Systems Part III: Navigating Complexity to Address Issues Differently

Significant Differences, Strong Emotions, High Stakes…

Three senior leaders are faced with a crisis situation in their business. Because of their roles and responsibilities, it is up to them to address the issue at hand which has many moving parts and impacts hundred if not thousands of people- employees, customers, vendors and shareholders.

The pressure is on. They have been at it for hours and while they greatly respect one another, they disagree vehemently about the best way forward. It is a complex matter, nothing that had worked in the past was going easily adapted to solve this new challenging problem. Finally, exhausted by their deliberations, one of them suggests they take a break for an hour and leave the building for a walk. The others are reluctant, after all their teams are just outside the door anxiously awaiting the magic “solution” this trio was charged with devising. They get up, stretch their weary bodies and leave the building.  

Before they part ways for the next 60 minutes, one of them suggests they consider a simple question.

“What are you most curious about when you consider this situation?”

 

Off they went....

An hour later, they return to the room and share their responses to the question. One answers “I am curious about how the people most impacted by this situation view it.” Another shares “I am curious about what insights our people might have who have been part of this work in the past.” And the final one, “I am beginning to see where we are stuck and a different story of how we might move next is starting to emerge in my mind.”

 They regroup and invite a small but diverse group of stakeholders into the dialogue. While the time constraint is real, they also now understand that there is no clear solution, but with broader perspective and input they begin to see the next key move to make.

They are not going to ‘architect’ a solution in the abstract, but rather are going to work real time and collaboratively as they explore new approaches.

More than one experiment will be run and then debriefed to share learning and see new possibilities.

Now, this approach will not work in life or death situations. But if you know anything about elite teams, you know that even when a split-second decision is needed, they have trained and disciplined themselves to pause and breathe deeply, as they know that this opens up the brain to see a bigger picture and more options clearly.

 How often do you create space for this kind of pause when you are in a conflict with another person? Or when a significant difference emerges?

In the landmark book Crucial Conversations, the authors lead us through a process that is designed to address situations when “Opinions vary, Stakes are high and Emotions runs strong.” The pathway they lay out moves us to a place of ‘dialogue’ which they define as ‘the free flow of meaning’. Dialogue (also the opposite of monologue) is that remarkable space that gets created where we can actually listen and see what the other person is saying, when we can get curious, where we make meaning out of a differing view, not preparing our rebuttal and counter argument, but rather to actually learn and discern if another pathway forward might be possible.

The only way I have ever seen differences worked through to good end (which does not always include resolution, by the way) is when substantive dialogue is present. This includes the ability to:

  • Deeply listen with real empathy (the ability to step into the other person’s shoes and experience what they are experiencing).

  • Own your part- no difference is 100% one sided, a careful self-examination is required to get really clear on how you have contributed to the difference. Remember the only person you are in charge of or can control is yourself.

  • Get clear on what you really want from this situation or issue. (And what you do not really want to have occur)

  • Do a check-up of your own heart- do you really want a solution, or do you just want to be ‘right’?

We deal with real differences—significant differences with high stakes and strong emotions—every day, and individual differences are often indications or have implications for deeper systemic brokenness that may need to be addressed.

Complexity requires us to recognize that many issues and differences cannot be resolved to a ‘right answer’. Rather, it requires us to pause, listen with curiosity and generatively take next steps, without necessarily ‘figuring out’ the outcome.

Where in your life right now are experiencing a ‘crucial conversation’ with high stakes, strong emotions and significant differences? How might you step back, get curious, examine your own heart and what you really want to move forward differently?

This is essential to the work of navigating in a complex world. And it is among the top leadership capacities we must cultivate if we are to be effective in our everyday work in the VUCA world we live in today.

Systems Part II: Navigating Complexity by Gaining Perspective

Choosing to pause and seek perspective in the face of a pressing issue or need can feel counter intuitive, but it may be the best and only path forward for leading in a complex world.

