Proverbs 18:17: One Side of the Story

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Proverbs 18:17 (ESV)

Cross-examination is a key element of our justice system. A lawyer can craft a compelling story, peppered with supporting evidence, that appears to reveal the hidden motive of the defendant and their role in perpetrating a crime such that the jury is ready to drag the accused to jail themselves. This certainty often fades when the defense attorney rises and tells an equally compelling but different story, disputes the prosecution’s use of the evidence and perhaps reminding the jury of evidence that casts doubt on the prosecution’s case, and presenting another interpretation of the defendant’s life that either justifies their action or disputes their involvement. The jury mentally puts down the torches and pitchforks and cautiously considers what the truth could be.

The American adversarial judicial system prevents the problem highlighted in the proverb. Our passions can be ignited by one side of the story leading to regrettable actions because we neglected important facts. What seems like an obvious course of action built on logic leads to serious and expensive tactical mistakes. It is easy, but lazy, to defer to a confident and knowledgeable person when we should react with skepticism and due diligence. The person may be correct but they should be proved correct.

Sales presentations

People make poor decisions in their personal finances and business by falling for well-designed sales presentations and advertisements. Many people have timeshares and other “investments” (Beanie Babies) that they cannot unload because they succumbed to the logic and appeal of an inspiring presentation, time pressure (“this deal ends today”), trusted a salesperson and organization they didn’t really know, and they didn’t read the agreement. The best salespeople and sales organizations are trained in psychology and use this knowledge to design the pitch. I’m not criticizing the approach but reminding you to be aware that the car salesperson and telemarketer has been trained with many crafted scripts to address our concerns, questions, and rejections. They have an answer for everything that will appeal to your pride, anxiety, and insecurity. I’ve been through sales training where you are taught to create and then solve FUD: fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

I am not anti-sales. On the contrary, sales is what drives the economy and starts commerce. Through sales we learn of products that we really need that we didn’t know existed, medications that can help us with serious issues, and solutions to problems we want solved. However, in most cases there are multiple solutions or products that can fulfill our need  and we do not need to “buy now.” Buying from the first pitch without considering what another vendor has to offer or listening to another expert who highlights potential issues with the initial offer is foolish. More information will help clarify your needs, evaluate what is really offered, and provide insight on alternative products and solutions that may be a better fit or help you negotiate a better deal.

Personal relationships

The wisdom of the proverb will also help us with conflict in the workplace and our private lives. A manager or friend will be approached by a person who is having problems with another person. They will weave a tale of unfair treatment and unkind words and explain situations that have caused this person distress. Being the good friend or manager you confront the other individual about their accidental or intentional injustice. You may be surprised and embarrassed when you find the person is offended and insulted by your accusations and tells a compelling story that counters the first person’s account, supplies important information the other person neglected to mention, and even has witnesses that supports their view of events. Far from solving a problem, you created a bigger problem that existed before and now you have a starring role in the drama.

Although we want to be a good leader or loyal friend, we must remember that one side of the story is always imperfect. It is usually foolish to get involved in another person’s disagreement though we can provide godly counsel to help them resolve the conflict. The other person may see the same situation differently. Our view is colored by many things: experience, worldview, age, gender, personality, and many more characteristics. We filter our view through these things and respond accordingly. If you must intervene because you are a manager, make sure you get lots of information, ask follow up questions, look for evidence or information that provides some clarity, then act in the way that seems appropriate to the situation. But don’t react to one side of the story.

Success myths

Many business titans and successful people in many fields have a success myth. It comes out in interviews, is the subject of articles and books, and the person may even cite the one or two things that made them a success. Author Ryan Holiday begins his book “Ego is the Enemy” by telling his own success story then promptly reveals the important information left out that also contributed to his success and things that made him successful in one area that led to failures in another. He concludes by warning readers of CEO biographies and business success books that these stories, based in reality, are still myth. Important elements are missing. For every billionaire founder who skipped college and followed their passion to create a powerful company there are hundreds or thousands who followed the same path to poverty. We hear about the success stories but failures do not make headlines.

