The 3 things are:
- Personal management: how to get things done and know what the right things are to get done
- Career management
As a result, most of us need to learn these on our own, on the job. If you really try to figure them out and do them well, it’s a painful process — especially if most of the people you are working with are in the same boat (which, since these things aren’t taught well in school, is usually the case).
There are good seminars and courses and training workshops on each of these areas for those in the workforce, especially if you work at a large corporation. The leadership teaching that is out there is often pretty good, because it emphasizes that leadership is about building people up just as much as making things happen. But even that is less effective without a broad set of foundational knowledge already in place that you can relate it to. If you start learning about leadership, for example, at 28, when you are put in a leadership position in your organization, you are still 14 years behind where you could have been (or 20 years behind). This makes the journey that much harder. Same with learning how to manage your career and manage yourself, even if you encounter the need to learn these much earlier (toward the end of college or shortly after).
I’m not saying that there aren’t excellent leadership opportunities available in the educational system; there are. And, that does a lot of good. (So things aren’t nearly as bad as they could be!) But I’m talking about explicit teaching on what leadership is, how to do it, and so forth, in addition to actual leadership experiences.
This has large costs to us as a society, as so many people end up spinning their wheels trying to figure out what direction to go long-term with their career, trying to figure out how to manage themselves, and learning how to lead that they could have spent actually leading and, in terms of their career management, avoiding some wrong turns.
And it’s not just the education system that has dropped the ball here. Churches have too. Churches are mandated by God to be led well and to develop leaders (that’s the meaning of Isaiah 32:1-8, if you understand it correctly, among other passages). Because of the priesthood of all believers, this means teaching all believers how to lead well, not just those in ministry. Yet, strangely, much of the time the church opposes leadership development because of the notion that it is somehow worldly or unspiritual.
This is a long-term problem. Obviously I have lots of thoughts on how this could be fixed, but this is enough for now.
Actually, schools tend to teach almost nothing on how to do knowledge work — that is, on the actual process for high performance workflow management (as opposed to the specific skill sets for various jobs, such as creating financial statements, etc., etc., which is taught in abundance).
Here are three things that you especially never hear, but are true:
- You will have to spend more time than expected doing seemingly strange and mundane tasks like organizing your computer files (or trying to figure out how you want them organized!) and figuring out where to capture and store all the various ideas you have.
- If people make fun of you for this (like my pastor has!; good-naturedly), ignore them. These are essential components for knowledge work, and your actual ideas, plans, and work products are better if you can keep yourself organized.
- This is because, somehow, in the process of organizing your ideas and knowledge work inputs and outputs, real work gets done beyond just the organizing (though that is important in itself).
A Christian View of Working in Your Strengths (Especially in Relation to Thinking About Our Weaknesses)
People often ask me “if we are supposed to seek to work within our strengths most of the time, what about our weaknesses?” The question is about more than simply “how do we manage our weaknesses.” Rather, the question stems from the (very good) observation that God especially uses weakness in his kingdom. Does this change anything about the way we should go about our work? Should we, for example, conclude that we should not seek to focus on our strengths most of the time?
I have many thoughts on this, and actually have written a short book (unpublished, and not yet fully polished) on a Christian view of strengths where I also deal with this question in some detail. (That book was originally a very, very long chapter I originally wrote for What’s Best Next.) I hope to publish that book at some point, once What’s Best Next is taken care of.
But for now, here’s a chief part of the answer: There are plenty of weaknesses within your strengths themselves. You don’t need to worry about making yourself weaker than you already truly are.
And, if God has a special weakness he has ordained for your life to make you more fruitful as you have to rely on his power to live in light of it and overcome it, he’ll see to that, as he did with Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Further, what’s interesting from Paul’s experience is that he was actually quite diligent in asking the Lord to take away his weakness (see verse 8). That is the Christian response. It is not Christian to try to make ourselves weaker than we already are. That’s presumption, not Christianity. The Christian response to suffering is to first ask the Lord to take it away. But then in instances where he doesn’t, then the Christian response is to accept it and, indeed, glory in it, as Paul did, as a (forced!) invitation to rely on a greater strength — namely, the strength of Christ (vv. 9-10).
