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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How We Learn

Someone once told me that if I want to fix something mechanical (not my forte), that I should stare at it for at least a full minute. That advice has helped me much more than my Time/Life Homeowners Fix It book that sits on my bookshelf. By staring at whatever I’m trying to fix, I can begin seeing the interconnectedness of its elements, and that provides me the contextual understanding necessary to arrive at a solution.

The same dynamic happens with workplace learning. I’ve been through training courses and business classes hoping to just learn the content, but soon forgot most of it because I didn’t immediately get to use it. For me, the best learning opportunities are those that comfortably immerse me in a topic, orienting me and giving me a confident foundation to build upon, not those that try to make an expert out of me. In much simpler words, practical learning is not focused on remembering all the answers, but knowing how to ask the right questions.

I think the same is true about living out our faith at work. Solomon teaches us in Proverbs 9:10 that, “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in understanding.” (and when you read “fear” think of being in utter awe of the immensity of the ocean, not the terror of a chainsaw-wielding lunatic in your front yard).

To be an effective Christian in the workplace doesn’t require starting seminary courses. It starts with being in awe of the Creator of the universe who stepped into his creation in order to redeem us. It’s through that understanding, that incredible foundation of grace, that we know what questions to ask, what choices to make, and how to gain that which is “more valuable than gold and rubies” – wisdom.

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.

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.” 

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)

Rainy reminders

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 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matt 5:3-4)

Monday was one of those dark and rainy days when it seemed like a lot better idea to stay in bed all day. There are, of course, lots of days that are literally or metaphorically rainy, and it can be difficult to get through the work day with an uplifted spirit. So allow me to take a break from my typically upbeat posts and soak in the rain for a moment.

I’m continuing this week’s theme of using Christian songs as inspiration for my posts, and today I’d like share a song that a lot of folks haven’t heard – Held by Natalie Grant. My friend Andy once said that he’d heard a criticism of Christian music – that most songs were sung in the key of perpetually happy.  Held is not one of those songs. It’s a song about the lousy things that can happen in the lives of Christians.

I had a chat with a coworker that reminded me of this. A brief moment in the conversation reminded me that while all of us spend hours on end talking about work stuff – project plans, sales strategies, training programs, promotional concepts – there are people sitting among us suffering through the pains of life.  Sometimes those people are us.

Relational problems, cancer, miscarriage, financial turmoil, addiction… the list goes on, and I’m reminded that work is a means, not the end, in our lives. Yet sometimes we’re oblivious to the more meaningful, and sometimes very difficult, sides of our coworkers lives.

This song is a reminder to me that we weren’t made for this world. We weren’t promised heaven on earth, and we weren’t guaranteed that life would become easy when we pursued lives of faith. We can find comfort knowing that our Savior was a suffering one –  that he has experienced this life and the great pain that is unfortunately present in it. He’s given us one another to uplift each other and to walk with each other through the rain. As God’s adopted children, we’re not forsaken or forgotten. We are loved deeply by a heavenly Father who desires to do the same thing that we do when our children are hurting – to hold them until the pain lessens.

God’s role – provision for our needs

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We continue this week’s look at jobs insecurities – looking for a job, worrying about losing a job, or staying in a miserable job for fear of leaving. And if you missed it, yesterday we looked at how these trials can actually be spirtual blessings because they force us to rely upon God. I know what you’re probably thinking – that’s great in theory, but what about the financial implications of being without work? How are we to focus on God when there are bills to be paid? For most of us, this is the most pressing aspect of job insecurities, and the biggest distraction from spending time with God. How can I sit around reading the Bible and praying when I could be on Monster.com?

It starts with remembering our true source of income. The fact is, “our money” is not our money. It, and everything else on Earth, is God’s. Psalm 42:1 reads “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” When we are allowed to have money, it’s because he has chosen to bless us with it. It is a tool that he provides us for our needs while we’re on this planet and to accomplish his purposes. When we need it, we should not worry about it, but rather we should ask him for it.  Look at what Jesus told his followers in Matthew 6:25-34:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.“

Jesus himself has told us not to worry about the provision for our needs. Instead of worrying we are to seek him first and if we do so, he assures us that our needs will be met. Does this mean that we shouldn’t look for a new job if we need one? Of course not. But it does mean that we should seek after God as we seek after other employment.

How should we go about seeking him? One way to begin is to ask yourself whether or not you truly trust God to provide you with what you need. Is there any reason that you think that God would not want to bless you with life’s provisions? If God has taken the effort to create plants such as lilies with glorious colors and patterns, even more glorious than a king can dress, then he will not ignore his son or daughter in need.  The Bible tells us that we become God’s children when we accept the reconcilliation with him that Jesus offers (Gal 3:26), and Jesus himself says in Matthew 7:7-11 that we shouldn’t hesitate asking our Father for what we need:

“Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks. You parents – if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

As we work our way through the stresses of job insecurities, it’s good to know what is our role and what is God’s. Jesus has told us that we shouldn’t worry about having our needs met. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll always have the standard of living that we’d like, but it does mean that provision is God’s responsibility. Tomorrow, we’ll look at ours.