Pray through your inbox

By Rick James

This morning I was re-reading the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I’ve been putting it off for some months as I have a personal preference for the celebration of comfort. I was really struck by what he said about prayer:

‘To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer…’

‘Prayer changes things. We are co-labourers with Christ and therefore our prayers can change things. We are working with God to determine the future.

John Wesley wrote:
‘God does nothing but in answer to prayer.’
‘Listening is the first thing, the second thing and the third thing necessary in prayer. We need to discover God’s heart for people and situations.’

Martin Luther once said: “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer”. We may not be Olympic prayer athletes like Martin Luther, but if it really does change people and situations (even ours) we have a huge responsibility. Perhaps we can do more regular jogging…

As you look at the day and the week ahead, take time now to listen to God about and to pray for:
• All the different jobs on your to-do list; and/or
• All the meetings arranged in your schedule; and/or
• All the emails in your in-box awaiting response.

A bit more forgiveness…

By Rick James

‘It may sound odd for a professor of business to say this, but I reckon that our organisations could do with a deal more loving, a bit more forgiveness and a lot more faith in other people’.

It’s one of my favourite quotes from Charles Handy, a leading management writers over the last 50 years.

But forgiveness is really tough. Bishop Isaiah Dau’s inspiring story ‘But what about my brother’s killers?’ made this abundantly clear in the May bulletin. I was encouraged when Isaiah said forgiveness for him was an on-going process, “a daily struggle” that “keeps coming back”. I can relate to this. Perhaps when Jesus said we had to forgive seventy times seven times, he might also have meant that we had to forgive the same offence over and over again.

How do people in your organisation respond when things go wrong; when people let them down? How do you react? Mistrust and resentment may be reasonable, but ultimately destructive, responses. The only real antidote is facing the situation with both truth and grace (John 1:14). It may be unappealing and a huge struggle, but it is only forgiveness that can really transform difficult workplace relationships.

What could you do this week to make ‘truth and grace’ more part of your office culture?

Sacred Trust

By Rick James

It is a privilege and responsibility to intervene in an organisation – whether as leader, as Organisational Development consultant or as a funder. When we step in we are treading on people’s lives – their identity, their sense of self. What we do and say can have a profound and personal impact on them. It can influence their relationships with those around them and even their relationship with God. We have the potential to do good, but we also have the potential to do harm. To intervene in any organisation involves a sacred trust.

Every now and then I wonder, do I really have any inkling of the responsibility I carry? If so, would I not do my work with more effort, more diligence, perhaps even with ‘fear and trembling’? It makes me ask myself lots of questions:

This week:
Do I really try to bring the very best of myself to my work each day ?
Do I ensure I am mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared when I intervene in an organisation’s life?
Am I being a steward of grace in my relationship with this organisation?

Holy days and holidays

By Rick James

It’s strange that the Sabbath is the only commandment we feel it is OK to break. We are just too busy. But as Corrie ten Boom warned: ‘Busy is not just a disordered schedule, it is a disordered heart’.

The Sabbath is key to cultivate a spirit of rest. Rest is not an optional extra. It is built into the way we are made. Sabbath rest is like the law of gravity. We cannot ignore it. Depending on how we respond, it will either come as disappointment (through stress, broken relationships, burn-out) or delight.

It’s not surprise then that God commands us to set aside one day a week as holy. This is not about merely swapping domestic chores for office chores. Keeping the Sabbath is about making space to do the things that restore our souls; that bring us delight – not just going to church, but also having fun with family and friends. To help him decide how to use his time on the Sabbath, church leader John Mark Comer asks himself two questions: “Is this worship? Is this rest?”

For some in North America and Europe, the ‘holiday’ season is approaching, but wherever we are, let’s create a healthy habits of keeping Holy days.

Taking the long view

By Rick James

A colleague and I were talking about the learning group. I was asking if he wanted to become more involved. He said: “But I’m so fed up with church at the moment”. It reminded me how much patience and forgiveness we need in working on change in the church. We have to lay down our own timelines, our own need to feel we are making a difference. It is not about us.

This reminded me of the powerful prayer composed for the assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero entitled ‘A future not our own’. Here are some excerpts:

In our Organisational Development work with churches:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.                                                                                                                 We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Learning from peers

We often learn more from peers than from any formal training processes. At the recent Space for Grace Retreat for leaders of Nordic Mission we used a peer clinic process. People found the approach very effective, so we thought you might like to know how it works. You can easily adapt it and use it within your own organisations, with peers from other organisations or even in small groups at church.

