Lifetime Priorities

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
– Psalm 90:12

In this extremely fast-paced world, it is important that I am responsibly handling how I allocate my time. I’ve been adopting techniques to help me improve focus, remove distractions, and increase productivity, one of which is keeping my phone on Do Not Disturb for most of the day. Of all the different productivity hacks, I’ve found that most useful to me is simply setting the 3-4 Most Important To-Dos for the day, stubbornly focusing on those, and then, and only then, do I move to the others. Sometimes a little flexibility is required, but this is the exception to the rule. Most of the time, the determined priorities for the day stay.

A question popped into my head as I was reviewing my daily priorities from the past couple of days, checking how well I did at addressing them, where I can improve, and if they truly were important or urgent, which is a distinction Stephen Covey makes in his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a book you will see me mention over and over.

The question was: What are my days adding up to?

As with all good questions, more questions followed behind it:

  • Do the accomplishment of my daily priorities lead to my lifetime priorities, specifically, to honor God, to love my family, and to impact the world in a significant, scalable, and sustainable way?
  • Or am I just reacting to circumstances and events?

As I pondered on my answers to these questions, I started writing down ideas on how to streamline my life better, to sync effectively the different priorities, and to achieve flow. A spiritual term for this concept, a much more powerful term, is the word Shalom: harmony, wholeness, completeness, health, and peace.

One way I am putting this into practice is by better connecting my life roles with my writing, sharing the purpose, principles, and performance ideas of each role with my readers as I study them. This way I am able to have a neat flow from my life’s role, the requirements of that role, my efforts to fulfill those requirements, and to what I share on my blog.

The categories I will be focusing on are: Business (particularly the ideas that relate to my company Bridge), Family (my series on How to Live for my son Elijah, and about the lessons my wife has been teaching me in How Not to Be a Husband), Faith (my devotions), Society (my thoughts on the human condition and the institutions that influence us), and finally a category I call Overflow (my art, stories, poetry, etc.).

Overtime, I will also be categorizing old posts into these sections as well. The world is evolving, and so must I. I hope this blog continuous to encourage you to make most of every day, even as it evolves as well.

#DB

 

Finding Beauty

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. – 1 Corinthians 13:11

I had a really weird dream two nights ago. I am still a little troubled by the vividness of it.

In my dream, I was being forced to have an arranged marriage. I entered a room full of encouraging well-wishers, all excited to present their chosen bride. I recognized the faces of the people. I knew them all. They all wore plastered smiles on their faces, the faces of people overjoyed to present a wonderful gift. One by one they shook my hand, encouraging me, telling me that I would love “her”. As the crowd parted, I saw  my would-be bride. Standing before me was a rather large, slow-moving, very old nun, with gnarled and sagging skin, stooped over and supported by a cane, dressed complete with a habit, and wearing a dangling large gold crucifix around her neck.

I was stunned.

This was the bride they had been so excited about. This was the beauty they were presenting. This was the love they had promised. I was appalled and confused. Was this who they were really offering?

My confusion turned into obvious dislike. Some in the crowd gently asked, “Are you not pleased with your bride? She has much to offer. Great wealth, history, influence, and stability.” I said, “Those are wonderful. But you promised great beauty, and I see none, feel none.” Then another part of the crowd spoke up, “Oh you carnal young man. How shallow are your requirements? You find no beauty because you don’t know what beauty is. She is beautiful.” “She has respectable qualities”, I replied, not wanting to insult the crowd. “How blind are you? How lost are you? How naïve can you get?” the crowd asked. “What do you want? Perfection? You are not perfect yourself. You have nothing to offer, but she, she can offer you so much.”

The crowd, now turning into an upset mob said as one as they surrounded me and the old woman. Tighter and tighter their circle around us got, pushing us closer together. The closer I was to her, the more despicable she became. She hissed at me, saying, “Who do you think you are to not love me? Look at all these people who have loved me. Look at what I have done for them. And you, in your arrogance, won’t embrace me? You foolish boy.” I was a few steps away from her. She was holding up her arms to embrace me, with her left hand holding her crucifix necklace out to me. I could feel the push of the crowd inch by inch moving me forward.

