Why I’m Silent? I’m Getting Things Done

I figured I should let you know what it is that’s keeping me busy this week — especially since I just warned about the reality that our silence speaks.

I am knee-deep in putting a new work-flow management system in a place based on from David Allen in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It’s taking a few days to put everything — and I do mean everything — into one system. For those who care about such things, I am also getting to know Nozbe and how to better use Evernote.

I should have it in working order by next week. My prayer is that it will free me to be more productive and prolific in using the gifts God has given to me.

And I think the process will prompt a few posts to let you know how it goes.  You might want to check it out yourself. Unless, of course, you’ve already got everything  under control.

How do you keep track of all the stuff in your life? I’d appreciate hearing your systems and methods for ensuring everything gets done with a comment here.

I’m on a Mission from God — to Guam!

I’m going to Guam. Find out why with a click here.

How to Say No: You Too Can Have This Superpower

No.

There. You just said it. It wasn’t that hard, was it?

So why is it so much more difficult to say “no” to others when they ask for more help than you know you can safely give? It’s almost as if you need a magical cape to conjure up the elusive superpower to say “No!”

photo: hillary h

Of course, the thing about capes is their tendency to get caught in jet engines — think Syndrome in The Incredibles. So let’s not go there.

But what can you do to better manage the many requests for assistance from well-meaning people who see you as someone who is good at getting things done?

Say no. You can do it. Really you can.

Here are a few key steps I’ve learned to develop the superpower to say “No.”

  1. Believe that you are in charge of you. It’s not “if only you believe,” but it all starts there. In that space between their request and your answer lies a place where you do have a choice — no matter what you tell yourself. Even if you find you can’t change the specific instance of the request, perhaps you can back up and change the reason the request is being made in the first place.
  2. Know that you’re responsible for you. We like to play the victim far too often by acting as if we just can’t help but say “yes.” But often the reason we give for complying has more to do with our own fear of confronting or disappointing and less with reality.
  3. Get clear on your priorities. One reason we struggle to say no to so many good things is that we haven’t yet discovered what the best things for us might be. Because we’re not sure where we’re going, any old train will do to get there. Instead, take time to live intentionally by developing a life plan.
  4. Fear God more than people. Ed Welch has written a tremendous book on this topic entitled When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man (Resources for Changing Lives). If we see our responsibility to be pleasing to our Creator as the main thing, our fears about disappointing the people He made seem to shrink rather quickly.
  5. Get over yourself. Guess what? If you dropped dead tomorrow, life would go on. We’d miss you, of course, but 90% of the stuff you do would get done by someone else. Don’t think it all rests on your shoulders. Sorry. It doesn’t. Instead, focus on the 10% that can only be done by you.

Do you struggle to say no? What steps have you taken to harness this superpower that seems so elusive to so many of us? Leave comment with a click here to share the growth. 

Why I’ll Never Stop Singing in Your Church

My response to — well, myself is up today at Patheos:

Why I’ll Never Stop Singing in Your Church

May surprise some….

7 Habits of Stephen Covey: Sharpen the Saw

My series concludes on whether or not Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are Biblical. I’ve always appreciated his wisdom in my life and noted its impact in this tribute to a great man here. I’ve also appreciated two other books in my family that applied these habits: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families and The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. I highly recommend both.

But today we turn our attention to the seventh habit. It’s all about staying in shape so we can keep the the other six.

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

Covey often told a story to illustrate the wisdom of this habit:

Imagine for a moment that you’re trying to fell a tree. You’re sawing through this huge, thick tree trunk. Back and forth, back and forth you pull the heavy saw. You’ve been laboring at it all day long. You’ve hardly stopped for a minute. You’ve been working and sweating, and now you’re about halfway through. But you’re feeling so tired that you don’t see how you’re going to last another five minutes. You pause for a minute to catch your breath.

