The View From Under The Bus

The workplace is often described in aggressive terms.  It’s dog-eat-dog.  It’s eat what you kill.  It’s a place where you get stabbed in the back and thrown under the bus.

Fun times.

Such terms persist because they are grounded in reality. Work is a place where people keep score, and no one wants to lose.  Because there are evaluations, incentive pay, quality controls, sales quotas, and performance measures, the temptation to yield to the dark side of human nature wins out sometimes.  One of the most pervasive tactics is to tear others down to make ourselves look and feel better.


How does a Christ-follower deal with it all?  Thankfully, we have all the coping skills we need.  You can review them all in a 10-minute read of The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5 through 7.

“Blessed are the peacemakers”

Be one whose first response is to seek peace with others.  If someone offends you, resist the urge to retaliate or escalate the fight. 

“Let your light shine before others, so they may see your good works”

Let your actions speak for you.  Your character, your restraint, your love for others will overwhelm the mere words of an adversary.

“Be reconciled”

If you’ve done anything wrong to contribute to the mess, address it quickly.  Ask forgiveness.  Right the wrong.   Restore the relationship as best you can.

“Turn the other cheek”

If you’ve done nothing wrong, God knows that. Have the courage to go the extra mile.  Not because the other person deserves it, but because God does.  It is Him you are serving.

“Love your enemies.”

It’s easy to love those who love you.  It’s hard to love the stinkers.  But Christ shows us how.

“Forgive”

Humans make fundamentally human mistakes.  Sinful people sin.  Why do expect differently from them?  Forgive, as Christ has forgiven us.

“Don’t be anxious”

Your heavenly Father knows what you need, even before you ask.  He knows you need your job.  He knows you are working toward that goal, that bonus, that promotion.  Seek the godly things first, and the rest of it will work out ok.

“What you wish others to do for you, do for them”

It’s the golden rule.  It’s truth is as old as creation itself.  Treat others as you want them to treat you.  It works again and again and again.

 

Undercover Boaz

There is a popular TV show where CEOs disguise themselves and go undercover as regular working stiffs.  The attraction of the show is that, like Scrooge on Christmas morning, the bosses wake up to the value of the wage-and-hour people they employ, and they become more giving, compassionate and empathetic.

Undercover Boss is so-called “reality TV.”

For the business leader looking for a genuine model of compassion and empathy, there’s a better reality episode that plays out in the Old Testament book of Ruth.  In that story, a young, destitute widow named Ruth follows her also-widowed, also destitute, mother-in-law to Bethlehem, the small agricultural town that later gave the world David the king and Jesus the Christ.

Trying to sustain herself and her mother-in-law in Bethlehem, Ruth goes out to glean some barley from a nearby farm.  According to the laws of given by God to Moses, all Jewish landowners were required to allow the poor to enter their fields to pick up grain left behind after the harvest.  Gleaning was sort of a welfare system for the poor and hungry.

The field was owned by Boaz.  A quick read of Ruth chapter 2 shows us some very important insights into Boaz, his role as a boss, and his perspectives on both his employees and have-nots like Ruth.

First, Boaz prayed the Lord’s blessing on his employees (verse 4).  He greets them with a blessing and they return the greeting with respect.

He reacts thoughtfully to the strange woman picking in his field (verse 5-6). He does not jump to conclusions.  He asks questions and gets information about who Ruth is and what she is doing there.

Then Boaz responds with kindness toward Ruth and obedience toward the Lord’s commands on gleaning (verse 8).   He also observes God’s instruction about treating foreigners kindly while they are in your land (Leviticus 19:33-34).  Ruth was a Moabite, not a Jew.  Boaz encourages her to glean from his field, and only his field.  He assures her his workers will not only allow her to be there, they will protect her, and provide her water.

In our contemporary culture, we would say that Boaz creates a non-threatening work environment.  He tells his male employees not to touch Ruth, or harass her in any way.  He tells them it is ok to leave some unpicked stalks of grain behind so that Ruth will be able to find enough to gather and eat.

