Note: we’re continuing this week’s look at the writings of noteworthy theologians and applying their ideas to our work lives.

I took a walk tonight by myself, which being an only child with a few kids of my own, is a rare indulgence. As I walked by a beautiful pond, the song Long December by Counting Crows came on my iPod as I briskly passed some ducks and blooming trees. At that moment, I remembered a sermon that I once preached at a Congregational church in Chicago about the noise in our lives and our inabilty to do what Elijah did – to find God in the silence. The irony hit me. Here I was alone for forty minutes, dashing by God’s creation on a sunny spring day, while listening to some guy sing in my ears about enduring a long December. Maybe that’s why I never made it as a preacher.

Perhaps no one has written so eloquently about solitude (amongst other things) than Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest, originally from Holland, who led a very full life – helping the mentally disabled, writing prolifically, and teaching at Yale, Notre Dame, and Harvard  – before dying from a heart attack in 1996. A great 20th century theologian, he is a favorite among his fellow Catholics and is equally popular amongst Protestants, a testament to his unifying theology.  

About silence, Nouwen once wrote,

“Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that he is actively present in our lives – healing, teaching, and guiding – we need to set aside a time and a space to give him our undivided attention. Jesus says, ‘Go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to the Father who is in that secret place.’ (Matt 6:6)”

I don’t know about you, but solitude is non-existent in my crazy schedule, and when I do get some quiet time, I can sit still for about six seconds. Nouwen understood this and suggested that we use our highly scheduled workdays to our advantage. He suggested that we, “…write it in black and white in our daily calendars so that nobody else can take away this period of time.” He suggests starting with as little as five minutes each day. Five minutes of being alone, clearing our thoughts, and allowing God to speak into our lives. He suggests that after many attempts, even weeks or months of trying to do so, that we’ll begin to look forward to it, and when that happens, “…we come to know not only with our minds but with our heart that we were never really alone, that God’s Spirit was with us all along.” 

If we are able to find those five minutes alone during the workday in a private location (like the windowless project room I lock myself in to get through my e-mails) then we should try fostering a discipline of silence. As Nouwen wrote,

“The discipine of solitude… is one of the most powerful disciplines in developing a prayerful life. It is a simple, though not easy, way to free us from the slavery of our occupations and preoccupations and to begin to hear the voice that makes all things new.” 

Half-finished lives

I love to read history. I’m not big into reading fiction or other non-fiction books, but I love to learn a little about the past and the people from it. As such, one of my favorite books is a collection of classic devotional works by Christians from throughout history. This week (and maybe next – we’ll see how this goes), I thought I’d share a few ideas from Christians that have changed the world and apply them to the workplace.

I’d like to start with Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard lived in the nineteenth century and spent most of his life in Denmark during the height of the Enlightenment. During this era, when science and reason claimed to leave little room for “outdated” Christian thought, Kierkegaard’s bold writings were a light in the darkness. He understood the gulf that exists between man and our Creator, and knew Jesus to be the bridge that allowed us to be re-connected. Often interspersing prayers into his writings, he put our human accomplishments in perspective,

“Father in Heaven! What are we without You! What is all that we know, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if we do not know You! What is all our striving, could it ever encompass a world, but a half-finished work if we do not know You: You the One, who is one thing and who is all!

So may You give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may You grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing.”

As is so often the case in today’s corporate workplace, that which was deemed empirically concrete was assumed to be of superior importance to that which was spiritual, but Kierkegaard knew better. Our accomplishments at work, though vast accumulations they may be, will only result in half-finished lives. Our lives can be full when God brings our intellect, heart and will back to that “one thing” – knowing him.

Book Review: In, But Not Of

 

They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth. (John 17:16-19)

When I lived in Chicago, I despised the traffic on Lake Shore Drive going to and from work. I disliked it on the way home a little less, though, because it gave me a chance to listen to Hugh Hewitt on WLS 890 AM. If you’re not familiar with him, Hugh Hewitt is a law professor, broadcast journalist, and author. Most of what he talks about is politics, and I should note for my more liberal readers that he’s pretty conservative in his political columns. But having said that, Hugh Hewitt took a break awhile back from talking about politics to write what I consider a very valuable book called, In But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World. 