You look up and see another person a few yards away who has also been sawing a tree. You can’t believe your eyes! This person has sawed almost completely through his tree trunk! He started about the same time you did and his tree is about the same size as yours, but he stopped to rest every hour or so while you kept working away. Now he’s almost through, and you’re only halfway there.

“What’s going on?” you ask incredulously. “How in the world have you gotten so much more done than I have? You didn’t even stay with it all the time. You stopped to rest every hour! How come?”

The man turns and smiles. “Yes,” he replies. “You saw me stop every hour to rest, but what you didn’t see was that every time I rested, I also sharpened the saw!”

Everyone who hears that simple story can see the wisdom of the plan. Of course, it makes more sense to be sure our tools are sharp. Of course, more effort doesn’t necessarily mean greater success. Of course, we won’t be as productive if we don’t take time to intentionally sharpen ourselves for God’s use. But we still often live as if we will.

Is It Biblical to Sharpen the Saw?

Covey noted that the law of entropy governs the universe. Consequently, everything left to itself runs down. The Bible certainly supports that claim. A a result of the Fall, everything was plunged into death. Even creation itself feels the impact of our rebellious ways.  Solomon tells this story to make the point:

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. (Prov. 24:30-31 ESV)

Without patient care and diligent labor, the lazy man’s house soon looks like a service project waiting to happen. Solomon later added, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.” (Prov. 27:23 ESV) Implicit in this command is the understanding that if you don’t give them careful maintenance, your flocks (resources) will scatter — or worse.

Using the four areas of life that Stephen Covey used, we quickly see much obvious alignment with this habit and Scripture:

  • Physical. Exercising regularly and eating healthy foods to help keep you near your physical peak could only position you for greater service for Christ. The Bible says bodily exercise profits little compared to spiritual things — but it does profit. Let’s face it, when we’re not in shape physically we’re more prone to sleep through ministry opportunities than to seize them for Kingdom work.
  • Social. Building deep friendships, cultivating family relationships, and serving others all fit the description Covey gives for thus practice. As we’ve touched on in previous posts, we more fully reflect the image of God when we engage in relationship. And serving others? I’d have to quote half the Bible.
  • Mental. “In the beginning was the Word [Logic]” John opens his account of the life of Christ with this statement that the logos, or ultimate thought, is God. As an intellectually oriented fellow, I enjoy thinking about that one — no surprise there. We cultivate this area by reading, thinking, reflecting, planning — all topics we’ve touched on before in this series for Scriptural support.
  • Spiritual. Prayer, Scripture reading, meditating on the thoughts of others — Ok. That’s the easiest one yet. In my life, that take the form of daily time doing all of those each morning, long before anyone else is stirring. I’ve made it a habit — one that I must continually guard to keep it from slipping away.

The Question for You

The questions is are you being intentional about scheduling these vital renewal practices into your day, week, and month? Or are you allowing the tyranny of the urgent (Quadrant 1 activities) to rule your life?

Habit 1: Be Proactive. Remember, you’re in charge of you.

What’s it going to be?

In which of these areas have you had the most success? What regular habits have you developed to keep yourself sharp? Leave a comment with a click here to share what you’ve learned.

See Why You’ll Hate to Love WRECKED by Jeff Goins

My review of Wrecked by Jeff Goins is up now at Patheos. Get it by August 4 to get more than $150 in free stuff.

7 Habits of Stephen Covey: Synergize!

My Stephen Covey 7 Habits series reaches Habit 6 today: Synergize!

I would say it’s one of my favorites in Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but it’s so closely connected to Habits Four and Five that it’s nearly impossible to separate them. And besides, I already said Habit Four “Think Win-Win” was my favorite.  You can read my tribute to Covey here, but it’s just hard not to like anything where the whole equals so much more than the sum of its parts.

2 +2 = 4 Addition. It’s how many people think.

2 – 2 = 0 Subtraction. That’s how most people think.

