Big Plans, Small Hoops, & Simple Surrender

One thing I wish I could figure out is how to stop dreaming about “big plans” for my life. I know the trend is to think big and ask God for great things, but when it comes to career choices, my experience has been the opposite: the thing God has consistently asked me to do is to walk humbly and accept the positions that He opens for me.

Last week, I had two annual reviews, one for my teaching job at Duke and the other for the work I do for the Navigators. There was a lot of emotional build up! All my life, I have looked ahead to dramatic changes and big shifts, some new adventure to dive into. But this year, like so many others, God quietly nudged me to more or less keep doing what I’ve been doing (a blend of teaching writing to grad students and traveling for the Navs).

Part of His guidance was the usual kind: as I was reading Ephesians (I’m in a small group and we are studying it), and verse 1:1 jumped out at me: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” I’ve read that verse before, but this time, as I was thinking about my annual reviews, the phrase “by the will of God” just jumped out. In my heart, I knew it was for me. In my mind, I knew Paul’s story and could see how God’s pattern with him applied to me.

Another part of His guidance was a basketball hoop. I often take a walk as part of my quiet times, and I noticed several basketball hoops in people’s driveways. It was an expensive neighborhood I was visiting, and some of the setups were incredible: huge plexiglass backboards, spring-loaded and adjustable rims—in fact, they were too big. They overwhelmed the driveways they were in, and, as I thought about it, they just looked ugly.

But in one yard, there was an older, smaller setup: a simple pole planted in the grass, an old, faded, arched backboard with a slightly bent rim.

But in that small driveway, it looked right. It was the right size for a friendly, family game of basketball. As I was looking, an elderly man came out of the garage, ready to do some yard work. I took a chance and said hello and told him I liked his basketball hoop. He smiled and said, “Oh yea, we’ve about worn that thing out.” In my mind, I imaged just how much love, how many hours he and his now grown family must have spent out there together.

Duke and the Navigators both offered me the opportunity to keep doing what I’ve been doing with a modest amount of added responsibility. There are things that will definitely stretch me, and the jobs are needed. But nobody asked me to be president, nobody appointed me to lead an exciting new taskforce (jobs I would be terrible at!) And I am content with that.

Where does asking God for greatness come in? I think it comes in the impact, not the position. Jesus said it this way:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

If you are offered a great big job, and it fits you and God is leading, awesome! But if the way looks less prestigious and the offer a bit smaller than you had dreamed, but you know that God is leading, you can trust that the door He has picked out for you is just right. In the end, we all must all surrender the results to God.

Resources

If you’ve gotten off the track of spending regular time along with God, here is a tool that can help you find your way back: Getting Started (or Re-Started) with God.

If “job fit” is a mystery, you might want to use one of the tools here: Exploring Your Life Purpose.

If you are looking for something to meditate on here-and-now, take a look at Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (ESV)

 

The Work/Rest Rhythm

For a long time, I dreaded Sundays. I hate sitting still and, as you may have guessed from my last blog post, The Myth of Balance, I have a strong perfectionist streak. Put those two together…and it isn’t pretty. I could never rest in a way that felt right, and I often ended up tired and frustrated.

I still don’t have all of this sorted out, but I am beginning to see a better pattern. In the Bible, God models a work/rest rhythm, and from the beginning, establishes this pattern throughout Creation, with seasons for planting, growth and harvest, and on a macro-level, even our own life stages. Over and over, He shows us the need for ebb and flow, new beginnings and new endings, work and rest.

This idea that there is a work/rest cycle has been a huge help for me. In Ecclesiastes 3, Solomon reflects, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven,” and some of the items he lists are pretty stressful! According to God’s design, rest provides a way to recover from the stresses of work. Stress gets a really bad rap, and rightly so if we are living in a constant state of heightened stress, but stress, when it is followed by recovery, is the necessary pattern for growth. Just as in the physical realm, where our muscles only get strengthened and remain healthy when they are stressed and then allowed to rest, so it is with our souls: in work, whether that work is inside our homes or out, we are challenged and stretched; in rest, we recover from our stresses, which brings about strength and growth. Over time, we learn how to face both seasons of high demand and seasons of rest with the same confidence and lightness.

