Starting over

Most people I know have had to start their careers over at some point. Sometimes these moves are voluntary, like when someone wants to make a major career shift late in life, but often they aren’t. Living here in Michigan, where the job base is shifting away from manufacturing and unemployment is high, I know quite a few folks that are starting over. I was reminded of this last night when my father-in-law was discussing how he started over thirty years ago. He had decided to open a restaurant which unfortunately didn’t make it. Left with a lot of debt and a young family, he looked for a job that paid him a modest amount that could grow into over time. He found a job in sales that he enjoyed and could do well at (extremely well, actually), and it wasn’t long before he was out of debt and one of the owners of that company.

It reminds me of the woman described in 2 Kings 4. Widowed and deeply in debt, she found herself with virtually no options (women couldn’t just find jobs in ancient Judah) so she sought out the help of the prophet Elisha. He asked her “what do you have in the house?” and she replied that she had nothing except a small flask of olive oil. He told her to borrow as many empty jars as she could from her friends and family and once she had, he miraculously filled every one to the brim. She was able to sell these jars of oil, get herself out of debt, and have enough left over to support her children.

This is a story that can teach us all a little something. Left with few options, the widow sought help from God, and he allowed her to build on the little that she had. The combination of a flask of olive oil and a few friends whom were willing to lend a hand allowed her to climb out of the hole she was in, and to provide her a foundation for her future. The key, I think, is that it starts with asking God to help us build on the gifts he’s already given us.

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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.” 

The gift of perspective

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Today wraps up our week’s discussion of job insecurities, but for those of you who are struggling with job transitions or unhappy jobs, it need not be the end of this opportunity for spiritual growth. Today’s topic – the gift of perspective. There’s something about not having reliable income that jars us into taking stock of our lives and our lifestyles. My friends, this is a gift indeed.

At the end of Solomon’s life, he wrote Ecclesiastes to share his perspectives on what he’d learned. Here’s the perspective he shares on work and money in Ecc 5:13-20:

There is another serious problem I have seen in the world. Riches are sometimes hoarded to the harm of the saver, or they are put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. People who live only for wealth come to the end of their lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day they were born. And this, too, is a very serious problem. As people come into this world, so they depart. All their hard work is for nothing. They have been working for the wind, and everything will be swept away. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud – frustrated, discouraged, and angry. Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat well, drink a good glass of wine, and enjoy their work – whatever they do under the sun – for however long God lets them live. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – that is indeed a gift from God. People who do this rarely look with sorrow on the past, for God has given them reasons for joy.”

Now is the time for taking stock and asking good questions of yourself. Am I enjoying my career? Am I attempting to live a lifestyle that is beyond my means? Which comes first – my family or my job? How would I like to remember this period in my life? Taking time to ask God for wisdom and then honestly answering these questions can not only change your next job choice, but change the rest of your life.

 I hope this week’s series was helpful to you. Next week – back to my random thoughts about being a Christian in corporate America!

Oh, and if you’re interested in learning more financial advice, the Bible offers tremendous wisdom on money – about 2300+ verses, more than faith & prayer combined. Also, I highly recommend The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn (or Money, Possessions & Eternity if you’re really serious about learning) to better understand what God has to say about money, or Dave Ramsay’s books – my favorite is Financial Peace – on how to take control of your finances. Happy reading.

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…

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.

Getting a grip on employment trials

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Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.” – Ronald Reagan

I don’t know about you, but every day I hear someone reference our “soft” economy. Here in Michigan, where unemployment is just over 7%,  things have been particularly shaky. As our economy has gotten worse, I’ve seen lots of my friends and family experience job woes. Some are out of work, some fear losing their jobs, and others are miserable in their jobs but are afraid to leave when the market is so unpredictable.

Five years ago, I found myself in a difficult situation. I’d taken a big risk trying my hand at professional fundraising with a small nonprofit, and to make a long story very short, I found myself out of work having just purchased our first home, with our first baby only two months. I will never forget what that felt like. At the time I would have never guessed that this period of my life would become the most spiritually vibrant, rich, and even joyful, period of my life.

This week I’d like to tell you what I learned during that period. We’ll dive into how to deal with unemployment, job uncertainty, and feeling forced to stay in unhappy jobs – let’s for the sake of simplicity call these “job insecurities.” If we could sit and have a cup of coffee with God and ask him his perspective on these issues, he would likely not start with our problems, but with the framework through which we see them.

Compared to most of the world, Americans live fairly easy lives. Unfortunately, most of us walk through life with the expectation that it should be easy, but that is not the case. Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” We know this is true in our personal lives, should it surprise us that this is the case at work as well?  M. Scott Peck put it simply in the first line of his book The Road Less Traveled , when he wrote “Life is difficult.”  The book, which is about mental health (and I should warn you is not a Christian book – he became a Christian after he wrote it), claims that living with the assumption that life should be easy hampers our ability to deal with life’s inevitable trials. By assuming that life should be easy, we cripple our ability to deal with life’s big challenges.

We must remind ourselves that job insecurities are one of the trials that we can, and should, expect to occasionally experience in life. If you ask those around you, you will find that most people, regardless of how talented or dedicated they are, have found themselves suddenly unemployed. 

So what’s the best way to handle these trials? Are job insecurities simply dreadful periods to be endured, or is there a deeper, more meaningful experience that can be gained during them? The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 1:7-9 that there is: 

These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 

Peter says that the key purpose of trials is to spiritually refine us. No longer can we just talk-the-talk about God’s provision, now we are called to walk-the-walk – to put our faith to the test.  Paul shares Peter’s opinion about trials. In writing to the Romans, Paul says in chapter 5, verses 3-4:

We can rejoice too when we run into problems and trials for we know that they are good for us – they can help us endure. And endurance develops strenght of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.”

Trials exist to increase our confidence in the Lord. Job insecurities are unique opportunities to put our faith to the test and make us stronger for whatever the future might hold. 

Later this week, we’ll look at what what assurances we’ve got from God, what role we play in getting through job insecurities, what role God plays, and how to turn these trials into joy. But to start, we must look at our trials for what they are – inevitable parts of life that are actually blessings-in-disguise.

If you’d like to dive deeper, consider reading the first chapter of the book of James.