2 x 4 = 8 Multiplication. That’s how Covey thought. He described Habit 6: Synergize in this way in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families:

Synergy is the summum bonum — the supreme or higfhest fruit — of all habits. It’s the magic that happens when one plus one equals three — or more. And it happens because the relationship between the parts is a part itself….That’s where the creative mind is — the new mind that produces the new option, the third alternative.

The urge to achieve synergy builds on the mindset to think win-win, followed by the desire first to understand, then to be understood. Only in that sequence can our most creative energy be excercised to its fullest.

Sounds great. But is it Biblical? 

Consider a few examples from Scripture. Examples, mind you. Not proof texts. When dealing with ideas as sophisticated as this — said without apology if perceived as elitist — we should expect to find complex support from a God who is both infinitely simple and infinitely complex:

  • Marriage. Scripture teaches that in marriage 1+ 1 = something greater than 2. It uses the language of the two becoming one, but the concluding “one”  is far greater than either person alone or even than the simple sum of the two together. It’s an altogether new “one” and certainly greater than the sum of its parts. Through its legacy impact, a godly marriage can be a force multiplier for countless generations. Think Jonathan and Edwards.

According to one source, the 929 descendents of Jonathan Edwards included 13 college presidents, 86 college professors, 430 ministers, 314 war veterans, 75 authors, 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 66 physicians, and 80 holders of public office, including three U.S. Senators, seven congressman, mayors of three large cities, governors of three states, a Vice-President of the United States, and a controller of the United States Treasury. Maybe they got a few wrong, but that still,leaves a whole lot of impact.

  • Christ and each of us. We see this dynamic unfold on an individual basis as Christ + each of us = something that glorifies God in a way neither one alone ever could. Consider Peter. I’d rather do that than consider me, if you don’t mind.  Clearly Peter was a struggling — though intensely sincere — fellow with limited people skills. But fully surrendered and empowered by the Spirit, he became the perfect spokesperson to the Jewish believers of the early church. That’s not to say that we deserve the praise for any of it. Paul also fits paradigm as he became the perfect apostle to the Gentiles as God leveraged his intellectual prowess to lay the theological foundation for the Church.
  • The Church. Little needs to be said here except to note that the Bible speaks often of how each of us has a unique role to make the body a force that the gates of Hell cannot stand against. Let’s face it. On our own, we wouldn’t think of taking that on. But togethr, empowered by the Spirit — how can we not do that?!
  • The Trinity. Let’s not forget the most glaring example of synergy in the universe — God Himself. His very nature as a triune being cries out for the essential place of synergy in His universe. Although each member of the Godhead is fully divine and a distinct person, yet He would cease to be God if the three were not in unity as one essence. The splendor of the Triune majesty truly shines through the synergy of the three uniting to show His glory in manner that, quite frankly, boggles our feeble minds.

I believe we were created to most fully reflect God’s image in us when we achieve synergy in relationship with others. God’s greatest works will only be achieved when we most closely model His own synergistic nature. It will only happen when we lay down what we want in order to truly understand others and seek a synergy that lifts us higher than we could have gone alone — a little closer to the throne of God.

What dreams do you have that the right synergy might make possible? Share your aspirations with a comment here. Let’s see if we can’t help each other take a step out of the boat.

7 Habits of Stephen Covey: Is Think Win-Win Biblical?

I think we can safely say that the Bible speaks to how we think. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Stephen Covey certainly recognized that in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 4 simply acknowledges that how we think about conflict determines the solution.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win.

I confess this habit is one of my favorites because it gives me permission to think creatively about possible solutions.

You may also have noticed that I posted on Habit 5 (Seek First to Understand) before Habit 4. In my own thinking about conflict, I find it critical to first seek to understand before I can think of win-win solutions that truly bring value to the other person. I recognize though that the mindset of win-win must be in place to even want to reach out to others and understand their desires.