There’s more to the story.  Ruth and Boaz ultimately marry.  But as I recently read the account of their first meeting, I was struck by the reality that Boaz was a great boss and a business owner who was not at all reluctance to put his faith into action through his work.  He took his responsibilities to his business, to God, to his workers, and to his community all seriously.

Boaz would have made good TV.

 

Bill Stiles

bstiles@chattfaithandwork.org

WHY IS GOD’S PLAN TO BRING UNITY TO ALL THINGS?

"As we reflect on God’s plan, we might wonder why God has chosen this particular plan. Why does God want to bring all things to unity in Christ? Why is this necessary? What is God’s ultimate purpose in this plan? If we’re going to make sense of God’s plan, it would be good to be clear on God’s why."

By Mark D. Roberts

Reprinted with permission from the Fuller De Pree Center

God has a surprising plan for the cosmos. As we saw in last Thursday’s devotion, at just the right time, God will “bring unity to all things, things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (1:10). Other translations say that God will unite, gather up, or sum up everything in Christ.

As we reflect on God’s plan, we might wonder why God has chosen this particular plan. Why does God want to bring all things to unity in Christ? Why is this necessary? What is God’s ultimate purpose in this plan? If we’re going to make sense of God’s plan, it would be good to be clear on God’s why.

The why begins in a story that lies behind Ephesians 1. It’s the framing story of the whole Bible, found in the first three chapters of Genesis.

In Genesis 1, God creates all things in a carefully ordered way. He sees that his creation is good, even “very good” (Gen 1:31). God creates humankind in his own image, as male and female, delegating to them authority over his good creation (Gen 1:27–30)… In Genesis 3, they succumb to temptation and do the one thing God told them not to do (Gen 3:6). To use the theological term, they sin. As a result, God’s perfectly ordered world is shattered. The first evidence of this brokenness comes in the relationship between the man and the woman, who try to hide from each other (Gen 3:7). Then they try to hide from God (Gen 3:8)… Human sin leads to brokenness in the world, as natural processes malfunction and human work becomes painful and difficult (Gen 3:16–19). God’s world is broken, though not completely dysfunctional or destroyed, because its created order continues to underlie all things. (Roberts, Ephesians, 31-32).

So, then, why does God want to unify all things in Christ? First of all, because God created all things to be very good. God values and takes delight in the goodness of creation and wants it to be unified, well-ordered, and fruitful, just as he intended it to be from the beginning. Second, the creation is messed up because of human sin. Things are not working the way God wanted them to work. But God will not abandon his creation, even as he will not abandon the creatures made in his image. In God’s good time, he will put all things back together, summing up and restoring them in Christ. Salvation, then, has everything to do with the human beings who were responsible for messing up the world. And it also has everything to do with the messed-up world, with the restoration of all things on heaven and earth. God wants his creation to be very good again.

God’s plan speaks powerfully to the longings of our hearts. Given the alienation we feel from God, we long to be in intimate relationship with God. God’s plan includes such intimacy. Feeling our brokenness, we long for wholeness. God’s plan promises that we will be whole. Seeing injustice and suffering in our world, we long for the peace of God that establishes God’s justice over all the earth. God’s plan involves justice rolling down like waters. Worrying about the debasement of our physical world, we long for the pristine and productive world God created in the beginning. God’s plan will bring renewal to all things, things in heaven and things on earth.

As we wait for the fulfillment of God’s plan at just the right time in the future, we begin to experience, however incompletely, the healing, restoration, and renewal of God’s grace. In our families and workplaces, in our churches and neighborhoods, in our public life and in our private souls, God is at work, even now beginning to unite all things through Christ. And, as we’ll see later in Ephesians, we are called to join God in this work, to be agents of reconciliation and renewal through the Spirit of God alive with us.

Something to Think About:

As you think about the relationship of Genesis 1-3 with Ephesians 1, what ideas, images, or emotions come to mind?

If God’s plan for the future involves uniting all things in Christ, how might you begin to participate in this unifying plan now? What might this mean in your workplace? Your community? Your family? Your church?