Then I heard a baby’s cry. I could not see any baby, but I could hear it. And it seemed I was the only one in the crowd who heard it, since the others were too busy trying to execute the forced marriage. I turned to where I thought I heard the baby, and ducked under the legs of the crowd, crawling determinedly to get away from that old woman and find the helpless child instead.

I saw a door in the far wall past the growing crowd, and I stood up and made a run for it. I could hear the disappointed crowd’s accusations. “Fool! Fool! Fool!” they chanted. “Fool!” I looked back the old woman, who was now inflating herself bigger and bigger, whether she absorbed the crowd or squashed them, I do not know. I knew that if I didn’t make it out the door soon I would be crushed by her.

With much urgency, I ran to the door, only to find it locked. I asked the white man by the door for a key but he did not reply. I sought around the door frame but could find none. I tried to pull and push the door but it would not move. I could sense the old woman growing towards me quickly. In my desperation I started knocking on the door, calling for someone on the other side. When that didn’t work, I started banging on it. Harder and harder I banged on the door, desperate to escape the ugliness about to envelope me.

Then it broke. The door broke. Just in time, I was able to kick the rest of the door to give me enough space to pass. I found myself standing in a beautiful garden with three rivers, and two massive trees in the middle. And lying on the grass was a beautiful child. The most beautiful child I had ever seen, lying vulnerably with only strip of white cloth, but full of joy and life. There was no fear in the child. The crying I had heard turned out to be laughter. And he looked at me. I knelt and picked-up the child, said to him, “Hello there, beautiful one.”

Then I woke up. #db

We Are All Fulltime

Summary: We are all fulltime but we are NOT all effective.

I was talking with one of our leaders about the idea of “fulltime ministry”. Very much like the virtuous sheen that covers NGO work, becoming a “fulltime minister” (at least in the Philippines) comes with the romantic idea of dedicating one’s self to “God’s work”. I’ve heard many times about how someone “feels called” to the ministry, as if their current job is not just as much a calling. It is.

Whatever you’re already doing now, you are called to glorify God and love others. In other words, you’re called to minister, which means you’re called to serve (ministry means service). If you need a career change to minister than you’re probably not going to be that effective as a minister there, because you don’t understand 3 simple points:

1. Its all God’s work
2. We are all called to fulltime ministry
3. Proof of effective ministry is fruit

It’s All God’s Work
How I serve my wife and son, how I wipe his butt, how I lead our organizations, how I serve my partners and superiors, how I satisfy my customers, how I take care of my body, how I pray, how I rest, and even more, my attitude and heart state while doing all of this, are all either glorifying God or not. I don’t need a title change or career shift to start serving. I can and have been serving right where I am. In fact, I’ve found that I’ve been free to serve in some very creative capacities because I’m daily interacting with the crazy world as it is – with all the poverty, sleaziness, greed, and corruption that exists. How I build my life, and how I address the great needs of our time, and the heart I keep as I do, determines whether I am a true  minister or not.  This leads me to the next point.

We are all called to fulltime ministry, as we are called to fulltime service.
Sometimes I wish I could have a break from being a leader. Like I wish I could just sleep all day, ignore whatever responsibilities I have, and just do whatever I want. But while I may feel this way, it is contrary to the call of growing to be more like Christ, and to experience life with this in mind, that I may respond to all things more and more like He would. This isn’t an 8 to 5 job that I can take a break from. It is a fulltime call, as full time as it gets. The idea that there are full-time and part-time ministers comes with the same unintended consequences of having full-time social workers. While there is a need for teams of people to orchestrate good works, we should never fall into the trap that doing community work is for a few noble professional do-gooders while the rest of us focus mostly on self-security and self-enrichment. Just think about the logic of a small percent of the population trying to undo the unintended social, economic, and environmental consequences of the majority of the population being preoccupied with selfish pursuits. Is it really reasonable to a few “earth warriors” to beat our collective pollution and garbage generation? Is it really reasonable to expect that our token donations and once-a-year volunteerism will bridge the inequality gap that our collective greed, envy, and materialism contributes to? Just as pouring an annual cup of water won’t put off a raging fire, thinking that I can do token work while someone else, some “full-time” person, does the heavy lifting is illogical and counter productive.