As I mention here, Sabbath is not just “taking a break.” It is taking a real rest with Jesus, keeping company with Him and gaining His heart and perspective in order to recover and heal from the demands of our efforts. Jesus knows how to rest, and He wants to show us. It’s not natural in our current culture, so if we are to rest, Jesus must show us how. It is a gift!

God is showing me more and more that Sabbath is a “get to” not a “have to.” As I turn away from my striving in order to be with Him, I am learning that rest is an ongoing gift to unwrap and enjoy.

Resources

Did you start the year committed to working/resting differently? How is it going? If you are not quite where you want to be, is there someone who can help you get back on track?

Hebrews 4:3 talks about “today” as the right time to rest. What are the advantages and potential dangers of viewing “Sabbath rest” as something we need all day, every day? What are the advantages and disadvantages of setting aside a day each week to rest?

To dig a little deeper, Margaret recommends…

  • Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg
  • Buy A Cabin: The Theology and Practice of Rest by Robert L. Franck
  • Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature by Peter Scazzero

 

The Myth of “Balance”

I’ve often been encouraged to find the right work/life balance. I don’t believe this is a concept that is from God, and here’s why.

Balance speaks to the pressure to manage life out of limitation or even deficit. Our calendars become a zero-sum game where we strive to get all the parts to fit “just right.” Trying to balance our lives puts all the pressure on ourselves to “get it perfect.” The problem is that we live in a state of constant change and chaos. Striving for the ever-elusive perfect balance is draining, if not completely impossible.

This doesn’t sound like the abundant life to me. In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. But I have come that they might have life and have it to the full!”

Rest, then, is a paradigm shift, a shift from “managed balance” to surrendered rhythm.

Following His pace, relying on His abundance, means we no longer live under the pressure to balance a finite set of limited resources. Resting with Jesus, our lives are no longer reduced to squeezing our days and weeks into an unending grid – with the added pressure to somehow “balance” this grid against an equal weight of rest. Instead, we live in rhythm, with seasons of intense engagement alongside moments of great refreshment, all lived out – the work and the rest – by faith. As we do so, God’s great purposes for our lives are multiplied through His unlimited resources. The sum of our lives becomes greater than the sum of its parts. There is no work/life balance. Everything is tipped in our favor. Everything we need for life and godliness, we have in Jesus.

Resources

Margaret writes that the verses that God used to call her to serve with Navigators come from John 12:24-25: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.”

  • In what ways does work call you to sacrifice your own goals to serve God’s goals? In what ways is rest part of your service and devotion to Him?
  • Have you found a rhythm of work and rest that works for you? What keeps this pattern fresh? When do you know you are abusing your freedom in Christ and overworking? What are the warning signs that you are just being lazy?
  • As you think about the new year, are there things about your work/rest rhythm that you would like to change? Is there someone you can tell? (Sharing plans is one way to make them a little more real.)

 

First Day of Discipleship

In my work with students with special needs, it is easy to see God’s hand. I enjoy the work, and I am growing in my devotion to God and in my understanding of His peace in my life and His justice in the world.

However, when a friend challenged me to share the things I am learning with someone else, I was startled. What was she talking about? Who would listen to me? What do I possibly know that I can pass on? I looked at my shoes and hoped she would not bring it up again.

She brought it up again. There was this fear in my heart. I mentally ticked off excuses: I do not have time, no one wants to hear what I think, I am still learning, I don’t know enough, I don’t even know how to find someone to tell. Next, she asked a question that put an end to all my excuses. “Who already comes to you for advice?” Immediately, I thought of Bonnie, my teaching aid. We spend 40 hours a week side-by-side. She likes me, she looks up to me, she stays after class to ask questions about life. It almost seemed too easy. Then the excuses flooded back in: would this change our relationship? Is this very professional? What if she says no? Fear, again.

The next time I saw Bonnie, I was beyond nervous, but I asked her to join me in reading the Bible, and to my delight, she agreed! We began with Lessons on Assurance. After the first two verses, she broke into a huge smile and said, “No one has ever talked to me this much about the Bible! When can we do this again?”

“Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2 MSG).

Resources

Reflect: is there someone like Bonnie in your life who already comes to you for advice? Might they be open to reading the Bible with you?

*Names have been changed. Story has been used with permission.

