Seeking and receiving rest

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I’m tired. Our youngest child was up for hours last night with what I can only assume was a teething problem. As a result, I’ve felt like a zombie all day.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve dragged myself through a workday. There are those inevitable unexpected demands (Red Wings games) that come up in the course of a week that require us to get less sleep than required. And there have been times when I’m exhausted not from lack of sleep, but from the sheer stress and chaos encountered during the workday.

I’ve learned the hard way that we need rest not only to function in our work activities, but to function well spiritually. I know that being tired makes me less productive, less patient with coworkers, and according to a recent article, fat. It’s pretty tough to be a good representation of Christ when you’re staring at your computer monitor, sniping at the person next to you, or stealing their morning danish. Mmm… danish.

If you missed this post, I believe strongly that one great way to stay physically replenished is by taking a Sabbath each week. Beyond taking a Sabbath (and the eight hours of sleep that I fully intend to get each night post-playoffs) we can seek mental rest from the challenges of the daily grind through Jesus. In, Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said,

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

A yoke is a wooden frame that was used in Jesus’ day to hitch two oxen together while plowing a field. If Jesus is willing to be yoked with us – to be hitched with us to share in our burdens and lighten our load during the demands of our days – then we should take a moment to seek him during the day. That’s a prayer that shouldn’t wait until bedtime.

God’s Number Ten – The Ugly Side of Ambition

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 Today we’ll conclude this week’s focus on the Ten Commandments with a look at Exodus 20:17.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

I’ll admit it – I’m an ambitious person. I like to achieve new things and I get bored with doing the same work for long periods of time. But I’ve learned the hard way over the years that there’s a downside to this ambition – it’s very easy to become envious of other peoples’ successes.

For me, it’s not usually about other people’s financial successes, but is more often an issue with others receiving recognition. This was particularly true during my younger days working in sales. Sales-persons have a reputation for being driven by the almighty dollar, but in my experience, it’s a desire to be recognized that drove most to sell harder.

If God let me add a few amendments to this commandment, I’d add:

  • Do not envy the company-wide e-mail praising your neighbor’s project success
  • Do not covet the laminated “top salesperson – march 06” certificate on your neighbor’s cubicle panel
  • And do not imagine yourself receiving a non-existent “smartest and best-dressed employee in company history” award during your next team meeting

I’ve learned over the years that ego only gets in the way of our growth. Steve Arterburn (yep, he gets two shout-outs this week) in his book Every Man, God’s Man says,

If oil produces the lubrication necessary for engines to deliver the designed performance, then humility lubricates a man’s faith, producing results in his spritual life. The Bible teaches that humility is the one core attitude that God’s man goes after as he seeks to make his relationship with the Lord work.”

(sorry for the gender specific references, but Arterburn writes books targeted at men)

Humility is that important. If we want to grow spiritually, then we need to nip our egos in the bud. Over time, doing so helps us to grow genuinely pleased – energized, even – by the success of others. And it’s this appreciation for the accomplishments of others that, ironically, produces in us genuine characteristics of leadership.

God’s Number Eight – The Slacker Factor

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Today, we’re continuing this week’s look at how the Ten Commandments apply in Corporate America.

You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15)

I’ve mentioned the parable of the talents before (Matt 25:14-30), and I’m likely to occasionally come back to it because it offers us a great deal of insight into how to steward our God-given gifts.

In the parable, a manager gives property to a number of servants and comes back after a period of time to assess how they’ve done stewarding those resources. I find this part of the story highly relevant for us because it relates to a key trend in today’s workplace – the movement back to task-based, rather than time-based, performance. For a variety of reasons – mobile technologies, the high cost of corporate real estate, and the workstyles of Generation Y – many employers are loosening up expectations of seeing employees in the workplace each day, and instead measure employees based on what they accomplish over specific project periods. Like the manager in the parable, the new workplace is less about being measured by how much time is spent together, and instead about being measured by the results of what we did with our time.

