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Diligently Killing Ourselves

I was in the middle of writing another article (What Makes a Great HR Manager?) when I decided to write this one instead. As I was writing down my thoughts on the need for Human Resource Managers to go back to its core purpose of acquiring, developing, deploying, and protecting necessary people, I realized just how far forgetting our core purpose can take us. Most managers I know want to do a great job. They want to feel proud of their work. They want to be promoted. They want to succeed. But I would also say that most managers I know are nowhere as effective as they would like to be, not so much because they don’t have the potential nor desire, but because they’ve forgotten the core purpose of the role in the busyness of the role. It’s ironic, but it happens a lot, that a person busily working on a role ends up forgetting the reason of the role. I am guilty of this. When we forget the core purpose, we start evaluating things wrongly, and when we have dishonest scales (which the Lord abhors), we start putting more weight on the wrong things and not enough emphasis on the things that need attention.

It’s like a father too busy at work trying to fulfill his role as provider that he forgets he isn’t just a bills payer, he is a father, and the only one his kids will have. So this father starts evaluating himself based on how much money he brings in and is satisfied or dissatisfied depending on how well he is able to do this. The person will end up being a bad father, and it’s not because he wants to be a bad father, on the contrary, it’s because he wants to be a good father. It is his mistaken emphasis on providing, and not the core purpose of providing love, identity, protection, along with the provision which makes a father.

It’s like a husband and wife too busy trying to fulfill their own and shared dreams that they forget to love each other in a way that reflects Christ’s love, and in the process end up burdening each other instead with expectation after expectation. People like this won’t make good spouses, not because they don’t want a good marriage, but exactly because they want a good marriage, but a wrongly defined marriage, a marriage built around each other’s happiness, not the reflection of true love.

It’s like a company too busy with its policies, its operations, it’s growth, its sales, and its efficiency that it forgets its customer, only to wake up one day to find that the business is crashing because someone else is meeting the needs of the customer in a much better way. It will fail not because it doesn’t want to succeed but because it has forgotten that companies do not exist to pursue policies but to serve customers. They will become victims of their own vigilance.

It’s like a leader allowing himself to be drawn into petty arguments or defensive exchanges on twitter, on text, or in person, forgetting that a leader should hold himself or herself above feelings and dispassionately focus on principles. This leader, because of his care, ends up hurting the organization he cares about most, simply because he has forgotten that the primary role of a leader is to influence others by the example he makes, and not realizing that the example he is multiplying is bad for the organization.

It’s like a church so caught up in its dogma, in its programs, in its leaders, and in its traditions that it starts becoming more and more about the security and satisfaction of its members and leaders, such as what is happening in our current materialistic version of Christianity. We end up hurting our lives, not because we don’t want a good life, but because we want “our best life now”, but forget that our lives have a core purpose of glorifying God.

It’s like a parent burdening their kids with pressure to get high grades, bombarding them with studies and bribes, but forgetting the purpose of education is to prepare a person for liberty, to teach them how to make free wise decisions, NOT simply hit grades. Then we wonder why our young people are weak, why, despite their good grades, they’re ineffective. We educated them for grades not for the core purpose of learning.

I can go on and on of things we do and situations wherein the core purpose has been forgotten, and the very thing we think we are promoting, the very thing we think we are protecting, is the very thing we destroy, not because we are not hard working nor committed, but because we have forgotten the core purpose.

A good example of this, and one I use often with my team, is the story of Jesus and the High Priests:

One Sabbath, Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
– Matthew 12:1-8

The Pharisees, forgot that the core purpose of the Sabbath was for man to rest, not for man to be subservient to the Sabbath.

Jesus would again have to set His own disciples straight and point them back to the core purpose of His ministry:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Matthew 20:23-28

His disciples were trying to get positions of influence, and Jesus says, “Hey. Ministry isn’t about positining for power or favors. This is about serving others, about laying your life down.” It’s very different from the politics and petty ego massaging common among religious and civil leaders. Why? It’s not because someone criticized them or was offensive, though we like to blame incidents. It’s because we have stopped emphasizing the core purpose. A good sign that we have lost our core purpose is when we are petty, when we are easily offended, easily angered, and easily frustrated.

Who cares if things are difficult if the core purpose is fulfilled?

Who cares if people are eating during the Sabbath if they are resting and recreating?

Who cares if your spouse can’t afford a grander lifestyle if he’s loving you faithfully?

Who cares if your sex life isn’t like the movies if your faithfully serving each other?

Who cares if your kids’ grades are low if they’re learning how to handle adversity and learning how to learn?

Who cares if the policies are changing if it means serving customers better?

Who cares if they way someone said something is offensive if the point is true?

Who cares if I am regularly corrected if it means growing more each day?

Who cares about the petty distractions when my core purpose is being fulfilled?

All of this to make one point: Go back to the core purpose.

We don’t start businesses for ourselves. We start them to serve customers, to bring them value.
We don’t lead people to order them around. We lead them to bring them to a better place, to bring all of us together to a better place.
We don’t get married to fulfill each other’s hopes and dreams, but to love each other faithfully.
We don’t preach to burden people with our morality but share the Gospel: The Good News!
We don’t make policies to police people, but to be efficient towards serving our customers.

Sad ironies happen when we forget what our core purpose is. We end up failing at that we have so intensely tried to work on. It’s ironic because the failure doesn’t come to those who didn’t work hard, but to those who worked hard on the wrong things, spending too much time, money, and energy on other things, and not enough on the core purpose.

In Revelations 2:2-5, a letter to the church in Ephesus is written:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

In the letter, the church is reminded that all the virtue and righteousness in the world is worthless if we forget “the love you had at first”, which is the original love for God and love for others, which is the core purpose of the Christian walk.

