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

 

The Beautiful Worst Case

I carried my coughing 5-month old earlier at 3am. I was sleepy and tired, having gone to bed around 1am finishing a talk I was to give later on in the morning. I looked at the face of my Elijah, his also tired, snotty, crying face, and I couldn’t help but think how cute my son is. He really is the cutest baby in the whole world. “I love you so much.” I told him. “You have a cold, but you’re too strong to let a cold stop you. Look at you. You are standing.” He managed a weak smile. He loves it when people talk to him, especially when it is his mother. His smile erased whatever weariness I felt. The appreciation of someone you love is the greatest source of energy. Now I know why they say, “The Joy of the Lord is your strength.” When you know that who you love most, God, finds joy in you, you are filled with a different kind of power. You are filled with grace.

Later on, at the closing of the day, after some very exciting partnership meetings for Bridge, I thought about one of the questions a student asked me after my talk. He asked, “Not everyone has grown up like you with strong faith. How do we grow in faith?” As I thought about the question on stage, the first picture that came to my mind was the face of my son this morning, crying in my arms, wiping his snot and drool on my shirt, at 3am in the morning. Let me share with you my answer:

“There’s this myth that it is because we have great faith that we run to God. In truth, it is the opposite. It is those who admit their great need that run to God. Like my 5-month old who looks for his mom or father, who cries out to us for everything, those who need most cry out most. And I need most. I know myself too well to think I can handle life on my own. I know how evil I can be. I know how insecure I am. I know how weak I am, how limited I am. And I know how large the gap between who I am and who I must be is. And that’s why I call out to my Father. I, through prayer, wipe my snot and tears on the robe off His shoulder. I don’t pray and seek God because I have great faith or am a holy man. Contrary to that, I pray and seek God because I have great need.”

The crowd was quiet during my sharing, much like they usually are during other talks. I sometimes wonder if I’m boring them, but I hope that encouraged at least one person to run to God daily.

Life is unpredictable. Life is challenging. It can be complex and can seem difficult and unfair. I many times find myself limited in my abilities and knowledge, and I worry about how to meet all that life requires of me. But then I pause and remember that God is my Father, my perfect Father. I am His son. The beautiful worst case is Heaven with Him for eternity. I find that reassuring. My worst case is to be like Elijah, my baby, falling peacefully asleep in his father’s arms. My worst case is resting in God. And if I, an incredibly imperfect person would do all that I can to care for my son, how much more is a perfect Father caring for me.

And the best case? It’s infinite. That’s exciting. It could be anything. I could be anywhere. It could be something yet to be invented, something yet to be discovered. It could be with people I’ve never met. Just like when I make loving promises to my son, who doesn’t even know what the word “promise” means yet finds peace in my voice, I have faith that there are things I do not understand but are coming in my favor, simply because they come from my Father’s words in the Bible.

When your worst case is love you and your best case is infinite, you work extremely hard. The fear of failure, rejection, and death gives way to a Father’s reassurance, and the infinite possibilities of my Creator open up to me. If I can’t fail, should not I try more? If nothing is impossible, why should I not attempt greater?

I should and I shall. #DB

Glorious Unfairness

I sat on an old bench in an even older bank building as I waited for my turn to talk to my credit officer. I was there to tell him the same embarrassing news: we still didn’t have money to pay our loans. I thought about how I got to this spot, just a year prior I was part of the Real LIFE startup team and had just joined Habitat for Humanity. I was on my way, I thought, to building a fulfilling early career in the nonprofit world before jumping into, I thought again, my “amazing innovative exciting business” business.

I was so wrong.