Instead, Paul reminds us that the hope of the world is not in a few good men but in all the saints. He says in Colossians 1:24-29

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them (the saints) God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. I love verse 27. After talking about everything he’s doing, Paul shifts and says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The hope of glory, the hope of a better community, the hope of a better life, the hope for answers, the hope for rest, lies in Christ in us. He goes on in verse 28, switching from “I” to “we”. We proclaim. We warn everyone. We teach everyone all wisdom. We present everyone mature in Christ. After talking about all his personal labors, Paul reminds us that this responsibility of proclaiming, warning, teaching, being wise, and showing our results to Christ is not just for so-called full-time workers but for everyone.

This leads me to my last point, and it jumps off from the same verses: “that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” To present something means to show. All of this work should lead to tangible proof of result. The result we are told in the verse is maturity. Another word we can use for mature is ripe. Are we ripe with fruit? Is our lives bearing good fruit? Being “nice” or “behaved” or “sociable” or “agreeable”or “committed” does not necessarily mean one is being “fruitful”. Despite an almost universal dislike for metrics and proof-of-concepts in religious and NGO organizations, there is  proof of effective ministry. If, by our service, others become mature, meaning they are able to live out lives that bursting with good spiritual fruit, then we are effective. If not, than we are ineffective. This means that it is possible for people who are not employed by a religious or non-profit institution to minister more effectively than someone who is, simply from a  fruit perspective. It is possible that someone who is not salaried by an NGO or church is actually more a “Hope of Glory” than someone who is supposed to be doing that full-time.

So here is the tension: If all people are called to minister then why are some people paid for it and some not? The answer is simple but is many times avoided due to the dislike for performance metrics when it comes to spiritual things. My simple opinion is those who are doing it “full-time” or are paid should be providing a level of ministry, a level of service, that goes beyond that which someone who is not. I like playing tennis but no one will ever pay to watch me play tennis. People would pay to watch Roger Federer. Why? Because he plays a much much much higher level than me. I like to do many things no one will pay me for simply because I do not do them at a level that provides large enough value. In the same way, since everything is a calling anyway, what determines the compensation should not simply be motivations to do good or do “God’s work” but because someone is seeking and hopefully able to serve the community in such a high level. From an organizational perspective, resources should go to the people and projects that perform or bear fruit. Despite the success of books like Execution by Ram Charam, Necessary Endings by Dr. Cloud, and the leadership series of John Maxwell among non-profit leaders, it does not take careful inspection to see that just like many businesses, non-profits are not designed to reward and promote the best people. They will reward and promote those closest to the center, and those who make them feel most comfortable, many times because they are the most like them. By like them, I don’t mean similar personalities, but similar conclusions despite not having objective, 3rd-party, non-biased metrics. This is sad because it ensures that the organization, just like with any business, will either fail to live up to the loftiness of its stated mission (like end poverty, end hunger, or reach the world for God), and most don’t even come close when looked in comparison to the populations they operate in, but worse, it ensures that the next generation will have a harder task of undoing well-meaning bad just to start doing good. 

By going back to the simplicity of the Bible, and remembering, it’s all God’s work, we’re all full-time, and we’re all called to bear fruit, then we, individuals, won’t fall into the trap of thinking “we’ve done our part” when every single day holds a new part. This way we stop outsourcing our good works to a few good men and then complaining when the world does not improve. In the same way, we can build (or rebuild) our organizations to avoid a trap quite unique to well-intentioned organizations: “we have a good heart so we must be good”. Like I said, it’s very possible for well-meaning people from well-meaning organizations to be ineffective. In fact, I would argue, it’s probably more the case than other wise. What’s my proof for this? Just look at the proliferation of NGOs, foundations, churches, private charities, and personal causes and see if it has lowered poverty, crime, sex trafficking, and other measures of ills in society. This is not to say that it is the fault of these organizations that these ills exist, that is all our fault. This is to say we need to relook at our performances and see whether they match our stated purpose and stated principles. #db