8 Lessons I Learned about Work the Hard Way

When I graduated from college over fifteen years ago, I set out into the working world hoping to make my mark. I have had a lot of failures and a few successes in my fifteen year career. I thought I would share with you some of my career advice that I have learned the hard way.

1. Be honest

It is always tempting to exaggerate or promise more than you can deliver. I have been guilty of this many time in my career. Perhaps it is because I aim to please. I aim to please my customers, or I aim to please my manager.

It is important to be honest with yourself and with others about your ability to deliver work on time. Before making a promise, I have found it helpful to first list all aspects of the work, including the skills required and the specific tasks needed to accomplish the work. Sharing this list with your manager and/or your customers will help you stay honest with yourself and with those around you.

2. Have a good attitude

It is easy to lose your cool on a job – either by getting angry at yourself or by getting angry at others.

When you make a mistake, forgive yourself as soon as possible. This will help you keep a positive attitude in tough situations.

3. Have fun

A job should be enjoyable on some level. I have been in joyless jobs, and it was no fun. The reasons for this have varied, but one of the most common reasons has been job mismatch.

Seek to find roles that suit your skills and your interests. Find a business that is set up to allow you to be productive. As long as you are interested in what you are doing, you are good at it, and you are productive, you will probably find joy in it.

4. Seek the right rewards

If your reward for a job is money, you will probably be disappointed. I have found myself the most contented when my rewards were bigger than money.

Money is almost never enough to make one happy, even large sums of money. What can make a job rewarding is building a product or service that makes a positive difference in someone’s life. Take pride in making your mark on the world. In return, you will feel rewarded.

5. Build camaraderie

I have worked in environments where my fellow employees did not seem to care about me or the work I was doing. They also declined to spend time with me outside of work.

Camaraderie is important for several reasons. If you encounter a difficult problem at work (which you will), you will have a trusted teammate to turn to for help. If you want to share a personal problem (which you will), you might also have someone to turn to for help.

6. Be persistent

Early in my career, I started an online tutoring business with the help of a friend. We found some success, but we ultimately failed. Our target market was too broad, and our competitors were too numerous. I had ideas for how to create a highly innovative approach to learning, but I never acted on those ideas because they seemed too risky.

I learned that an entrepreneur should never give up. If a business is not working, then change it. Take risks and try them out. If the idea fails, then quickly move on to the next idea.

7. Have passion

I have been through seasons in my life when my passion waxed and others when it waned. When I was passionate about my job, I was the engine that pushed the business forward. When I lost that passion, I was merely a cog in the wheels of the business.

If you want to change the world in a meaningful way, you must be relentless in seeking ways to improve your skills and improve the product or service that you are making. Read, learn, grow, and take professional risks. These are hallmarks of passion. They will take you far.

8. Trust God

I have encountered dark times in my career. I have been stuck working on dead-end ideas, lost money in entrepreneurial endeavors, and been in roles that did not match my skill sets. These professional failures sometimes made me feel like a personal failure.

The only way to survive failures is to trust that God will catch you when you fall. God will provide for you in times of financial need. God will open new opportunities for you to learn. The Holy Spirit will guide you to make the right decisions.

 

Resources

 Work: Where Life and Calling Meet by Jerry Bridges

A New Adventure

I love new adventures and challenges—hiking volcanoes in Nicaragua or getting lost backpacking in Morocco. So when I transitioned from EDGE Corps (a two-year internship doing campus ministry), grad school became my next “mountain” to climb. I dreamed of a well-balanced schedule and many opportunities to witness to my fellow grad students.

The first two months were rough: I was drowning in academic lingo and procedures and faced a tsunami of papers to read, write and grade. I became depressed for not “accomplishing” as much for the Kingdom as I had hoped. The summit seemed so far away.

But one day, as I was lamenting to a believing officemate about these struggles and feeling that—in my efforts to succeed in grad school—I had failed Jesus, he reminded me that every day that I come into the office I am witnessing for my King—I live, love and work differently. As he spoke, the Spirit hit me with the Gospel: “I am not the Light, but I came to bear witness about the Light”—and just as the moon reflects the sun, so I reflect the love of our heavenly Father to my fellow grad students.