At least that’s how I felt for the first few years of taking over a distressed company. In a few months, not only was I not achieving my “big dreams”, I was living my nightmare. As a young man, when asked at a talk I gave, what I feared most, I had one answer: failure. And I was a big failure by many objective metrics. Financially I was not just not good. I was in terrible shape. My company was in terrible shape. Physically I was in terrible shape, skipping meals and drinking too much alcohol – and doing a couple of 1 am runs or early morning swims when my anxiousness would keep me awake. I had tax issues, sales issues, investor issues, supplier issues, and staff issues. I stupidly mixed that with girl issues. Spiritually, I was not in good shape as seen in my never-ending feeling of impending doom, that I was one more mistake away from utter failure. Truly spiritual people have a sense of calm, peace, and rest. I felt like I would burst at any time. I’ve written about this period in my life before, but I want to share a thought I had on that bench, a very understandable but evil idea that went:

“Why am I going through this? Why do I have to fix this while my brothers get to move on? Why do I get debt when my classmates got capital? Why do I have to struggle so much when I’m a good guy (so I thought)? Why do so many evil people, truly sick, corrupt, and despicable people, become so prosperous?” All these thoughts led to this one evil idea: “It is unfair.”

I’ve had many versions of this thought in my life.

When I was younger, “Why am I so short? It is unfair”.

“Why do I have bad skin? (I have atopic dermatitis) It is unfair.”

“Why am I so slow to learn? Why do I need to have extra tutoring when others learn so fast? It’s unfair.”

“Why others have so much money and there are so many decent poor people? It is unfair.”

“Why are there incompetent people who earn more than me? It is unfair.”

“Why do people who are close to the leaders, to the pastors, to the officials, get away with so much, have so much influence, even if they are clearly without credit? It’s unfair.”

I can go on forever.

The number of times I have called something unfair is embarrassing. Many of you probably have had similar thoughts as me. I still get those thoughts a lot. But I think I have a better perspective now. Two days ago, I was having lunch with Nels, a very respectable friend who I’ve connected with very quickly, and he was telling me about how his life has a non-financial score despite having had a highly successful banking career. He used the example of when Jesus told Peter he would be crucified, which Peter followed by asking Jesus, “What about John?” Nels said, similar to Peter, he has learned not to compare his life with others but to trust God. After our lunch, I went to a meeting to discuss exciting developments with Bridge, but after work, I kept thinking about the story of Jesus and Peter. Jesus told Peter he was going to die and when asked about John, replied: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” This is an extra stinging response when we remember that Jesus was just reinstating Peter, asking Peter to reaffirm his love and to “feed my sheep”. It kinda goes like this:

Jesus: Do you love me?
Peter: Yes.
Jesus: Then feed my sheep.
Repeat 3x, then:

Jesus: You are also going to suffer and die a gruesome death.
Peter: What about John?
Jesus: None of your business. That’s mine.

Thinking about that, I thought that evil idea I know so well, “That’s really unfair.”

Then I remembered a question my dad had just asked me to think about: “Why did Noah, who walked with God, have to suffer through the ridicule of building the ark, and suffer through an actual cataclysmic flood while Enoch, who also walked with God, skipped death and went straight to heaven?”

Then one by one the different unfair stories of the Bible jumped at me. “Why did God like Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? Why did God favor Jacob over Esau? Why did God rebuke the law-keeping Pharisees and welcome the adulteress Samaritan?” I am sure there is more unfairness in the pages of the Bible.

Until I went back to the story of Peter in the book of John: 

(This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:19 ESV http://bible.com/59/jhn.21.19.ESV

The words glorify God stood out, I thought, ”What a selfish God this makes Him when I’m some plaything, whose only worth is to used by God any way He wants.” Which is basically what they teach you in Sunday school. But me being the challenger, I couldn’t settle on that. This idea is so counter to the loving nature of the God of the Bible. The explanation that God will do whatever He wants simply because He is God, even screw with your life because it is His anyway, which I’ve heard so many times from preachers does not reconcile with love. While I believe that is His prerogative (He is God after all), I don’t believe He will contradict His nature. Maybe that’s why much of the world, especially the objective world, does not believe in the Bible. We preach a God of love, then when someone’s life gets screwed we have two default messages: 1. “What sin did you break?” Or 2. “God is sovereign. Who knows His plans?” (which basically means “just take it”). But as I thought about this more, as I studied glory, I remembered a verse in Colossians 1:27:

“God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Christ in you, in me, the hope of glory. Glory comes when Christ is in us. I parked that thought.

Then I remembered another verse in Romans 5:3:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; We glory in our sufferings…

There’s that word again. Glory.