Let me just say one more thing. I would suggest that, perhaps, the notion that we ought to avoid focusing on our strengths is actually somewhat prideful. For it assumes that your strengths are stronger than they really are. You focus on your weaknesses when you are forced to. That’s what makes them weaknesses. A weakness that is “chosen” is not, typically, a true weakness.
Use your strengths. God has given them to you, and you in fact have an obligation to use them for the good of others — that’s what justice is: the strong using their strength on behalf of others (note also the biblical exhortations to do this in 2 Corinthians 8 – 10; also the command in 1 Timothy 6:17-19 as it applies to money and the Parable of the Talents). Please don’t worry about being “too strong.” You’re not. And when God does bring (even greater) weakness your way, first seek to remove it and ask him to remove it and, if he doesn’t, recognize it as an opportunity to rely on God in a different way, and rejoice in that.
I love and fully affirm the centrality of the biblical call to meet the full range of people’s needs, not just spiritual needs. When people are hungry, we need to feed them (Matthew 25:35). When they are mistreated, we need to stand up for them (Isaiah 1:17; Job 29:12-17). When they are sick, we need to visit them (Matthew 25:36). It is noteworthy that the false believers Christ rejects in Matthew 7:21-23 were apparently great at preaching (so-called), but neglected to meet people’s real, concrete needs as Christ instructs in Matthew 25:35-46.
We need to do better at this, and I think it is exciting to dream dreams of taking radical action for the good of others, and actually following through on those dreams. Further, we need to do this on a large scale, not just a small scale.
As we seek to correct our oversight as a church on the social action side of the last 90 years or so, it can be easy to emphasize the importance of social action in a way that downplays or minimizes the equal importance of evangelism. It is not uncommon to hear stories, for example, of short term missions teams going over to build houses for those in need, and yet never once mentioning the way of salvation through Christ. Further, we can feel that when we do make evangelism a chief aim, we almost need to apologize for it as though social action is what really “counts,” since it meets people’s concrete and directly felt needs.
This dichotomy is completely unnecessary. The reason is that the call to meet physical needs and the call to preach the gospel stem from the same motive and the same place in God’s heart.
Notice, for example, Matthew 9:13. Jesus chides the Pharisees here for not understanding the Scripture that “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). The Pharisees consistently put their strange and odd rules over the welfare of people, and this Scripture stands squarely against that. This Scripture teaches us that what God requires of us is not following made-up rules, or even rules that seem justified on the basis of “self-protection” or keeping ourselves from sin, but actually serving people and meeting their needs (cf. also the related instance in Matthew 12:1-8).
God’s statement that he desires mercy and not sacrifice is a great passage, in other words, on the importance of social action and meeting physical needs. This is especially clear from the tie with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, where the Samaritan’s actions to meet the man’s physical needs are called “compassion” (Luke 10:33) and “mercy” (Luke 10:37). Jesus also often had compassion on the crowds, resulting in meeting their physical needs (Matthew 14:14; 9:35-36). To be a merciful person necessarily includes being on the lookout to meet physical needs.
But there is something even deeper in Matthew 9:13. When Jesus says “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” there, he gives it as the reason and foundation for why he is interacting with sinners. For he immediately adds: “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
At the heart of what Jesus is saying is this: True compassion involves not just taking action to meet people’s needs, but doing this even for the unworthy. “I desire mercy” does not simply mean “do good to those who do good to you.” Jesus is defining true compassion as having love for sinful, unworthy people at its very essence. What the Pharisees didn’t get is that when God calls us to have compassion on people, he doesn’t restrict it to apparently “worthy” people. Love that does not love the unworthy is actually not true love at all. That’s why the call to love one’s enemies is central, not an aside, to the biblical ethic of love (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:19-21). True compassion has compassion even on sinners, those who have failed, and even one’s enemies.