It may not feel epic, but it is effective to…

  • Have intentional conversations over lunch about family and upbringing
  • Keep a positive attitude (especially when others are negative)
  • Remember what you talked to people about and ask them about it again later
  • Give small encouragement on a post-it note
  • Attend social functions and be fun, but not drunk
  • Clean up after committee meetings
  • Offer my help on anything

Whoa. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom—freedom to love God, love people and make disciples the best I can, knowing God does all the heavy lifting. What an adventure!

Resources

  • The Case for Christ (1998) is a classic apologetic “mystery,” written by Lee Strobel. The book is fast-paced, informative and just fun to read. In 2017, the book was turned into a movie (which is currently available on Netflix). In addition to capturing the argument of the book, the movie also portrays the gracious, caring way the experts Strobel talked to gently exposed him to the truth.
  • The 9 Arts are simple practices from the life of Jesus that make spiritual conversations flow more easily with spiritual seekers. It is a great resource for learning to engage the lost world in everyday life.
  • How are your own adventures going? Take this quick survey (and earn a chance to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card) to tell us how’s it going – and how the Nav20s might be able to help!

 

My Job, His Purpose

This summer, I am working as an intern. (Right now, I’m pausing my writing – which is also part of my job – to feed sheets of blank labels into the printer.) I know God cares, but as I perform the tasks assigned to me, I often feel like a small cog in a large machine.  In this position, am I making an impact for God?

In his book, Every Job a Parable, John Van Sloten writes that every job has a part in God’s narrative. He explains that Jesus is hidden in the friendly face of the Walmart greeter and in the attentiveness of a waitress just as much as in the “important” decisions of the executive. Jesus lived as a servant. What we think of as “low,” Jesus values highly. God prizes the copy editor as much as the well-funded publisher or the brilliant writer.

Van Sloten asks, “Could it be that every good relational act that you undertake is actually a manifestation of the triune communal love of God?” This question is changing my perspective at work. It is helping me focus not on the smallness of my tasks but on the worth my work gives to others.

During this internship, I know that my work helps the team. I know, in a general way, that I am contributing to the publishing process.

Even so, I want to see more tangible results. Honestly, I’d settle with seeing any results. From one perspective, I’m only printing labels. But when I remember that a real person is represented by this name and address and remember that all tasks count, even when I can’t see the results, I know that I am helping. With a little work, I can imagine the encouragement and hope that these mailing labels give. When I change my perspective, I complete my work to the best of my ability, confident that God uses it beyond what I ask or imagine. My work, all work, is a gift from God and part of His redemptive story.

Resources

  • How are you feeling about your own work? About life in general? Take this survey and tell us how you’re doing and what you think it takes to prepare for a fruitful life. To show our appreciation, we’ll send you a $5 giftcard (to Starbucks, Cold Stone Creamery or Amazon). The survey should take 10-15 minutes. The deadline for participating is Monday, September 4th.
  • Don’t feel like your job is meaningful? Try searching the Scriptures to find God performing actions that you do every day. (For example, can you find places where God manages people, does “marketing,” creates orderly systems, raises children, runs a classroom…?)

If you have time for a book, Melody recommends Every Job a Parable. She loves how it “incorporates theology, philosophy, art, history, literature, politics and pop culture into a worldview that gives meaning to every job.”

 

Flourishing or Languishing?

When I got my first job out of college, it certainly didn’t feel like I was flourishing. I lived in New Jersey and worked in New York. I woke up every day at 5:30 AM to catch the train, and if there was a seat, I could spend a little time reading the Bible. The train almost always filled up, though, so every day I was torn: do I give my seat to someone (and lose the opportunity to read?) or do I continue sitting and reading? Either way, I felt guilty, and since I wasn’t sleeping much any way, waking up even earlier didn’t seem right. Then one morning, standing on the train and reading, I came to Psalm 139:1-3 (emphasis added):

“O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up… You scrutinize my path and my lying down and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.”

Down to the detail of when I was standing and when I was sitting, God was telling me He knew about my struggles and the deep guilt I was feeling. In fact, He even knew the name of the train I was on: the Port Authority Trans-Hudson, i.e., the Path Train. What I learned that day is this: God knows that life after college is different than life in college. He knows we need to make adjustments to fit into the new place where He has called us. “Flourishing” is not simply a reflection of the activities we are involved in. It is also a matter of the heart. During times of transition, sometimes our hearts are fine (though frustrated) as we seek to settle into new patterns.