The Bible is so full of good advice for leaders in any field. This reminding letter can be applied to pretty much all our different life roles:

“I know your works, your efforts, your achievements, but you’ve forgotten to love your spouse, your first love.”

“I know your efficiencies, your growth, your dedication, but you’ve forgotten your customers, the people you’re supposed to be serving.”

“I know your service to your kids, how you provide, and how you care, but you’ve forgotten that this is about preparing them. This isn’t about you as a father or mother, but them learning to be faithful, loving, and wise.”

Again, I can go on. When we abandon the love we first had, the core purpose that attracted us, that made us fall in love, we end up destroying that which we are working on. It’s extra hard to correct this because no one can fault us for not trying or working hard. This requires a lot of personal humility to say, “My efforts, for all their good intentions, for all the energy I’m investing, is not leading to fulfilling the core purpose. I am sorry. I need to change.” The person who can admit that is rare. This is why I believe most organizations, especially those that have tasted success will ultimately fail. 

I worry about this in my own life a lot. I know how prone I am to making this mistake.

Like I said, it’s a sad irony. It’s sad when that which we worked on most is destroyed by our very own hands, simply because we have forgotten our first love, the core purpose we found beautiful at the start, especially the core people we were supposed to be serving.

“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
– James 4:6

Refined by Pleasure and Pain

You who placed this dream
Led me to rest by Your stream
You who fanned this fire
Sustain it that I never tire
Of burning brightly in love
To reflect Your glory above
Yet Your beautiful fire
Was my furnace of desire
Both glorious to behold
And so painful in ways untold
As it refined the selfish out
As it reminds of what life’s about
That we may thrive without doubt
As we walk the pleasure of this route

How I Find Courage

You have to be brave.

There’s no going around it.

Want to build a business? You have to risk being part of the 9 out of 10 that statistics say will fail. That’s terrible odds.

Want to have an amazing relationship? You have to risk giving your heart to someone else despite half of marriages now failing. That’s really dangerous.

Want to change the world? You have to make unpopular stands. You have to go against what’s broken to fix it, and you need to fight the self-interested parties that want to keep the system broken for their own gain, and despite knowing that real heroes many times end up attacked and dead.

You have to be brave. That’s one thing I find myself telling our young people more and more. You have to learn how to make your own decisions, to live and die by them, and to know you can make a vision a reality, and, just as importantly, correct your mistakes when you make them – and you will make mistakes. Mistakes are a part of daring, and great mistakes are a part of daring greatly. If you’re going to do something great, you need to risk making a mistake.

But how does one find courage? How does one muster the courage during difficult times, the times when courage is needed most?

Many people get their courage from external things, from the state of their circumstances, from the people around them, and this isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s smart to surround yourself with the right people, it’s smart to prepare for the inevitable rainy days, but many times, especially if we’re living on the edge, innovating, challenging the status quo, we will find ourselves facing things only we can face. During these moments we cannot rely on external sources of courage, we need to dig deep and look inside us and, hopefully, find something in our hearts to give us courage.

Sadly, many times, I find that we have been influenced not to be courageous. It may not be intentional, but too many times when we look inside us for courage we find that our hearts are hollow. Hollow hearts are the breeding ground of fear – and as Yoda comically yet insightfully said, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Why do we have empty hearts?

I can think of two reasons.

1. Some people say to follow our hearts but fail to teach us that the heart is tricky, deceitful even, if uncalibrated, make us put more value on things that are empty, and we make emotional choices, fear-pressured choices, that turn out to be mistakes.

2. Other people say, “Don’t trust your heart. It’s deceitful.” and now we have a lot of people who don’t have the heart to make courageous choices.

Should we follow or heart or not? If we can’t rely on our heart to be a compass of what’s right what can we rely on? Our logic? If logic is dictates what is right, then why risk our lives for the poor, why love the unlovable, why follow the commands of Christ to serve in order to be great, to lay life for others, to enemies as ourselves? So if it’s not just logic that helps us discover what’s right then maybe what’s right is what others agree with. If that’s the case, do how we explain the mob? How do we explain collective evil like when the Nazis were in power, like how a group of powerful people will enslave others?

We have raised a generation that on one hand is not able to guard their hearts and so make foolish choices, and on the other are so fearful of being deceived by their own hearts that they have no personal conviction and unable to make a stand, especially when that stand means standing alone.

Instead, I’ve found that making a wise decision is not about just what makes sense, and it’s definitely not about what makes no sense. It’s about calibrating your heart towards the right things, filling it up with truly valuable things like love for God and your neighbor, and allowing our values to dictate our decisions. When you’re sure of what’s most important to you, when you’re sure that what you hold dear is most valuable, you become fearless. There’s a word for having so much clarity and sureness in what you love.

It’s called conviction.

And true courage, courage that is not based on circumstances, comes from conviction. True courage does not come from the reckless following of one’s heart nor the constant fear that one’s heart is deceiving. It comes from conviction.

The word conviction comes from the word “convinced”, and that word means to “overcome decisively, to conquer”. To have convictions means to overcome whatever is going on in our lives with a more powerful truth. This is why every time the Bible reminds us to be courageous, it gives us a reason to be courageous, a greater truth to hold on to, for example:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
– Deuteronomy 31:6

In this verse, the words “for the Lord God goes with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you” is God overcoming Joshua’s fears with a greater truth.

You need to be brave. To be brave you need to have conviction, which is so much clarity and sureness that what you love is right. We strengthen our sureness by using a greater truth to overcome our fears. For me, that greater truth is simply this: God so loves me. He will never leave me nor forsake me. If I keep running to Him I’ll be fine.

When our heart is truly filled by the love of a perfect God, we find His perfect love casting off all fear. Courage, confidence and assurance, is left when love has done its work casting fear from our hearts.

And that’s how I find courage.