Which is, of course, all of us (something else the Pharisees didn’t get).
This is why Jesus came to earth. He came because he is a loving, compassionate God, which means not simply that he does good for those who do good, but that he also seeks to rescue those who have done evil. That’s the true meaning of love. That’s Jesus’ point here. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to call not the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).
This is also the meaning of John 3:16. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” That is, God’s love is the kind of love that gives utterly sacrificially even for the welfare of sinners–those who, as John puts it here, are in danger of perishing.
Seeking the welfare of unworthy — demonstrated in action — is part of the very definition of God’s love.
This is why social action is not enough. Love for others will and must manifest itself in meeting people’s concrete, tangible needs for food, shelter, companionship, and purpose in life. But beyond all of these things, we have a more fundamental, even deeper need: we are estranged from God because of our sin. True compassion does not stop at meeting people’s physical and social needs, therefore. It goes all the way and seeks to meet their spiritual need for reconciliation with God as well.
That’s how Jesus ultimately describes for us the meaning of “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” He demonstrates the meaning of that verse ultimately in his own ministry, coming into the world not simply to meet physical needs but also proclaim the gospel and thereby rescue us from our ultimate misery. “For I came … to call … sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
The same love that compels us to meet people’s concrete, physical needs also compels us to truly care for the full range of their needs — including their spiritual need to receive the forgiveness of sins and come to know God.
How do you help those in need? Our default tendency seems to be to give advice. To give advice that is actually good is, of course, a good thing (although rare!). But the biblical call is for us to do much more than that. Consider:
“Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4).
The way we typically act, it’s as though we take those passages to say “give advice to the weak and the fatherless; tell the afflicted that we live in a sinful world where injustice is rampant and they need to learn how to live with that; give kind words to the weak and the needy; tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
That is emphatically not what the Scripture says. Yet, we often live as if it is.
Words can be helpful. But, when you see those in need, those who have been denied justice, mistreated, fallen on hard times, or other such things, the biblical call is not to give advice and stop there. It is to listen to what the wrongs are, and then actually do something about them. “Correct oppression.” “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed” (Psalm 82:3-4, NIV).
Just people don’t just disagree with injustice. They do something about it.
I don’t think he would have (or did) because, knowing all things and being completely filled with the Spirit, he would not need any external reminders. It is literally impossible (both now, and when he was on earth) for Jesus to forget any obligation that he has. (And he does have obligations — that is, things he needs to get done — but they are only the arrangements he freely enters into, which are founded in the promises he has made in the Scriptures.)
But, I’ve never thought that “what would Jesus do” is necessarily the best question. It is a helpful question. But since we are not Jesus (for example, we are not omniscient), the more precise question is “what would Jesus have me do?”
And I think he would say this about to-do lists: “If you can keep all your commitments and get done what you are called to do without writing anything down, no problem. But if you have more to do than your memory is able to hold, one of the other reasons I’ve given you a mind is so that you can figure out a better way to keep track of everything than just keeping it in your head. So go, do what you need to do to remember what you need to remember in order to get done what you need to get done.”
Something like that.
I’m giving away a free ESV Study Bible (this one).
If it would serve you, or there is someone you would like to give it to, send me your name and address through the contact form on this site. I’ll send it to the first person who responds. (I won’t do anything with the other addresses but delete them — I’m just having you include your address to cut out a step.)
I won’t be able to respond to everyone to say whether you were the first person or not. So, if you don’t hear from me today, that means it wasn’t you. To the person who is first, I’ll shoot you a note and let you know it’s on its way.
Update: We have a winner!
“We cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without great admiration.”
“Shall we count anything praiseworthy or noble without recognizing at the same time that it comes from God? Let us be ashamed of such ingratitude.”
Here is one way saving grace and common grace relate: deed ministry, which is essential to the testimony of the gospel, often requires common grace in order to be done well.