When we are faced with a challenging and perplexing problem to solve, our first response is often to become a bit anxious (or maybe a lot anxious) and quickly react, and often cause others to react with us so that we can find solutions fast. There are a number of ways we do this- through attempting to solve our way forward (engineering thinking), or optimize our way forward (business thinking) or analyze our way forward (research thinking). And these methods can be useful when the problem we are trying to solve is fairly simple and straightforward, where best practices can be utilized—how have we addressed a like problem in the past that can be categorized and responded to with familiar and tested tactics and strategies. Or the problem might be more complicated, but has enough familiarity to analyze and then respond, trying tactics or strategies that can be adapted to fit the new problem.

But when the problem is unfamiliar and cannot be categorized, attempting to address it through these more familiar means will never get us to a good outcome. It is in the place of the unknown where innovation most often occurs. 

A number of years ago, my longtime colleague and one of the Tamim Partners, Rick Wellock, brought me a DVD to watch called The Design and Beauty of the Butterfly. After watching it several times, we processed it together and he noted, quite profoundly, that there were 4 apparent elements to the transformational process.

  • Perspective- the interaction in which a subject and its parts are viewed- a point of view

  • Paradigm- a theory or group of ideas about how something should be done or thought about

  • Structure- the way something is built or arranged, or the way a group of people are organized

  • Process - a series of actions that produce something or lead to a particular result.

A caterpillar does not become a butterfly simply by becoming a bigger or different caterpillar. Rather real transformation is going on inside the chrysalis that is causing something radically different to emerge on the other side.

These four elements start with perspective. Entering into a chrysalis provides a radically different perspective for the caterpillar, who has spent most of its life singularly focused on one thing- eating and eating some more.

So what if addressing a problem or issue of complexity, where no immediate solution or even outcome can be readily defined, requires a counter-intuitive move? To pause, step back, become curious and sense not the whole solution, but rather just to a step forward to learn and then take another step forward.

 Gaining perspective requires us to be able to resist the temptation to react, become anxious and then ignite unproductive activity in ourselves and our teams. Rather, we step back and even away from the problem for a bit. Maybe only a few minutes, maybe a few hours or even a day or two. Look at other environments where we might probe and ask questions.

Years ago, Doug Wilson, Founder of Monon Capital and Sagamore Institute board member, shared with me over dinner his theory on how best to address complex issues. He required his team members to have what he called “orthogonal” experiences each year. Orthogonal, a geometry term, is defined as “ Such perspective lines are orthogonal, or perpendicular to one another. The orthogonal definition also has been extended to general use, meaning the characteristic of something being independent (relative to something else). It also can mean non-redundant, non-overlapping or irrelevant.”

 

It is the latter part of the definition that Doug was pointing us towards. To enter into a an experience that is seemingly independent or non-overlapping to our current circumstance. Doug believes, as I do, that most true transformational learning happens through metaphor and analogy. Perhaps this is why Jesus taught most often in parables.

 

It may be the best solution to your current complex issue will not be found in the tried and true, or the urge to rely on best practices, but rather to step outside of our current circumstance and seek perspective. This can be as simple as turning off your phone for 15 minutes and taking a walk outside. Or doing something new—a jazz festival, bungy jumping or hiking a new trail.

In complexity the path forward is not found in the familiar or comfortable. It is found, over time, in curiosity, imagination and creating space to remain non- anxious in the face of adversity and complexity.

Embedded in our practice is leading with presence and character by cultivating the core practices of mindfulness along with doing deep identify work so that you start by sensing both internal and external states, being grounded deeply- physically, emotionally and spiritually, and then acting from that grounded place. It is here that we have more capacity to address challenging issues over time, while maintaining a non-anxious presence in your organization.

 

 

Systems: Live and Working in A VUCA WOrld

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

W. Edwards Deming and Paul Batalden

In every aspect of our daily lives we rely on systems to help us function. We rely on:

  • Plumbing systems to get ready in the morning- water for the shower and to make the coffee.

  • Electrical systems to toast the bread, turn the lights on and off, open the garage door.

  • Road and transit systems to get us safely to work or school or the grocery store.