Resources

  • 2 question quiz: If you are feeling stuck/languishing/frustrated about your intimacy with God,
    • Is the problem your activities? (Have you stopped doing what you know works, or is the problem you just haven’t found a pattern that does work in your present circumstances?)
    • Do you have somebody you can talk to about how you are doing?
  • A book Dean recommends for dealing with busyness is Practicing the Presence of God. A modern translation of this 300-year- old collection of letters can be read online here.
  • You can read more about The Navigators Mission, Values and Vison here. (Or watch the vision statement being illustrated here.)

 

I Was Made for Work

Yesterday was a long day. After dinner, I still had emails to answer and PowerPoint slides to edit. (I work at a university.) This was after being up at 6 am to help my daughter get to school, an hour of writing and editing before I left, a meeting by 9 am, more meetings and emails through the afternoon, walking the dog, throwing together a little dinner and then picking up my wife at the airport. Yup, it was a long day. But was it a good day?

A day like yesterday makes me question what kind of life I was made for. I sometimes think the “ideal life” is sitting quietly, thinking, and talking with a few friends. Another attractive option—especially after a few days at the beach—is the “life of ease.” Doing nothing at all, and doing it in a beautiful location.

The only problem is that neither of these options is what God thinks. “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule” (Genesis 1:26). Note: there is not even a pause between those thoughts! We are made like God—creative, active, engaged—so that we can do our work, with God, of caring for God’s world. When I teach or when I am doing the dishes or doing a little yard work, I am doing what God designed me to do. I was made to work.

Work is not some kind of punishment or accident. In the Gospel of John, the word “work” is used more than 20 times, mostly about the work that Jesus does. In John 5:17, Jesus defends His “hands on” approach to life: “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working.” In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the word “work” or “worker” is used over a dozen times, and in every case, it is used to mean something good! Yes, we need rest and we need wisdom to not burn out, but work is not the problem. (The problem is working to please ourselves and others, not God.)

Yup, yesterday was a long day. And I think God would say it was a good one.

 

Resources

The Gift of Work“? I thought it was a curse! Check out this Bible study and others to help you think about work in the resource section of Dean’s website, human365.org.

Heard About Racism?

“Ferguson.” “Thugs.” “White privilege.” “Illegals.” “Baltimore.” “Don’t shoot!” “Black lives matter.” “Charleston.”

We have seen the headlines, but what do these words mean to you? When issues of racism grab our attention nationally, what does the conversation look like locally, amongst your co-workers and peers? If you are a part of the ethnic majority, do your ethnic minority peers feel like you truly want to understand what is going on within their people group? As an ethnic minority, are you initiating with the majority culture to help them understand you as an individual and as a part of a people group?

As Christians,

  • Are we asking questions (even if they seem silly or naive) to better appreciate the culture of the person next to our cubicle?
  • Are we looking inward and being honest with our own prejudices? (We all have them.)
  • Do we realize that racial issues are not an “old” problem but a problem in our generation, too?
  • Are we humble enough to say, “I don’t know what I don’t know?”

Dr. John Perkins, the keynote speaker at a race reconciliation event I attended, observed that the Church has been largely silent on racial matters. If the Church is not a part of the change, then how can we expect healing to come in a biblical way? If the Church is not a part of the change, how can we expect justice to flourish from the Gospel?

We all have different opinions about the deaths of the Black men and women these headlines highlight and about the topic of immigration. And we have the right to disagree: these events are part of a history that is enormously complex. But even as we disagree, are we willing to say to each other, “Help me understand why Blacks and Whites struggle to get along?” Or, “Help me understand your life (as a Hispanic, Asian American, Native American, or another ethnic identity) in this country.” Or, “Are there things I say or do that make you feel substandard as an ethnic-minority?” People around us are already engaged in these kinds of conversations. If we are not part of the discussion, how will our non-believing co-workers ever see the hope of Jesus?

Have you noticed how so much of this article has been in question form? My hope is that it inspires us all to ask questions first and, as we learn, to repent and forgive as God moves our hearts. Through such a process, I believe we will be better equipped as loving bridge builders and ministers of reconciliation.Lord, help us crush our own flawed lenses and see the beauty of all skin colors and all peoples the way You do!