Personally, I experienced this shift about two years ago. I took a job that didn’t require me to sit at a desk 45 hours a week and at first I wasn’t sure exactly where I should work. Today, I find myself working a lot at the office during the normal workday, but also at many different times of the day and in many different places –  company team spaces, my home, airport terminals, and even our local library. 

The workplace of tomorrow will place much more accountability on us to steward our time effectively. In addition to the myriad of normal distractions, we’ve now got YouTube, Facebook, and blogging (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I have a blog) to distract us.  I’ve found that it takes a great deal of discipline to stay focused and productive with this much autonomy.  

In the parable, the manager comes back to find that one servant has buried the property (the “talent”) for fear of losing it while the manager was away. The other managers had invested the talents and received praise while this manager, while he didn’t spend or lose the talent, was referred to as “wicked” and “lazy.” Too harsh? Perhaps not. If our employers trust us enough to pay us each week for work that they assume is being done and we give them less than our best, then we’re not just slacking – we’re stealing.

God’s Number Seven – “Scoop it where?”

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We’re continuing this week’s look at how the Ten Commandments apply in Corporate America. Today’s topic – adultery.

You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)”

My wife and I lead a marriage preparation ministry at our church here in Grand Rapids and we always tell those kids (in GR, many people still get engaged right out of college) that we intend to help them affair-proof their marriage. Many at that stage of their lives can’t fathom the notion that they’ll someday cheat on their beloved, but then thinking it’s not possible is the first step towards crossing the line.

The corporate workplace in a nearly ideal place to incubate an affair. Where else can you… find a way to spend 6-8 hours each day away from your spouse… near someone attractive that will notice how your spouse doesn’t appreciate you… with an e-mail system other than your home account… and where someone else will pay for you both to take a trip to a big city where you can dine in style and have lots to drink?

The truth is, most people that cheat on their spouses don’t plan their affairs, they commit them in moments of weakness and the workplace is often where they find the opportunity to cheat. These decisions can not only ruin careers, they can ruin generations of spiritual and physical well-being (see the effects of King David’s affair in 2 Samuel 12).

The keys to preventing them are to invest in your marriage, maintain a close relationship with God, being accountable to Christian friends, and maintaining important boundaries. We should all assume that we are capable of affairs if the right (or wrong, depending how you look at it) set of circumstances were to exist. If you haven’t yet, consider some smart boundaries. Here are some that I’ve incorporated into my work life:

  • I don’t discuss much personal information with women I find attractive at work.
  • No off-site 1 on 1 lunches with members of the opposite sex.
  • If I find myself attracted to a someone at work that I don’t directly work with, I don’t make any special attempt to get to know them better.
  • No sharing marriage criticisms / issues with members of the opposite sex.
  • I give my wife access to my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts.
  • If I need to take a business trip with a member of the opposite sex, I pass on dinner unless there’s someone else (usually a local contact) with us, and have have no more than one drink.

Am I perfect at maintaining these? Not always, but I try very hard and never kid myself about the realities of workplace temptations. And when I am tempted, I often think of a verse from Proverbs. This might not resonate as well wiht you ladies, but it sure gets my attention:

Can a man scoop fire into his lap and not be burned? Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet? So it is with another man’s wife. He who embraces her will not go unpunished… But the man who commits adultery is an utter fool, for he destroys his own soul.” (Proverbs 6:27-29,32)

Folks, it’s never to soon to affair-proof your marriage and if you’re looking for additional resources in this area, I highly recommend the Every Man’s Battle and Every Woman’s Battle  resource series from Steve Arterburn and Shannon Ethridge.

God’s Number Nine – Lying

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Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

Lying is one of those behaviors that is easy to see in others and can sometimes go unnoticed in our own work lives. I think it’s because when we think of lying we tend to think of those BIG lies – Nixon saying he’s not a crook, Kenneth Lay at Enron, Clinton saying he did not… well you know, etc. But as they say, the Devil is in the details, and if you dissect the workday it’s amazing how many opportunities there are to be less than honest.