  • Body systems to breath and oxygenate our bodies, drink, eat and process food to fuel our bodies, blood systems to pump in a continual flow, skeletal systems to keep us upright and more…

  • Elevator systems to get us up to the 30th floor.

And this is all before 9 am!
We take most of these systems for granted until they don’t work as we have come to expect. Imagine what happens when one of these systems fails. Hot water tank fails, and we have no hot water to shower or bathe; an accident on the roadways or a late bus throws our whole schedule off for the day; we wake up with a virus that makes us sick or tired or feverish and we don’t have the energy to do what we need to that day.

All of these ‘system malfunctions’ are familiar and can cause us anxiety when they occur. We adjust, we shift but we are definitely impacted, if even briefly, when they occur.

 And these are just the systems we can see and touch.

What about the systems that are also present throughout our day that are less visible? That we take for granted as well, until one of them fails or does not work as we expect.

You show up at work and your normally kind and respectful co-worker snaps at you over something seemingly insignificant. Your brother calls to tell you about an interaction he had with another family member that caused him emotional pain. He called you because you know about this dynamic, having experienced it yourself. You arrive at work and find your boss has been let go and a new leader is in charge. Your community experiences a trauma- a neighbor is attacked and badly injured or there is a mass shooting—too many of these in the news lately—and nowhere feels safe.

All of these create anxiety and fear in the human systems around us- those that are largely invisible but always present in every interaction and environment we live, work and play in.

The world has become increasingly complex and while some of these circumstances require fairly straight forward response and solutions, many of them are not solvable problems and require both a different kind of leadership and a radically different approach to create a new path forward.

The same thinking that got us to where we are is not going us where we need to go.

And while we may intuitively know that this is true, many of us have a default in our mental and emotional operating system that keeps us stuck in the old patterns because to try something new is frightening and the unknown is daunting.

The acronym VUCA- Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous—is increasingly used to describe the world we live in. The political climate in our country is volatile. The only thing that is certain is uncertainty. Classic problem-solving methods no longer deliver good results. And despite an overwhelming amount of information and data available, we are often required to make decisions and move forward without sufficient clarity on what to do next.

In the coming weeks, we will explore systems dynamics- both human and organizational- and how we can navigate this VUCA world with a whole new approach that shifts anxiety to calm and fear to courage.

But get ready, it will mean letting go of what you know and have relied on in order to shift into  a new way of engaging and interacting with yourself and others.

We will start by exploring the work of David Snowden at the Cognitive Edge and learn about his Cynefin Framework (there is a brief introduction here if you’d like to get started now) as a Sense-making tool for navigating complexity in order to act.

Topics coming up will include:

  • Navigating Complexity to Gain Perspective

  • Navigating Complexity to Address Issues Differently

  • Navigating Complexity by Not Knowing

  • Understanding Family Systems for Leadership

  • The Well Defined Leader

  • Leading in Anxious and Uncertain Times

Your comments and feedback is welcome. Here or via email at lisa@tamimpartners.com.

 

Myths of Calling Conclusion

Over the past weeks, we have identified 6 “Myths of Calling” and then proposed a truth, or a Reframe of that Myth. This list is hardly exhaustive, but it does identify some of the top myths we encounter in our work with people who are seeking clarity or finding themselves stuck in some way.

Another way of describing myths might be to call them dysfunctional or limiting beliefs. We all have them, they keep us stuck in some way as they have become part of the story we tell ourselves that disallow us from moving forward.

The six we identified here were:

  • Myth #1: Pursue your Passion

  • Myth #2: Clarity of Calling brings Ease and Comfort

  • Myth #3: God’s Will for me is a job, a house or…..

  • Myth #4: Our Worth is Determined by our accomplishments and the approval of others.

  • Myth #5: Calling is Discerned Individually

  • Myth #6: I can achieve work/life balance if I am clear on my calling

The countering truths or reframes are worth going back and reading through again. Which ones keep you stuck? Perhaps it was none of these but another one-any of these sound familiar?

  • I judge my life by the outcome, not the journey.