Glean what wisdom you can from success stories but realized that there are important nuances and situational differences that also contributed to the outcome. Perhaps they developed a product that hit at the right time, hired key individuals that contributed more to the success that is recognized, and had more luck than they are willing to acknowledge. You will not be able to mimic their success by doing everything they say they did. Someone can point out how they wrongly assessed the reason for their success, succeeded despite what they did, or how what led them to success in the past could lead to failure for them, or you, in the future.

The world is very complex though we desperately want it to be simple and will reach for simple solutions or obvious answers. But to be personally and professionally successful we must give kind attention to what we hear, but turn an investigative and skeptical eye to see what we are missing and what more we need to know. The story may be good, but wait to hear the other side of the story.

I Don’t Know What I Want To Be When I Grow Up!

In a world of seemingly limitless opportunities, bright young people can be frustrated trying to narrow down what career to pursue. Most don’t have enough work experience to know the great variety of jobs available. Others have aspirations but don’t know how they can make a living pursuing their passion or interests. They search the Internet, talk with parents and guidance counselors, and perhaps talk with friends but cannot discern the path they should take to a fulfilling career.

I wrote an article previously with general advice for young people on choosing a career that is satisfactory and allows them to glorify God in that vocation. In it I provide advice on handling adult criticism or worry about non-traditional career paths (social media manager, artist, trades) and how to use the career to support godly service. However, they may feel like they are trapped in a room full of doors wondering which one to choose. If this is you, I hope the advice below provides some important considerations and ideas for selecting a door to open.

You will probably have several careers

In contrast to my parent’s generation who generally stayed with one company for most of their career, you will probably work for several companies throughout your career. On the job you will likely start in detail-oriented production work until you become an expert who manages, jobs, projects, and/or people. As your skills develop you may discover new ways to maximize your joy and increase your income by pivoting from your initial career path to something you find more challenging or fulfilling. This may happen within one company but will more likely be a couple of moves within one company and moves within other companies as well. You may even be freelancing, that is, doing several projects or jobs (possibly quite diverse) for multiple companies while working for yourself.

Many pursue a course of work for a decade or two then change to something quite different that uses their knowledge and experience in different ways. The marketer becomes an inventor. The accountant becomes a consultant helping other businesses with financial decisions instead of detail money tracking. The successful businessman becomes a preacher. The stay-at-home mom becomes a nurse or teacher when the kids leave home. What you choose today may suit you for a period of your life until you choose something else to pursue.

Start with the tasks not with the title

Much of the frustration I had, and shared by some of my children, is not knowing what job “title” to pursue. We are accustomed to a person with a job title doing a particular job and our challenge is to uncover the one that is suited for us. I want to suggest a better path that will produce less anxiety: focus on what you want to do instead of what the job is called.

Choice Of Career OrientationThink about what you want to do in a job, not its title, who hires for that work, or will it pay enough to support you. Think about what kind of tasks you want to do every day (understanding that every job has some tasks that are unpleasant but necessary) or accomplishments you want to achieve. List those tasks and/or accomplishments and think about what skills you will need to do that work. You can search the Internet for the tasks or objectives (i.e., writing, computer programming, welding, building houses, helping people recover from illness…) to determine what skills are needed and perhaps read about individuals who are successful in this work. I would suggest being broad in your thinking and have similar overlapping options of the things you want to do. For example, if you are interested in gardening, consider skills in landscaping, food cultivating, and hydroponics as they are distinct but related.

Next, search to see how you can develop those skills today. There are many things you can study online, watch YouTube videos, read books, or learn how to use specific tools, whether the tool is a complex machine or computer software. You can also discover what trade schools, colleges, or apprenticeship programs teach those skills. An important boost to your career is finding hobbies that use the skills for personal enjoyment. Use this knowledge to determine how you can start learning the skills now, even if it just learning the fundamental principles until you can go to a college or trade school. Think of ways you can use the skills now as a volunteer (help in a hospital or nursing home) or experiment on personal projects  (i.e., building web sites, apps, animations, furniture, rebuilding an engine…) to gain practical experience you can demonstrate to employers. Following this path, some jobs and employers may find you!

