Contender to the Throne

18 Apr

My first car was a 1972 Lincoln Mark IV. While it’s been years since I last sat on its slightly worn emerald green leather seats, I still remember it with fondness. Like Gaston in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”, it was “roughly the size of a barge” and, due to its pale yellow exterior, was affectionately dubbed “The Banana Boat.” Built like a tank, I could have been in a head on collision with a freight train and expected to have (at very least) come out as a reasonably intact corpse.

The one real detracting feature was the gas mileage. My beautiful green machine got a whopping 8 miles to the gallon. The expense was offset by the fact that my dad was able to fix nearly everything that went wrong with the vehicle (with the noted exception of the headlights which, for some reason we were never able to identify, would blink on and off whenever my mother or I drove the car, but behaved quite normally whenever Dad was behind the wheel). It was a teenager’s paradise… until gas prices began to rise.

I laugh today when I consider the major panic which overtook me when the sign at the pump first informed me that my fuel would run $1.769 a gallon. I nearly hyperventilated as I calculated the cost of filling the tank in proportion to the salary I was making. The numbers were not positive. In fact, when all was said and done, I was working simply for the privilege of paying for my health insurance… and being able to drive myself to and from the job which covered that expense. Something needed to happen and it needed to happen fast.

I went home and checked my bank account. The sum total of my savings amounted to $2,200. It wasn’t much. Years earlier, I had been convicted that God wanted me to live debt free (a conviction which I still hold quite deeply). Keeping my promise to ensure that I owed, “nothing to anyone except to love one another” (Romans 13:8) was going to require some financial wrangling. And I wasn’t sure if God would replicate His loaves and fishes miracle with my nickels and dimes.

To be honest, my experience wasn’t a unique one. Most of us have encountered some type of financial need at some point in our life. At times like these, when the money is short and the need is great, it can be tempting to shift our focus away from the Provider and onto the provision. The funding we lack takes center stage while the Giver of all good things slips to the sidelines.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Jesus warned his disciples, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24 NASB) And few things bring this caution to the forefront quite as vividly as the recognition that money (or at least a little bit of it) still plays a vital role in the life of the Believer.

While we may not bow before mounds of gold coins on a regular basis (or at all), we can be certain that our earthly boss is far from being the only “contender for the throne” to be found in the workplace. During times of perceived famine, our salary can also put up a good fight. (To be continued…)

The Sovereignty of God and Why it Matters in the Workplace

11 Apr

Returning to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we find that there was a second important ingredient in their success: they recognized their Boss’s sovereignty. When the fire threatened both their careers and their lives, they responded with confidence, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18 NASB)

Like Joseph (Genesis 45:4-5) they knew that what man meant for evil, God meant for good. If they did have to face the furnace, it would not be because God was unable to deliver them, but because He had a bigger plan… and that the bigger plan was also a better plan. Their bold confidence is echoed repeatedly throughout Scripture.

Jeremiah 29:11 affirms, “I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (NASB) And in Romans 8:28-32 the Apostle Paul declares, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (NASB)

Understanding both God’s sovereignty and His love for them before they faced the fire was the key to the Hebrews’ boldness when they found themselves standing in the midst of the fire. And the same holds true for us, today.

So before you head off to work each morning, determine that God is your Boss – not your manager, the company president, your customers, or your coworkers.  Once you’ve made up your mind beforehand that God is the One whom you really serve, you too will have the courage to stand up and speak the truth – regardless of the consequences.

An added bonus?  When God is your Boss, most of the time it’s easier to earn the respect of your earthly boss!  But more on that, later!

Becoming an Active Listener

4 Apr

Memorization plays an important part in our ability to remember God’s instructions. Unfortunately, it isn’t very practical when it comes to the orders given by our earthly employers. Most bosses don’t have the time to wait for us to commit their commands to memory and, if we don’t want to lose our jobs, we don’t either. If we’re going to carry out their instructions both effectively and efficiently, we need to master the art of “active” listening. And this requires focus.