  • Life is a finite game with winners and losers.

  • I should always know exactly where I am going

  • If I am successful, then I will be happy ,

  • Happiness is having it all.

If you are interested in exploring more of these myths and dysfunctional beliefs and how to reframe them in ways that are fruitful and productive, then you may want to join a group discussion this fall using the Designing Your Life resources. Stay tuned for details to be announced in August.

Next week we will start a new series- Living and Working in a VUCA world. thanks for reading along, and as always please reach out if you’d like to explore deepening your Wholeness Journey.

Lisa

Myths of Calling Part VII

MYTH #6 I can (or it is possible to) achieve work/life balance if I am clear on my calling.

This past weekend I spent two days becoming certified as a coach for the Designing Your Life (DYL) process with Bill Burnett. Leveraging the principles of Design Thinking—Accept, Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test—Bill and his Co-author Dave Evans have taken their wildly popular class for Stanford Design School students and developed an accessible and practical set of tools and resources to help you, well, Design Your Life.

In their work, they us the language of “Dysfunctional Belief” and “Re-Frame” (rather than Myth and Truth) to describe the many ways we keep ourselves stuck in patterns of thinking and working that are at best self-limiting and at worst paralyzing. The myth, or dysfunctional belief, around work/life balance was an important one that we tackled early in the certification process because it is so prevalent and enculturated in our thinking and habits. When I hear the phrase work/life balance, the visual image for me is something called a bongo board- it is an old toy that requires a great deal of tension and strength to keep it perfectly level. But no matter how strong you are, eventually you fall off. Even for the most skilled, it is not sustainable over the long haul. The same is true for the myth of work/life balance- we may think we have it perfectly aligned, but sooner or later, something happens that throws our carefully constructed system out of whack.

TRUTH #6: I can find healthy rhythms of work, love, play and health for different seasons of life when I understand how my calling plays out in each of these 4 areas.

Evans and Burnett contend that work/life is a false dichotomy and that our lives actually have (at least) 4 dimensions that need to be considered:

  • Love (relationships. family)

  • Work

  • Play

  • Health

Work is actually a part of life, so thinking of these things as distinct and separate leaves us with a binary choice, a false dichotomy, that creates a no-win situation for us.

When we break this into the 4 categories we can now begin to assess more clearly how we are doing on this by using the DYL “Balance Dashboard” and, as honestly as possible, giving ourselves a ranking from “0” ( I have none of this in my life) to 5-Full (I am committing time and energy to this intentionally).

So, for example 45 year old woman re-entering the paid workforce might have a Balance dashboard that looks like this:

·      Love: 3.5- my kids are grown and out of the house, while I still want to be available to them, they require much less of my time and energy. Want to invest in my marriage intentionally during this new season and spend more time with close friends who also have more time.

·      Work: 4.5- while I have back-burnered my career while my kids were at home, I am now ready to re-engage in the paid workforce. I know that it will take me some time to get re-acclimated to the work world, and I may have to invest in developing some new competencies that make me more marketable.

·      Play: 2.5- While I love to do fun stuff, I know for this next 12-18 months, I will have a bit less ‘play time’ as I ramp up my work opportunities.

·      Health: 4.0- my health is extremely important to me so I will ensure I have enough time to work out or exercise every day and prepare healthy meals for my husband and me.

The dashboard offers a place to assess where you are currently and where you would like to move and then define a few incremental steps that would move you towards the “full’ end of the scale.

This is a far wiser, and more nuance approach as you give yourself permission to choose in each of these four important parts of every human life how you will best spend your energy and time for this season (not forever).

When we consider our calling and understand that calling transcends all four of these categories, we can let go of the myth that any one of the 4 define us. Rather, we know that who we are and what we believe can be integrated and brought in service to any and all of these four dimensions of our human existence in the world. This is the coherent—the ‘Tamim’—life.

 If you are interested in learning more about the Designing Your Life Coaching process or may be interested in joining a Designing Your Life coaching group this fall, please email me at lisa@tamimpartners.com 

Next week, I will close this series with a reflections post and give you all a sneak preview of the new series launching in August.