Hence, it is unwise as Christians to downplay secular wisdom (common grace). Secular wisdom is not the gospel. But it is God’s will that Christians be wise both in a saving sense (Proverbs 11:30) and in relation to how to live well in this world (Proverbs 6:6-8).
John Piper, in Don’t Waste Your Life:
We need to be able to say to the suffering and perishing people, “I tried everything in the world.”
Many people think it’s because of profit. Capitalism enables people to maximize their profits, and that’s why it’s motivating.
I think this is wrong. I think the real reason capitalism is motivating is because it is based on freedom. The essence of capitalism is not “make us much money as you can” but rather “do what you choose to do. If it’s in the marketplace, you will have to do it profitably, but as long as you can do what you chose profitably, do whatever most fires you up.”
The profit motive is not bad. But it is not to be our primary motive, and it is not what is ultimately motivating to any human being who is rightly functioning.
If the government doesn’t allow profits, or inordinately seizes them, it is demotivating–not first because people are out for money above all things, but because the genuine fruits of their labors are being withheld from them.
But it does not follow from this that the chief motive in capitalism is or has to be money. Seizing people’s profits is demotivating; but what is ultimately motivating on the positive side is the opportunity to do what interests you, and do it in the best way you possibly can.
And, for the Christian, to do this to the glory of God.
My wife and I were talking about gardening the other day. We had driven by some nice flowers that the city we were in had planted and was watering, and my wife commented on how planting those flowers (and others throughout the city) meant they also had to have people to take care of them. Someone needed to water them, obviously, but also do many other things–plant them initially, keep them weeded (an ongoing thing, apparently), fertilize them if desired, and so forth.
I thought that was interesting, because I’ve always taken those nice flower displays for granted. Turns out my wife had a job in college taking care of the flowers on our campus, so she knows all about it.
Which leads to the most interesting thing for me: It took a team of 7 people to keep the flowers planted, watered, weeded, fertilized, and in order on our campus. The university we went to had about 15,000 people, so the campus wasn’t super small, but it wasn’t incredibly large, either.
The reason this is interesting to me is because I’m just the type of person who would have been crazy enough to put “water flowers” in my repeating task list every other day and “fertilize flowers” every 6 weeks and think he could take care of the flowers all by himself. But in reality, it took a team of seven people.
I know that the standard notion is that most organizations have too many people. Or, that seems to be the standard notion at least among some consultants and executives. My thinking is the opposite of this, especially when it comes to ministries.
Caring for the flowers on a college campus, or for a city, is super important. If it takes seven people simply to do that, how much more should ministries make sure they have enough people devoted to their all-important task of teaching and spreading biblical truth?
Seven people for an internet team, for example, probably sounds like a lot for most ministries. But if my college that served 15,000 students had seven people taking care of its flowers, how much more important do you think it is for a ministry that serves 3 million people a month (or many more) to have a team of 7 expert, knowledgable people tend to its website and make it the best it can possibly be?
And so forth with every other area of ministry.
Enough with overworking people, or skimping on having the necessary people for the work of the ministry. If this is the most important work in the world, let’s act like it.
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more cloth you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30).
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).
David Platt answers this well in his book Radical:
We so often think “If it’s dangerous, God must not be in it. If it’s risky, if it’s unsafe, if it’s costly, it must not be God’s will.” But what if these factors are actually the criteria by which we determine if something is God’s will? What if we began to look at the design of God as the most dangerous option before us? What if the center of God’s will is in reality the most unsafe place for us to be?
I have no idea where this idea came from that God’s will is for us to always be maximally comfortable and secure in this world. If you read the New Testament, that’s the last idea you would come away with. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Jesus’ statement here did not just apply to his first disciples. It applies today, to all of us.
Here’s another cut from my book:
1. Persevere in Prayer
Perseverance in prayer as a key means of overcoming obstacles. Don’t stop praying about something just because it hasn’t been answered within a few days or weeks. Keep pressing on. This is exactly what Jesus commands us to do: “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). The fact that Jesus told a parable to this effect indicates that he knew we would be tempted to lose heart. Which means he knew that many of the answers to our prayers wouldn’t come right away. And his point was: “Keep praying. The fact that it doesn’t seem like the answers are coming does not indicate that they won’t. Sometimes you have to be more persistent than you think.”
