You can quote me on this.

Ever notice how often quotes get used in business language? Business talks and PowerPoints are peppered with quotes from modern day business gurus like Peter Drucker, Seth Godin, Malcom Gladwell and Bill Gates. Most are used to justify a key point, but every once in a while they just seem to do a great job capturing a big thought. I’ve had a favorite quote near my cube for the last few years by Michael Hammer. In his book The World Is Flat, he wrote,

“One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. Same with countries. You don’t want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great in the fourteenth century, but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh.”

I’ve found this quote relevant in many contexts, including at work, in politics, in family matters, and in our churches. In business, it’s a cry for reinvention. With respect to our spiritual lives, it can be a reminder not to live in the past.

It’s critically important to understand our history, both as individual Christ-followers and as his collective body here on Earth. We should always remember him (as we do in communion) and what he did for us when he was on Earth, as well as what he’s done for us in our lives as we’ve walked with him. But we shouldn’t stop there. Do we spend enough time dreaming of what God will do, and whether or not we might get to help play a part in his plans? I know that I don’t. Many of us fall into the trap of thinking too fatalistically about the future, as if it’s going to hell in a handbasket and God has nothing wonderful in store until the Jesus returns. As the great William Carey once said, “Attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.”

In Godly matters, history builds our trust and cements our faith, but it’s the future that evokes hope and inspires action. When our memories exceed our dreams, the end is near.

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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!

Walking a good race

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Ever notice how many times the Bible refers to our lives of faith as a race? I’m not sure about you, but sometimes my race seems like a gingerly-paced walk. Maybe a brisk walk, on a good day. I love my wife’s story of her running on the track team in high school. She says that when the coach or the crowd was watching, she ran. When she went behind trees, she walked. Sometimes I feel like the work week is one very long stretch of evergreens.

In keeping with this week’s theme of posts inspired by Christian songs, today I’d like to share a song that many of you might already know – Walk By Faith by Jeremy Camp. I think he’s got a fantastic voice, and this is one of his most popular songs.

There have been those moments at work when I feel like I’ve really made a difference in someone’s life. Either a coworker needs a listening ear and I’m around to listen, or someone has a spiritual question and comes to me to discuss it. But these are rare moments. Most days consists of strings of meetings (six different ones today, overlapping each other to fill every minute of the workday), staring a computer screen, or other rote work activities.

In those times when it just doesn’t seem like being a Christian in the workplace matters a whole heck of a lot, it’s up to us to choose to live by faith. Doing so consists of making many small choices every day that honor God, and choosing to trust in him to direct our paths. Hopefully, like the apostle Paul, we can get to the end our careers and our lives and be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2Tim 4:7)

Daydream(ing) Believer

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I suspect that our daydreams can tell us a lot about the condition of our hearts. They can reveal our motivations, our dissatisfactions, our hidden desires, our idealistic aspirations, and sometimes our corrupt nature.

Today I caught myself daydreaming about what it would be like to manage the brand of a small, creative company. I suspect that I was doing so simply because I work for a large, established organization. I’m quite sure that somewhere there was someone who works for a small company dreaming about working at a large company where he or she didn’t have to wear ten hats and could go home at 5 o’clock! It’s rarely sunnier on the other side of the street. But I digress…

Dreaming about the future can be a fun thing, but I often remind myself that not all daydreams are God’s dreams for us.  The Bible has some pretty interesting examples of people who followed their dreams either to God’s glory or to their peril.

On the upside would be Nehemiah who during the reign of the Persians led an extraordinary effort to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem. He left his day job (a very good one with the Persian government) and took a major risk. His efforts were successful, the people were brought closer to God, and their place of worship was protected. I really like the book of Nehemiah. It’s a really interesting read, plus I like saying  cool names like Nehemiah and Artaxerxes.

On the downside would be King David daydreaming about the beautiful woman he saw atop a nearby building. His preoccupation with Bathsheba led him to do the unthinkable – murder her husband and claim her for himself. It’s a remarkable story (not the least of which being how David restores himself with God) found in 2 Samuel, but a sad example of how a seemingly innocent fantasy can become the downfall of a family. Insert your own Elliot Spitzer reference here.

These are extreme examples, I know. But the point is this – before letting our dreams take over our lives we need to do our best to discern if they are God’s dreams for us.  This hasn’t always been easy for me, but thankfully God gives us the ability to seek his will through prayer, scripture and other Christians. Bruce K. Waltke in Finding the Will of God writes,

God guides us first through his Word, then through our heartfelt desires, then the wise counsel of others, and then our circumstances. At that point we must rely on our own sound judgment… God gave each of us a brain, and he expects us to put it to good use.”

Well said.

The gift of time

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Has anyone noticed how longmy blog posts have been this week? Sorry. My hope was to keep these pretty concise so as not to eat up too much of your time, which happens to be a perfect transition into today’s post…

This week’s posts have been dedicated to times of job insecurity and job transitions, and I made a big claim yesterday – that these trying periods could become the best period of our lives. It happened to me. When I found myself out of work about five years ago, I had a pastor tell me that I’d received a rare gift – the gift of time.