Seeking Tamim together…

Lisa

PS The Designing your Life website is a rich set of free and available tools for anyone who has the book and wants to dig in a bit. The Coaching Process goes much deeper and as a certified DYL coach, I now have access to many additional resources, as well as input and wisdom from the authors and DFYL coaching community.

 

 

Myths and Truths of Calling Part VI

MYTH #5 Calling is Discerned Individually

This myth is tricky, because of course there is some truth here. In fact, you are the one who will ultimately gain clarity of calling as you go through the excavation and uncovering process of vocational discernment. For some professions, there is actually an expectation that there was a specific moment or experience during which calling was revealed in its entirety. An example of this is the ‘call’ to pastoral ministry. Some seminaries even require incoming candidates to describe the moment when they ‘received their call to ministry’.  I am not sure what the expectations are—An audible voice from God? A flash of clarity in the midst of a spiritual experience? A Damascus Road moment of scales falling away and vision being restored? I am sure there are some for whom it was this clear and concrete. But for the rest of us it is messier and requires both individual work and a community of wise advisors.

To paraphrase author and Enneagram Master Suzanne Stabile,
“the discernment of calling is individual work, that can only be in the context of community.”

TRUTH #5: Calling discernment requires individual work AND wise healthy advisors.

The individual work is hard and takes time. It means being willing to acquire new knowledge about oneself, pay attention to activities that energize and engage you, as well ones that don’t and the ability to self-reflect. As my colleague Rick Wellock coaches,

“Catch yourself in the act of being yourself. But don’t judge it, just pay attention.”

In our practice we use a number of assessments that provide useful insight towards growing self-knowledge and self-awareness. Among them are the DiSC behavior style profile, Gallup’s Strengthsfinder Assessment, MCORE which focuses on motivation and giftedness and the Enneagram, an ancient wisdom typology tool. The last two are particularly useful, as they not only identify your core motivations or type and the good about it, they also compel you to examine the shadow or vice side as well.  

All of these tools are valuable, anything that expands your self knowledge and deepens your understanding of who you are and how you are different or like others is helpful. But it is not enough to know about yourself, you must be willing to do the hard work of really digging into how you relate to and impact others. How does your shadow side show up? What do others experience when they interact with you? What are you doing to yourself when you operate from a place of un-health? To those who you impact up close and personal?

While we all are aware in some ways of how we impact others, we must be willing to invite others into our life who we trust to give us loving but truthful feedback. Without it we will not grow, we will not fully step into calling and the unintended consequences of not knowing and not creating a community of such advisors can be catastrophic.

Brene Brown, in her groundbreaking work on shame and vulnerability, counsels us to consider carefully whose input we receive and whose we reject. In Dare to Lead, she advises we find our “Square Squad” which she describes as follows:

Your Square Squad is the very short list of people whose opinions matter. [1]

These are the people who care enough about you to be honest, rather than telling you what you want to hear. They should not be people who just blindly agree with you no matter what.

People on your list love you not despite your vulnerability and imperfections, but because of them.

They will point out when you are out of your integrity or when you have messed up, and they will support you to fix things.

To get clear about who belongs on your square squad, use a one-inch by one-inch piece of paper, write down the names of the people in your life whose opinions really matter. The paper is small because it forces you to narrow the list to only those people who have earned the right to an opinion.

Don’t listen to criticism from people who aren’t on your square squad. It is hurtful and unproductive.

The discernment of calling is personal work and requires the ability to deeply self-reflect and learn. It is not enough to adopt a moniker “I am an entrepreneur, I am a doctor, etc.”  and then stop doing the work. Calling is deeper and more complex than that. It is also work done in the context of community- people who can be trusted, whose opinion matter and who love you enough to tell you the unvarnished truth when it needs to be said.

Dig in, start learning and find your squad. If you need help taking some first steps, we’d love to talk with you. This is what Tamim Partners cares about most.