This is a cut from my book that I’m not including so I can stay within my word count. This is from the chapter “The Role of Prayer and Scripture in Your Productivity”:
Have a Bible you like to use. It’s true that what really matters is the Bible itself, not the particular format it’s in. We should love the Bible simply because it is God’s word, no matter what kind of cover it has or what paper it’s printed on. But as long as you have a choice, get a Bible that you like to use, because you will probably use it more if you do. This can be dangerous—if you are more excited about the way your Bible works than the content itself, that’s a problem. But assuming you aren’t going to have that problem, get a Bible you will enjoy using.
I’m taking it out of the chapter because my focus is on how to read and study your Bible well (and faithfully), not what kind to have. But, the point is true (as long as you heed the caution as well).
And, though this wasn’t originally part of the chapter, I’d point you to Crossway as a great place to find such a Bible. They do a great job of making their Bibles a joy to use.
In fact, I’ll go one step further. About 8 years or so, shortly after the ESV had come out, I was at a banquet Crossway was holding at the Christian Booksellers Convention and they gave away calfskin versions of the ESV (or, at least a few of them–somehow I ended up with one).
Calfskin is a type of leather that is really cool. It’s the best type, or one of the best, and is much more interesting than regular leather or bonded leather. It’s also super expensive. I think most calfskin Bibles are about $150 or $200.
My first thought was “this doesn’t seem wartime. If this hadn’t been given to me, I’m not sure it would be right to spend this much on a Bible.” My thinking was: God teaches us in the Scriptures to be focused on others, not ourselves, and so the last place he would want us to spend a lot of money is on our Bible.
And, there is something right and good about that instinct.
However, I have really enjoyed the calfskin Bible that I received. For some reason, I just like it, and it is super durable and lasts. And so, when I got my next Bible, I also got a calfskin.
And so, if you are in the market for a Bible and able to, I recommend getting a calfskin Bible. That is super risky to say, because it truly would be horrible for us to get picky about what kind of cover we have on our Bibles and lose sight of the fact that the words are what matter. If losing sight of that seems like a temptation, don’t get the calfskin. But if that doesn’t seem like a temptation, go for the calfskin, use it a lot, and keep it for a long time. Crossway’s selection calfskins is here. (I don’t get any compensation for recommending them, by the way; I’m only recommending them because I find them so useful.)
Two final things on Bibles: If you have a choice between that cordovan (reddish) type color and black, I think black is better. More importantly, whatever kind of Bible you get, always get one that has a cross-reference system in it (where related passages and passages with similar themes are listed in the margin). Looking up cross references is one of the most helpful and significant ways to grow in your understanding of the Bible.
OK, enough on the logistics of choosing Bibles. What truly matters is that you read it, know it, believe it, and obey it.
For those in the Orange County area next week, I’ll be speaking at Sovereign Grace Church on gospel-centered productivity on Thursday night, June 7. I’ll be giving two messages:
- Why We Need to Think Theologically About the Practical for the Sake of Love
- Overcoming the Greatest Challenges Christians Face in the Marketplace
Patrick Lencioni makes the case very well in his article, The Enemy of Creativity and Innovation. Here’s a great part:
I’ve become convinced that the only way to be really creative and innovative in life is to be joyfully inefficient….
Efficiency requires that we subdue our passion and allow it to be constrained by principles of logic and convention. Innovation and creativity require us to toss aside logic and convention, even without the near-term promise of a payoff. Embracing both at the same time seems to me to be a recipe for stress, dissonance and mediocrity, and yet, that is exactly what so many organizations—or better yet—leaders, do.