Something to Do: 

Take time to reflect on where, in the context of your daily work, you experience the brokenness of creation. How might God bring wholeness and unity into your work? What might God want to do through you? As you think about this, do something that God puts on your heart.

Prayer: 

Gracious God, your plan for the future expands our minds and inspires our hearts. We long for all things to be united in Christ, for our broken world to be restored, for our own infirmities to be healed. We are eager for that time when you choose to execute your plan.

In the meanwhile, Lord, not only do we hope for the future, but we also begin now to experience a bit of the future in this day. We receive forgiveness for our sins. We are blessed to know you personally. We experience healing, not only personal, but interpersonal. Your justice, however elusive at times, is revealed as your people live according to your standards and extend your reign into this world.

When we fall short of what you intended from the beginning, we ask that you will forgive. Moreover, we offer ourselves as your agents in this world. Use us even now to bring unity, reconciliation, healing, justice, and peace to this world. To you be all the glory! Amen.

 

CREATED TO WORK: A PRIMER ON LAYERING FAITH AND WORK VS. INTEGRATING THE TWO

Reprinted with permission from the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work.

In the last decade, more and more people are engaging in discussion about integrating their faith into their day-to-day work. As such, church leaders are re-engaging Dorothy Sayers’s prescription from her essay Why Work: “It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred.”

Teachings that demonstrate how our work matters to God provide comfort for Christians who feel alienated from their jobs. Yet we must not neglect to develop an eschatological, or end-times, stance regarding our work.

Without a proper perspective on the eternal implications of vocation, perseverance in our work may diminish when we encounter inevitable challenges in our jobs.

Before examining this eschatological view of work in next month’s post, let’s first consider three common views that are in fact spiritual, but in isolation can actually devalue the function of work for work’s sake in God’s design.

The examples include: “Our work matters to God because it can be a vehicle to evangelize,” “Our work matters because through it we can gain wealth to ‘bless’ others,” or “Our work matters if it temporarily alleviates poverty and suffering until Jesus returns.”

“Though Biblical and inherently good in nature, these responses flow from views of work that are not an integration of faith and work but a layering of one’s faith on top of one’s work."

The Bible unequivocally advocates for evangelism (Matthew 28:16-20), selflessness with wealth (Malachi 3:10), and tending to the poor (Matthew 25:35-40). But each of these views places ultimate value on a spiritual good beyond work itself.

Consequently, if work is a mere vehicle to other, more spiritual goals, then will work have any function in heaven where sin is no more and souls no longer need to be saved? How can we expect Christians to give their all to something with no lasting significance?

Without a theology that values work for its own sake, we end up seeking value in some external outcome unrelated to the work itself in order to avoid feeling hopeless about an endeavor that consumes the majority of our time.

If we believe that God created and cares about us, sent us out to "take dominion" and "be fruitful,” and is a sovereign God, then can't we believe that he cares about what we do everyday—that he cares about companies, art, education, and government?

“Without a theology that values work for its own sake, we end up seeking value in some external outcome unrelated to the work itself in order to avoid feeling hopeless about an endeavor that consumes the majority of our time.

In our fallen world, work will inevitably become alienating to some degree. So when it does, will your theology embolden you to confront and correct the alienation, or will your theology ask you to push disappointment in your work to the side in order to focus on “more important things”?

When we value our work by its external spiritual effects, it becomes easy to ignore (and sometimes participate in) the real and negative consequences of work that must be completed in a broken world.

These consequences might be dehumanization in our businesses, injustices in the marketplace, shoddy craftsmanship, and secular influence in culture. Instead, we should embrace a theology that empowers us to reform that which is broken.

We can more easily redeem and approach our work wholeheartedly if our theology tells us that our work is not only good, but that it will continue into eternity—not in the form of more Christians in heaven, but as itself.

So the art, politics, business, sports, architecture, agriculture, education, technology, economics and more we push forward will become, as Sayers says, “a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.”

Giving Thanks for Work, and McDonald's

When Monday comes and this long holiday weekend is over, are you likely to be one of those happy to get up and hustle back to work? Or will you feel more like me—a bit grumpy, a bit slow to the starting line?