Lisa

lisa@tamimpartners.com

 


[1] Excerpt From: Brené Brown. “Dare to Lead.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/dare-to-lead/id1384267645


Myths and Truths of Calling Part V

MYTH #4 may be the hardest one of all to tackle. It is the Myth that our worth is determined by our accomplishments and performance as well as by the approval of others. We often confuse calling and performance. Are we being productive? Are we delivering results? Are we getting positive feedback? Are we advancing in our chosen field of work? If we seek to put these questions as our priorities, then we risk understanding calling through the lens of productivity and approval. And if we are not producing results or people are not responding positively to us, then we must be operating outside of our calling.

Myth #4 Our worth is determined by our accomplishments and performance as well as by the approval of others.

TRUTH #4: Your worth and identity come solely from who you are in Christ.

Many of us (me included) are ambitious, and ambition is a good thing. But the minute you place your own sense of worth in your accomplishments, you will be setting yourself up for disappointment.  We all have lots of skill in avoiding pain and suffering, but it may be that pain and suffering are actually what is required for us to grow into our calling. God intends for us to fail and to suffer the consequences of that failure; in fact, He promises it. His promise is not that we won’t, but rather that He will be with us in the suffering and for many of us, those deep valleys will be the moments where we experience God’s pleasure the most.

Recently two thought leaders, Arthur Brooks, until recently President of the American Enterprise Institute, and NYT columnist and author David Brooks (no relation to Arthur) have written and spoken on this topic.

Arthur Brooks, in his recently published essay in The Atlantic, Your Professional Decline is Coming (much) Sooner Thank You Think, starts his piece with the story of a world famous man, now well into his 80’s and known for his bravery and courage, he overhears on an airplane bemoaning that he is no longer needed and wishes he was dead. A few moments later, as the gentlemen exits the plane, many people ‘greet him with veneration,’ including the pilots. His entire countenance changes and he beams as he receives approval for his many accomplishments and ‘past glories.’ As Brooks essay unfolds, he makes the case that the work we pursue as we age should shift from a ‘success’ orientation to a ‘wisdom’ orientation. That in our 20’s, 30’s 40’s and even 50’s, the pursuit of accomplishment which is more self-focused, is often how we (at least in this country) think about what gives our lives meaning, especially our careers.

David Brooks, in his recently released book The Second Mountain: The Quest for the Moral Life, makes a similar case. That the ‘first mountain’ is the pursuit of success and ‘happiness’ while the ‘second mountain’ is the pursuit of ‘joy’ and a moral life of meaning.

Both make the case in their unique and thoughtful way, that when the second half of our lives is marked by rich relationships, spirituality and the shift to a service and ‘giving ourselves away’ mindset we will experience deep satisfaction and joy.

 And I think they are both onto something. Both the essay (which I am hoping becomes a book) and the book are on my must-read recommendation lists for 2019.

But I wonder if we must wait until mid-life to make these shifts. (Both men are in their mid 50’s and on their own self-admitted journey of discovery in this season of their lives.)

What if at the heart of Christian calling is a radically counter cultural posture that steps back from performance and approval as the early ‘scorecards’ of success and recognizes that we must do the hard work of self-discovery early, and then in an ongoing way. That suffering, failure, service and risk are the pathways to real joy and we can embrace this early in the journey of calling. Perhaps this is the key to deep coherence, Tamim.

That suffering, failure, service and risk are the pathways to real joy and we can embrace this early in the journey of calling. Perhaps this is the key to deep coherence, Tamim.

Consider the story of Eric Lidell. The movie Chariots of Fire was made about his life. Lidell was being educated to be a pastor and missionary when he made the decision to pursue the Olympics as a runner. He was discouraged by many from this pursuit, saying that it was a distraction to his ‘true calling.’ He is often quoted:

“I believe God made me for a purpose, he made me fast and when I run I feel Gods’ pleasure”,

but I think the more important part of the quote, the part less often noted is this:

“In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory there is a glory to be found if one has done his best.”