I probably don’t have to point out that for many of us, focus is not our default setting. Monotone speeches, warm rooms, and entertaining side-bar conversations all have the potential to distract us. Give us a second to glance through the window and our attention has shifted from where we are to where we’d rather be. Tell us something that merely sounds like something we’ve heard before and we immediately zone out. Fighting this default can prove to be quite a challenge, so here are a few tips to help you stay on task when your boss is delivering his directions:

  1. Take notes. It sounds a bit old school, but a pocket notebook and a pencil can go a long way towards helping you remember key points – like which project your boss wants you to finish first or exactly where on the sales floor he’d like to see that new display.
  2. Listen with intention. The human brain is capable of processing information at a much higher speed than the mouth is able to present it. The result is that many of us multi-task as we listen to others speak. While our boss is telling us what he’d like us to do with that shipment of exotic vegetables, we’re busy trying to decide what other duties we need to put on hold. While he’s delivering instructions on where to place the water coolers, we’re trying to decide which color ought to be placed there first. Good remembering begins with intentional listening… and that means we need to put the multi-tasking on hold.
  3. Ask questions. No, you shouldn’t be making a mental list of these while your boss is delivering instructions, but you should be able to ask a few when he’s finished. Make sure that when he says “to the left of the registers” he means “to the left coming into the store” not “to the left going out.” Ensure that ambiguous words like “big” and “little” are qualified. (After all, your idea of a “little display” and his may be drastically different.) And don’t worry about asking for specifics. Is a three foot tall stack of hairdryers too tall? You won’t know unless you ask!
  4. Clarify through repetition. Once you’re pretty sure you understand your task, take a moment to repeat your boss’ instructions back to him in your own words. This will help both of you to ensure that any confusion about his orders is cleared up before you start performing the required task.

These, of course, are only a few ideas to get you started. Being an active listener is a bit of an art form and it can take time to master its nuances, but once you have, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a top-notch performer.

 

Remembering God’s Instructions: Tips for Memorization

28 Mar

Last week, we focused on Preparation for Memorization. This week, we’ll go a bit further as we examine a few techniques for memorization. Try a few of these suggestions on for size:

  1. Find the rhythm. While not every Bible passage is poetic, most have a discernable rhythm. Taking the time to figure out the natural “beat” of the passage can make a big difference in your ability to recall the actual words. You may even try setting that beat to a tune!
  2. Write it out. There is something about printing words on a page which helps us focus our attention. As you transfer God’s Words from your Bible to a notebook or scrap of paper, you’ll be carefully considering their order and meaning.
  3. Draw it. While words convey meaning, we see so many words during any given day that it can be difficult to recall their context. Taking time to illustrate a verse with pertinent images can provide that context. Even writing the words with different colored pencils can provide your mind with the visual cue it needs.
  4. Find a study partner. Partners help keep us accountable and can help us through rough spots. Ask a friend or friends to share the memorization journey with you.
  5. Don’t give up. Like making the perfect burger or avoiding obstacles with a pallet jack, this is one of those things that we get better at, the more often we do it. It’s okay if it takes a week or even a month to memorize a single verse. The point is to guarantee that we’ll remember it when the pressure is on.
  6. Don’t forget to review! Set aside time on a regular basis to go over the verses you’ve learned. But don’t panic if you’ve forgotten a few. That’s normal. The goal is to keep all of your hard work fresh in your mind.

The more you memorize the more comfortable you’ll become with the discipline. As time passes, you may even discover or develop some techniques that are all your own! When you do, I hope you’ll come back and share them with us.

Next week, we’ll shift our focus from remembering God’s instructions and take a look at some tips for remembering the instructions that we’re given by our earthly bosses. Meanwhile, feel free to share tips you may have on either topic in the comment box below!

Remembering God’s Instructions: Preparation for Memorization

21 Mar

Following God’s instructions isn’t just about having heard His words, but about remembering them. More than that, it’s about being so familiar with them that you can both automatically put them into practice and help others who don’t know how. This type of familiarity doesn’t come from a quick perusal of the Bible, but from the intentional devotion of time and attention. It requires discipline and hard work. It requires genuine study. And it requires a plan.

Of all the Spiritual disciplines, few will serve you as well in the workplace (or anywhere else, for that matter) as the art of memorization. This goes beyond a vague recollection of what God said. It goes straight to the heart. In Psalm 119:11, the psalmist declares, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (NASB) That’s exactly the familiarity that believers today ought to seek.

While Scripture Memory can be both challenging and, on occasion, intimidating, the time invested is never wasted. This week, we’ll share a few tips to get you started.

  1. The Bible is a big book and every page is packed with useful advice, but some passages will be more relevant to you and your present situation than others; these are the verses which you’ll want to commit to memory. To find them, keep your eyes open for passages which stand out to you while doing your daily devotions or do an internet search for verses about topics which particularly interest you. You may even want to ask family members and friends to share a few of their favorites.
  2. If you decide to memorize full passages of Scripture, take it one verse at a time. The goal here isn’t to demonstrate your amazing mental skill, but to truly commit God’s Word to your heart. Remember, you eat an elephant one bite at a time.
  3. Pick a translation that speaks to your heart and stick to it. Not all of us respond the same way to the poetic strains of the King James Version or the down-to-earth text of the New International Version… and that’s O.K. Select a translation that is easy for you to remember.
  4. Put your verses where you’ll see them. As with your Bible reading, if you don’t ever see your memory verses, you’re probably going to forget to work on them; keep your work in a visible location where you’re guaranteed to stumble across it on a regular basis. This could be a bathroom mirror, inside your cereal cabinet, taped to your computer monitor, or even inside of your Bible as a bookmark. If one location doesn’t work, shift to another until you find one that does.