This is not a book about political ambitions, and it doesn’t contain much, if any, political subject matter. Instead it addresses a fascinating topic – how do Christians that want to change the world approach gaining influence in a way that is God-honoring?  Geared at people as young as high-school students, In, But Not Of includes a great deal of useful advice. It includes sections with titles like, “Managing your flaws”, “Find Interesting People” and “Tattoos: Don’t.”

This is not a deeply theological book, and there are a few issues that I’d gladly debate with Mr. Hewitt, but it’s valuable is in its practicality. I know of few books dealing with this important topic, and I think Hewitt’s efforts have created an insightful, thought-provoking resource. It’s relevant, interesting, and does a good job of putting Godly boundaries on ambition. While reminding us that influential Chrisitans can make an enormous positive impact on the world (think Joseph, Solomon, Nehemiah, etc.) it highlights many of the modern-day traps that can derail those with the best of intentions. If you know a young business person with their eyes set on an ambitious career, consider giving them In, But Not Of.  

Our role in the next revolution

Forgive me for getting to this a day late (I had a fundraiser last night), but I thought I’d share a thought or two on Earth Day. It certainly has changed, hasn’t it? In less than a decade, Earth Day has gone from being a day of hairy women and hemp-clad men protesting the industrial monster of their choice, to being a day of companies celebrating recycling and alternative approaches to commuting. Thankfully, the Green Movement has gone mainstream, due in large part to the efforts of environmentally-conscious consumers demanding better solutions, and entrepreneurs in the marketplace that have found ways of making being green profitable.  

Amongst the foremost of these pioneers is architect William McDonough. His organization, McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) has pioneered the concept of Cradle-to-Cradle design, and their website offers a fantastic look at what they refer to as the Next Industrial Revolution.  While this page is basically an advertisement for what MBDC does, it offers a view of the future with which I think every businessperson should acquaint themselves. While MBDC is an organization that has expertise in the sciences, their role as a change agent is firmly within the marketplace.

The real question then is this – “What role will Christians play in ushering in the Next Industrial Revolution?” Knowing from Genesis the details of how he created our world, are we behaving as its stewards by becoming change agents within our organizations? Doing so requires both a commitment to his creation and a commitment to smart marketplace strategies. Psalm 42:1 reads, “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.”It’s up to us, his people, to take care of his world. We can start at home, but we won’t reach our potential as stewards until we extend that commitment into our roles in the marketplace.

 

Quiet and productive

Normally something in the course of the workday spurs some sort of blogging inspiration for me. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy blogging so much – knowing that I’ll be blogging later helps encourage me to see the events of the day through a Christian worldview. Today though, I really didn’t do much. In fact, I spent virtually the entire day sitting in a project room, getting through a major backlog of e-mail and occasionally taking a phone call. Not very exciting.

So I sat down a little while ago and began thinking about what I should post about tonight, when a scripture popped into my head. After Googling it, I found it was from 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Who woulda thunk it? Sitting in one place and getting stuff done turns out to be a Biblically-approved way to spend the work day! Actually, there was no one else in that project room (and it didn’t even have windows), so I’m not sure who’s respect I was trying to earn.  Either way, it was nice to catch up a little and praise the Lord for that!

Like a good wine

Last week started off with about a dozen key unresolved issues at work. By late Tuesday, I found myself getting more and more frustrated that resolutions seemed nowhere in sight. But as the week wore on, many of the issues that had been stressing me out seemed to get resolved, often in just the manner I had hoped they would.

My dad has a phrase he likes to use to in these situations – “Let it age.” Just like a barrel of good Bordeaux, some issues get better with time. Going crazy trying to solve them in the short-term is like rocking in the proverbial rocking chair – it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere. It takes a certain degree of discernment to figure out if an issue at work is truly a problem and needs immediate attention, or if a little patience will allow the issue to resolve itself. I think that sometimes we just need to give others in the office time to get up to speed on a matter before it can be settled. When we don’t, we risk acting rashly and unnecessarily upsetting the apple cart.

Proverbs 15:18 reads that, “A hot tempered person starts fights; a cool tempered person stops them.” As Christians, we know that if there’s a problem, we can present our requests to God and recieve his peace (Phil 4), wait on the Lord (Psalm 37) and that when we do, he’ll direct our paths (Prov 3). When there’s an issue that has the potential of working everyone into a lather, we should strive to be the cool-tempered teammates that put others at ease with a simple encouragement – “Let’s let this one age a bit.”