 Remember again the words of Steve Garber:

“The word vocation is a rich one, having to address the wholeness of life, the range of relationships and responsibilities. Work, yes, but also families, and neighbors, and citizenship, locally and globally—all of this and more is seen as vocation, that to which I am called as a human being, living my life before the face of God. It is never the same word as occupation, just as calling is never the same word as career. Sometimes, by grace, the words and the realities they represent do overlap, even significantly; sometimes, in the incompleteness of life in a fallen world, there is not much overlap at all.” (emphasis mine)

Calling is not about the pursuit of success, although you may be successful. It is not about performance and approval, although you may deliver amazing results that receive accolades and recognition. Because when those things fall away (and they will fall away), if you have built your identity around them, you will be like the famous elder statesman in Arthur Brooks essay, bemoaning your life is over when you no longer stand in the spotlight.

Serve an audience of One, impart whatever wisdom you hold generously and with great humility, invest in your relational world.

Perhaps Bono got it right in the U2 song, Yahweh…

Filled with Your wonder
Here I surrender
Held in Your mystery of grace
Calling me closer
Waking desire
Coming alive in Your name

This is the heart of calling.

The Wholeness Journey will be off next week, returning on June 15th. Happy 4th of July!

Myths and Truths of Calling Part IV

Last week we examined Myth #2—that a life of comfort and ease will somehow magically occur once ‘figuring out our calling”.  Tied very closely to this is our broken and reductionistic understanding of “God’s will.”

 MYTH #3 God’s will for me is a job, or house, or city or spouse, or______ -you fill in the blank.

 

Wise Pittsburgh elder and mentor Dr. Bruce Bickel has taught us that our work is not to try and figure out God’s ‘secret’ will. But rather we are to be obedient to God’s revealed will.  And there are some specific places we can look to understand what that ’revealed’ will is looks like. (hint: it’s not a job or a house)

 

Truth #3: There are actually very few places in Scripture that talk about God’s will, and yet in my work every day, I encounter people seeking God’s will in their search for any or all of the things mentioned above and more.

One place in the writings of the Apostle Paul that I find most helpful in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica. In chapter 4, he says “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified, or be holy, be set apart” and he then goes on to describe what that means. In chapter 5 he goes on to say “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Holy?

Joyful?

Prayerful?

Grateful?

This is radically different criteria to discern God’s will; it is NOT to try ‘figure it out’ in every decision.

My own experience of this has been a long journey towards obedience, examining my own choices and decisions as I seek to live more fully into my calling.

This has caused me to make some very different choices over many years. I have chosen to do hard things because I know that this is required for my own sanctification. I must choose joy and gratitude many days, even when I am discouraged and struggling. I must immerse myself in prayer. Nowhere have I learned more about prayer and the coherent life than from Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite lay brother who lived over 325 years ago.

In his remarkable book, the practice of the presence of God, Brother Lawrence guides us well on these spiritual maxims

 

Holy- “In cleansing us from all our impurities, God desires to humble us and often allows us to go through a number of trials or difficulties to that end.”

Joyful- “Whatever we do…. we should stop for a few minutes—as often as possible—to praise God from the depths of our hearts. To enjoy Him there in secret.”

Prayerful- “to be constantly aware of God’s presence, it is necessary to form the habit of continually talking to Him throughout each day. We must try to converse with Him in little ways while we do our work: not in memorized prayer, not trying to recite previously formed thoughts.”

Grateful-“Brother Lawrence said he was always guided by love…. He was content doing the smallest of chore if he could do it purely for the Love of God. “ This is the heart of gratitude.

 

God’s will for us is never a ‘checklist item’ but rather a way of revealing Himself to us in how we respond faithfully and obediently to the smallest of tasks.

So, ask yourself as you make choices- Can I be holy, can I be joyful, prayerful and grateful? This is the will of God- Paul could not be clearer. And by following Paul’s exhortation as we steward all that God has provided, faithfully and obediently, whether there is joy or suffering, He is revealing Himself to us and our calling is being uncovered over time.

Next week we will examine a the 4th Myth- that our worth is determined by our performance and the opinion of others.