These tips, of course, only cover the “what” of memorization. They give you thoughts to consider as you prepare to embark upon your journey. Next week, we’ll take a look at the “how” and offer some practical advice which will make memorization (in any context) a bit easier. Meanwhile, feel free to share how you chose what to memorize in the comment box below!

Hearing vs. Remembering: A Matter of Time and Attention

14 Mar

Taking the time to listen to what both God and your earthly boss have to say is a fantastic step in the right direction. Unfortunately, all of those hours are worthless if you can’t later recall what was said and put it into practice. Few things are quite as embarrassing as performing a task poorly or incorrectly because you weren’t actually paying attention to the directions being given.

If you’ve ever frozen on a test, you know exactly how this feels. It’s crunch time and, despite the many hours you’ve dedicated to reviewing flash cards, taking lecture notes, and faithfully attending your study group, you simply aren’t prepared. You’ve heard the answers before, but hearing them wasn’t enough. You need to remember them. And you don’t. Your body was present, but your mind was somewhere else and your grades will soon reflect this reality.

The truth is that spending hours reading a textbook, the Employee Handbook, or God’s Word often gives us a keen sense of accomplishment. We can quantify the number of hours spent and the pages read. Such success may even lead us to surmise that we’re reasonably diligent students, employees, or disciples of Christ. (After all, who actually reads any of these books in their entirety?) But this diligence isn’t enough to guarantee a good grade. Time, alone, doesn’t ensure that we’ll remember what we read when we’re put to the test.

The writers of the Bible recognized this and advised both the House of Israel and the Christian believers to devote themselves to those things which would help them remember God’s instructions. In Deuteronomy 6:7-8, the Israelites are commanded to, “teach them [God’s instructions] diligently to your sons and talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (NASB) And in 2 Timothy 2:15, the Apostle Paul advises his young student to, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (KJV) (See Psalm 119; Proverbs 22:17, 23:12; Ecclesiastes 7:25; and 2 Peter 1:5-8 for a few more examples.)

The truth is, if you’re going to be an “A” student, you need to study and this involves more than just the consumption of information. Diligent study requires not just time, but attention. And in a good study program a large part of both are devoted to memorization. Next week, we’ll take a look at this vital skill, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!

Practical Tips for Time Management Part II

7 Mar

It wasn’t long before my newfound method of “mapping” my schedule began to evidence oddities in my routine.  For example, even in my small town, I was wasting a good 45 minutes each day trying to commute from one side of town to the other first for work, then again for school. With an hour or two in between meetings, it seemed rational to find a more centralized location between activities and apply the extra time to study rather than travel.

Other time-saving opportunities also presented themselves and I found myself cutting “fluff” from all sorts of places. I reduced the time spent reading my magazines by eliminating the less “useful” material, slashed the time spent watching television repeats (and a few less interesting shows), and even dropped a few “relaxing” activities that weren’t really as relaxing as I’d hoped they’d be.

Next on the chopping block was “business” – things I considered important, but which merited a second look. From checking stats on my blogs, I was able to determine that four posts a week was too many (a time-savings of several hours). A good look at my housework schedule yielded similar results: why was I doing laundry every week when I only had enough for full loads every other week? My schedule was becoming more efficient… and my free time was actually growing!

It was at this point that I was able to consider those two overlooked categories: “relaxation” and “relationship” and begin to give them some serious consideration. The latter could be mixed with other activities throughout the week – three or four walks with my sister were far more satisfying (both physically and intellectually) than a frenetic run on the treadmill in a secluded corner of the laundry room. A coffee with a friend, far more thought-provoking than an hour on the couch with “Dancing with the Stars”. The blank spaces began to fill up, but this time with activities that had the potential to provide relaxation, encouragement, and support for all who were involved. And this time, without the sense of frenzied rush which had accompanied the knowledge that there was too much to do and too little time in which to do it!

Keeping a schedule is, of course, only a start when it comes to efficiently managing our time. Taking the time to sit down and assess our priorities, reorganize our lives, and ensure that we are being the best possible stewards of all that God has given is a vital part of living a productive life both at home and in the workforce. I encourage you to give it a try!

 

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