Covey noted often that Habits 4-6 are indeed interconnected. One naturally leads to and fuels the other:

  • Think Win-Win.
  • Seek first to understand…then to be understood.
  • Synergize.

Thinking win-win is the opposite of thinking only of yourself. It’s a mindset that seeks first to add value to all. Yes, even to yourself.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:44 ESV)

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:4 ESV)

A few Biblical examples come to mind of those who thought win-win — and those who failed to do so. Consider first the positive example of Daniel:

Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring…youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.

Therefore he [Thinking Win-Win] asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” hen Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”

So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.   (Daniel 1:3-15 ESV)

Consider also the negative example of Rehoboam who had an opportunity to think win-win when he followed his father Solomon to the throne. The people offered to loyally serve him if he would just reduce their tax burden. After rejecting the elders’ advice and consulting his naive peers, Rehoboam refused. He chose a win-lose path in which he would get all or nothing. He got nothing. (1 Kings 12 ) 

This win-lose thinking holds a tight grip on American political thought these days, though perhaps no more so than at other times. The reality is that elections have winners and losers. Because of our sinful nature, it seems we find it easy to not just win, but pummel our opponent beyond recognition in the process. It seems I’ve heard in political circles recently the phrase, “I won. You lost.”

In our churches, this win-lose thinking results in vicous power struggles that split the body of Christ.

In our families, this self-centered mindset causes endless division that leaves some momentarily triumphant but everybody hurt.

How do we get to win-win? By laying down our insistence on getting everything we want for starters. Christ modeled this approach for us by emptying himself to achieve what was the greatest win-win ever conceived — the gospel.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8 ESV)

Here are three simple steps I use to get to win-win:

  1. Identify what it is you really want. You may need to drill down a bit to find what is at the core and what is optional.
  2. Understand what it is the other party really wants. This will require active listening and empathy.
  3. Seek common ground where your goals overlap. Think of the Venn diagram below to visualize what that might look like.

Do you really believe that most conflicts can have win-win solutions? Where do you find it easiest to slip back into win-lose thinking? Leave a comment here to share the growth. 

photo by: Horia Varlan

7 Habits of Stephen Covey: See Why Habit 5 is Biblical

It’s not as if habits are something we celebrate all that often. Maybe we should. My tribute to Stephen Covey author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People noted some of the wisdom he shared that changed my life.

Since then, I’ve been picking off a habit at a time, sharing why I believe they’re grounded in Biblical truth. I’ve also tossed in a few practical applications for what they’re worth starting here.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand… then to be understood.

The wisdom of Proverbs sounds like this:

Any story sounds true until someone sets the record straight. (Prov. 18:17 NLT)

It’s easy to miss the obvious. The first story we hear is always the one we tell ourselves. It’s not surprising that we’re quick to think the story in our heads sounds pretty accurate — until we take the time to listen to someone else. Often we find we weren’t exactly honest.

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19 ESV)

Why?

Because as followers of Christ we’re supposed to genuinely care about what others think.

Right?

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  (Phil. 2:4 ESV)

The biblical assumption is that we will, of course, look out for those things we think are important without any prodding. Pretty safe bet. Remember that story we’re telling all ourselves inside our heads?

But wisdom comes to the one who listens to someone else’s story first:

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance. (Prov. 1:5 ESV)

For some, apparently, seeking understanding may just be a lost cause:

But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man! (Job 11:12 ESV)

How does this habit impact family life?

Stephen Covey put it this way in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families:

When people know they will have their day in court, they can relax. They know that their time to be heard and understood will come.

I’ve recently begun re-emphasizing this habit in our family. In particular, I’ve gotten intentional about understanding my kids, one at a time. Like most parents, I don’t have a lot of time to spare in the day. I always plan to spend one-on-one time with my kids. But if I’m not careful, a few months will go by without it actually happening.

Instead, I thought I’d try scheduling daily meet-ups with my kids. Not on-line. In person.