I read up more on glory and came upon this on gotquestions.org:

The hope of glory is the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore us and all creation (see Romans 8:19–21 and 1 Peter 5:10). This hope is not a wishful thought, but the confident, expectant, joyful knowledge that we are being changed by God and will one day see Christ face to face, having been conformed to His image (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2).

Then it hit me. It is not about fair or unfair. It is about glory.

It is not about everyone receiving an equal outcome, like everyone being blessed or having a nice car (which is impossible anyway), but everyone has equal opportunity to experience glory.

How do we experience glory? Through Christ in us. –> How do we grow closer to Christ? By becoming more like Him. –> What does it mean to be like someone? It means to share the same values, the same purpose, and the same practices. –> How do learn how to be more like Christ? By allowing all our own diverse life experiences to result in greater virtue.

To be Christlike is to exhibit Christ’s virtues, love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest. Our life experiences good and bad are meant to grow us in virtue. And if the experience, the good and the bad, do not result in greater virtue, then we will miss the glory of God. This is why we can have wealth but not have peace. We have money but not virtue. We can have networks but feel lonely because we have not grown in love. We can have all the different success metrics of the world and not have joy because joy is a virtue. We don’t earn peace. We grow in peace or any other virtue. We grow in virtue the way we grow in muscle. We experience stress, we rest, and we heal, then we do it again.

That’s what I was doing on that bank bench without knowing it. I was growing in virtue. I was being put in a situation where I had to exercise faith, exercise peace, exercise commitment, exercise perseverance, and as I did God’s amazing pattern of growth worked within me. He wasn’t merely punishing me like a vengeful God (how petty is that?) nor was He playing with me because He is sovereign and I’m too dumb to know His intentions (again, how petty is that?). I now know that I do know His intentions, and it was, and is, to use my life’s unique experiences as different opportunities to grow in virtue, to be more like Christ, that I may draw closer to Christ. His intention is a loving relationship.

This is why God kept speaking to Cain despite his bad offering and kept warning Him. He was offering the chance to grow in the virtues of humility and forgiveness. Those were his missing virtues. Sadly, he didn’t see it that way. He was blocked by envy. Envy is the devil’s way of making us focus on someone else’s lack of virtue when we should be focusing on the virtues we should be exercising ourselves. When we make material and earthly things our goal, we will inevitably feel envy. Some people do have more materials than others. But when you realize that the virtue of love can be exercised in any situation by anybody, you realize we all have fair opportunity to grow in virtue. And what enables this opportunity? God’s glorious unfairness to Himself in order that we may have a way to Him, a glorious unfairness exemplified by the death of Christ.

Jesus was not simply telling Peter, “None of your business.” Jesus was telling Peter, “Your lives are incomparable. You and John are different. Now follow me. Don’t follow the lives of others. Follow me. The life I am taking you through is the life that will lead to more of me in you. It is the life that leads to more glory.” I guess the headstrong Peter needed the extreme experiences he had. We know he was headstrong as he was still being rebuked by Paul down the road. Even this rebuke was not meant to prove superiority but an opportunity for Peter to grow in virtue. Just as my own father treated my brothers and I differently depending on what engaged us most effectively, God does not apply one style with all of us because He acknowledges our individuality, in fact, He designed our individuality. 

Now, I’m sitting on a couch in Singapore. In my inbox are some very happy investor and some very unhappy ones. There are great challenges waiting for me in Manila and great opportunities as well. I’m exhausted but am pushed by a very real anxiousness to be a good provider, especially now that I have a son. I have a little bit more today than I did back on that bank bench, but the worry, envious thoughts, and accusations are the same. They just have more zeroes now. But God’s plan is also the same, and His process for me stays, “Exercise virtue, David.”

Earlier I thought, “I can’t wait to be done with all of this character building. Where i am so good at handling my challenges with virtue.” Then I realized, in the fitness world, you call that plateauing, when your improvement flattens out and there are no more gains. I guess this is why God always challenges us to step out. But the good news is this challenge comes with instructions, to step out in faith, which is the confidence that He is with us and will never forsake us.

For someone with a dark heart like mine, to be welcomed over and over, and to be given an opportunity to experience Christ more and more is a gift I do not deserve. My stained offerings to Christ is so little compared to His great gifts. What a wonderful thing to be treated with glorious unfairness. #db