I know, it sounds like an empty boost of encouragement, but he was right. When we’re out of work we need to spend time job hunting, but that tends to not require every hour of the work day. If we’re in jobs we hate, we’ll likely turn to distractions in our free time to escape work. In either case, these times can be spent getting closer with God.

How? There are lots of ways. My pastor suggested that I start with the book of James and follow the footnotes. What did he mean? If you’ve got a study bible, have you noticed those references on the inside of the pages close to the spine? Those highlight other references that can be found on similar topics. If you read a line that catches your eye, follow the footnotes and see where the Bible takes you. As an example, James 1:12, which says that “God blesses the people who patiently endure testing” has a footnote next to it near the spine referencing 2 Tim 4:8, which is about prize awaiting those following Jesus, which references 1 Cor 9:25, which is about the discipline required to run the race of life. It’s amazing how much you can learn that way. Consider it kind of a Biblical scavenger hunt!

I also spent more time praying (usually while taking walks outdoors) and meditating on pieces of scripture that I felt God was using to speak to me.  There are, of course, other spiritual “disciplines” other than prayer and Bible study – fasting, periods of silence, taking a pilgrimage, etc. – and those are also worth exploring if you’ve got the opportunity.

Once I found my next job, I was thrilled and thankful for the new opportunity, but also for the time I spent getting closer to my creator. Within a month, I was complaining that I couldn’t find enough time for God since I was spending so much time working! But that’s probably a good topic for another post.

When the Israelites were stuck in the desert, in-between slavery and the promised land, they were told this (in Deut 4:29):

From there you will search again for the LORD your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.”

If we’re stuck in a period of transition and use our gift of time to search for him, we will find him too. 

Tomorrow, one more thought about how a period of job insecurity can become a blessing…

Space and Sparrows

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I had a blog post in mind for today that I’ve decided to put on hold until tomorrow. Why? Because I stuck my head out our front door this evening to get a glimpse of the lunar eclipse and have been thinking about it ever since.

The very first words of the Bible say that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis paints a magnificent picture of God creating our planet and others, and of his spirit hovering over Earth before unleashing a torrent of creation – light, water, land, plants, animals, and ultimately us. Seeing the Earth’s shadow cast upon the moon was a reminder of how big he is, and how small the moon and sun are relative to him.

But somehow, we’re not small to him. He created this for us. He created us for him.

In Jesus, God entered our world to bridge our relationship with him. While he was here, he informed us that God doesn’t forget even a single sparrow in his creation, and that we’re far more valuable to him than sparrows (Luke 12). He has our names written on his hand (Isa 49:16); he knows the number of hairs on our head.

And what does this have to do with work? Well, it’s no accident that we spend so much time there. He designed us to serve others, and he created us as representatives (those that literally “re-present”) him to the world around us. The God of our lunar eclipse cares about our where we work, how we work, those with whom we work, and I’d suggest that if he knows how many hairs I’ve got, he probably knows how many will turn grey this year because of my job. He may have created the Sun, but everything we know of him through the Bible and our own experience suggests that he cares about whatever might be challenging you and me at work today.

Amazing.

Is This Where God Wants Me?

Have you ever been sitting in your cube at work, or been in the middle of a boring meeting and wondered, “Is this really where God wants me spending my days?” Or perhaps you’ve been looking for a new job and thought, “Does God really care about which of these companies I work for?”

God’s will is a difficult thing for us to get our heads around. I’ve met people who think that God only cares about the condition of our hearts, not whom we marry or where we work. I’ve met others who think that God is trying to lead them in almost every daily decision. So what does the Bible have to say about God’s will for our jobs? Here’s a few of the big ideas:

God wants us to work. God had Adam and Eve working before “the fall” in the Garden of Eden, so we know it’s in his original plans for us. Revelation 21 tells us that we’ll work in heaven as well, and as I mentioned in our first post, the Bible tells us to work as though we are working for the Lord… because we are!

God will lead us. In Proverbs 3, we find this,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths.”

It says seek his will in all we do. Ask God for counsel and he’ll give it. If you’re looking for a new job, ask him to direct you to it. If you’re feeling discontented at work, ask him for guidance (I do this often and I usually sense him telling me to stay put and get my priorities right). God tells us that he’s our heavenly father, and as a father I can tell you that if one of my kids asked me for some job advice, I’d certainly give it freely. 

Put your trust in God’s leading, not yours. James, who led the first Christian church in Jerusalem told his followers in the book of James, 

Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.”

So James doesn’t say that going off and trying to earn a buck somewher is evil. Rather, he says that we shouldn’t assume that our plans take priority. Implicit in what James wrote is that sometimes we won’t be able to feel a strong conviction about God’s will for our work plans, but it does confirm that he has a will.  The key is in being willing to follow him where we believe he’s directing us, and time will tell if that choice bears fruit.

Are you bearing fruit in your current job? Have you been able to invest in the lives of others, to be productive, and feel satisfied? If not, pray for guidance, and consider reading the book of James in the New Testament. It’s first chapter tells us that if we seek wisdom from God, he won’t withold it.