After the other kids have turned in for the night, each child gets a turn to stay up an extra 15 minutes with Dad. If the weather’s nice, we’ll sit on the deck as the sun fades. And just talk. Well, I mostly try to just listen. And let them talk. About whatever. Sometimes I’ll guide the conversation through questions of my own. But mostly, I’m seeking to focus on understanding their story. If I do that well, there will be time — and a desire — to hear my story later.

 First, I must genuinely build their trust to get permission to speak into their lives.

And therein lies the most critical component of Covey’s biblical habit — people will only share truthfully with you if they believe you can be trusted.

There’s no shortcut, but one way you can build trust is by listening — without judging or ridiculing. Ask questions of your kids to clarify what they share. Let them know you heard what they said.

Before you know it, you’ll find they will actually asking you what you think. How’s that for a change, parents?

With people, fast is slow and slow is fast. ~ Stephen Covey

Have you had someone practice this habit with you? How did it make you feel? What about when you felt no one understood? Share a memory or comment to help us all grow.

photo by: srboisvert

Let Me Introduce You to a Fresh Voice in Church Planting

He also happens to be one of my former students. I had the privilege of helping mentor Dan Nichols for a few years. He’s engaged in some real-life living of real-life faith.

I invite you to meet him and hear this fresh voice in church planting over at Patheos.

We’ll continue with the series on the 7 Habits of Stephen Covey tomorrow. Until then, be inspired by Dan’s walk of faith.

Worship Week: Opening Ceremony on Singing in Church

Today begins a week-long discussion of singing in church, featuring guest posts on my blog at Patheos. Catch the opening ceremony here and follow along if you wish.

Let the growth begin!

7 Habits of Stephen Covey: See Why Habit 3 is Biblical

Stephen Covey’s wisdom touched a lot of lives. My series continues today answering the question, “Was the wisdom found in Covey’s 7 Habits biblical?” You can start with Habit 1 here.

Habit 3: First Things First

photo: tableatny

The foundation for this habit lies in the simple acknowledgement that some pursuits are more important — or have more value to me — than others. Covey taught that we should be proactive, making a plan to put first things first (the first three habits working together). He illustrated the value of putting first things first with his now classic “Big Rocks”  illustration:

Does this idea of putting first things first have Biblical support?

  • “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)
  • “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” (Prov. 4:7)
  • “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” (2 Cor. 8:5 NIV) 
  • “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:5)

The list of supporting Scripture could go on for — well, several volumes in fact. The very nature of God demands that He Himself has more value than all else. Thus being pleasing to Him intrinsically has the highest value possible in His universe.

How does this Habit impact how we live?

We begin by determining exactly what we believe has the most value to us (Habit 1: Be proactive). We then devise a plan to get there (Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind). Covey recommends making both a personal and a family mission statement — both of which I and my family have done some years ago. Based on that mission, we then choose how we will spend our most critical resources by putting the most important things first (Habit 3: First things first).

Make your problems line up for you. ~ John C. Maxwell

In my life, those priorities look like this:

  • My God and my relationship with him
  • My wonderful wife and my relationship with her
  • My awesome children and my relationship with them
  • My calling to write, speak, lead, and teach while connecting real life with real faith.

If it falls outside of those key priorities, it’s not likely to get much of my time. Sorry, I won’t be watching the summer Olympic games much.

I plan the year, each quarter, and every 40-days (borrowed that idea from John Maxwell) based on my mission statement. Each week, usually Sunday evening at 6 PM, I take an hour to reconnect with my priorities, pray, and then schedule the first things into my life remembering that if it doesn’t get scheduled if probably won’t get done.

I then review the plan with my wife — most weeks when I’m paying attention. Our family meetings each Thursday night complete the communication cycle to Build a Family We Can Be Proud Of provided we prepared well to make them productive times.

What helps have you put in place in your personal or family life to keep first things first? Thanks for sharing your ideas with a comment to share the growth.

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