As individuals we should evaluate how our behavior reflects the God we worship. We Christians are, as my pastor likes to say, God “reflectors” and nothing will reflect more poorly on him that when people see us speak lies. The opposite is also true, maintaining integrity in an environment that isn’t always a bastion of purity can win the hearts of those seeking something better (see 1Pet 2:11-12).

But we shouldn’t just think of lying as those un-truths that we tell as individuals. The most common form of lying that I’ve observed in my fourteen years in the workplace is people lying on behalf of the corporation.  Since most of those years have been in marketing and sales, I’ve seen my share of exaggerated claims.

Marketing guru Seth Godin in his book All Marketers Are Liars (which is meant to be an ironic title since he doesn’t believe that) exhorts those of us who represent our organizations to do so in a manner that values authenticity. He says that somewhere along the way marketers in particular have gone down the wrong path by choosing “non-responsibility” as a mantra and that the effects on companies and our society has been devastating. He writes,

I refuse to accept that there’s a difference between a factory manager dumping sludge in the Hudson River (poisoning everyone downstream) and a marketing manager making up a story that ends up causing similar effects. Marketing is an awesomely powerful tool, and marketers share the same responsibilities everyone else does.

‘We’re just serving the market,’ ‘We’re satisfying peoples needs’ and ‘Adults have the right to make a decision about this’ are the words of a weasel. Crafting a story that tricks people into making short-term decisions they regret in the long run is the worst kind of marketing sin. Refusing to take responsibility for it afterward is just cowardice.”

It’s not just marketers lying about who our companies are.  We all represent our company to customers, friends, potential employees and to our co-workers. Pretending that the company is as good as we aspire for it to be is not authentic. Want to make a difference in the workplace? Be the person that seeks to make the company live up to it’s promises, both internally and externally.

God’s Number Four

This week we’ll be looking at some of the most basic Biblical instruction – the Ten Commandments -and their relevance in today’s corporate workplace.

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I recently recalled a conversation that I had a few years back when I lived in Chicago with a gentleman who was being considered as our new church pastor. It was immediately clear to me that he was more than capable (and has turned out to be a fantastic pastor) and so I really only had one question for him – “How are you at keeping the Sabbath?” He paused, chuckled and said, “Did someone from my current church tell you to ask me that?”

No one had to tell me to ask that. I had spent a couple of years in seminary and while I was there I learned that keeping the Sabbath holy is the one commandment that is kept just as poorly by many in ministry as those in other professions. Today, the demands of increased global competition in the corporate sector and the prevelence of mobile technology has made it even more difficult for all of us to take a break for a day. In fact, if you missed it there was recently a study from the UK about the harmful impacts of those that are addicted (literally) to mobile technologies. It was a sobering article.

Now before my wife has a chance to comment about my own Blackberry addiction (I’ll give it a check if I get up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night), I should note that I’ve had to become purposeful about keeping the Sabbath holy. I need to spend some time thinking on Friday or Saturday morning to how I’ll get my personal and work tasks done before Sunday in order to keep it free from work. But I can vouch for this -it’s worth it.

The reason I asked our new pastor that question is that I’ve seen in my own life the effects of not resting – stress, being crabby with family and co-workers, eating poorly, and decreased resistance to all kinds of other temptations. We forget sometimes that God’s commandments not only honor him but they benefit us. The Sabbath is a really simple concept – don’t work on one day of the week (which ever day works for you – it doesn’t have to be Sunday). We’re not meant to make this a legalistic thing (per Jesus in Mark 2), but as author Lynn Babb put it, “It’s a day where you focus on being, rather than being productive.” It’s a time to consider our blessings, take stock of our lives, and to let the Lord replenish us.

It can be easy to ignore God’s fourth commandment, but he saw fit to put it up there with not cheating on our spouses or worshiping false gods. It isn’t just a commandment; it’s a glimpse into the nature of how God made us. We need a Sabbath. Without it, we risk moving through life too quickly without a chance to make the most of it or fully experience it. If you find yourself dragging a little this morning because you didn’t get much of a break yesterday, it’s not too early to begin considering this coming Sunday.

If you’d like some practical tips on how to get started, here’s a great article from Crosswalk.