I love my job, but some days require an attitude adjustment before my face and words reflect it.  I love the opportunity to work, and I am grateful for the physical and mental ability to do it well.  Yet I am not one of those people who naturally, innately, reflect an attitude of love and gratitude in all I do.

Sometimes when my attitude needs a serious adjustment, the Lord gives me the grace to remember a short stop at an Atlanta McDonald’s and an encounter with a man whose attitude and work ethic were—no hyperbole here—heroic.

It was late in the evening, well after 10, and I was driving back tired from a long day of work in south Georgia.  I needed coffee, and to get rid of the last coffee I had consumed.  I got off at the toney West Paces Ferry exit of I-75, hoping for some high-end caffeine, but the McDonald’s was one of the few options still open, so that’s where I stopped.

As I entered the men’s restroom I heard singing--a soft, low, baritone.  The voice belonged to a man who was scrubbing the wall tile with a small brush.  He was working hard, attacking the grout vigorously, but at the same time singing a soft, slow hymn.

He spoke to me first, asking me if I’d had a good day.  Yes, I responded, a good, but very long day.  Then I performed the expected courtesy and asked him about his day.  His answer was epic.

He said he was so grateful that God had blessed him with this job, and had given him the strength to do it.  He said that day was a gift from God, and he was grateful for it all.  

That man lifted my spirits in a way no coffee ever could.  As I drove away toward Chattanooga and home, I thought about this man’s true work and value.  His job description was to make dirty restrooms clean, but his work was of far higher importance.  He was an ambassador for the kingdom of God.  He was a faithful servant, multiplying his one talent into far more.  He was a minister, loving God and loving his neighbor.

As we offer thanksgiving today for God’s many gifts, let's remember the blessings of work that give us opportunity to serve others, provide for our daily needs, expand and nurture our relationships, and express our creativity.

Jesus said the greatest commands are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Our work provides a platform to fulfill both. 

By Bill Stiles, CIFW Co-Founder/bstiles@chattfaithandwork.org

What Greg Thompson Can Teach Us About Living as Christians in Cities.

By Jeff Hannen, Founder, Denver Institute for Faith & Work. Reprinted with permission from the DIFW blog.  Gregg Thompson will speak in Chattanooga on Tuesday, October 17 at 7 pm at The Camp House.  Admission is free.

Occasionally you meet somebody that shines with such virtue that you are, perhaps for the first time, made aware of your own poverty of spirit.

When I met Greg Thompson during our Thriving Cities symposium in late October, I almost immediately felt the weight of his glory. Before speaking to the crowd, he almost desperately asked me to let him know if there was anybody I knew at the event who had a particular hurt or pain that he could pray for. Unlike my concerns (Will the event be a success? Will people “like” the evening?), it seemed to me that his vision for the renewal of cities was almost completely driven by an other-worldly love.

It’s rare that I go back over a talk that a DIFW speaker has given several times to take notes, underline, and to pray. But when Greg spoke about our “shared wound and shared calling” to reimagine what a virtuous civic life might look like, it was not just my mind, but through sitting under his teaching, quietly my heart was drawn to the beauty of his vision.

Here are six movements Greg Thompson encouraged us to make as Christian people living in cities today.

1. We need to move from a posture of victimhood to servanthood.

“It’s true, of course, that [Christians] are in fact an increasingly marginal people, a trend that looks to continue for a really long while — like a hundred years probably. And it is true that simply by virtue of having moral norms that we cling to, we can be seen as a moral threat to the aspirations of our nation. But it’s also true that Christ is risen, and that while we may be marginalized, we can never be victimized, for heaven’s sake. And to the contrary, we don’t live in this world either as masters or as victims but as servants.”

Fear is rampant in American culture, says Pulitzer-Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson. And I’ve felt this fear too. Just saying you’re a Christian can be a recipe for career sabotage or becoming socially ostracized.

But fear is not a Christian habit of mind  love is. Even as Christians are losing public influence and public voice, Greg reminded me that night at the event that we may be pushed to the margins, but we need never adopt a mentality of victimhood. We are here neither as “culture-shapers” (masters) nor culture-defenders (victims)  we are simply servants.  Those who have a deep, abiding hope in the risen Christ, and a enduring reason to love those with whom we live.