As your knowledge grows and your skills improve the career options and  perhaps people or companies that will help you pursue your passion will start to appear. In fact, I don’t think some job titles or career paths will become evident until after you have started the journey following your interests and have accumulated knowledge and skills. So explore what interests you, what brings you joy or excites you, the things you can get lost in and truly enjoy doing, or the things you have enjoyed doing since you were a kid. Chances are, if you take a broad interest approach as described above, you will eventually discover what you cannot see by anxious seeking.

 

 

Proverbs 22:29: You Do Your Job BUT Do You Make a Difference?

Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank. Proverbs 22:29 (NIV)

The modern workplace is blessed with unambitious reliable individuals who are content to provide solid output and dependable service. I honor people who do good work to receive fair compensation and good benefits. Work is a part of their life but not a life calling. Their income and benefits support personal ambition and passions. Managers should recognize such individuals and provide them sufficient challenge and fair compensation without pressuring or chiding them for a lack of professional drive. Take care of these rocks in your organization because they can be a good foundation of a stable business if you don’t let them stagnate.

The Curse of the “But I Did My Job!” Employee

Occasionally you will find the employees who, as they tell it, keep their heads down, do their jobs, and provide generally consistent output and predictable results. Yet these same employees are perplexed when overlooked for promotions or receive nominal pay increases. They protest the apparent injustice with “But I did my job!” They fail to see that the reward for “just doing your job” is simply a paycheck.

office workTo advance and excel in the workplace one must go beyond “doing their job.” All workers, especially knowledge workers, must be engaged with their job and its impact on the organization. Consider how you would answer the following questions:

  • In what specific ways do you bring value to your company, customers, and work group?
  • Are you content with knowing the minimum processes of your job and work tools (i.e., software) or do you become a power user of your work tools and an expert in your field?
  • Do you whine about inefficiencies or do you meet with managers to explain inefficiencies, make suggestions for improvement, and demonstrate the value of changes on productivity and profitability?
  • Are you involved with professional organizations related to your job or industry and read trade publications?
  • Do you work with your team, managers, and other organizations within the company or do you prefer to fight territorial battles and complain about how everyone makes your job more difficult?

I have heard the complaints and excuses:

  • “The company will not pay for me to join professional organizations.”
  • “I’m not paid to read books, blogs, or magazines outside of work hours that will expand my knowledge of my job, industry, and company.”
  • “The company doesn’t pay enough to buy my loyalty or engagement.”
  • “The company will not pay for me to become a power user of Microsoft Office or other tools.”

If you keep yourself warm with excuses and whining, don’t be surprised when you managers and co-workers are deaf to your complaining. Your professional development is your responsibility. Only you can increase your value in the labor marketplace. The time you invest developing productivity and general business skills, industry knowledge, and job skills will likely be repaid by advancement within the company, job offers from companies that see your value, or becoming your own boss.

Don’t just do your job, make a positive impact in your organization, industry, and professional life.

Advice to Young Christians on Choosing A Career

Though work is important, it is not the center of the Christian’s life. Work should support our mission of serving God.

Though work is important, it is not the center of the Christian’s life. Work should support our mission of serving God.

Choice Of Career OrientationChristians must not consider work as something separate from their spiritual life. Some say, ignorantly, that “business is business” and do not apply Bible principles of honesty to sales or management. Some use work as an excuse for not serving God. The Bible teaches the importance of diligent and honest work, but not at the expense of one’s soul. After all, “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Do not put your career above God’s work

Honest employment is important but earthly work is not the primary focus of the Christian. Men of the world are defined by their jobs and judge one another by the prestige of the job title, their authority, or salary. Christians have a job that has nothing to do with the workplace.

Ecclesiastes 12:13: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

The kingdom of God is our primary occupation, Matthew 6:31-33.

But Christian men are commanded to work!

1 Timothy 5:8 – “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Paul condemned men who would not work in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12. The Christian’s career should support godly service. 2 Corinthians 8 describes Christians giving of their money to help needy Christians. We work so that we can provide for our own and help others.

Ephesians 4:28 – “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

I had an old friend who was a successful college professor and business man. He had a great relationship with his family and was very active in the Lord’s work. He always quoted the saying, “No one, on his deathbed, said, ‘I wish I would have spent more time at the office’.”

I have known extremely successful people who were alienated from their children and often divorced. No amount of money or possessions can replace the importance of family time and influencing them to serve God.