They exhort their employees to utilize their resources wisely and to avoid waste and redundancy, which makes perfect sense. They also exhort them to be ever-vigilant about finding new and better products or processes, which also makes sense. And yet, combining these two perfectly sensible exhortations makes no sense at all, and only encourages rational, responsible people to find a middle ground, something that is decidedly neither efficient nor innovative.
This is why I don’t talk about efficiency a ton. It matters and has its place. But my goal is effectiveness, and often times the greatest path to effectiveness is quite inefficient.
More on this in my book.
I’ve seen this happen, and it’s not pretty. It’s a waste and it’s a tragedy. Peter Drucker:
“Professional” management today sees itself often in the role of a judge who says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to ideas as they come up…A top management that believes its job is to sit in judgment will inevitably veto the new idea. It is always “impractical.”
There are three problems with seeing Christianity primarily in terms of following rules.
First, this notion is just wrong.
Second, it obscures the fact that the solution to our problem is not following rules, but forgiveness.
Third, it gives the impression, as William Wilberforce said, that Christianity is “a system of prohibitions rather than privileges and hopes.” A focus on rules overpowers the emphatic New Testament ethos of joy, making the Christian faith wear “a forbidding and bloomy air and not one of peace and hope and joy.”
For the last few months, I’ve started listening to music more because I’m mostly working from my basement. Here are my informal conclusions on whether listening to music helps or hurts your productivity.
First, it depends on what kind of work you are doing. For some kinds of work, it doesn’t hinder your productivity at all and makes it more pleasant. Obviously.
Second (and this is the important point), I’ve found that for intensive work that requires focus and great concentration, listening to music keeps me from getting into the zone and thus causes my work to take a lot longer. Further, there are some breakthroughs that probably don’t happen because of the fact that you aren’t able to concentrate fully — thus decreasing the quality of your work.
This happens in spite of intentions, and you largely have no control over it. In other words, even if you have high energy and are ready to get into the zone, music will often prevent it from happening.
This applies only to music with words, and there are of course some exceptions. But in the main, I’ve found that if I need to get dialed in and concentrate, music with words is a big stumbling block.
That’s what I’ve found. What have you found?
Andy Naselli has done a great service by collecting together ten of the main resources he and his young daughter made use of for enjoying The Chronicles of Narnia to the fullest.
From the earliest days of the Acton Institute, Charles W. “Chuck” Colson was a staunch supporter and dear friend to many. On this page, we have gathered a variety of content including speeches, interviews with Acton publications and multimedia. As Prison Fellowship Ministries and the Colson Center put it, in a joint statement, “Chuck’s life is a testimony to God’s power to forgive, redeem, and transform.”
The page also has an excellent, 8.5 minute video the Acton Institute did on the life of Chuck Colson.
Here’s part of it:
Before his conversion to Christianity, Colson was described as an aggressive political mastermind who drank heavily, chain smoked, and smeared opponents. He served as special counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973 before he was indicted on Watergate-related charges, which led to a 7-month prison term. After his conversion experience, he published Born Again, helping popularize the term many evangelicals use to self-identify.
Colson’s public commitment to his faith drew initial skepticism from those who wondered whether he was attempting to profit from a conversion narrative. Criticism faded over time with his 30-plus years of commitment to prison ministry.
“The most important takeaway is that he was a specimen of God’s amazing grace, one of the most remarkable in modern times,” said Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. “Over time, he proved to the whole world that this is the real thing.”
From the latest issue of Fast Company. Here’s the summary:
A treasure trove of unearthed interviews, conducted by the writer who knew him best, reveals how Jobs’s ultimate success at Apple can be traced directly to his so-called wilderness years.
By the way, if you aren’t a subscriber to Fast Company, you need to be. It gives the best insight on the new world of work, and shows how work is not supposed to be boring or constrained.
You won’t regret subscribing, and there’s no excuse not to. And, you need to subscribe to the actual physical magazine, because it is much more fun than just reading it online (and it’s easier to remember, in my view at least). Plus, with any print subscriptions you now get their iPad app so you can read it digitally each month if you prefer.