2. We need to move from hostility to hospitality.

“One of the most painfully evident aspects of the Church’s life  at least in public  is our fear and our contempt of those who differ from us. It is true that we do have and we must have deep differences with our neighbors. That’s what it means to have convictions in a pluralist age. And it is true that some of our neighbors are going to be hostile to us because we’re Christians… But it’s also true that God loved you and me while we were enemies. Our neighbors, every single one of them, is made in his image and they have an irreducible dignity. And we have to be the people the poets who can recognize the beauty where it is and welcome them in.”

As Greg said this, I was convicted. Do I assume that I’ll be persecuted for my faith in a secular city, and is that why I’m always defending myself before a conversation has ever begun? Why is it that as a shrinking minority I feel the need to assert my “rights” to live a Christian? How might I simply open my workplace, my office, my dining room table and share my life with those that disagree with me? This is what Christ has first done for me  yet what I also find so uncomfortable in the reality of my Tuesday mornings  and Saturday evenings.

Yet inviting in the stranger is perhaps one of the most powerful things people of Christian faith can do in this pluralistic age.

3. We need to move from competition to collaboration.

One of the most disappointing afflictions in contemporary Christianity is the way that we seem more eager to build a brand for ourselves than to build a common good for us all…
“It is actually as we join together that we grow up into what [Paul] calls the full stature of mature, Christian personhood. And because of this, we’re called to labor diligently to situate our gifts not simply in relationship to our own personal sense of calling, but to our brothers and sisters — to not simply get up in the morning and ask ‘What do I want to do?’ but ask ‘What needs to be done?’ ‘Who’s doing it?’ and ‘How can I join them?’”

I’m guilty of this. We all are. Brands must be built  it’s the only way we can market our products in a noisy world. I get this. But can the boundaries between brands and competitors melt a bit? Can we find ways to work together with rival schools, rival tech companies, rival businesses  even “rival” churches  for the good of all? (Could we even find ways to bless our competitors?) 

Finding a way to live in distinctive conviction yet humble collaboration is a huge challenge for the church today. And for me personally as I try to walk the narrow path of both conviction and compassion.

4. We need to move from an emphasis on the individual to the institutional.

Social healing in a disintegrated age cannot  it literally cannot  be a product of focusing on individuals, or even of focusing on individuals in aggregate and hoping by some math it will add up to a transformed society. It doesn’t work that way. 

“We have to have an institutional horizon to our love. And the reason for this is because the social order that we inhabit and all the individual lives that we have are inescapably institutional in nature. We are formed by institutions at every point, and so if we’re going to be a people who reimagine a civic ecology, we’re going to have to take institutions very serious and learn that it’s not unspiritual to do that.”

Government employees, professional service providers, waitresses, nurses, engineers and even pastors are formed not only by individuals, but by the shared values, ethos and pathos that grow up in groups of people. Renewed cities require renewed institutions. Perhaps if we begin the counter-cultural work of thinking institutionally might witness and our service to the city might grow deeper.

5. We need to move from the merely political to the public.

Politics does not in fact create [culture change], but actually expresses a larger cultural system of which it is a part. And so politics emerges out of this larger network of interpenetrating institutions that I’m calling the ‘public,’ or economics and politics and art and medicine and religion. All of these things together are forming an ecology. And because of this, we have to renounce our obsession with merely political change, because that is not how social healing works.”

Politics is downstream from culture. Because this is true, efforts to change the culture through electing the right officials will nearly always fail. Instead, culture springs up from an ecosystem of work  oil & gas, health care, finance, education, religion, restaurants and hotels.
Politics is important. It always has been for people of Christian faith. But being people of Christian faith in cities does not start in Washington D.C. It starts at work.

