Sunday, July 29, 2007

Living a Balanced Life?

I've just read an interesting article from Comment magazine entitled "Making the most of college: Business, balance and learning to live". In the article, David Bentall tells of making a commitment early in his life not to "sell out" in pursuit of a successful career.

As a young boy, not having his father attend his soccer games led Bentall to decide to "live a balanced life". He continues this pursuit in college as he recounts an interaction with a professor.

Years later, when at university, I asked one of my professors if he thought it was possible to live a balanced life, and also be successful in business. Without hesitation, he assured me that it was impossible. I responded by telling him: "Then I guess I won't be successful." Ever since that day, I have been trying to prove him wrong.

Well, as it turns out, Mr. Bentall went on to a very successful career running a construction company. In the article, he shares three principles that helped him keep balanced in his work life -
  • Commitment - "...the critical first step to living a life of balance is deciding that it is more important than other measures of "success." If the pursuit of power, prestige, position, possessions, or even pleasure are your primary goals, then they will dominate your life. If having these things are more important to you than balance, then they will win."
  • Perspective - Bentall describes the benefits of taking a retreat from the "rat race" with this comment. "I had discovered a whole new perspective, simply by stepping out of the rat race for a single day. Perspective is what we need, so that we can gain more wisdom prior to re-entering the battle of everyday living"
  • Sabbath - Bentall recommends we pay attention to Sabbath as a means to obtain rest and recover perspective. "The rest of the week is for work. I have now realized that sabbath is for living. These are the days which can help us gain well needed perspective..."
I'm truly grateful for examples like David Bentall who place family life above career aspirations or vain ambition. There simply aren't enough of such examples around. And, I'm certain that there are wonderful benefits to his suggestions. Yet, I wonder if he has the right perspective on this matter. (By the way, I should also mention that I really like Comment magazine and the mission of its parent organization, Work Research Foundation. Gideon Strauss, the Editor of Comment is great guy and I've found his feedback on various issues very helpful)

I've often heard people speak about "balance in life" but I haven't found it particularly helpful to think of living life in those terms. Although it seems to be conventional Christian wisdom, it doesn't seem to me that the Bible as a whole, instructs us in this way.

Perhaps I'm nitpicking, so please bear with me.

I struggle with the idea of pursuing "balance" as a primary framework for life because it carries a distinct Taoist, yin/yang flavor. Used as a means to regulate our lives, it also falls short of what Scripture really teaches. Here's an example - the Bible instructs us against a headlong pursuit of money, power, etc... not because it's inconsistent with a balanced life but because it's idolatry. That's far more serious than being out of balance - the point is that we cannot serve both money and God. As the only Sovereign One, God simply does not permit us to commit such treason without consequence.

Another problem with using a balanced life as a model is that it leads us to constantly wonder whether if we've achieved the right mix of the activities and responsibilities in our lives. After all, how much is too much?. At a practical level, it tends to focus on the externals of what we're doing instead of the state of our hearts.

The reality is that at times, godly men do difficult jobs that take them away from their families.
Is a job with 50% travel too much? Or should we only take jobs that have little travel? How about being in the military where many fathers won't make it to soccer games or ballet recitals because they're deployed in service to their country?

I'd like to suggest that the biblical model is different. It's centered on passionately loving Christ because He first loved us. No balance in view here - "dive head first", "put your hand to the plough and don't look back", "sell everything you have and come follow...", "lose your life for the sake of the gospel". All this because gaining Christ is the best news of all. And, we spread the supremacy of this love by loving our families, friends and neighbors through the labor of our hands.

Perhaps I'm wrong on please help me out here and share your perspective.

Does the Bible have anything to say about living a balanced life?

Is it biblical to view life this way?

How do you view the priorities of your life in light of biblical teaching?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Quote of the Week

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."

Jim Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty, p.108

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Stories We Love to Tell

In today's blogging, social networking, web 2.0 world, word of mouth marketing is now turbo-charged and ready for prime time. From his How to Change the World blog, Guy Kawasaki writes about the Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing. The substance of the post is taken from Lois Kelly's book, Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word of Mouth Marketing.

I haven't read the book but I was intrigued by Guy Kawasaki's post. Apparently, Lois Kelly outlines nine types of stories that people love to talk about and promote by word of mouth. Here are the story lines that tend to gain momentum through word of mouth, along with Kawasaki's comments [and mine] -

Aspiration and beliefs - "More than any other topic, people like to hear about aspirations and beliefs."
[I'm not sure why, but I think God made us this way - we love to hear stories about those who aspire to more than their own selfish ambitions, with a belief in something beyond themselves]

David versus Goliath - "Rooting for the underdog grabs our emotions, creates meaning, and invokes passion. We like to listen to the little guy talk about how he’s going to win and why the world—or the industry—will be a better place for it."
[Never mind that David and Goliath isn't really about the underdog but you get his point. It's the staple of every good sports's why we love Hoosiers and why the Miracle on Ice in 1980 captivated a nation. As a GMU grad, this is a great time to remind you once again, of the Patriots' historic Final Four run in 2006]

Avalanche about to roll - "This theme taps into our desire to get the inside story before it’s widely known."
[I think of this as the "bandwagon effect" - we can't help it, we love to get a jump start on the "next big thing".]