Christians overly focused on a career may lose their soul since they neglect to feed from God’s word, pray, and do not serve in the kingdom. As Mark 8, quoted above, and Matthew 16:26 observe, it is of no profit to achieve great success and financial wealth at the cost of your soul.

As great as you may be at your job, you can be replaced (and you will be replaced). The President of our company often notes that the cemetery is full of business people who thought they couldn’t be replaced.

For the Christian, work of any kind done well is its own reward

Ecclesiastes 5 describes the vexation and emptiness of great possessions. The possessor cannot enjoy wealth for fear of losing it to bad investments, thieves, or con artists. Perhaps worse is working hard in the heat of the sun to leave your wealth to a lazy person who is given the money gets to spend it.

Enjoyable work is a key to contentment

Ecclesiastes observes that the pursuits of this world are vanity; however, the servant of God can find some contentment by serving God, enjoying his family, being satisfied with the fruit of his labor, and doing work he enjoys, Ecclesiastes 5:18-20. The work doesn’t give meaning to a vain life but when we realize that work is not our life, just a part of it, we can keep it in proper perspective and focus on living with God. Therefore, one should choose a career that he will enjoy and that will allow him to serve God. Wise people have said, “choose work that you enjoy and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Challenges with career choices

A young person may say that he wants to pursue a particular type of career. Often the reply will be, “You can’t make money doing that” or “You may have a hard time finding a job doing that.” I’ve told young people going into unique careers that older people often respond this way when they don’t know anyone who does that type of job or do not know much about it.
In fact, I have heard older people give young people advice to go into a certain career field that was undergoing massive job layoffs! In the past they knew that this kind of job paid well and was stable but their information was outdated.

I’m not saying don’t listen to the advice but take it as advice, not the absolute truth. Investigate career paths for yourself. Learn what you have to do to succeed and pursue your dream. Perhaps your dream job doesn’t pay a lot but if you can conform your life to live within that pay then you will be successful. If you are not covetous requiring the nicest house, cars, clothes, luxurious vacations, eating out all of the time, etc. you can live the life described in Ecclesiastes 5.

There was a career path I would have loved but didn’t pursue it because I listened to the “experts” in my life telling me that it wouldn’t be a good choice. Sadly, I gave up something I would have really enjoyed instead of trying to see how I could make it work.

Whose dream is it?

Sometimes parents will drive their children fulfill the dreams they didn’t pursue. A father may have been a good athlete but didn’t play at the college or professional level and pushes his child to do this. The child may want to please his father but does not have the heart for sports that his father did and will be miserable playing. Some people, following the dreams of their parents, pursue careers as accountants, lawyers, business owners, or other high profile jobs and are miserable because they wanted another career path.

If you are in this situation, discuss your dreams with your parents, be prepared to deal with the objections mentioned in the last paragraph, and share the career path you want to pursue. With career, as with choosing someone to marry, choose one that will help you serve God, draw closer to God, and live in godly contentment.

Let your light must shine in the workplace

A mature person works when it’s not fun and he is tempted to goof off. Proverbs 12:11 and 28:19 reminds us that we are rewarded for work, not laziness. Talking about work accomplishes nothing; doing the work has profit, Proverbs 14:23.

Remember your career is built with each job you have no matter how different the work is compared to what you ultimately want to do. Flipping burgers, cleaning restrooms, sweeping floors, or stocking shelves are steps upon which you can build a successful career. Doing these jobs well helps you build up to greater responsibilities and more pay.

Christians should have a reputation for responsible and diligent work. Consider these exhortations:

  • Proverbs 21:5, 25 – Purposeful progression without irresponsible choices
  • Proverbs 15:19 – Hard work is a highway to success
  • Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Work hard at whatever you find to do

Consider especially the wisdom of Colossians 3:22-24: Don’t just work hard when the boss is watching but work as if Jesus were your boss. Besides, if you don’t work hard when the boss is not around it will still be obvious because your production, or output, will indicate your work ethic.