6. We need to move from a focus on cultural triumph to a focus on the common good.

“One of the saddest features of our current cultural setting, which is definitely on grim display during the political season, is our tendency to think of the goal of all of our labors is actually the goal of conquest. To think that we’re trying to win. This aspiration is to defeat our neighbors in a high-stakes culture war…
“But listen: It is true that we serve a king  King Jesus  who right now is enthroned on heaven. Right now. Ruling all things. And as an expression of his reign sends light and wind on the righteous and on the wicked alike. He’s giving gifts to people who are opposed to him. 

“And what that means is, if that’s true of him, if we seek to inhabit his kingdom, where we seek the good not simply of ourselves, but of our neighbors… We are not trying to win; we are trying to love. Because of this, as we think about what it means to engage the city and to reimagine a civic ecology, we have to remember that our goal is not cultural conquest; it is to seek the common good.”

“We are not trying to win; we are trying to love.” This is what I meant earlier by the beauty of Greg’s vision. He’s on to something  a way of civic responsibility, yet also one of deep peace and deep joy.

In the end, the way of love is the path toward a renewed city. 

Greg Thompson will speak in Chattanooga on Tuesday, October 17, at 7 PM at the Camp House.  Admission is free.

Love Thy Neighbor: How Faith and Fashion Inspired A Post-Retirement Entrepreneur

Reprinted With Permission from Nashville Institute for Faith & Work (visit www.nifw.org)

Age is just a number for Agnes Scott.

"I don’t think about age," she says. "I think about how I can pass on what I’ve learned to others."

As a post-retiree serving as a "one woman band" of her newly-realized nonprofit venture, NeighborH.O.O.D., Scott rightfully has much to pass on.

Founded out of her own entrepreneurial success following her employment in the automotive industry in Detroit in the 1980s, Scott is the founder of NeighborH.O.O.D. (Hands on Our Destinies), a fashion and design trade and arts school built around a 15-month cooperative entrepreneurship curriculum that includes business and entrepreneurship courses.

The curriculum uses the performing, literary, decorative, graphic, plastic, visual, and performing arts as backdrops to spark creativity and innovation, promote social cohesion, spur academic performance, and heal and unite the community.

“This nation does not have the luxury to dismiss the need for the underserved to be advantaged.

“Its mission is to bring forth the latent talents and abilities of Nashville’s underserved population via theory, application, and self-advocacy skills,” Scott says, “using hands-on cooperative entrepreneurship principles to shape their destinies.”

A partnership with Lipscomb University’s SALT (Serving and Learning Together) Program has accelerated NeighborH.O.O.D.’s launch date; the inaugural class, which began classes at the end of September, will graduate in winter 2018.

At last count, 11 students were set to enroll.

“This nation does not have the luxury to dismiss the need for the underserved to be advantaged,” Scott says. “So, in order to avoid increases in the dire economic, social, and educational woes of that population, which negatively affect the well-being of this nation, both domestically and internationally, steps must be put in place to change the dire statistics for this population."

Tuition is almost entirely subsidized by those sponsoring NeighborH.O.O.D., but students are expected to provide a proof of household income and contribute a reasonable portion for participation in the program.

‘THIS ORGANIZATION IS NEEDED’

So why focus on a fashion and design trade school to equip the underprivileged youth Scott feels called to serve?

Easy: because an element of fashion and design is attractive to the average person, and, as Scott points out, for the last five years the industry has shown significant growth in Nashville.

It’s the best of both worlds.

Because, as Scott notes, the Davidson County 2010-2014 Census shows at least 25-41 percent of Nashville’s District 17 (NeighborH.O.O.D.’s target area in Edgehill) lives in poverty. The organization was created with communities like this in mind.

What sets the organization apart is that NeighborH.O.O.D. offers to a number of individuals (at one time) through cooperative ownership a better way of life through education, entrepreneurship, and employment principles.

This is Scott’s inspiration—to shine her light and push back against the darkness.

“This organization is needed,” she says, “because disadvantaged young people are at higher risk of marginalization and social exclusion than other youth (International Labour Office, 2011, P5).

IMPACTING 'MY FELLOW MAN'

Scott is a rare Nashville native in a time when an estimated 100 new Nashvillians are moving to the city each day.