In brief, we followed the action learning set process of someone taking ten minutes or so to present to the group a live issue they are facing. After questions of clarification, the group discusses the situation based on their own experience, but without falling into the trap of giving advice or trying to fix the situation. The presenter then draws their own learning from the discussion. The process was greatly enriched by integrating a spiritual, ‘space for grace’ dimension. We created time to stop and listen to God for pictures, verses, images or words. We also prayed for the person at the end. It took less than one hour. At the next session, another person presented. If you want more details click here. Also, a sketchnote version can be found here.

This week:
How can I create opportunities to learn from and share my own experiences with peers?

Listening to God at work

By Rick James

I was talking with the international director
 of a large faith-based organisation about discernment (recognising and responding
 to the presence and activity of God in a situation). She caught me off-guard when she said, ‘Well I trust we would never do anything like that in our organisation’.

A lot of people are very fearful of trying 
to bring discernment into management decisions. It feels like we are not valuing the human wisdom and common sense that God has already given us. For many they have been emotionally and spiritually damaged by people in power inflicting their interpretation of God’s will onto a situation in a manipulative and controlling way.

But our own intellect may not be enough in making decisions. We do not know everything about our own organisation. None of us knows the future. Our own rational thoughts may well be clouded by our own interests and agendas, whether we are aware of this or not. As Ruth Haley Barton warns ‘When we set out to do good, but carry out our attempts without the discipline of attending to our own stuff which lies beneath and opening ourselves up to God’s presence, evil is always close at hand’.

I get worried when I read in Isaiah 55:8 that God declares “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” We may need to make more opportunities 
to listen to God about organisational issues at work, like one CEO of a large Christian NGO in UK who takes two hours every Friday lunchtime just listening and praying.

This week:
What decisions are coming up for you at work over the next month where you need God’s direction and leading?
What will you do to try and create the space to hear from God?

Simply standing

By Rick James

The last couple of months have been some of the most difficult of my life with a really severe family illness. At my best moments I’ve been wondering what I should be learning from this crisis. The Armour of God passage in Ephesians 6 has come all too alive for me. On the morning the crisis broke, I had read from the Message version that “This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.” (v12)

And since then, it’s mostly been about simply trying to stand. As it says in the next verse in the NIV “Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then…”

Sometimes we can feel like we are soaring like eagles, other times running and not fainting, but at other times it may be about simply standing and taking what life throws at you. It obviously makes a big difference, what we choose to stand on. We very quickly realised we had no human resources left and found huge support in God’s promises in Psalm 91.

As you think about this week:
At the moment, in what areas of your life is it about simply standing?
What are you choosing to stand on?

If you are too busy, you may be lost

By Rick James

‘A busy person is not so much active as lost’

I was taken aback when I read these words by Ruth Haley Barton. After all being busy is a badge of honour in many of our cultures. If we are not busy, then we think we must be wasting our time.

Yet being too busy may not be God’s will for our lives. It may indeed reveal that we are lost – not really sure what God wants us to do. So we end up doing too much. We may find it hard to say no when people ask us to do things. We may need to overcome the insidious thought that ‘only I can do this well enough’. All of us have human limits. We cannot serve everyone. We cannot increase our time. None of us has super human powers to avoid the need for rest. We all need to make quality time for our relationship with God. A survey of 20,000 Christians worldwide revealed that 65% rushed from task to task in a way that interferes with their relationship with God.

Even Jesus did not respond to every need. Luke 5:16 describes how he often took himself off on his own to lonely places, even when people were looking for him to heal them.

This week:
• Where do we need to say ‘no’?
• How can we make more quality time for God?

The extraordinary power of gratitude

By Rick James

This week I listened to a fascinating talk by Professor Kim Cameron from University of Michigan. He was talking about his 15 years’ experience researching the power of virtuous practices in organisations. In his MBA classes he asked one group to note down in a journal each evening two or three things they were grateful for that day. He got another group to note down frustrations. Using a rigorous initial baseline, at the end of each term he could measure a detectable difference in health, academic performance, creativity and mental flexibility. People became healthier and smarter. He mentioned numerous studies as varied as ones with heart patients and with the US military that found exactly the same things. One study even demonstrated that grateful people live on average 13 years longer!

Having a grateful attitude, literally counting our blessings each day, makes a huge and practical difference. No wonder the Bible encourages us to be thankful. Just like plants, we are made to grow towards the light, to what gives us life.

Take a moment and look back on 2018, what three things are you most grateful for?
What can you do to make a habit of counting your blessings every day? Make this is a New Years’ Resolution – it could change your life!