Contrarian/Counterintuitive/Challenging Assumptions - "Contrarian perspectives defy conventional wisdom... The boldness of contrarian views grabs attention"
[Thinking differently, challenging assumptions and changing status quo isn't just about creativity, it also takes courage....and willingness to look foolish. Perhaps that's why we love to talk about these stories]

Anxieties - "Anxiety... is more about uncertainty than an emerging, disruptive trend."
[Think Y2K - remember how that story got transmitted? Our sinful hearts tend to fear and unbelief ...and we can't help communicating our anxieties to those around us]

Personalities and personal stories - "There’s nothing more interesting than a personal story with some life lessons to help us understand what makes executives tick and what they value the most."
[Think about how Jim Elliot's story inspired a generation of missionaries]

How to stories and advice - "...people love pragmatic how-to advice: how to solve problems, find next practices, and overcome common obstacles....[but] how-to themes need to be fresh and original"
[Diet fads thrive on this principle, as do superstitions and folklore]

Glitz and Glam - "Finding a way to logically link to something glitzy and glamorous is a surefire conversation starter"
[Sadly, this is only too true - the plight of Dafur got real buzz when Bono got involved.]

Seasonal/event related - "Last, and least interesting but seems to resonate, is tying your topic into seasonal or major events."
[Seasonal: This summer, I'm learning to sail. Spread the word ... and warn all sailors!]

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Quote of the Week

"I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation."

C.S. Lewis , Reflections on the Psalms

Friday, July 20, 2007

Spurgeon on Working Joyfully Through Trials and Prosperity

I haven't blogged for well over a week so what better way to get back into the swing of things that to unpack wisdom from our friend CH Spurgeon.

We all encounter ups and downs as we work. At times, things go well for us, and other times we experience adversity or trials at work. If you're like me, it's easy to get tossed about emotionally. How do we stay consistently joyful through these ups and downs?

Here's what Spurgeon would say about these up and down feelings we encounter in our work - " has a happy influence upon this present life, for it moderates a man's feelings towards his work." If inconsistent feelings are my problem, then Spurgeon would say that faith toward God is the answer.

"...perchance the result of all our work may be adversity. Some men row very hard, yet their boat makes no headway. When an opportunity comes their way, the tide of trade turns against them... Perhaps they lose all but their character, then it is faith that comes in to cheer them under the disaster."

It is faith that enables us to joyfully accept God's will when it seems things aren't going our way.

"We shall bear up and come through our trials triumphantly if we have faith in God. If our Father has appointed a bitter cup for us, shall we not drink it? ... Must it not be right if the Lord ordains it?... How many have been happy in poverty, happier than when they were in wealth! How often have the saints rejoiced more during sickness than in their has learned to sing in all weathers because her God is still the same"

Sometimes it is not adversity that trips us up but prosperity. We've discussed the test of prosperity before. Here is Spurgeon's take on the test of prosperity -

"Sometimes the result of our work is prosperity and here the grace of God prevents a surfeit of worldly things. There is a keen test of character in prosperity. Everybody longs for it but not every man can bear it when it comes. "

Yet, this is where faith is tested and proven true by restraining our sinful hearts and directing us to God.

"True faith forbids our setting great store by worldly goods and pleasures and enjoyments, for it teaches us that our treasure is in heaven...Many a man has reached the summit of his lifelong ambition and found it to be vanity. In gaining all, he has lost all; wealth has come but the power to enjoy has gone...It shall not be so with the man who lives by faith, for his chief joys are above and his comforts lie within. To him, God is joy so rich that other joy is comparatively flavourless."

Whether we find our work mired in adversity or flourishing in prosperity, Spurgeon urges us to keep the eyes of our faith set on God.

"O brothers and sisters, faith is a precious preparative for anything and everything that comes; mind that you have it always ready for action. Do not leave it at home in time of storm as the foolish seaman left his anchor...Oh, to feel the power of it, as to all that comes of our labour, that the life which we live in the flesh, may be lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us."

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Quote of the Week

"Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.

John Owen (1616-1683) ; Temptation and Sin (Vol 6, Owen's Works), p.9

Friday, July 06, 2007

How Rich Are You?

You are rich! If you don't believe me, check out the Global Rich List to find out how you rank relative to everyone else in the world. Chances are, you'll rank in the top 10% or so.

But remember, it's just one measure of whether you're rich...and a temporal, limited measure, at that. Here's another, more significant perspective on what true wealth is all about -

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight" (Eph 1:7-8)

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:11-12)

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Eph 2:4-8)

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Rom 11:33)