“All of my quests can be viewed as experiential learning, experiences to educate others,” Scott says. “However, over the last ten years, a spiritual aspect has been added to my goals and objectives, and I think about how what I do impacts my fellow man.”

Most recently, Scott completed the Nashville Institute for Faith & Work’s Gotham Program, a nine-month intensive emphasizing the integration of faith and vocation that ends with its signature “Cultural Renewal Project” aimed at shining light on an area of darkness in participants’ workplaces.

“All of my quests can be viewed as experiential learning, experiences to educate others. However, over the last ten years, a spiritual aspect has been added to my goals and objectives, and I think about how what I do impacts my fellow man.

NeighborH.O.O.D. was Scott’s project, and it was born out of a desire to impact those in her sphere of influence across the generational divide.

“The greatest joy in working with those in different age generations,” she says, “is to see their thirst for learning and to learn from them.”

Happiness is Not the Goal: Contentment Is

By GISLE SORLI/Reprinted With Permission from The Collaborative, Orlando, Florida

The United Nations recently published its annual report on happiness, which measures income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom, and trust (determined by the absence of corruption in business and government).

This year, my homeland of Norway climbed from fourth place to stand atop the podium as the happiest country in the world.

Can it be true that Norwegians are the happiest citizens in the world? And what determines a good life?

I’m skeptical. Here’s why…

Happiness Driven by What We Have?

The report analyzes happiness within nations using data from individual life evaluations—roughly 1,000 per year in each of more than 150 countries. It specifically measures answers to the “Cantril ladder” question:

Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?

Apparently, Norwegians feel they possess adequate amounts of income, good health, trusted friends, and that they are able to be generous, and have leaders with integrity. But does that make them “happy”? I’ve met many miserable people who have an abundance of these things. I’ve also met many relatively poor people whose lives are full of adversity, but they seem to have a positive outlook on life.

Personally, I have been able to enjoy decent income, good health, trusted friends, an ability to be generous, and integrity among my leaders. However, at times in my life, I still felt something was missing. My emotions could go from being satisfied when things went well to being unsatisfied when things did not go as I wished. Even with all these material and relational gifts, I was not content.

What’s the problem?

It’s as simple as it is profound. The UN is missing a key question…

Happiness is determined by external factors. As a result, happiness is one of the shallowest, most fleeting, fleshy emotions a human can experience. For someone to be “happy” something has “to happen.”

  • When my investment portfolio increases, I feel happy
  • When my flight departs on time, I feel happy
  • When my favorite soccer team wins, I feel happy

But how do I feel when the opposite happens, as it invariably does? Fearful? Stressed? Insecure? Miserable?

Welcome to life’s emotional roller coaster, full of temporary happy “ups” and anxiety-producing “downs,” fear-inducing twists and terrifying turns. This is precisely where most people are living—because they’re fixated on striving to feel happy.

Contentment is Not Dependent on Happiness

So, what is the secret to a “happy” life that isn’t dependent on circumstances? It’s contentment. Paul shares the secret in Philippians 4:11-12,

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. (NASB)

Paul learned to be content regardless of his circumstances. That’s quite an accomplishment. Take a moment and ask yourself, “Do I know anyone who always seems content?”

Paul found contentment through his relationship with Jesus. No matter what happened around him—imprisonment, threats to his life, poverty—he knew Jesus was with him. Paul trusted Jesus. This produced a deep joy, a contentment that not only flowed from the inside out, but swamped whatever negative external factors Paul faced.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

Like Paul, I’ve learned that abiding joy flows from my relationship with Jesus, where I listen to what he tells me to do and then I do it in obedience. No matter the circumstances, God can grant us joy.

I expect the UN will continue to measure happiness based on external factors. But a far more profound survey would ask not what you have, but “Who has you?” (Do you know true contentment because Jesus “has” you?)

My Norwegian countrymen may have a lot to be happy about. But happiness is over-rated. As for me, although I am still a work in progress, I choose the joy of contentment.