So work hard at whatever you do. A good attitude toward every task will lead to increasing responsibility, accountability, and rewards. There is work that does not seem challenging, or might seem beneath you, and you are tempted to not do your best as you wait to do greater work. It is doing the little work effectively that paves the way for you to be given greater work.
As a manager, I’m not going to give someone work that has great impact on the company if they consistently fail to do work that is not as critical. Consider also these thoughts:

  • Proverbs 20:4 – You build your future by work you do today
  • Luke 19:16-18 – Faithful in a little and given more authority
  • Luke 16:10 – Also, dishonest in little will be dishonest in much
  • Proverbs 22:29 – Talent developed by hard work will make a place for you

What value do you provide to an employer?

The problem with many resumes I read are they are about the person instead of what that person can do for the employer. “I want a job that will help me…” should be replaced with statements that indicate how you hope to use your skills to help the employer accomplish his goals. Your success will come when you help your organization be successful or bring value to others

Always remember, the company does not exist to provide you a job; the job exists because the company has some work that needs to be done. It’s not about you.

Aspire to financial independence

Working hard to achieve financial independence is the pleasant reward for hard work. This means developing independence from your parents: You’ll probably have to live without many luxuries but you can have your independence.

When my wife and I married we had the first meal in our apartment on an overturned cardboard box instead of a table. We have a lot of used furniture, shop at thrift stores, and do without many luxuries in order to live within our means.

When you are depending on someone else for financial support they exercise some oversight of how you spend your money. For example: You loan a friend $20 and he comes to you on Thursday and says he can’t pay you back until next week but you really could use the money. Sunday afternoon he asks if you’ve seen the latest movie that just came out this weekend because he saw it with his girlfriend and it was SO good!

What are you feeling? Happy that he saw this movie or excited to see it yourself? No, you are thinking that he could have paid you back and seen the movie when he earned his own money. You might even say, “How could you see that movie when you owe me?”

Parental example: suppose your parents pay your car insurance, mobile phone bill, or some other regular bill (not saying that it is wrong). Don’t be surprised when you start getting some grief about taking trips with your friends, going shopping, eating out a lot, or purchasing entertainment. You may hear your parents asking, “Can you afford that?”

They aren’t able to use the money because they are paying some of your bills but, like that loan, you also give them some control and the right to question how you spend your money. This is especially true if you have moved out of the home and are in your own apartment.

Work to develop full financial independence even though it will mean that you won’t have these luxuries you have come to enjoy. You can learn to enjoy playing cards, board games, or video games with friends. You can learn to cook your own food and save a LOT of money over eating out. You can lay your head down on your pillow in your second hand bed with a light meal on your stomach and be proud that you are paying all of your bills. Sometimes situations arise where you need to move in with your parents or accept some support but strive to make that period short if at all possible.

Use the money you earn to honor God

Proverbs 3:9-10 reminds us to honor God with our possessions and our income. Remember: the purpose of your career is to allow you to serve God and take care of your family not feed selfish desires or serve only your needs.

Solomon on Wealth

God has provided all things that pertain to life and godliness, 2 Peter 1:3. One of the fundamental needs for modern life (and godliness for that matter) is a proper attitude towards possessions and stewardship of our physical blessings. God’s word is not silent on this vital topic. Dr. Stan Bullington has provided a great resource, Solomon on Wealth for using the wisdom literature to provide a heavenly perspective on working and wealth. He writes about the blessings and dangers of wealth and using our financial situation to glorify God.

solomon-on-wealthI met Dr. Bullington a couple of years ago and heard him speak on this topic. Using both the wisdom of God, his personal experience, and the experiences of others he delivered a wonderfully scriptural perspective on financial stewardship. I have used this book for my own personal benefit and as a resource for teaching others. Using the study questions he wrote (available here), this resource can be used for teen, college age, and adult classes. It is perfect for a small group study or personal counseling with someone struggling financially.

Appendix 2 of the book is especially valuable as it contains a brief review of financial books written with a Biblical perspective (i.e., Dave Ramsey, Larry Burkett, and others). Most of his book is discusses the scriptures and principles with some guidelines on how to make practical application of the scriptures regarding our work, income, debt, investing, and proper perspective of material possessions.

From the cover: “Stan Bullington has taught economic analysis for engineers for more than twenty years, and has taught Bible classes for over thirty years.” The book is published by Bully Pulpit Press and is available from Truth Bookstore and Amazon (these are NOT affiliate links)