By GISLE SORLI/Reprinted With Permission from The Collaborative, Orlando, Florida

Gisle is passionate about coming alongside families on their financial journey. He holds a bachelor's degree in finance, a master's degree in international business and a master's in business administration from Boston University. He is also a designated Certified Financial Planner, CFP® and a Qualified Kingdom Advisor. Gisle is married to Melanie. He met his wife at Boston University, where they both studied as undergraduates. They currently reside in Alexandria, Virginia, where they are raising their three boys, Elias, Micah, and Jonathan.

Making Decisions

Decisions come very easy to me, but not necessarily good ones.  I am very comfortable making judgments.  I find, however, that the consequence of a quick decision is often a long, hard slog toward making things right.

My wife Janice and I were riding bikes in Acadia National Park when we came to a junction of two trails.  I had a map in my pack, and I could have easily checked our position and made an informed choice.  But the route to the left looked correct in my mind, and it was downhill, so that’s the way we went—downhill.

After a mile of easy coasting in the wrong direction, I admitted my mistake.  I had to tell my trusting wife who followed to turn around and take back all the elevation we just descended.  Perhaps it goes without saying the ride to the top was difficult, and also very quiet.

I read a book by a neuroscientist who observed through a number of experiments and diagnostic tests something I’ve known since childhood—the more things you have on your mind, the poorer your decisions.

On this vacation, I had a lot on my mind.

My poor decisions actually started weeks before.  I found a place to stay online that promised a Swiss-style chalet, quiet surroundings and a private beach.  I researched no further.  I booked it.  It was now one less thing I had to think about.

When my wife (again, so trusting) and I arrived we found a chalet, but our room was in the basement.  It was dreary, dated, dirty, and the beach was a quarter-mile away.  It turned out to be the most expensive vacation rental ever.  As we left to find a better place, the landlord’s “no-refunds” still hanging in the air, I calculated we paid about $400 a minute.

The influence of a crowded mind was tested by some researchers who devised a very simple experiment.  They told one group of people to remember three numbers, and then turned them loose on a large buffet of food.  The table included healthy food choices like veggies and fruits, and also included cakes, cookies and lots of fatty-fried stuff.

The group with three numbers in their heads socialized at the buffet while they snacked, mostly on the healthier foods.

Then a second group was asked to remember seven numbers and turned loose at the same buffet.  They socialized less, and ate mostly sugar and fat.  The pattern was repeated in test after test.

The researchers’ conclusion was humans are more likely to make good decisions if they have fewer thoughts in their heads.  That rings true to me.

I teach a Bible study class, and sometimes I choose to teach topics I feel I need to learn.  Recently I studied and prepared a couple of lessons on the topic of simplicity.  I can’t speak for others in the class, but I did learn something.

What did I learn?  I learned you can’t study your way to simplicity.  Simplicity in thought and action comes from focusing on less, not more.  Whether it be work, prayer, conversation, art, sport, reading, writing or relationships, we do better when we narrow our focus.

One day Jesus was visiting in the home of Mary and Martha.  While Mary sat and talked with Jesus, Martha was preparing dinner.  After a while Martha got peeved about Mary’s apparent laziness and indifference.  Jesus responded to Martha’s complaint saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things, but only one thing is necessary . . . .”

That one thing is love—to love God and to love others.  All the prioritizations of life flow from this one priority.

Ultimately the crowded mind is a selfish mind.  It is the mind that withdraws into self and broods quiet for hours.  It is the mind that snaps impatiently at someone’s intrusion.  It is the mind that makes life just a little harder for everyone else, but excuses itself with, “I’m sorry, but I have a lot on my mind.”

Love is patient.  Love is kind.  Love is not puffed up and not insistent on its own way.  The mind prioritized by genuine love is ordered, sensitive to what is going on around it, and focused on the better outcome

Peeling away the unnecessary and the lesser things is not sloth.  In fact, when it does not come naturally, it requires serious work.  Like a sculptor cutting away everything he does not see, it is hard to carve away all the extraneous things that get in the way of the essential.  And you have to keep doing it moment after moment, thought after thought.

I do not want to be worried and bothered by so many things.  I want to choose better.  Lord, teach me to love.